*This story was updated on June 6, 2021.*
Why is my Maryland unemployment on hold?
If you’re reading this story for the first time, you may be asking important questions that even journalists and state lawmakers struggle to find answers to:
- Why are my Maryland unemployment payment(s) on hold?
- What are the unresolved issues with Maryland’s unemployment payment system?
- What are Maryland’s unemployment problems?
- Why can’t I apply for my Maryland unemployment weekly certification through Beacon?
- Why are my Maryland unemployment payments frozen?
- When will my Maryland unemployment weekly claim get processed?
- Why is Maryland’s Beacon system so awful?
- What is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan doing to address Maryland’s unemployment backlog?
- Why haven’t we heard anything from Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson?
- Why can’t I get hold of someone from Maryland’s Labor Department about my unemployment insurance benefits?
In February, Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson announced that the agency is breaking up with Bank of America and will cease using the company’s credit-debit cards to distribute the state’s unemployment benefits to eligible claimants.
The Labor Department swiped right, updating its profile to “In a relationship with Wells Fargo,” the 169-year-old multinational financial services company.
Oh, The Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’, and it brings with it direct deposit.
But it had better know the territory!
Good News/Bad News
First, the good news: Beginning in April, benefit payments will be directly deposited into the eligible claimant’s bank accounts.
Now, the bad news: Out-of-work Marylanders eligible to receive unemployment benefits, some of whom have been waiting several months for human contact with Maryland’s Labor Department, still anxiously await approval of their benefits.
As of June 6, 2021, unemployed Marylanders still wait for their benefits to be paid in some form or another.
Hundreds of unemployed Marylanders are taking to social media to express their frustrations over navigating the Department of Labor’s new online unemployment portal, Beacon 2.0.
Others have tagged the Labor Department’s Twitter account or replied to the department’s tweets, demanding answers about why they cannot speak with a live agent on the phone and why their emails have gone unanswered.
And some say they received notices of overpayments of benefits and incorrect tax statements.
Some claimants say they’ve been waiting months for approval of their unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, other claimants are using social media to question why they cannot get hold of a live agent on the telephone or why their emails have gone unanswered.
Tiffany Robinson mostly silent on unemployment backlog
Labor Department Secretary Tiffany Robinson has remained out of the spotlight, though in February 2021, she told WMAR-2 News reporter Mallory Sofastaii, “In a matter of 60 days, they’ve already resolved about 14,000 claims that’s an extreme benefit to our customer base and our pending backlog,”
Many claimants say they cannot reach a live agent over the phone.
The agency’s system, claimants lament, instructs callers to dial a separate phone number.
As a result, claimants say they hang up and dial a separate number – but only to be greeted by another round-robin scenario, which tells them to call back later.
Robinson said the claimants are welcome to call the Department of Labor’s unemployment insurance division if they so desire.
“I know some people still have a hard time getting through, but there’s the option for the callback if they’re early enough in the queue to get that option.”
But claimants aren’t receiving callbacks from the Labor Department.
These same Marylanders are using social media as their primary outlet to blast the Labor Department’s failure to return their calls.
They say the agency’s phone system sends them into an endless loop. Plus, they say the agency doesn’t respond to email inquires.
What is Larry Hogan doing about Maryland’s unemployment system?
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) maintained a high profile during the COIVD-19 pandemic, holding weekly (and sometimes daily) press conferences and appearing almost weekly on national television, plugging Maryland’s assertive response to containing a virus that has killed over a half-million Americans since March 2020.
Surprisingly, Hogan (and, for that matter, Robinson, the agency head) has said little about the Labor Department‘s massive unemployment backlog.
Where are the press conferences? Why the silence?
Hogan and Robinson surely have read the social media backlash. Where are they? What are they doing to address Maryland’s unemployment payments still on hold?
You can watch below Sofastaii’s 18-minute interview with Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson.
The Silver Lining in Maryland’s Unemployment system?
There may be some good news on the horizon for the unemployed, however.
In February, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved two new contracts – totaling $150.2 million, fully financed by the federal government – to increase staffing at the Labor Department’s unemployment division, erasing the massive backlog of outstanding unemployment claims.
In addition, the Board approved a $1.6 million contract that hires a Virginia-based IT company to support the state’s unemployment system and update its technology between the old unemployment infrastructure and Beacon 2.0, which was launched last September and needs some tweaking.
Maryland’s Labor Department already spent $172 million to update the state’s antiquated claims system.
Moreover, under Robinson, the Labor Department paid $102 million to increase its staffing to answer the nearly 21,000 incoming calls (on average) it receives daily.
The agency also entered into a $70 million contract to address the backlog of unemployment claims; a $1.5 million contract was also awarded to a company to handle the agency’s overpayments.
Several Maryland state lawmakers say their offices are fielding multiple calls a day from frantic constituents demanding answers about why their benefits are still pending and when they’ll be distributed.
Earlier in February, Maryland’s legislative leaders rolled out a series of policy reforms intended to revamp the state’s unemployment system.
The short and long-term reforms could bolster the agency’s customer service, improve its agents’ response times and ensure the agency is ready to meet its future challenges.
Mr. Hogan’s office told WBAL-TV that the state legislature broke the unemployment system “years ago when they wrote the problem into state law,” which, the administration claims, “leaves claimants vulnerable to being stuck in a complicated adjudication process.”
Going further, the governor’s office said, “the legislation falls so far short of what people need right now.”
“It does not address the root problem of having a system that operates completely differently in resolving cases from 46 other states. That may be how legislators want it, but they are needlessly keeping far too many people trapped in limbo.”
As a point of clarification: The state’s executive branch – Governor Hogan – runs the Department of Labor; the legislature is responsible for providing oversight.
Ryan Miner is the Editor of A Miner Detail, a leading Maryland politics blog, and multimedia news hub. In addition, he is the host of A Miner Detail Podcast. News tips and feedback: Ryan@AMinerDetail.com.