An additional 108,508 Marylanders filed for first-time unemployment claims in the last week, the latest in a massive influx of claims that has snarled state phone lines and websites and caused delays for those hoping to stave off economic hardships from the coronavirus pandemic.
The claims for the week ending April 4 bring the total job loss in Maryland to 235,072 in three weeks, easily eclipsing any three-week period in state history. Last week, more than 84,230 residents filed for first-time claims. Claims for the previous two weeks totaled more than any other six month period.
Three weeks ago, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the closure of bars and restaurants to sit-down customers. He also closed theaters, casinos and other non-essential businesses and imposed restrictions on the sizes of public gatherings. In the last week, Hogan has restated those orders and threatened to arrest those not adhering to his directives as public health experts attempt to slow the spread of the virus in the state.
Those who filed unemployment claims also have to file each week they are out of work. The huge logjam is tying up phone lines and caused technical difficulties on the state’s website, causing some to miss deadlines and potentially miss checks.
Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said on Twitter that “many claimants have experienced technical issues that caused them to miss the window to file their weekly requests for benefits. We have said, this will not affect the ultimate payment of the full benefit amount for which you are eligible.”
The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation is allowing those who missed deadlines to file back claims starting today. Those claims can be filed Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“You will not need to contact a claim center by phone to request payment for weeks that you did not submit a timely claim certification,” Ricci tweeted. “We have reopened claim certification weeks so that you may file your missed requests for benefit payments entirely online.”
Ricci said the department is in the process of contacting displaced workers who are directly affected.
On Wednesday, the state reported 5,529 confirmed cases — nearly double the number from a week earlier — of COVID-19 infections, including 1,210 people who have been hospitalized because of the virus. To date, 124 people have died.
Nationally, the first-time jobless numbers are equally jaw-dropping, with with more than 6.6 million new claims. The federal department also announced it was adjusting up the number who filed for the last week of March by 291,000 or a total of nearly 6.9 million.
The national total for first time unemployment claims approaches 17 million in three weeks.
Under the most recent funding bill passed by Congress, the federal government will pick up the first week of unemployment claims between March 29 and December 31. The bill also kicks in an extra $600 per week for four months on top of existing benefits, which will now extend 13 weeks beyond the typical 26 weeks.
The federal government is also offering states no-interest loans for their unemployment benefits systems.
The speed at which the state is able to get checks out is not yet known. A spokeswoman for the department did not response to a request for comment.
Also unknown is if the state has received the necessary guidance from the federal government that would allow officials to begin taking claims from self-employed and gig workers who are not traditionally covered by unemployment.