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As Anne Arundel unemployment passes 10,000, businesses and employees try to survive uncertainty, crowded safety net

The T-Shirt Factory, on Main Street, was looking to hire until it closed until further notice in downtown Annapolis during the evening on a weeknight.
The T-Shirt Factory, on Main Street, was looking to hire until it closed until further notice in downtown Annapolis during the evening on a weeknight. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

More than 10,000 Anne Arundel County residents filed for unemployment benefits last week, an 18% increase from the staggering spike of data released earlier this month.

More than 108,000 Marylanders filed for unemployment across the state, according to numbers released Thursday morning by the Maryland Department of Labor.

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With a startling 6.6 million people seeking jobless benefits nationwide last week, roughly one in 10 workers have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks. In Anne Arundel County, more than 4% of residents have filed for unemployment in the last five weeks.

The U.S. Labor Department figures, released Thursday morning, collectively show the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948.

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Maryland saw more claims filed in the month of March and early April than all of 2019 combined, even though many people experienced technical issues that prevented them from filing. The sheer rate of claims in Maryland has inundated the state system, causing long waits, dropped calls and unemployment office’s websites to lag.

“All of us should reflect on what these numbers mean. People are being laid off at the highest rate in our lifetimes,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said in a statement. “Unemployment insurance helps, but many families will still have trouble paying their bills. Now is a time for all of us to do what we can to help our neighbors.”

In Anne Arundel County, small business owners are doing everything they can to stay afloat and take care of their employees.

Brandon Stalker, owner of Evelyn’s Restaurant in Annapolis, said he nearly forgot the business’s three year anniversary because he was so frazzled, he said.

Stalker opted to close the breakfast and lunch joint altogether, noting that takeout purchases isn’t substantial enough to warrant partial hours. He offered his 15 employees odd jobs around the shop for their regular pay, or the option to file for unemployment with the promise of a job when it’s safe to open again.

Only about one third, he said, decided to stick around. The others decided not to risk it. Of those, some reported to Stalker difficulties with the unemployment process. And he’s struggling too — still waiting to hear back from his bank and the Small Business Administration about a payroll protection loan.

“It’s just another example of someone having to go through a red tape process to get something that is pretty cut and dry,” Stalker said. “That’s why I get a little bit flustered with how this whole thing has been handled. I know we need checks and balances but this money just needs to be released — figure it out after the fact.”

Out of the 10,573 Anne Arundel County residents who filed for unemployment benefits last week, the vast majority did so online.

As Maryland approaches its fourth week since the shutdown of all non-essential businesses, many people have reported missing the weekly deadline to file for benefits because of technical issues on the website or phone line. Individuals who missed the weekly window can now receive emergency cash for those missed weeks when they file again online.

Once an initial claim is filed, residents can file for each week they’ve missed online rather than over the phone starting Thursday, Ricci said. Each missing week must be filed one day at a time. Claims can be filed online between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Nationally, another 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, adding to the previous total of 10 million unemployed Americans. More than 234,000 people filed for unemployment in Maryland since the coronavirus pandemic reached the state, surpassing all jobless claims submitted in all of 2019, according to federal data.

The Federal Reserve is considering pumping $2.3 trillion into the economy in an effort to prop up companies and local governments feeling dismayed by the economic impacts of social distancing measures.

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Around 1,000 calls to claim centers come through every two hours, Ricci wrote in a tweet Wednesday. It takes about 30 minutes to file one claim online. Residents won’t see a benefit check for at least the 21 days it takes to process and send payments.

The state is trying to mitigate the challenges by extending call hours at claim centers from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and training more employees. Call center employees are working around the clock and the state is upgrading its system to allow more people to file online and ask questions by email at ui.inquiry@maryland.gov, Ricci said.

Federal employees and people who have worked in multiple states have to file by phone rather than online, he added.

It’s not yet known when Maryland residents can receive an additional $600 per week through the federal COVID-19 stimulus package, known as the CARES Act. The legislation makes self-employed and independent contractors eligible for unemployment benefits.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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