Maryland will end enhanced federal unemployment benefits next month, Gov. Larry Hogan said, and require people getting unemployment checks to prove they are looking for new jobs.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said 15,000 people would be affected by Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to end enhanced federal unemployment benefits. The number is nearly 250,000, according to the state Department of Labor. The article has been updated.
He said the benefits, which add $300 a week, provided “important temporary relief” during the coronavirus pandemic but are no longer necessary.
The American Rescue Plan provides funding for the benefits through Sept. 6, with Democratic leaders stressing the importance of fully reopening schools and child-care centers — and more people being vaccinated — before many adults can resume full-time work. But at least 24 other states — which also have Republican governors — are similarly taking steps to end the funding early.
“We have a critical problem where businesses across our state are trying to hire more people, but many are facing severe worker shortages,” Hogan said in a statement, noting that at least 70 percent of adults in Maryland are now vaccinated. “We look forward to getting more Marylanders back to work.”
Neither D.C. nor Virginia has moved to end the enhanced unemployment benefits. The Biden administration sought a way to keep paying the benefits to an estimated 3.6 million Americans who stand to lose them soon in Republican-led states, but administration officials concluded that they cannot legally do so.
Hogan’s decision was sharply criticized by Democratic state lawmakers. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in a statement that the “rash and rushed decision will hurt Marylanders who have been hit the hardest during the pandemic, having lost jobs through no fault of their own.”
“It feeds into a hard right-wing narrative that denies human dignity, puts profits over people, and puts politics over sound economic research,” Ferguson said, adding that he was urging Hogan to reverse or delay his decision.
Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, said he understands that some people believe the enhanced benefits have led residents not to want to reenter the workforce. But Davis said it is “really unfortunate” that Hogan would end the benefits early, especially given how much difficulty some Marylanders had accessing them.
Many residents said they waited for months to have their claims filled, waiting on the phone for hours, sending emails that went unanswered and responding to dozens of questions that resulted in error messages.
“We made a commitment to the people of the state of Maryland,” Davis said. “They made plans accordingly. For the state to do an about-face . . . it is really unfortunate.”
Hogan said that since March 2020, Maryland has paid out more than $12.3 billion in unemployment benefits to 730,759 recipients, resolving more than 97 percent of claims.
The state alerted the federal government of its decision earlier Tuesday, as required by law. After July 3, Marylanders will not be able to apply for programs including mixed earners unemployment compensation, pandemic emergency unemployment compensation and pandemic unemployment, which was for gig workers and others who would not usually qualify for aid.
The Maryland Department of Labor will again require applicants for unemployment to search for a new job. Applicants must engage each week in three re-employment activities — such as attending a job fair or completing a workshop at the American Job Center — to be eligible to receive benefits.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.