Maryland will stop paying jobless residents an extra $300 a week soon and will end other federal pandemic unemployment programs, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday.
The changes will take effect in early July. In addition to cutting off the weekly $300 boost, Maryland will discontinue three other programs — including aid for the self-employed and gig workers — and will require claimants to show that they are looking for a new job.
The federal programs were extended until September under the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress in March, but a number of Republican governors have announced that they will opt out of them early. Maryland is the 24th state to do so.
Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have called for states to end the enhanced benefits.
Hogan cited businesses’ need for more workers.
“While these federal programs provided important temporary relief, vaccines and jobs are now in good supply,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “And we have a critical problem where businesses across our state are trying to hire more people, but many are facing severe worker shortages. After 12 consecutive months of job growth, we look forward to getting more Marylanders back to work.”
Maryland’s unemployment rate was 6.2% in April, the latest month for which data has been made available.
The state will end four pandemic unemployment programs July 3: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides the additional $300 weekly; Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for the self-employed, gig workers and others ineligible for traditional unemployment insurance; Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation, which gives some people an extra $100 weekly; and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which covers people who have exhausted regular benefits.
On the week of July 4, the state also will reinstate its work-search requirement, which was suspended last March as the coronavirus pandemic hit. The requirement means people getting unemployment benefits will need to submit documentation that they are looking for a new job.
The announcement had some Marylanders wondering how they would make it.
Eileen Ward of Frederick County said her options remain limited after her car service business took a major hit last year.
She said her clientele depended on her for trips to and from the airport, but the volume decreased dramatically as the public health crisis took hold and halted all nonessential travel. She’s not sure whether her business will ever rebound to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, she has all the same payments to make, including the insurance bills.
”My business has suffered through no fault of my own,” said Ward, 61, who is covered by the federal program for the self-employed. “Now I’m kind of stuck, trying to figure out what my next move is.”
For some, the news came even as they still are trying to get benefits they applied for months ago.
Tylynn Gibson, a private caregiver, said her husband, Charles, lost one of their cars and they nearly had their gas and electric turned off after he lost his job in January, when he contracted COVID-19 and couldn’t report to work. He ended up losing the job as a delivery driver.
Her husband applied for benefits in February but still hasn’t gotten them, she said.
”We’re trying to survive off one income and we’re used to living off two,” Gibson said. “Everywhere else he’s applying to, it’s hard for him to get to because we only have the one car now.”
The couple’s 13-year-old daughter has not been able to return to in-person school yet due to the loss of the car. Gibson said she’s trying to take on more shifts, but fears leaving her family as they all struggle emotionally with their situation.
”I just can’t believe the state of Maryland failed us like that,” she said about the unemployment benefits delays. “I just want him to get the money he’s entitled to so he can get a car and we can get back to everyday living.”
Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers criticized Hogan’s move, with state Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore calling it “rash and rushed.”
“It feeds into a hard right-wing narrative that denies human dignity, puts profits over people, and puts politics over sound economic research,” he said.
Del. Eric Luedtke, the Democratic majority leader in the House of Delegates, said ending the programs with just 30 days’ notice seemed abrupt and will hurt families.
”I don’t know about Governor Hogan, but I’m still hearing from constituents who are struggling and still need help,” said Luedtke, who represents Montgomery County. “And to tell them that 30 days from now, you’re out of luck creates a lot of uncertainty for working families in the state. He’s eliminating money that right now is putting food on the tables of Maryland families.”
Luedtke said he doesn’t buy arguments that there are plenty of jobs to be had and the unemployed need to be nudged into going back to work.
”I don’t think we have a labor shortage. We have a low-wage labor shortage,” Luedtke said. “There are plenty of workers if you pay a decent wage.”
As recently as a few weeks ago, state Department of Labor officials said they had no plans to end the programs early, said Del. Ned Carey, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who co-chairs a General Assembly committee on unemployment.
Michael L. Harrison, the Department of Labor’s policy director, sent an email to legislative staff May 12: “We are aware of these steps by other states but this is not something being discussed at the moment.”
Without the federally funded enhancements, Maryland’s maximum unemployment benefit is $430 weekly.
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, the state Senate’s Republican minority leader, said he thought the unemployment programs were a smart and important move in the early months of the pandemic. But with cases declining, vaccinations rising and jobs opening up, it’s time to end them, he said.
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”These benefits were meant to be a lifeline during the pandemic, not a way of life,” said Simonaire, who represents Anne Arundel County. “People got laid off or couldn’t go to work because the government told people not to go and it was important for the government to help them.”
Simonaire said he’s heard from business owners who are having trouble hiring enough staff. One reason, they think, is because of the extra $300 per week in benefits.
”You don’t want to incentivize someone to stay home because they’re making almost as much money as working,” he said.
In a statement, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business praised Hogan’s announcement, saying that “a record 44% of owners reported job openings that could not be filled in NFIB’s latest jobs report.”
“The Governor is right to call this a ‘critical problem,’” Mike O’Halloran said. “Now that capacity restrictions and closings are behind us, we’re hopeful these jobs will quickly be filled as the summer is unofficially underway.”
Hogan submitted 30 days’ notice to the U.S. Department of Labor on Tuesday that the state will discontinue the four programs.
Officials said in the announcement that the state labor department would process all federal claims received before July 3. If someone is waiting for an eligibility determination for the programs that are ending, “the department will ensure that they receive all payments owed to them for all weeks prior to July 3 that they are determined eligible for,” they said.