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New Maryland online unemployment portal overwhelmed upon debut, with users reporting glitches

A new online portal meant to ease Maryland’s overwhelmed system for unemployment claims was itself overwhelmed and crashed when it opened on Friday morning.

Users trying to access Maryland’s Beacon One-Stop site said they were unable to log in, instead getting error messages or pages that refused to load.

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“People waited until Friday,” one unemployed worker, Kenny Brannon, 49, said of the site that state officials had been touting. “And now they’re totally disappointed.”

Mike Ricci, spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said Saturday morning that the vendor for the website is working “on resolving the remaining issues with the system.” Ricci stressed they are “closely monitoring the system through the weekend, as the site is available 24/7, to ensure full and proper functionality.”

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Ricci said over 220,000 unique users have accessed the system as of 9 a.m. Saturday. From that number, more than 67,000 accounts have been activated, he said, and over 38,000 new claims have been filed successfully.

Hogan said the vendor “didn’t have it ready for the volume” of workers who tried to use the site Friday afternoon, when 35,000 people had logged in, and 15,000 claims were processed. Hogan said the site had been fixed although glitches remained.

And indeed complaints continued about the site, which for the first time was supposed to allow groups such as the self-employed and gig workers to file unemployment claims online as those in more conventional jobs had been doing.

Calling himself “very frustrated” by the first-day problems, Hogan promised to hold the vendor’s “feet to the fire to make sure they get all the glitches worked out.”

Maryland officials had touted the new portal as a way of helping the hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs because of the shutdowns meant to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

The massive influx of unemployed, though, had overwhelmed the state Labor Department phone lines and its existing website.

Brannon, an unemployed DJ who lives in Edmondson Village, is a moderator of a Facebook group Maryland Unemployed DIY - REAL ANSWERS that has become a virtual gathering place for those having problems getting through on phone lines or completing their online applications. Many were anxiously awaiting the new portal, but found Friday that when they tried to log in to existing accounts, they were not recognized.

“It asked for my Social Security number, but it said I wasn’t in the system,” Brannon said. “Nobody can get in.”

Labor Department officials did not immediately respond to an email for comment.

A note on the website Friday morning attributed the problems to a “high volume of claimants.”

“Despite rigorous testing of our new BEACON One-Stop application, the vendor we partnered with is experiencing temporary issues with the system due to the volume of claimants accessing the site simultaneously," the website said.

In a tweet Thursday night, Ricci said those who are able to now file online include those who are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and individuals who were previously required to file by phone.

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The new guidelines will also allow anyone who works for the federal government or is in the military and those who have worked outside the state or more than three jobs within the past 18 months to file online. Previously, they were required to submit claims by phone.

“We hope this will help address a lot of the concerns people have had with the filing process,” Ricci said. “There will undoubtedly still be some issues, but this is a significant step forward.”

And if a person is not eligible for regular unemployment insurance and cannot work because of the coronavirus, they will be eligible to apply for a maximum of 39 weeks of benefits, effective Jan. 27, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020.

Residents have been reporting website slowdowns for weeks, along with busy signals and long wait times. The governor’s office previously said calls were coming in at a rate of about 500 per hour.

From March 15 through April 18, more than 344,000 people filed for unemployment in Maryland, far more than the 215,000 all of last year.

Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich and Wilborn Nobles contributed to this article.

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