Maryland’s labor secretary told a panel of lawmakers Wednesday that the state is working as quickly as possible to clear a backlog of unpaid unemployment insurance claims filed over the last six weeks.
Department of Licensing, Labor and Regulation Secretary Tiffany Robinson acknowledged the backlog during a conference call with the General Assembly’s Joint COVID-19 Work Group.
“Some claims, for example, we might have a claimant worried and calling and emailing over and over again because they filed back in March and have not been paid,” said Robinson. “There are so many issues that could lead to a situation like that.”
Robinson said in some cases, payments are delayed when information provided by the employer contradicts information provided by someone filing a claim, including regarding sick or severance pay.
“There has to be an adjudication,” said Robinson. “That’s the process that takes a little bit longer and every case is different. The clean cases that have no issues and the information is confirmed 100% by the employer, often we are able to approve those and get payments out very, very quickly. But it does kind of differ across the board.”
More than 340,000 Marylanders have filed for benefits in the last six weeks.
The unprecedented number of claims has inundated the department’s phone and website systems, causing delays and frustrations.
But in the last week, as the state struggled to right a one-stop website that crashed within hours of going into operation, some have complained that they are still waiting for checks weeks after successfully filing a claim.
The site was beset by crashes and long wait times as out-of-work Marylanders languished on their phones and in front of their computer screens.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones asked Robinson when those back claims might be paid.
“That’s a tough question to answer,” said Robinson, who went on to say her agency was “paying a large percentage of our claims.”
Robinson told lawmakers she was unable to provide specific percentages of claims being paid but said the agency has a document that tracks such information.
A spokeswoman at the department did not respond to a request for details of the document or for additional comment.
In the meantime, Robinson said that her agency is working with Bank of America to fast-track payments once claims are approved.
“We asked them to help us expedite the debit cards and payments once we are able, very very soon, to start approving the federal pandemic unemployment assistance claims,” said Robinson.
State officials have struggled with the unemployment claims process since Gov. Larry Hogan issued a stay-at-home order and closure of non-essential businesses.
Last week, Hogan took personal responsibility for fixing the site and making it functional.
On Wednesday, Hogan declared the issues with the site resolved.
“I said we were going to get the website fixed,” said Hogan. “We got it fixed.”