Maryland’s unemployment system is so frustrating that more than 1,100 people signed up to testify about the problems during an oversight hearing planned for Tuesday.
A pair of Maryland Senate committees are planning a nine-hour online hearing on unemployment problems starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday. It will be the first time the General Assembly will conduct a hearing that includes live online testimony from members of the public, a concession to the coronavirus that has led to the shutdown of government buildings and a prohibition on large gatherings.
“It’s clear that the problems with the system have not been solved as the Administration claimed last week,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Sen. Delores Kelley and Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Sen. Guy Guzzone in a joint statement.
Kelley and Guzzone are holding the hearing to hear directly from Marylanders who have struggled through the state’s unemployment system.
Within 72 hours of announcing online sign-ups, more than 1,100 people signed up to testify. The committees plan to hear from the first 270 who signed up, and are inviting the remainder to submit videos that will be shared with the committee.
The committees expect to take nine hours to hear from those 270 witnesses.
Nearly half a million Marylanders have been put out of work in the past few months as coronavirus restrictions shut down many businesses and curtailed activity at many more. Almost one in five working Marylanders has filed for unemployment since the beginning of March.
Breaking News Alerts
The state’s phone lines and website have been inundated with applicants, and the state has shuffled workers to staff the unemployment office and pressed its vendor to fix the website.
In addition to the sheer volume, a challenge for the state has been reworking systems so that they can accommodate workers who normally don’t qualify for unemployment, such as those who are self-employed or gig workers. Congress passed a law allowing for such workers to receive unemployment benefits.
Gov. Larry Hogan has insisted that the problems have been fixed.
“The unemployment site has been completely fixed for at least 10 days,” Hogan, a Republican, said during a news conference Wednesday.
He said the state has had to keep up with federal changes to the unemployment program.
“I think we’re performing better than just about anyone in America,” Hogan said.
The Senate committees did not invite representatives from the Hogan administration to testify at the hearing, but Kelley and Guzzone said in their statement: “We hope this hearing results in solutions from the Administration.”