Sudden change in unemployment system leaves claimants scrambling to file weekly certifications

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Posted at 6:12 PM, Jun 09, 2021

BALTIMORE — A change in the unemployment system is keeping some jobless workers from filing their weekly certifications. Claimants have until Saturday to do so, but website issues aren't making it easy.

“You can see there’s nothing there, it’s like the whole system is gone,” said Zenia Gates.

Like many others, Gates went to fill-out the weekly form certifying she still needed benefits, but instead, saw a button to “Apply for Benefits.”

Since Sunday, claimants have been sharing their struggles trying to access their BEACON portal and photos of error messages, blank screens, and spinning wheels.

“It seems like we’re put on the back burner. It seems like we’re being told things just to get off the phone, it’s a circle. It’s just the same thing and it’s nothing being done,” said Charmekia Pace.

The Department of Labor said there are no technical issues with the BEACON system beyond high volume. The website vendor has added three servers to accommodate the traffic. And claimants are exhausting their benefits and need to reapply per program requirements.

“If you went on the website initially [my benefit expiration date] said it was due September of this year,” said Mario Bory.

Bory added that claimants weren’t given advance notice, received few instructions after the switch, and have been struggling to speak with a claims agent.

“I don’t mind going through the process, reapplying, checking all the boxes off, it was basically the lack of communication,” Bory said.

Many claimants have also reported mixed messaging and have shared chat conversations with claims agents telling them not to reapply.

“They’re saying it’s a glitch in the system,” said Shanda Mcallister who spoke with a claims agent.

WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii asked the Department of Labor why claimants and claims agents weren’t given a heads up.

In an email, a spokeswoman wrote:

“Claims agents were provided guidance and instructions about this process at the beginning of the week.

90% all claimants that have reapplied have been determined eligible for the same program almost instantaneously, filed their weekly certification, and received payment. The remaining 10% are having wages detected, which means they may be eligible for regular UI and we must wait for a response from the employer. This is actually to these claimants' benefit because if they are found eligible for regular UI, their benefits may continue beyond the July 3 discontinuation of the federal programs. We will take every measure to ensure these claims are processed quickly.”

Meanwhile, claimants continue to report issues logging onto the BEACON website and seeing a zero balance.

According to the Department, if you apply for a new benefit year, your PEUC or PUA balance will not be affected. If you are a regular UI claimant, and you are monetarily ineligible for benefits in the new benefit year, you will have a $0 balance. In that case, you will be reverted back to PEUC or PUA.

The Department also said reapplying for benefits has nothing to do with the July 3 discontinuation of federal unemployment benefits.

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