Jobless Marylanders continued to report problems Monday with claiming unemployment benefits through the state’s online portal, even as the state said the system is working properly.
Hundreds of people began reporting problems Sunday, when they couldn’t file their required weekly questionnaire to continue receiving benefits, known as certification.
State labor officials said Monday that the issue is mostly affecting claimants who have to reapply for unemployment benefits on the state’s claims portal, BEACON 2.0, after one year in the system.
But some who said they applied for unemployment less than a year ago and have continued to file weekly were affected, too. Some people who followed the state’s instructions to reapply said they saw glitches with their accounts. Others felt too scared to try.
Meanwhile, some struggled to log in to BEACON on Monday. At one point, a message on the BEACON app referenced “degraded performance issues.”
The issues have piled on top of other unemployment woes. Many Marylanders had to wait months to get benefits after losing their jobs during the pandemic. And last week, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Maryland would end certain federal aid for the unemployed, including the extra $300 a week, in early July.
The state said Monday that many people successfully filed their weekly certifications.
“There are no issues with the BEACON system,” state Department of Labor spokeswoman Fallon Pearre said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun, adding that people have until the end of the day Saturday to complete the certification for this week. “Many claimants have already successfully filed their weekly claim certifications. The number of certifications filed continues to increase every hour.”
Pearre did not answer questions about whether anything had changed with the system recently that might have caused the eligibility changes.
Joseph Jeffers, a 31-year-old former chef from Havre de Grace, said he originally applied for aid in October, so he hasn’t yet hit one year on unemployment. And, he sent in his weekly certification last week.
But around 8 a.m. Monday he tried to reapply for benefits anyway, following the state’s instructions.
“Worst mistake I ever made,” he said.
After he reapplied, his account information changed. It marked him as a recipient of regular unemployment, when he’d been receiving special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. And the balance in his account had decreased by more than $1,000.
“It threw me from PUA to regular UI, which I know for a fact ... that I won’t be eligible for,” Jeffers said.
Jeffers decided to file his weekly unemployment certification anyway, just to make sure he wouldn’t lose his benefits. He called the state’s hotline, and all they could do was put a ticket in to address his problem in the future.
Jeffers said he waited several months for aid after losing his job due to the pandemic because of a prolonged dispute with his former employer. It was a stressful experience, during which he moved back in with his parents, sold his car and made plans to start taking classes at Harford Community College. Sunday’s difficulties added to his burden.
“It’s just been a roller coaster of emotions,” he said.
On the other hand, Nish Knights, a Bowie resident who previously worked at Six Flags America, successfully followed the state’s instructions.
Right after he reapplied, his account balance plummeted to zero. But he logged out and returned a few hours later to find his account information restored.
“I was stressed out,” the 22-year-old said. “I’m still unemployed. I just paid for a class that took a good chunk of my savings out. So not having any sort of income while we’re still in a pandemic is not fun.”
But seeing his account back to normal didn’t offer total relief. Both Knights and Jeffers are among the Marylanders whose benefits will end July 3 after Hogan announced that the state will end participation in federal pandemic unemployment programs two months early.
“There’s always that looming cloud of: I’m not going to have any money come July,” Knights said.
“This whole move to take unemployment away months early just feels extremely political,” Knights said. “By doing this, Hogan is effectively removing hundreds of billions of dollars from the economy.”
Monday afternoon, Hogan tweeted: “While these federal programs provided important temporary relief, vaccines and jobs are now in good supply. Meanwhile, businesses across our state are facing severe worker shortages.”
State labor officials are scheduled to appear before a Maryland General Assembly committee Tuesday afternoon to discuss the implications of the state ending the federal pandemic benefits.
Meanwhile, the confusion with the online claims portal has deterred some Marylanders from reapplying for benefits, for fear that they could lose their aid and get tangled in another time-consuming battle with the state system.
That includes Shandell Crutchfield, a 33-year-old mother of two. She stopped receiving her unemployment payments from the state about 13 weeks ago, she said. Calls to the state hotline haven’t helped her to diagnose the issue, she said.
“I’m really skeptical about doing anything,” she said. “I don’t want to mess something up when my account was already messed up.”
Back in 2020, Crutchfield worked for a local bank, but frequently had to take time off to care for her children, and then for her father, who took ill. She has been using unemployment payments to stay afloat while caring for her 4-year-old and 14-year-old while day cares and schools remained closed. She applied in June 2020.
She plans to wait for more word from the state before reapplying, and then file her weekly certification. Waiting is nothing new, she said.
“They already have issues on top of issues,” she said.