In the News: Maryland congressional leaders urge Gov. Larry Hogan to make more improvements to unemployment website

Maryland congressional leaders urge Gov. Larry Hogan to make more improvements to unemployment website
Mckenna Oxenden, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland congressional leaders are urging Gov. Larry Hogan to make more improvements to the state’s new Beacon One-Stop unemployment benefits website because they say constituents are not receiving their benefits in a timely manner.

U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen wrote a letter to the Republican governor Tuesday, saying they hear from constituents “every day” who continue to encounter problems that are “far from resolved.” U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Andy Harris, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone also signed the letter, saying that some of the problems include errors processing weekly certifications, performance issues with the state’s new Beacon One-Stop unemployment benefits website and inaccurate denials of benefits.

“We have previously weighed in with both the U.S. Department of Labor and your administration to urge you to address a myriad of problems preventing or delaying workers getting their benefits,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

Hogan’s spokesman, Mike Ricci, said the governor’s office wasn’t aware of the delegation’s letter until a Baltimore Sun reporter requested comment.

“When politicians send letters to the press first, it generally means they are going after a headline rather than a solution,” Ricci said. “The governor recently had a productive discussion with Senator Cardin about this issue, and our focus is on helping the people who are struggling right now.”

But Cardin’s office on Wednesday provided the Baltimore Sun an email from an official in Hogan’s federal relations office acknowledging receipt of the delegation’s letter on Tuesday at 1:29 p.m. That was hours before the letter was sent to the press. Cardin’s office also said the subject of the letter arose during a call between the delegation offices and the governor’s office before the delegation sent the letter and a release to the media.

Asked about the discrepancy on Wednesday, Ricci said in an email that he hadn’t heard about the letter himself until the press release was forwarded to the governor’s office.

The delegation said in its letter that their offices send daily reports to the Maryland Department of Labor with contact information for any constituent who reached out with problems. But the delegation said the labor department has not provided “clear information” about when people will be contacted.

“We are left unable to effectively respond to our constituents because the Department has been deficient in providing this information,” the letter said.

In the letter, the congressional members urge Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson to assign a staff member as a liaison to help ensure timely responses between the two entities.

“As the Maryland Congressional Delegation, we are committed to working with our federal, state, and local partners to deliver urgently needed relief to Marylanders who are unemployed and face economic hardships not seen since the great Depression,” the members said.

But the Maryland Department of Labor spokesman, Fallon E. Pearre, said two team members already serve as liasions and that the office holds regular calls with lawmakers during which they “continuously address the issues they write about.”

“Maryland was one of the first states in the country to implement and pay unemployment benefits for all three CARES Act programs,” Fallon said in an email. “Because we acted early, we have paid out well over $1.5 billion in benefits to hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.”

Ricci also said Hogan would “welcome any assistance our federal delegation is willing to provide with addressing all the rules, regulations, and red tape involved in these new federal programs.”

About a month ago, Hogan touted that the unemployment website was no longer crashing and had little to no remaining problems. However, many people told The Baltimore Sun that they have had trouble filing and don’t receive a debit card loaded with their benefits for weeks.

More than 700,000 jobless claims have been filed in Maryland since the pandemic began, with over 43,000 added the last of week of May. That’s more than one in every five residents employed in February.

See the entire article on The Baltimore Sun.