Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson should resign.
It’s nothing personal; it’s business.
But it is time for Tiffany Robinson to accept responsibility for the collapse and the near-total breakdown of Maryland’s unemployment system.
She should submit her resignation to the governor and leave with dignity.
It wouldn’t be appropriate at this juncture to characterize Maryland’s Division of Unemployment as a “system.”
After all, functionality is the core of what makes a system operational.
But, unfortunately, there is nothing operational about Maryland’s broken unemployment system.
Labor Department gutted
The COVID-19 global pandemic wreaked havoc on Maryland’s workforce, forcing thousands of Maryland businesses to temporarily shut their doors while leaving many employees without jobs and steady streams of income.
The Labor Department’s unemployment division was vastly overwhelmed, understandably, soon after the pandemic hit.
But before the pandemic hit, the Labor Department was gutted, according to Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).
It’s been 15 months since COIVD-19 upended our way of life, and we’re nearing the second half of 2021.
Channeling Dr. Fauci, it’s safe to assume the pandemic is rounding the ninth inning.
To his credit, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) operated as a serious and consequential leader throughout the entirety of the pandemic. The governor’s quick actions undoubtedly saved lives.
But there’s a problem inside the governor’s Labor Department.
It starts and ends with Tiffany Robinson – because she’s in charge.
Tiffany Robinson’s Labor Department failures
Where to even begin?
In early January, nearly 43,000 unemployment claims remain unprocessed.
Tens of thousands of Marylanders’ unemployment benefits were stuck in a pending purgatory, awaiting investigation and further approval by Labor Department officials.
Unemployment claimants called their state representatives for help.
State lawmakers tried to help their constituents, but even they couldn’t get Tiffany Robinson and Labor Department staff to return their phone calls.
Speaking of phone calls, several people say they still cannot reach a live customer service agent at Maryland’s Labor Department.
In February, A Miner Detail reported that unemployment claimants were treated to a not-so-fun game of telephone round-robin.
As a result, claimants were told to hang up and dial a separate number.
“Call back later,” claimants were told.
What was Tiffany Robinson’s solution?
She told claimants to call the Labor Department’s unemployment insurance division.
“I know some people still have a hard time getting through,” Robinson said, “but there’s the option for the callback if they’re early enough in the queue to get that option.”
Many claimants say they never received returned phone calls.
Shady Outside Vendors
Under Robinson, the Labor Department paid $102 million to increase its staffing to answer the nearly 21,000 daily phone calls.
The agency entered into a nearly 71 million dollar emergency contract, approved by Maryland’s three-member Board of Public Works, to address the massive claimant backlog. Maryland also awarded a 1.5 million dollar contract to an outside company to handle benefit overpayments.
The Labor Department outsourced some of its adjudication staffing to California-based company Alorica, a company discovered to have a checkered reputation that includes EEOC complaints and sexual harassment lawsuits.
It begs the question: How and why was Alorica selected, and who was responsible for vetting the contract?
The failure to vet Alcora may not have been Tiffany Robinson’s fault – but where does the proverbial buck stop?
Gov. Hogan says he knew nothing about Alcora’s questionable past, according to FOX 45 News’ reporting.
In May, Mr. Hogan even defended Alcora’s reputation, calling the company “the best in the country.”
Beacon is Broken
BEACON 2.0 ( 2.0 implies an upgrade, more like a cocktail party punchline) is Maryland’s defunct online unemployment benefits portal.
Take heart, unemployed Marylanders: Tiffany Robinson says the Beacon system is working just fine.
It’s actually not, though.
Venture into one of the half-dozen or so Maryland unemployment Facebook groups where frustrated Marylanders collectively enumerate their unemployment grievances.
Some of the posts are breathtakingly heartbreaking.
“I can’t do this. Why are they doing this? I finally got through and this lady swore everyone’s account is on hold due to all the “fraud.” The only fraud is Larry Hogan,” one woman posted in a Maryland unemployment Facebook group.
“I’ve worked at my job for 11 years and now it’s gone. I’m about to lose my car, my house, everything…”
And there are hundreds of posts similar to the one above.
Do they even care?
What about Gov. Hogan’s Labor Department officials. What are they doing to help unemployed Marylanders?
Do they even care?
What about some of the governor’s condescending communication flacks who release tone-deaf, pre-programmed public statements – statements they must know are bald-faced lies.
It’s the rosy picture the PR flacks paint that all is hunky-dory in the Labor Department’s North Calvert Street headquarters that is most condescending.
Again, do they even care?
What about Tiffany Robinson?
It’s her nonsense position that nothing at all is wrong; it’s not the Labor Department’s fault that the unemployed cannot correctly enter the captcha characters.
It’s user error, she’ll say.
No, it couldn’t possibly be the Labor Department’s fault that the Beacon portal isn’t working properly for the umpteenth time this month.
Does Tiffany Robinson even care?
And what about you, Gov. Hogan?
Not a single dedicated press conference to unwind your administration’s unemployment failures.
Meanwhile, you’re big-time yucking it up while you’re handing out $40K vaccination checks.
But, all is good, the governor says.
All is great, right?
Marylanders are suffering because of the incompetence plaguing its Labor Department.
It’s borderline malfeasance.
How can Gov. Hogan’s administration neglect Marylanders as they are? How can they pretend as if nothing is wrong? How can they look unemployed Marylanders in the face?
Gov. Hogan spent most of his professional career operating within the private sector – a selling point the governor frequently used on the campaign trail.
Consider the following analogy.
If Tiffany Robinson was responsible for an Amazon division akin to the size and importance of Maryland’s Labor Department, and if similar variables (the massive systematic failures) existed, how long would it take Jeff Bezos to make an executive change?
Somebody in the Hogan administration has to take responsibility for the unemployment mess.
Leadership begins at the top.
Tiffany Robinson, thank you for your service, but it’s time to resign.
News tips and feedback: Ryan@AMinerDetail.com.