Jobless Bonus Coming Soon, State Says

May 14, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,

Unemployed Marylanders have yet to see the extra $25 per week promised as part of the federal stimulus package signed in February, but the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said that money should be disbursed by the end of the month.

The delay came about because state officials focused first on reprogramming department software to extend benefits another 13 weeks - also part of the federal stimulus package, said Julie Squire, director of the division of unemployment insurance.

"For programming purposes, we had to do one or the other," Squire said. "We decided it was better to extend benefits first."

She said about 140,000 Marylanders will receive letters next week notifying them that the $25 per week bonus is on the way. It will be retroactive, meaning that some claimants could see lump-sum payments of as much as $375.

About 84,000 people are now drawing unemployment benefits in Maryland, Squire said. Anyone who was collecting unemployment in the weeks after the stimulus package was signed Feb. 17 is eligible for the extra money.

State labor officials have been overwhelmed with new claims during the economic downturn. In March, the latest data available, 33,631 initial claims were filed - up about 70 percent from the same time last year. New claims appear to have peaked in December, Squire said, at 43,114.

The state saw three months in a row - December through February - with more than 6 percent unemployment, bleak numbers that qualified Maryland for the stimulus package's extended unemployment provisions.

Now, Marylanders may receive up to 59 weeks of unemployment. The rate is based upon the claimant's salary history but will be capped at $405 per week, including the stimulus bonus.

Squire said the state was lucky to have launched its online application last August. Now, more than half of first-time applications come through the Internet.

She also advised new applicants to file later in the week because her office is busy on Mondays and Tuesdays. Layoffs, she said, usually come on Fridays.

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