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Maryland’s under-employed are falling through the cracks | READER COMMENTARY

Maryland officials have not only abandoned the unemployed, they’ve shafted those of us who finally got some help but still haven’t been able to return to full-time employment and still need help (”State labor department abandons unemployed again,” March 29). My pandemic assistance seemed to have been extended until September of this year, but payments stopped in March for supposedly refusing offers of work.

I am a yoga teacher. I can’t refuse work that isn’t being offered to me. I currently teach two to three in-person classes for a couple of local health clubs and one Zoom class for a community college. I can substitute for other teachers, but I can’t exactly demand someone give me more classes to teach. The community college can offer the Zoom classes, but if there is insufficient enrollment in a class, that class doesn’t run, and, obviously, I don’t get paid for not teaching.

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I took an online course to learn about working in a related field, which I passed, but after applying to 10 employers, I’ve had one interview and zero job offers. I did manage to score another regular class and will alternate teaching until the fall, but that brings me to a rough weekly earned income of between $180 and $210 per week. It’s a good thing I’m old enough to draw Social Security, because my ground rent is $650 per month.

I file my weekly certifications each week and everything was working out well until March. I was able to pay off two credit card balances I racked up when I wasn’t working at all and my original unemployment application was stalled, but for some reason the assistance has stopped. Looking at my online Beacon portal, I noticed that somehow someone filed me under regular unemployment, which I had exhausted last year. I had been asked to resubmit the weekly certification and that was sent to the Pandemic Unemployment I had been under, but the payment has been on hold ever since. So far, I’ve opened three different requests for assistance. The first one resulted in an email from the Department of Labor saying the issue had been resolved and a comment made, neither of which was true. I opened another one, and when I was unable to get a resolution, I opened a third.

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The email I got from them in March made it clear that if I was already getting assistance via the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, I would not see an interruption in payments. Until this past week, there had been no links for me to “reopen claim” or “apply for benefits.” When I did try to apply for benefits, my account portal appeared to show that it had already been awarded, when it had not. To make a claim for beyond one week prior, I would have to call on the phone. No one answered.

I have tried every phone number, and the one time I got through to a human being, I got hung up on. Every time since, I get to the end of that awful phone message they make you sit through only to hear “sorry, we can’t handle your call.” I’ve tried calling in the morning, I’ve tried calling midday, I’ve tried calling at the end of the day. I’ve tried the local number only to be told that if wanted to speak to a human, I’d have to call the 677 number no one answers.

My savings from the sale of my home in 2019, which last year’s assistance helped me replenish slightly, is once again rapidly diminishing. I don’t understand why I must apply again for assistance I’ve already been awarded. I don’t understand why I should have to apply for regular unemployment when I no longer exactly qualify for it, since I am working a little. I don’t understand why I should have to resupply information the Department of Labor already has. And I don’t understand why they can’t hire enough people, train them, give them the tools to help, and then help those of us who are once again falling through the cracks.

Sandra Nicht, Halethorpe

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