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   State's Unemployment Benefits Among Lowest

ONLY 34% OF UNEMPLOYED GET BENEFITS:

State’s Unemployment Benefits Among Lowest

Special to The Chronicle

Maryland’s unemployment insurance benefits, a safety net for workers who have been fired or laid off, rank in the bottom third of the nation—between Alabama and Mississippi—according to a new report released by the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute on Feb. 27.

“Maryland is generally perceived as this high-tax, high-spending state that supports government social programs in spades,” says Patrick Lester, senior policy analyst for the institute, a nonprofit research group that analyzes the state budget and tax issues. “But it’s not true. When it comes to unemployment insurance—who gets it and how much they get—we’re well behind the rest of the country.”

The report, “Maryland Unemployment Insurance: Underfunded and Out of Date,” was prepared with financial support from the Open Society Institute-Baltimore.

Unemployment insurance, enacted by Congress during the Great Depression, provides temporary relief to workers who have been laid off, fired or quit for good cause as defined by a state’s rules. Employers pay program “premiums’’ or “unemployment insurance,” and each state determines who is eligible and how much each applicant receives.

Among the report’s findings:

  • While 43 percent of the nation’s unemployed receive benefits, the rate is just 34 percent in Maryland.

  • Maryland’s average unemployment benefit is $241.57 per week, falling near the bottom of benefits nationwide, which range from $205 per week in Arizona to $496 per week in Washington State.

  • Maryland provides additional benefits to unemployed workers with children, but this is capped at just $8 per child per week.

  • Twenty-four states provide at least partial benefits to part-time workers. Maryland provides none.

Researchers found that benefits were so low because the program is under-funded. Further, there is no pressure for change because “the temporarily unemployed community” is not organized, according to Lester.

“Unemployment is considered a badge of shame for most people,” said Deborah Povich, executive director of the Jobs Opportunities Task Force. “Nobody announces they’re ‘unemployed.’ They say they’re ‘between jobs.’ Consequently, advocacy groups are not doing enough to represent their interests.”

The institute supports policies that would:

  • Extend benefits to part-time workers, currently deemed ineligible in Maryland;

  • Raise the additional benefits per child from $8 to $25 per week;

  • Extend benefits to workers who have been on the job at least three months, rather than the current six- to nine-month requirement.

“Just about everyone has been unemployed and understands the pain and how it batters your feelings of self-worth,” Lester says. “Most of the time, you don’t need unemployment insurance. But when you do, you really do.”

The Maryland General Assembly shares the concerns enumerated in the report. It is currently considering several bills that would make unemployment benefits more broadly available and extend them to part-time workers. It also is considering an increase in the weekly benefit for unemployed workers with children to $25 per child.


The Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, a project of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations, is a nonpartisan research organization, examines issues affecting vulnerable populations and the important community programs that serve them. For more information, visit marylandpolicy.org/.


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This story was published on March 5, 2003.
  
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