Maryland To Discontinue Enhanced Unemployment Benefits

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's Republican governor has announced that the state will discontinue enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits and reinstate work search requirements next month, sparking objections from Democrats.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that the state will stop paying jobless residents an extra $300 a week and discontinue three other programs, including aid for self-employed workers. People claiming unemployment will have to show that they are looking for a new job.

“While these federal programs provided important temporary relief, vaccines and jobs are now in good supply,” Hogan said in a news release. “And we have a critical problem where businesses across our state are trying to hire more people, but many are facing severe worker shortages.”

Hogan submitted 30 days’ notice Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Labor. Without the federally funded enhancements, Maryland’s maximum unemployment benefit is $430 weekly.

Ending the programs with 30 days' notice seems abrupt and will hurt families, according to Del. Eric Luedtke, the Democratic majority leader in the House of Delegates who represents Montgomery County. Luedtke is still hearing from constituents who need help and said he doesn’t believe that the unemployed just need to be nudged back to work.

”I don’t think we have a labor shortage. We have a low-wage labor shortage,” Luedtke told The Baltimore Sun. “There are plenty of workers if you pay a decent wage.”

Maryland paid out more than $12.3 billion in unemployment benefits to 730,759 recipients, resolving more than 97% of claims, officials said. The federal programs were extended until September, but a number of Republican governors have announced that they will opt out early. Maryland is the 24th state to do so. Maryland’s labor department will process all federal claims received before July 3, officials said.

Maryland’s unemployment rate was 6.2% in April, the latest month for which data has been made available.

Senate President Bill Ferguson objected to the changes, saying the “rash and rushed decision will hurt Marylanders who have been hit the hardest during the pandemic."

But Mike O’Halloran, the National Federation of Independent Businesses' state director, told WBAL-AM that he welcomes the news.

“Small business owners have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis," O'Halloran said. “While they are seeing their sales grow amidst a steady economic recovery, a record 44% of owners reported job openings that could not be filled in NFIB’s latest jobs report.”

The unemployment programs were an important move early in the pandemic, but now it’s time to end them, according to Sen. Bryan Simonaire, the state Senate’s Republican minority leader who represents Anne Arundel County.

”These benefits were meant to be a lifeline during the pandemic, not a way of life,” Simonaire said. “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.”