Maryland’s new online portal to streamline unemployment claims, which have skyrocketed from coronavirus-imposed restrictions, was back up late Sunday afternoon after it was taken down temporarily as the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation worked to correct problems that have impeded its launch.
“We are currently experiencing technical issues with the online BEACON application and have a team of professionals working hard to quickly resolve them,” the department said in a statement issued Sunday.
Early Sunday night, the Labor Department wrote on its website that as of 7 p.m, “the BEACON One-Stop application is back online, but is operating at slower speeds. Unfortunately, our vendor cannot guarantee that additional technical difficulties will not arise.”
The department website added that “additional maintenance may be required later this evening.”
Sunday’s difficulties continued what has been a rocky start for an app designed to help tens of thousands of Marylanders who are out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.
The app, produced by Minnesota-based software company Sagitec Solutions, crashed upon its launch Friday, overwhelmed by the volume of workers who sought to submit claims. As of 5:30 a.m. Sunday, over 99,049 accounts had been activated, 56,200 claims had been filed and 62,067 weekly certifications had been filed.
Workers seeking unemployment benefits have complained about a range of problems regarding the app, from session timeouts to compatibility issues to long wait times to address their problems.
Dawn Brienza was on the app Friday at 9:30 a.m., only to face frequent problems getting past the log-in page. In September, Brienza was laid off from her job as an executive casino host at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino. When she attempted to apply for unemployment benefits then, she had no problems with the process.
But after being furloughed from her job at a casino in Pennsylvania, to which she commuted via Amtrak before moving from Federal Hill in March, she likened the new portal to a “traffic jam” and called it “a total nightmare” rife with error messages, frustrating session timeouts and compatibility problems with mobile devices.
“I don’t think they have enough capacity for all of the incoming traffic,” said Brienza, 47.
Brienza said she placed multiple calls to figure out her problems with the app but faced hourslong wait times to be put in touch with a representative. She ultimately was able to submit a claim but said she is “hanging on” to the federal stimulus check she received through the CARES Act. While Brienza has since moved to Pennsylvania, she is still responsible for her apartment rent in Federal Hill through May.
“Now what I’m doing,” Brienza said, “is I’m looking at my bank account and making decisions like, ‘I’m not going to go grocery shopping today’ because I might need that money for an electric bill tomorrow and I don’t know when I’m going to get relief.”
In the hours after the app’s restoration, Brienza said she continued to have problems with session timeouts and error messages.
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Stacey Sauter, a real estate agent based in Potomac, said the new online portal is “fairly user-friendly” but found many of the questions confusing and had to take time to get clarification. After returning to the app to complete the questionnaire, Sauter said, she had trouble accessing the app and lost some of her progress.
“Their glitches are costing people every single day an ability to take care of their families, and that’s what really stinks,” Sauter said.
Mindy Hicks, a restaurant server in Bethesda, had five weeks’ worth of claims placed in the state’s old system before submitting her first claim through the new app. However, she said she has not received payment for the previous five claims and is unsure how complete her new claim is because of the functionality of the portal.
While the app had been restored later Sunday, Hicks expressed her doubts that it would continue properly in the long run.
“I was expecting a full-blown system. It is not that,” Hicks said. “As an unemployed taxpayer, it’s brutal that I and all these other people have paid for this, and this is what we get?”
Mike Ricci, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, wrote in response to a question on Twitter: “Of course in an ideal environment, we would have the time to test, re-test, and soft launch. But we are trying to help as many people as we can as fast we can.”