More jobless claims updated as Maryland unemployment vendor adds more servers

·3 min read

More people were able to update their jobless claims late this week after days of confusion surrounding Maryland’s unemployment system, according to figures provided by the state labor department.

Labor officials said that as of Friday afternoon, 226,000 people had filed weekly certifications for the week ending June 5. That was up from 197,499 on Thursday afternoon.

A certification is a weekly questionnaire required to continue receiving unemployment benefits. People have through Saturday to file this week’s certifications.

Last week, 248,000 weekly certifications were received and approved, according to the Maryland Department of Labor.

Starting Sunday, claimants reported that they could not file their weekly certifications to continue receiving benefits.

State officials said the issue mostly affected those who had to reapply for unemployment benefits after one year in the system. But people who applied for unemployment less than a year ago reported problems, too.

The state instructed people to reapply for benefits — but for days, many reported problems with their accounts or could not log on to to the online claims portal, called BEACON. And some people said that claims agents told them not to reapply for benefits, in conflict with the agency’s public statements.

State labor department spokeswoman Fallon Pearre said the state’s online portal vendor, Sagitec, added extra servers this week. She said that more than 90% of people who have reapplied for benefits have been determined eligible for the same program and received payment.

Some claimants who earlier couldn’t get into BEACON told The Baltimore Sun on Friday they were able to log on at the end of the week.

Niki Hickman said that after trying for days, she was finally able to log on in the middle of the night Thursday and file her weekly certification.

Dealing with the state’s unemployment system has been exhausting, she said.

She was laid off in early September from her job as a contract social media specialist in Montgomery County. She applied for unemployment a few days later, but didn’t receive payments until January because of delays in the system.

“I think we all can agree that we don’t feel like we’re we’re being heard,” Hickman said. “Accountability is the issue, too.”

The online problems came days after Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, announced that in July, he would end the state’s participation in federal pandemic unemployment programs that have provided enhanced benefits to hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.

Those programs include a supplemental $300 a week in benefits and another that provides unemployment benefits to the self-employed and gig workers, who traditionally have been ineligible for unemployment.

The state’s labor department has been plagued by customer-service issues throughout the pandemic, with unemployed workers at times reporting problems submitting claims online, not able to reach anyone by phone and long waits before receiving payments.

Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson told lawmakers Tuesday that ending the expanded federal benefits will give the agency more capacity to address the claims backlog.

“We do believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for our customers to be fully serviced and have the customer service they deserve by our department,” Robinson told the House Economic Matters Committee, “but also for a reduction in calls and complaints to your offices, as well.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contributed to this article.

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