Maryland unemployment benefits system was not ready for volume

beacon unemployment
Maryland created a new website to make it easier for people to file for unemployment. It was overwhelmed within minutes of launching. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said that he shared the frustration of thousands of people who tried to log on to a new website to help residents — including gig workers affected by the coronavirus crisis — file for unemployment insurance but were not able to do so.

Within minutes of the 7 a.m. launch, the state Department of Labor said its new Beacon site was overwhelmed.

“I’m sorry people had difficulties with that. It is now fixed,” Hogan said Friday afternoon during a news conference announcing his coronavirus recovery plan.

The new site was created because the state’s labor department website did not have the ability to process online the application of certain kinds of workers, and some 40,000 calls were backing up into the call center, Hogan said.

There were 35,000 people logging in to do different things on Friday, and the huge volume caused the site to crash, Hogan said. He added that the site was fixed within an hour, and 15,000 claims have been processed.

Still, Hogan said that he was “very frustrated” that the vendor did not have it ready for the volume.

With 100 people from the vendor working on the site, Hogan said it did get back online with some glitches throughout the day.

“It’s performing much better, and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire to make sure they get all the glitches worked out,” Hogan said.

Maryland’s Department of Labor displayed the following statement on its Division of Unemployment Insurance website Friday afternoon regarding the problems:

After this morning’s launch of the new BEACON One-Stop unemployment insurance application, our vendor experienced unexpected technical difficulties. While this vendor is still working through minor glitches, the functionality of the new BEACON One-Stop application has been restored. As of 5:15 p.m. today, over 44,000 accounts have been activated, over 19,000 new claims have been processed, and there are currently over 150,000 users accessing the application. We will continue to monitor the system tonight and through the weekend, as the site is available 24/7, to ensure full and proper functionality for all Marylanders. We sincerely apologize for the delays and inconvenience.

WTOP heard from frustrated people who were unable to log onto the Beacon site.

“The new landing page looked great. However, the good news ends there. One click on the new page and I encounter an error,” said Doug Lwin, a self-employed worker.

The notice on the site earlier Friday read: “Despite rigorous testing of our new BEACON One-Stop application, the vendor we partnered with is experiencing temporary issues with the system due to the volume of claimants accessing the site simultaneously. The outside vendor is working hard to resolve the issues. Please check our website later this morning for updates.”

Until now, Lwin and other gig workers weren’t eligible for unemployment, but a new pandemic emergency program allows him to receive financial help.

“This is very disappointing and frustrating! I’m sure there are thousand of individuals like me that haven’t been able to apply for unemployment because we don’t fall into the traditional worker category,” Lwin said. “I truly hope this issue will be resolved very soon.”

More Coronavirus News

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Jack Moore contributed to this report.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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