Emotional testimony heard on Maryland Unemployment site issues

There were some very emotional testimonies shared from those participating in a virtual joint Maryland committee hearing held on Tuesday to review some of the serious and continuing issues Marylanders are still having with the Maryland Department of Labor’s new unemployment web portal. 

More than 1,100 people signed-up to testify after the Maryland House Finance and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees announced a joint virtual hearing would be held on the matter this week. Legislators planned to hear around 270 on Tuesday and asked others to submit video testimonies. 

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One of those emotional testimonies came from a woman named Stephanie Abrams, who told lawmakers she is a single mother and lost her job on March 20th. 

“Once they switched over to the Beacon system. I stopped getting paid. I had to file by tele-cert which is almost impossible … Apparently everything’s expired but I’m still able to file a tele-cert. I can’t get in touch with anyone to help with trying to figure out what’s going on and all the while, I have no money anymore and about to lose literally everything. My car and potentially get evicted and I’m trying really hard to keep things together,” said Abrams. 

Lawmakers told Abrams staff would follow-up with her. 

Abrahams and several other people testified on Tuesday saying their issues really began when the Maryland Department of Labor launched its BEACON One-Stop site on April 24th. This site was supposed to make it easier for Marylanders to file for state and federal CARES Act unemployment benefits in one location. The site crashed on the day it launched due to the high volume of users. Multiple issues have been reported since. 

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Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said last week there is now hardly any wait time accessing the site. Tuesday several people testified they still haven’t received any benefits because of the site issues, inaccurate information and no one to get ahold of to fix problems. 

“The two things I want to bring up that have been the most infuriating have been the lack of communication from the Secretary of Labor, the governor and from the department on how to actually complete the, you know, the steps needed to fill out your application … it was only just yesterday that I got an email that made me understand – that had me understand the process that I was going through, that I’ve been working on since then, you know, since April 22nd,” said Patrick Horner. 

A frustrated single parent whose first name is Amanda, said, “Who is being held accountable for all these lives that are being ruined by this? People who haven’t’ been paid by two months or more and small businesses that are just – they’re never going to recover?” 

Before the virtual hearing, FOX 5 talked with Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chair, Sen. Guy Guzzone. When asked if he felt the Department of Labor was working to protect Maryland’s workers, Sen. Guzzone replied, “I really believe that they’re trying the best that they can in very extraordinary circumstances, but we’ve got to re-double our efforts. They’ve got to redouble their efforts. They’ve got to put the resources forward necessary to make it happen and make it happen a lot faster than it is right now.” 

The Maryland Department of Labor also released a statement ahead of the hearing, highlighting Maryland as the only state to have a site to processes both regular and CARES Act claims. 

The Labor Department announced as of May 12, Maryland has paid 327,649 unemployment insurance claims during the Coronavirus pandemic. Ninety percent of those making claims received payment within 21-days, a press release read. The department also said since Saturday: “Maryland paid 56,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, totaling more than $165 million in relief.” 

“The unprecedented volume of new claims, and constantly changing guidelines from the federal government, have presented a series of challenges not only for our department, but for unemployment programs across the nation,” said Labor Secretary Robinson in a statement, “While we are making progress, there are still many frustrated Marylanders waiting to receive benefits. Please know that we are listening, we know what needs to be improved, and we are focused on getting the job done. We will not be satisfied until every Marylander gets the relief they need and deserve.”

The virtual Tuesday hearing began at 1 p.m. and only stopped shortly before 5 p.m. for a 10 minute break. A spokesperson for the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee told FOX 5 the lawmakers are prepared to run the hearing until 10 p.m. Tuesday. 

State Sen. Guzzone said in the hearing, the committees plan on submitting these testimonies to both the Governor and Department of Labor.