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Legislators question Labor secretary ahead of new UI system launch

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Posted at 6:40 PM, Sep 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 18:40:43-04

BALTIMORE — On Sunday, the Maryland Department of Labor will launch BEACON 2.0, the state’s new modernized unemployment insurance system.

Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson gave legislators an overview of the new system on Thursday and answered questions about the timing of the launch.

“A number of us might even have questions about why the platform for UI claimants would be disturbed or taken down at this point in time,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County).

Kelley and other legislators seemed hesitant about the switch when hundreds of thousands of people are relying on their benefits to survive.

Robinson said the new system will help them handle any surges in the future by creating a more seamless experience for claimants and employers.

“There’s never been more of a need for this type of comprehensive system and we’re really happy to be able to offer this to our customers,” Robinson said.

BEACON 2.0 has been in the works for around five years. New features include immediate updates regarding claim status and the ability to respond to fact-finding requests.

“Much of that can now happen automatically in the system,” said Robinson.

And for the first time, businesses will have a portal to respond to requests online versus playing phone tag.

“This pandemic has presented a real problem for us in terms of businesses being closed and employers maybe, due to no fault of their own, not giving us the information we need in a timely manner,” said Robinson.

But excitement from the Secretary was met with skepticism by legislators who reminded her of the emails they continue to receive from desperate, homeless, and frustrated claimants.

“I’ve got folks still from July and August on my list,” said Senator Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery County).

“I would encourage your staff to try and identify every single claim that has not been resolved in some manner since March, April, and May because my staff has a list of them that we keep sending to your office,” Senator Ed Reilly (R-Anne Arundel County) said to Robinson.

Robinson reminded legislators several times that the volume of claims is unprecedented and made assurances that the new system will help with the backlog and reduce call volume by allowing claimants to take additional actions online. She also said the agency is better prepared now than they were in April.

“The system will actually come back on live for our internal staff before it goes live for our claimants and employers so we will have time to identify if there are any major problems,” Robinson said.

Despite the billions in benefits the state has paid out, four percent of claims are still pending. While Robinson said this on par with pre-pandemic levels, she estimated it to be around 30,000 claimants including the 13,575 claims filed for the week ending September 12.

If claimants didn't file their weekly claim certification before the system went offline, they'll have an additional six days to file next week.

Once BEACON 2.0 launches on Sunday for claimants and Monday for employers, there will be a full week of extended call center hours.

The hours and contact information for the call centers are below:
Sunday, 9/20 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Monday, 9/21- Friday, 9/25 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Saturday, 9/26 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Live Agent Number (toll free): 1-877-293-4125