DLLR Secretary Pledges to Work With Businesses to Emerge from Downturn, Become Even More Competitive


CAMBRIDGE, Md. (11/6/09) -- Alexander M. Sanchez, Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, pledged to members of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce today that the department will work closely with the business community on such key issues as workforce development and ensuring the health of the Maryland Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

"Our role is one of regulator, but we understand the burdens that businesses are operating under in this economic downturn. We pledge to work with you with the intent of achieving outcomes that are beneficial for everyone. We will be reasonable, we will be transparent, we will be inclusive, and we will listen," Secretary Sanchez said during remarks at the Chamber's Business Policy Conference at the Hyatt Regency hotel.

Secretary Sanchez, who became DLLR Secretary on Oct. 7, outlined DLLR activities that help meet the O'Malley-Brown Administration's goals of improving Maryland's competitiveness in the national and global economies and increasing the skills of workers to meet the 21st century needs of Maryland employers, particularly small businesses.

DLLR and its affiliated agencies have targeted more than $21 million in federal stimulus funds to prepare Marylanders with post-secondary training through community colleges and local training programs to obtain the credentials, certifications and degrees they need to meet the demands employers already have, or will have.

Secretary Sanchez highlighted Maryland Business Works, which is now in its seventh year of operation supporting and collaborating with Maryland businesses in the retention and growth of their workforces. Just in the first four months of this fiscal year, Maryland Business Works has served 156 employers with 264 projects, serving 3,189 trainees. In one single project, MBW is training almost 2,000 people at Anne Arundel Health Systems in computer literacy and electronic medical systems.

More recently, DLLR has partnered with Microsoft Corp. to offer up to 13,500 vouchers for free or low-cost technology training through the 34 One-Stop Career Centers located through Maryland, and through community colleges. This partnership offers general skills training in Windows and Microsoft Office as well as certification exams that will jump-start people into IT careers.

The Secretary discussed the need for modernization legislation that will allow the Maryland Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to access up to $126.8 million in federal stimulus dollars to ensure the Fund's continued health, and to allow a return to a lower rate table for employers as quickly as possible.

"We are committed to working with the business community, the General Assembly and other stakeholders to develop the best legislation possible. We will also work closely with the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure the legislation meets its requirements so we can receive these critically needed dollars as soon as possible after passage," Secretary Sanchez said.

He noted that Maryland's Fund has held up better than those in most other states despite receiving unprecedented claims demand brought on by the economic downturn. More than 272,000 Marylanders filed initial claims for benefits in the first eight months of this year, about twice as many as in the same period only two years ago.

The Department announced in early October that the reserves in the UI Trust Fund fell to $301 million as of Sept. 30 from $895 million a year earlier. This decline triggered a statutory reset of the rate tables for 2010 from the second lowest of the six rate tables now in place to the highest.

"Governor O'Malley has been following the trend in the trust fund for some time and is fully committed, as I am; to do all we can to help Maryland businesses weather this storm," Secretary Sanchez said.

Among other steps, DLLR's Division of Unemployment Insurance will make arrangements to work with any employer that may need a payment plan. The department is also working with the Governor on legislation to temporary lower interest charges for late payment of unemployment insurance obligations.

"At the direction of Governor O'Malley, DLLR, DBED and the Small Business Task Force are working on other ways we can help employers through this while still resolving the challenges we face, and are very interested in your suggestions," Secretary Sanchez said.

The Chamber conference was attended by representatives of more than 200 Maryland businesses as well as government and community leaders. On Thursday night, Governor O'Malley laid out a 10-point plan for strengthening Maryland small businesses, which included an even greater commitment to skills training and working with business to find a sustainable solution to the unemployment insurance challenges facing small businesses.