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Here’s what’s going on with Maryland’s unemployment system after a change left many unable to submit weekly claims

When hundreds of unemployed Marylanders logged on to the state’s online benefits portal early Sunday morning, many were met with a confusing sight.

The option to send in their weekly claim certification — a requirement for receiving benefits — was missing.

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Throughout the morning, anxious comments started to fill Facebook and Reddit groups populated by the state’s unemployed. Could this mean delayed aid, which families were relying on for phone bills, utilities and rent?

Here’s what we know about the situation so far.

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What happened?

The state Department of Labor requires claimants to fill out a weekly unemployment questionnaire between Sunday at 12:01 a.m. and Friday at 5 p.m., according to its website. Failing to do so can result in late payments or the end of aid.

But on Sunday, many reported that the button to access the questionnaire was missing on the state’s unemployment portal, BEACON 2.0.

Around 2 p.m., the state Department of Labor wrote in a tweet that those who were unable to file their claim certificate should check to see if they had an “Apply for Benefits” button under the portal’s options panel.

Everyone with an account that featured that button — even those that were still active and had a balance — would have to reapply for unemployment in BEACON to file their weekly claim. The function does not work on the BEACON mobile app, so claimants must either open a browser window on their phones or use a computer.

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“The federal unemployment insurance programs have not ended and there are no issues with the BEACON system,” the department wrote in its tweet. “Many claimants are exhausting their benefits and need to reapply per program requirements.”

The announcement came out of left field for many unemployed residents, who hadn’t previously received communication about reapplying.

Why would someone have to reapply for benefits?

In a statement on its website, the department said reapplication might be necessary if a person did not file a weekly claim last week, if the person has been receiving benefits for 52 weeks or if the person’s “monetary eligibility needs to be redetermined.”

State labor officials clarified 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.

Claimants will have until the end of the day Saturday to file this week’s certification, according to the Department of Labor website.

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.

“There are no issues with the BEACON system,” state Department of Labor spokeswoman Fallon Pearre said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun on Monday. “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.

How to contact the Department of Labor

For help with your benefits, you can access the department’s live chat or call 667-207-6520, although both tend to experience high volumes of inquiries.

Other changes ahead

For many unemployed Marylanders, dealing with the state’s unemployment system has been incredibly fraught. Plenty waited months for aid after losing their jobs to the pandemic, and fought through immense crowds to reach helpers from the state.

Meanwhile, Maryland is terminating pandemic unemployment programs funded by the federal government July 3. These programs weren’t scheduled to end until September under the American Rescue Plan. Last week, Maryland became the 24th state to end the programs early.

For some workers, including the formerly self-employed and one-time gig workers, this is their last month of aid. The state is also cutting off $300 weekly payments to the unemployed from the federal government and reinstating a requirement that the unemployed complete three job-searching activities a week.

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