Gov. Harry Hughes and legislative leaders have agreed to press for an increase this year in the maximum benefit Maryland pays unemployed workers.
Hughes and the leadership met today to work out a joint package on economic issues, including unemployment and job retraining, and agreed that the maximum unemployment benefit should be increased from the current $153 a week to $160 a week. The agreement means that passage by the full legislature is almost certain.
Even with the increase, Maryland would still lag behind several other areas in the amount of money it gives to the unemployed. The District of Columbia, for instance, pays laid-off workers a maximum benefit of $206 a week.
Hughes said after the meeting that the $160 was agreed on by legislative leaders as part of an effort to "get a consensus on this whole economic package: unemployment, the department of Labor, Employment and Training , retraining."
The governor and the leaders also agreed to make permanent the current one-year state program of additional benefits--13 extra weeks of unemployment paid after federal money has run out or been cut off.
In addition, Hughes and the legislators said they are closer to agreement on a method for replenishing the state's unemployment insurance trust fund, which is threatened with bankruptcy because of the large increase in unemployment claims.
Under current law, employers, whose tax dollars support the trust fund, will be hit with a 2.7 percent surcharge when the trust fund gets too low. Employers have said that this surcharge, which is levied against the first $7,000 each employe makes each year, is too hefty and could force them to cut back services or jobs.
Today, Hughes and the legislators narrowed to two the possibilities for revitalizing the trust fund without taxing employers too heavily. In one case the surcharge would be dropped in the first year, fiscal 1984, to 1.5 percent of the first $7,000 earned (the wage base). For the next two years, employers would pay 2.7 percent with a $8,000 wage base.
Hughes said it is hoped that if the 2.7 percent surcharge is delayed a year the economy will improve enough to make it unnecessary.
The second alternative would cut the surcharge to 2 percent for fiscal 1984 and 1985 and bring it up to 2.7 percent in fiscal 1986. In this plan, the first year would use a $7,000 wage base, which would rise to $8,000 for the next two years.