Congressman Anthony Brown (D-Md) is joining efforts to immediately pay thousands of people waiting for unemployment benefits. The backlog in Maryland is nearly 25,000 and some have been waiting since March.
Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery Co.) proposed the idea to send a check for $1,200 to everyone on the backlog.
“It’s huge to have Congressman Brown’s support in this effort,” said Stewart. “I know that he’s being inundated with constituent requests just like I am.”
He said he modeled the idea after what Vermont did in April when that state faced a large backlog of people waiting for benefits.
Stewart said Md. Gov. Larry Hogan has done a good job overall responding to the coronavirus pandemic, but this is an area where immediate action is needed to help struggling Marylanders.
“They’re stuck in this dysfunctional maze of bureaucratic hell,” said Stewart. “And what we’re saying to Gov. Hogan is simple: start cutting checks today.”
The $1,200 would not be an extra payment, but meant as an advance on unemployment benefits. The obvious drawback would be if someone gets paid the money who doesn’t qualify for benefits or doesn’t qualify for that whole amount. Then the state would have to try to recoup the money. Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson has cited concerns about fraud in rejecting the idea.
“My sense is that the overwhelming majority of those who filed for benefits are going to found to be eligible,” said Rep. Brown. “So if you say they’re presumptively eligible, sure you might miss a few people or you might write checks to people who are not eligible. I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of fraud. People aren’t trying to get into trouble in this pandemic, they’re just trying to get relief to their family, particularly when they know Congress appropriated these dollars.”
For two months now, Gov. Hogan has refused interview requests by FOX 5’s Lindsay Watts. His press office said Monday that he has no media availability this week either.
A spokeswoman for Md. Department of Labor provided a statement saying the U.S. Department of Labor has advised against issuing checks preemptively.
“These preemptive payments not only increase opportunities for fraudulent activity, but also create a difficult situation for claimants who are later found to be ineligible for benefits and must return the funds,” reads the statement in part.
While it remains unclear if this could become a reality, Del. Stewart says having backing from a U.S. Congressman helps keep the pressure on. He said he hopes others in both D.C. and Annapolis will voice their support.