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Questions about Maryland unemployment? We have answers.

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Posted at 4:17 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 17:29:45-04

BALTIMORE — Since March 9, the Maryland Department of Labor has received more than half a million new unemployment insurance claims.

To process claims covered under the CARES Act, the state decided to implement an entirely new system for all claimants.

On April 24, the state launched the BEACON One-Stop application.

WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii has received a number of questions about the process. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Why am I receiving an invalid SSN message?
If all the information doesn’t match what’s in the Social Security Administration’s databases, the system will returns an invalid SSN message. Last name is a common error as well as date of birth.

According to the Maryland Department of Labor, when this happens, the claim is flagged for review, and the claimant gets a notification to upload proof. This proof would usually consist of a copy of their SSN card. A member of their staff then has to review the claim, make the appropriate change, and approve the claim based on the new information. Until this action is complete, the claim does not move forward.

What can I do if I'm unable to reach anyone by phone or email?
Unfortunately, there's no other workaround at this time. The call center hours were extended, and the Department of Labor has hired additional staff to handle the surge in calls. In addition to the 400 employees who typically process claims, Labor partnered with a vendor to bring in 200 additional call and claim takers. They're also in the process of reassigning over 150 current state employees and hiring over 100 new unemployment insurance employees. These actions will more than double the staffing at claim centers located throughout the state.

The Department of Labor also launched a new virtual assistant on their website to help Marylanders receive answers to their most frequently asked questions about unemployment insurance benefits. The virtual assistant is in the bottom right hand corner on their site.

According to the agency, as of May 19, 2020, the Virtual Agent has handled 211,113 total sessions and 1,079,832 total messages. The Department is also expanding this functionality to their Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to allow customers using smart-phones to engage in chat sessions with the Virtual Agent while they are awaiting assistance by telephone. They are currently in the testing phase and are planning to deploy this functionality by the end of May.

The new IVR system will add additional functionalities for filing weekly certifications and resetting PINS. The Department is also expanding the IVR system’s capacity of 200 phone lines to 540 lines phone lines. However, this expansion is not going to entirely address the issue with the call volume. To address the call volume, the Department said they will continue to hire additional staff and to leverage technology, such as interfacing the Accenture IVR with the Virtual Agent and having the Accenture staff engage in human to human chat functions.

Why can't the Department of Labor use direct deposit instead of debit cards?
According to the agency, direct deposit will be available when their fully modernized UI system goes live later this year.

The Division has tried to amend its current contract with Bank of America to include digital disbursement services, but the State Treasurer’s Office was not comfortable with the terms that Bank of America presented and did not allow an amendment to the contract in the midst of a one year extension.

What should I do if I'm still waiting for a phone interview?
Hang in there. According to the Secretary of Labor, pre-pandemic cases were resolved within the 21 days, with a typical backlog under 3,000. Today’s volume is 52 times that of their pre-pandemic workload, so it may take a number of weeks for every interview to be scheduled.

Staff is also attempting to contact customers whose issues may not require a formal interview in order to reduce this backlog more quickly. These issues
may have been triggered by a claimant choosing suspension without pay, leave of absence, discharge, reporting unemployment as wages, and/or reporting last paycheck as earnings.

What if I don't see the weekly claim certification tab in BEACON?
According to a spokesperson with the Maryland Department of Labor, it may be because it is too early to submit, you are not eligible to submit a certification for that particular week because you are no longer eligible for benefits (this can happen for a variety of reasons), or a certification has already been submitted for that week. If none of these reasons apply, a claimant will have to contact Sagitec’s technical support team by emailing BEACON.support@maryland.gov.

Why am I unable to file weekly certifications for previous weeks?
This should be fixed. On May 20, the Department of Labor tweeted that all regular unemployment insurance claimants are able to file weekly claim certifications for all prior weeks they have missed in just one session using the BEACON One-Stop. These claimants were previously limited to filing one prior week at a time.

In addition, regular unemployment insurance claimants should check their BEACON portal to see if there are new claim certification weeks available to file. If there are multiple weeks available, claimants can file them all to ensure that their claim filings are up to date.

I lost my benefits following the switch to BEACON. What happened?
This can happen for a number of reasons including difficulties confirming information with your employer, answering the new weekly claim certification questions incorrectly, or passing the deadline of your return to work date.

"That triggers a stop of their weekly payments and it triggers a need for our team to contact the employer to get something in writing from them that tells us they’re still closed and we want to extend that return to work date," said Robinson in a virtual briefing with lawmakers.

See the Secretary's answer to this question HERE.

When asked why Labor doesn't do away with return to work dates, Robinson said they've reached out to employers and received feedback that many wish to keep the date, particularly essential businesses, and employers needing to keep workers on the payroll to qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness.

RELATED: Secretary of Labor answers lawmakers' questions on unemployment

Can the state simplify the process by eliminating weekly claim certification questions?
No. The Secretary said these questions are mandated by the federal government.

Here's a guide on answering the new weekly claim certification questions.

Am I required to search for work during the pandemic?
No. There is a temporary exemption from the work search requirement for individuals receiving unemployment insurance benefits. The Secretary of Labor said claimants will not be penalized for answering "no" to this question on their weekly claim certification.

Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson has also extended the waiver to the work search requirement for individuals receiving unemployment insurance benefits to last the duration of the state of emergency, plus 30 days. The original exemption was for a 10 week period, effective 4/20/2020.

And even though the requirement is waived, you must still file a weekly claim certification in order to receive benefit payments. You may file your weekly claim certification by Internet or telephone.

When will I receive my Bank of America debit card?
According to the FAQ document on the Maryland Department of Labor’s website, it could take 7-10 business days to receive a Bank of America debit card in the mail. This debit card from Bank of America will contain benefit payments.

A common issue has been previous claimants waiting for a new debit card.

If you've received unemployment insurance benefits from the State of Maryland on a Bank of America prepaid card, the Department of Labor will continue to send funds to that existing prepaid card account.

If you no longer have that card or it has expired, you can request a new card online through the new Replace My Card tab on the bank’s website. The replacement card will be sent to the address on file with the Department of Labor.

Why was I only approved for $176 as my weekly benefit amount for PUA or PEUC?
On Monday, May 11, the Department of Labor tweeted that claimants who are determined eligible for PUA are preliminarily assigned the minimum amount of $176 as their monetary eligibility. This amount may increase after your income documentation has been reviewed, but it will not decrease.

Correspondence detailing your monetary determination will be available in your claimant portal and depending on your communication preference, may be mailed to your address as well. Payment processing should begin shortly after that.

Also, if you applied for PUA or PEUC benefits, it will initially say in your account that you have applied for Regular UI benefits. This is because in order to be eligible for CARES Act benefits, you must first be determined ineligible for Regular UI benefits per federal guidelines.

If you see that you are "Ineligible/Pending", this means that you are ineligible for Regular UI benefits, but pending for CARES Act benefits. Once you are determined eligible for PUA benefits, your program name will change from Regular UI to PUA.

Will I automatically receive the additional $600 in weekly pay from the federal government?
Yes. Everyone eligible for benefits will receive an additional $600 per week as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program on top of current regular benefits. FPUC is effective March 29, 2020 through July 31, 2020 (last paid week ends Saturday, July 25, 2020). Your benefits will be retroactive to when you lost wages, all the way back to March 29, 2020.

NOTE: The additional $600 will not be reflected in your BEACON account, but it will be included on your debit card.

What's the best way to access the BEACON system?
On a computer, any browser should work. Mobile devices and tablets are not recommended.

On May 6, a Sagitec executive said they will be releasing a new mobile application the week of May 11 where claimants will be able to submit weekly certifications and some account updates on their phones and tablets. New claims will still need to be filed through the website.

What happens after I file?
According to the Maryland Department of Labor, after reviewing a claimant’s application and supporting documentation, DUI will notify a claimant of their eligibility through the portal and their preferred method of communication. If they are denied or found ineligible for benefits, they will receive instructions on how to protest or appeal the determination.

When will I receive benefits?
The Maryland Secretary of Labor has said they're working to abide by the federal guidelines of delivering benefits within 21 calendar days, however, if there's an issue with the claim, it make take longer.

If you haven't received your benefits within 21 days, try contacting the claims center by phone or email.

The claims centers are open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. To contact a claim center, call 410-949-0022.

You can also e-mail questions to ui.inquiry@maryland.gov.

How do I file a claim?
The Department of Labor has put out several video tutorials on how to navigate the BEACON website. Click here to view the video tutorials, and scroll down.

What if I'm having issues logging onto the website?
The Maryland Department of Labor created a username/password resource guide. Click here to view it.

For additional information about logging into the application, read their Login Quick Start Guide.

If you continue to have login issues, email beacon.support@maryland.gov.

I haven't received a response to the email I sent. Is there anyone else I can contact for technical issues?
Sagitec said they're unaware of any alternative emails or phone numbers. A tip for getting support faster is to provide more information when emailing support. For example, Claimant ID, Username, what the user was trying to accomplish, what the user tried that didn’t work, screenshots, etc. This helps reduce the amount of back and forth between the support team and claimant.

What if I answered the weekly claim certification questions incorrectly, and my benefits were stopped or delayed?
The Maryland Department of Labor said they've implemented an automated solution to help customers who had active claims that became inactive the first week of May because they answered the weekly claim certification questions incorrectly. If your issue isn't resolved, you'll need to contact the claims center.

RELATED: The mistake causing Marylanders to lose unemployment benefits

Who created the BEACON website?
The vendor's name is Sagitec. In 2015, the Maryland Board of Public Works awarded Sagitec a $49 million contract to modernize the state's unemployment insurance website.

Is the Governor thinking about firing the vendor?
It's unlikely. When asked about this in a news conference, the Governor said he’s frustrated Sagitec hasn't gotten this fixed, but he doesn’t think it makes sense to bring in a new vendor to start from scratch. Other states have done this and have had worse results.

In an emailed statement, Sagitec said they've made significant progress, but there's more work to do. "We will not stop working on making system improvements until we meet the ultimate measure of success, which is getting eligible unemployed Marylanders paid quickly and accurately, with as little frustration as possible," wrote Sagitec.

If you have a Matter for Mallory, she wants to hear from you. You can email her using the form below, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

BEACON One-Stop Tutorial Videos: