BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Maryland's congressional Democrats are urging the state labor department to apply for a federal grant to help workers navigate the "deeply flawed unemployment insurance system," which was plagued by delays as a flood of claims came in during the pandemic.
In a letter to Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson, U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony G. Brown, Jamie Raskin, and David Trone said a new federal program provides grants to state agencies so they can partner with organizations on community outreach.
"When unemployment soared during the pandemic, our offices heard from thousands of Marylanders in dire financial situations who were unable to access their unemployment benefits; and individuals from marginalized communities faced especially severe problems," the lawmakers wrote.
They said the program would address disparities faced by underserved communities, including minorities, English-language learners, the formerly incarcerated and residents in rural areas.
In a press statement, the lawmakers pointed to U.S. Department of Labor figures showing that, in 2020 and 2021, only 59.2 percent of claimants in Maryland received their initial benefits payment within 21 days, below the national average of 65%.
"Additionally, Maryland only resolved 24.3% of cases dealing with eligibility issues within 21 days, well below the national average of 51.1%," the lawmakers said.
States can receive up to $3 million if their application is selected, the lawmakers wrote to Robinson.
The application deadline is March 31, but the U.S. Department of Labor is asking states to provide notice of their intent to apply by Feb. 28.
"[G]iven the challenges that so many Marylanders faced accessing their UI benefits, this is a program that should be especially helpful for our state," the lawmakers wrote.
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