Friday, December 5–Debit Cards For Unemployed Instead of Checks

BERLIN – In yet another sign of the times, those seeking and qualifying for unemployment insurance benefits this winter will receive payments through prepaid Visa debit cards in an effort to cut the cost of mailing paper checks, a measure state officials claim could save Maryland $400,000 a year.

Due largely to the seasonal nature of the job market in the resort area, December is typically a time when the number of laid-off local workers seek unemployment benefits for the winter in what used to be referred to as the assault on Snow Hill, where the state unemployment insurance offices are located. The Internet and automated phone claim services have curtailed the need to physically drive to the Snow Hill offices to start a claim for unemployment benefits in recent years, but the latest wrinkle to the process announced by the state this week pay benefits directly into a prepaid Maryland Unemployment Insurance Visa debit card, which the holder can use anywhere Visa cards are accepted.

Maryland’s Treasurer’s Office and the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) have entered into a contract with Citi Prepaid Services to provide the debit cards, which will receive electronic payments automatically. Claimants will have the option of having payments directly forwarded to their own bank accounts or they can use the prepaid debit cards just as they would any other debit or credit card they carry.

“This new program eliminates the problems caused by lost or delayed checks, and can save beneficiaries the costs of fees sometimes associated with cashing checks,” said Unemployment Insurance Assistant Secretary Thomas Wendel this week. “It’s a great program for our state and for our residents.”

The prepaid Visa debit cards will be issued to all qualified claimants seeking unemployment benefits after December 1. With their debit cards, claimants will be able to access their payments at ATMs within the Citi network, make purchases anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted, access cash at Visa member banks and use the cards at participating retailers.

“Marylanders who find themselves unexpectedly unemployed need access to unemployment insurance benefits fast so they can continue paying for their living expenses and contributing to the local economy,” said DLLR Secretary Thomas Perez. “As the national economic downturn leads to more Marylanders out of work, this switch to prepaid debit cards will create a more efficient and safer process for the state and for its residents in need.”