PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — A sudden change in Maryland's unemployment system Sunday has left claimants confused and frustrated.
The surprise comes a week after they discovered that Gov. Larry Hogan had decided to end their enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits on July 3, instead of in September, as the federal program allows.
“The lack of notification is just beyond ridiculous," Noah Fogg, who lives in Silver Spring, said. "Yeah, like changing it is whatever. But if we knew a week ago, people could … get on and start the application. So there wouldn't be gaps.”
Fogg said he's been searching for a job in web design since the pandemic hit -- to no avail.
Jazmin Beard, who lives in Prince George's County, said she was able to get on the BEACON portal, but that's where her success stopped.
“It said that I had no open action item claims to do my weekly certification. But then it asked to reapply for benefits --the mass email they sent out to everybody saying that they had to either reapply or call in," Beard said. "And I didn't do it because … I didn't want to mess anything up.”
WUSA9's Jess Arnold sent the Department of Labor the following list of issues people shared they were having:
- One woman says IF she can get logged on to Beacon, she can’t file her certification. She said no one is answering the phones & the automated system continues on loop until it disconnects her saying no one is available to take the call.
- Someone else says he DID see the “apply for benefits” button on the portal this morning, but had not received an email from the DOL. They also said when they click on the button, it makes them reapply, but it only allows them to backdate one week & says they have to call. Then, no one answers the phone. They said if you back date a week, everyone who has done so gets their info erased & it takes them from PUA or PEUC and gives them regular UI, which they won’t have b/c they haven’t been working.
- Others say when they reapplied last night, their account got stripped to $0, because it switched them from PUA to UI.
- Some received an email, others didn’t, and they’re unsure why.
- Someone else says their payment for last week is still pending. The week of May 24 direct deposit worked fine, but now it’s pending. Also, micro deposit confirmation doesn’t work at all and no new weekly certification. They also can’t get ahold of anyone.
- Others still don’t have the apply for benefits button and no option to claim their benefits for this week.
- The biggest question from everyone is why would they make everyone reapply if they haven’t exhausted their benefits…especially since they run out anyway now in less than a month? Also, why wasn’t there a big announcement about this change in advance?
The DOL did not provide any specific answers to the above questions. Instead, a spokesperson shared the email they sent to claimants and an example of what the button looks like in the system.
Some still couldn't even access the system Monday, receiving a "Service Unavailable" notification when they tried to log in.
Others wanted more clarification and tried calling, but said they haven't been able to get through to anyone on the phone.
“I've tried, since seven o'clock this morning, on two phones. For like, three hours straight," mother of five, Shakerra Wingate said.
The email said they have until June 12 to reapply and that claimants will receive all eligible money owed.
But, they say that doesn't bring them much comfort in the meantime.
“The problem is, for instance, I just paid rent," Fogg said. "So now I need to buy groceries, I need to pay my phone bill, I need to feed my cat, I need to do lots of things -- feed myself -- that I literally cannot do without this payment.”
In terms of where unemployment rates stand in the state and local counties, non-seasonally adjusted state data says Maryland's unemployment rate hit 5.8% in April 2021.
County-wide, Prince George's County is reporting the second highest rate at 8.0%. Montgomery County is faring better than the state overall at 5.6%.
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