A package of federal unemployment programs will end nationwide this week, shutting off a financial lifeline for tens of thousands of Marylanders who lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The programs provided an extra $300 per week on top of Maryland’s regular unemployment and offered benefits to people who wouldn’t typically be eligible for unemployment, like the self-employed and gig workers.
After multiple extensions, President Joe Biden did not push Congress to continue the benefits beyond the first week of September.
“The boost was always intended to be temporary and it is appropriate for that benefit boost to expire,” the U.S. treasury and labor secretaries wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders.
States can use federal pandemic relief funds to continue the benefits, the secretaries wrote. But in Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has been pushing to end the benefits for months.
Hogan announced earlier this summer that he would opt out of the federal programs in July, a move that sparked outrage among Democratic lawmakers and unemployed Marylanders who said the economy had not fully bounced back from the worst days of the pandemic.
A court ultimately stepped in and prevented Hogan’s administration from ending the benefits early.
Maryland successfully reinstated its work search rules in July.
Hogan argued the extra unemployment benefits were causing a labor shortage that was preventing employers from reopening fully — though several studies have found ending the benefits early did little to improve employment in the states that opted out of the federal programs.
Economic experts say a variety of factors are keeping employees out of the workforce, ranging from the need to stay home and care for children or loved ones to health concerns amid the highly contagious delta variant.
As of July, Maryland’s unemployment rate stood at 6%, with more than 187,000 people claiming benefits.
During the last week of August, more than 68,000 people were still receiving unemployment through the federal program designed to extend the benefits to workers who would typically be ineligible, like the self-employed.
Nearly 40,000 people were also receiving extended benefits through another federal program, according to data provided by the Maryland Department of Labor.
Those numbers are down significantly from three months ago, when more than 75,000 people were receiving the extended benefits and 75,000 people were receiving benefits for self-employed and gig workers.
Sarah Beardsley, the chief of staff to Maryland’s labor secretary, said in an email that the department has notified people receiving unemployment if their benefits are set to end when the federal programs expire.
Information about job fairs and recruiting events is available on the Maryland Department of Labor’s website, Beardsley said. Other job-search resources are available at the Maryland Workforce Exchange.
Anyone who received or was eligible for unemployment benefits for any period of time in 2021 can also enroll in a low-cost health plan, Beardsley said. Enrollment information is available at Maryland Health Connection or at 1-855-642-8572.
The Department of Labor also assembled a financial relief guide for people struggling during COVID-19. The guide offers a list of financial resources available to Marylanders.
Here are the federal unemployment programs that have ended:
- The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program provided an additional $300 per week to people receiving unemployment benefits.
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was available to people who weren’t eligible for traditional unemployment, such as gig workers and the self-employed.
- Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation covered people on unemployment who had exhausted their regular benefits.
- Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation provided an extra $100 per week to people who previously earned both employment income and self-employment income.
Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @maddioneill.