By Paul Gessler

BALTIMORE (WJZ) – The Maryland Department of Labor announced Tuesday it will begin to offer direct deposit to unemployment insurance claimants beginning in April.

A Maryland House bill discussed Thursday in committee aims to establish higher standards on getting payments to claimants in need.

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“Too many Marylanders suffered unnecessarily this year,” Del. Lorig Charkoudian, D-Montgomery Co., said. “You don’t invest. You gut government. Even if you want it to work in a crisis, you can’t expect it to work in a crisis.”

Del. Charkoudian is the sponsor of HB 1002, which would increase the standard of getting payments to claimants within three weeks 92 percent of the time. The current federal standard is 87 percent. The state improved its payments in the month of January but still fell well short of the federal standard.

 

“I’ve spent over 43 hours on the phone with an agent on the phone since July. That’s an entire week of a person’s time, completely wasted,” claimant Andy Spicer testified Tuesday to the Economic Matters Committee. “It was difficult in the beginning to get through—22, 23, 24 calls, attempts before you get through. It is much harder now. It takes days.”

Spicer testified he has been out of work since March and urged lawmakers to mandate better transparency in the Unemployment Insurance process.

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“This calling every week and being told things are going to happen is debilitating, to say the least,” Spicer said.

HB 1002 would increase staff at the Department of Labor and offer more translation services and Caller ID.

If passed, HB 1002 would also make it easier for Marylanders without health insurance to be connected with the Maryland Health Exchange.

“We know there are hundreds of thousands of Marylanders still uninsured, many of them eligible for free or low-cost health care,” Vincent DeMarco of Md. Citizens’ Health Initiative said.

The direct deposit payments available in April are a result of a contract with Wells Fargo, per a Labor press release.

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“The transition to direct deposit will not only provide a multitude of benefits for our claimants but is yet another step Maryland is taking to modernize and maintain the integrity of the state’s unemployment insurance system,” Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson said in a statement.

Paul Gessler