Maryland’s broken unemployment insurance system

Maryland's broken unemployment insurance system - BENT CORNEROn March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  One of the things the CARES Act does is provide unemployment insurance benefits to gig workers unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People like me.

Each individual state handles unemployment insurance benefits. There are 50 individual unemployment insurance systems in this country all trying to do the same thing. Which system you use depends on where you worked. For example, I live in Maryland, but I used to have a job in neighboring Pennsylvania. I received unemployment benefits from Pennsylvania when my job laid me off.

All unemployment insurance systems are not created equal

I don’t know how every unemployment insurance system works in this country. I know the one in Pennsylvania was straight forward and easy to use. That was close to ten years ago. Things may have changed. Compared to Pennsylvania, the Maryland unemployment system is absolutely terrible. Simply filing the initial claim was beyond difficult. It asked questions the state of Maryland already knows the answers to. For example, how much money I made last year driving for Uber and Lyft. The state already has this information at their disposal. It’s all included in my 2019 Maryland tax return. Maryland taxed me on what I made with Uber and Lyft. How can they pretend they don’t already have this information?

To help with the increased demand, the Maryland Department of Labor “partnered” with Sagiec Solutions to create a new portal. The company did a terrible job.

I saw this when I tried to log in yesterday:

Maryland's broken unemployment insurance system - BENT CORNER

There were nearly 100,000 out-of-work Marylanders trying to use the website ahead of me. This is unacceptable.

Filing an initial claim for unemployment benefits in Maryland is overly complicated and confusing. The system makes you jump through a lot of needless hoops. I think it was designed to be difficult and overly annoying. Governors generally don’t like it when people are on unemployment. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan seems especially against people receiving unemployment benefits. He’s cut funding to the state’s unemployment insurance system every year since he took office.

Maryland's broken unemployment insurance system - BENT CORNER

Make the unemployment benefits hard to apply for and some people might just get discouraged enough they will just give up. In fact, make it hard enough and maybe some people will get COVIT-19 and die before they can complete their application.

Things should be made easier to use, not more difficult

This overly complicated and confusing nature of the initial claim is also in effect when you return to the website every week to recertify your unemployment status due to COVIT-19. The questions are difficult and repetitive. If you answer one question wrong, you will not get unemployment benefits that week. The whole experience only adds to a person’s stress levels when stress levels are already at their maximum levels.

Maryland's broken unemployment insurance system - BENT CORNER
The artwork on this Magic: The Gathering card is how I’ve been feeling during the COVIT-19 pandemic.

The CARES Act was signed into law a month ago. It guaranteed me and other gig workers the right to receive unemployment benefits. I feel Governor Hogan is doing everything in his power to deny me and other people in my state that right. I filed my initial claim on April 25. I’ve filed my weekly certifications. Some are saying all initial claims for gig workers are automatically denied. Maryland will now take weeks to decide if my application should be approved or declined. When they make their decision, they’ll let me know in an old-fashioned paper letter.

Driving for Uber and Lyft is too dangerous during the COVID-19 apocalypse

No matter what happens, I cannot drive for Uber or Lyft right now. It’s just too dangerous. You cannot practice social distancing with a stranger in your car. The personal protective equipment (PPE) we regular people are allowed to use is worse than useless. Put a homemade mask made from an old t-shirt and a couple of rubber bands on a stupid person and they act like they’re impervious to the coronavirus. I’m not doing rideshare driving again until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19 or I can get my hands on an M50 joint service general purpose mask and a case of filters.

Maryland's broken unemployment insurance system - BENT CORNER
M50 joint service general purpose mask

If I had an M50 mask, I’d be driving right now and not writing this blog post.

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