More than six months since the pandemic caused widespread job losses, Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson says her office has processed 96 percent of unemployment claims — which still leaves about 30,000 people waiting for benefits.
Robinson told the House Economic Matters and Senate Finance committees Thursday that updates to the unemployment insurance claims portal, known as Beacon, will streamline answers to common questions.
“Oftentimes claimants are calling because they want to know why their claim is on hold or what's going on with, you know, … what's being waited for from the employer or just information about their status, their claim status or their eligibility,” she said. “The new system will include real-time, explanations and data about what's happening.”
The unemployment insurance call center frequently is so overwhelmed by calls for help that the automated system tells applicants to call back later. Robinson said the changes to the Beacon system should mitigate that phenomenon by reducing the number of people who need to call to get their questions answered.
Robinson’s department plans to launch the updated system on Sunday.
The agency is also hiring more people to help process claims, Robinson said.
But lawmakers, who have been inundated by calls seeking help with claims, were skeptical that the problems are being addressed.
“The challenge for the individual human beings and families that are calling us on a daily basis is a survival challenge at this point,” said Del. Lorig Charkoudian, a Montgomery County Democrat. “It's hard to say, you know, we're working on it, we're hiring people, other states are doing worse ‘cause for them, it's how are they going to make it through the next week.”