The state unemployment office has extended its phone line hours today and next week to accommodate an increased volume of calls from people seeking the extended benefits recently authorized by the federal government.
People beginning the 13-week extension authorized last summer or the seven-week extension approved by Congress last week may call unemployment benefits staff members from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today.
Next week, operators will answer calls from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Christmas. The line is usually staffed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"We're just trying to get to as many calls as we can," said Dori Berman, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
DLLR officials are encouraging those filing a new claim for benefits or continuing benefits to file online at www.mdunemployment.com.
"They're going to have better success," Berman said.
Last week, the state sent out 24,443 letters about the extension to people who had exhausted benefits, which typically run for 26 weeks. Those recipients must follow the directions in the letter and call to receive the first week of the extended benefits. Once payments have begun, recipients will be able to use the online system, Berman said.
"This burst of high volume, we expect that to subside, somewhat," she said.
There will also be "liberal backdating" of extension claims for people who have been struggling to get through via telephone, the spokeswoman added.