ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Maryland lawmakers are hoping to fix a strained unemployment system struggling to keep up with demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday marked the fifth consecutive week that unemployment claims in the state. More than 50,000 new claims were filed in the past week, adding to the logjam with which the state is already challenged.

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“The state has not been able to live up to its end of the bargain,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said.

The problems have plagued the state for more than nine months.

“This unemployment insurance program is supposed to help Marylanders at a low point, when they’ve lost a job. It’s failed,” said Del. Ned Carey (D-Anne Arundel County).

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Most states recently have not met the 87% federal standard of delivering unemployment benefits to applicants within 21 days. Labor statistics show Maryland is near the bottom of the pack, meeting the three-week payment threshold just 37% of the time.

“It’s gotta improve,” Ferguson said. “Marylanders deserve way better than having a system that’s the worst in the country.”

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Democratic lawmakers are pushing an array of bills to address the failures, including modernizing payment through direct deposit and better staffing call centers as so many have struggled to get ahold of someone about their claim.

Another bill would require the Department of Labor to create a disaster protocol to plan for another potential employment crisis.

“This was an extraordinary case with this pandemic, but it highlighted that our system is broken,” Ferguson said.

Yet another bill would better allow Marylanders to track their claims.

“The pandemic awoke a sleeping giant and all of a sudden, the giant has taken over,” said Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County).

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Paul Gessler