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Maryland speeds up processing of unemployment claims while reducing wait times, officials say

State officials said Tuesday that they have fixed many of the technical problems plaguing a new unemployment application website, enabling faster processing and shorter wait times.

“We have taken every necessary step to improve the performance of the BEACON One-Stop unemployment insurance application in a matter of days,” said Tiffany P. Robinson, secretary of the state Department of Labor, in a statement.

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Robinson described applicants’ wait times Sunday and Monday as “zero to minimal,” despite a record volume of traffic.

During the past two days, more than 201,000 people filed weekly unemployment claims, including 141,000 claims Sunday. That single-day amount is more than double the 65,000 weekly certifications processed Sunday, April 26, the department said.

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Applicants are filing 5,800 certifications an hour, Robinson said.

The labor secretary touted the state’s system as the only one in the country allowing all eligible claimants to apply online in one place.

The new unemployment benefits portal launched April 26 to help the hundreds of thousands of Marylanders out of work because of the closures and stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. A total of 387,554 people have filed claims since the beginning of March.

The new site is open to unemployed workers who previously were required to file by phone, including federal workers. But the system was swamped after opening, crashed temporarily, then ran slowly.

Some Maryland residents said Tuesday that they still had trouble with the website or getting information about claims.

Joy Kizzie, a substitute teacher in Montgomery County, said she has filed claims but received no payments for three weeks. She has been unable to reach anyone. When she logs on, her account says there is no payment activity.

“The Beacon website is the most disappointing, frustrating experience I’ve ever had in my life,” Kizzie said. “Nobody answers the phone. Nobody answers emails. Anxiety is through the roof. I’m on edge.”

Robinson said the labor department is working to alleviate confusion that has come up regarding changes to unemployment benefits under the federal CARES Act.

States are now required to capture additional information from applicants as they complete their weekly claim, she said. But guidance from federal officials has been piecemeal, she added.

“Marylanders found these new required questions to be confusing, resulting in numerous claimants inactivating their eligibility for unemployment benefits,” Robinson said.

The state has added a way for such claims to be automatically reactivated to prevent benefit payments from being interrupted, she said.

Applicants whose claims became inactive last week should now be able to log in to their account to file a weekly claim. And those who ran into that problem Sunday or Monday will have their weekly claim automatically reactivated. They do not need to refile this week’s claim certification.

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“As issues arise, we are working as quickly as we can to resolve them," Robinson said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jean Marbella contributed to this article.

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