Twice as many jobless Marylanders use up benefits, report says


Nearly twice as many jobless Marylanders used up their unemployment benefits in the first five months of this year as in the same period of 1990, as idled workers found it harder to find new employment.

Through May, 18,124 people had exhausted their maximum 26 weeks of benefits, compared with 9,643 during the same period of 1990, according to statistics from the Maryland Department of Economic andEmployment Development.

Nationwide, the numbers of unemployed people using up their benefits rose by 25 percent in the same period. More than 1.2 million Americans have run out of state jobless benefits this year. Meanwhile, Maryland employers begin paying a new surcharge on their unemployment fund taxes this month, as the payout of benefits continues to outstrip contributions.

In the 12 months ended on May 31, the state fund paid out more than 2 1/2 times as much in benefits as it collected from businesses. The unemployment trust fund balance for Maryland fell below 4.5 percent of the total taxable wages -- dropped below about $550 million -- triggering the 1.7 percentage point tax surcharge.

"During the height of the recession, plant closures and layoffs resulted in Maryland employers paying less into the trust fund while, at the same time, more workers were receiving unemployment insurance benefits," explained Charles O. Middlebrooks, the department's assistant secretary for employment and training.

More than 148,000 Marylanders were out of work in May, the agency reported. But only about a third of those were eligible for unemployment benefits.

"More people are using up their benefits, and they can't get back to work," said Peter French, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers union. "They need more help from unemployment insurance."

Mr. French's union is sending two bus loads of people to Washington today for a rally in support of federal legislation that would extend jobless benefits for an extra 13 weeks, beyond the current 26 week maximum. Bills to increase the number of benefit weeks are now in committees of the House and the Senate.

"Something's got to be done because it's getting tougher and tougher out there," said Dot Ryan, an East Baltimore woman who has been working for 45 of her 59 years. Layoffs and unemployment have become more common in recent years, she said.

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