Maryland labor officials, facing a surge in unemployment applications and complaints about backlogs, say newly eligible claimants, including independent contractors, could see payments as soon as this weekend.
Maryland residents filed 109,623 new claims in the week ended May 2, nearly three times the number of claims from the week before. The state had opened the process to independent contractors and gig workers in late April, boosting an already high number of claims as businesses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
State officials this week said they made the online portal faster and shortened wait times. But applicants still complained of delayed checks, notices of nonpayment, confusing application questions and a lack of responses to questions.
The Maryland Department of Labor said late Thursday that it expects to be able to more quickly process claims filed under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation because the federal labor department has given states a separate set of eligibility requirements for those programs. PUA is open to those who are self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers or had insufficient work history, while PEUC provides up to 13 weeks of additional benefits to those who had previously collected compensation.
“The newly eligible PUA and PEUC claimants who applied on the BEACON One-Stop may begin to see their approved payment amount in their Beacon online account this weekend,” said Fallon E. Pearre, a state spokeswoman.
Last week’s increase in unemployment numbers is largely due to the 44,280 claims for PUA, which opened April 24 through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. The past week marks the first full week the aid was made available to those workers.
Claimants who file under the regular unemployment insurance program will see their payment amounts in their BEACON account as they are determined to be eligible, Pearre said. Once a claimant has been determined to be eligible for benefits, she said they will receive their debit card from Bank of America in 7-10 business days.
The state labor department has more than doubled claims center staffing but acknowledged the volume of calls remains significantly high.
The department said it has tried to reduce the need to make phone calls by moving most tasks online through the new Beacon One-Stop portal. It’s designed to allow applicants to view claim and payment information.
“Every individual’s claim is different, so some claims may take longer to process than others,” Pearre said. “It may take longer to process claims for numerous reasons, including claims that did not include sufficient documentation, are missing wages, provided a conflicting reason for separation from employment than their previous employer, and more.”
She said people having technical issues should email BEACON.firstname.lastname@example.org and include full legal name, complete address, phone number, email address, the last four digits of their Social Security number, claimant ID number and a brief description of the problem. The email is being staffed “around the clock” by teams from the labor department and vendor Sagitec, she said.
“The more information we have from claimants, the faster we can get their issue resolved,” she said.