Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson announced Tuesday that the agency is breaking up with Bank of America and will cease using the company’s credit-debit cards to distribute the state’s unemployment benefits to eligible claimants.
The Labor Department swiped right and updated its profile to “In a relationship with Wells Fargo,” the 169-year-old multinational financial services company. Oh, The Wells Fargo Wagon is a coming, and it brings with it direct deposit.
But it had better know the territory!
The good news: Beginning in April, benefit payments will be directly deposited into the eligible claimant’s bank accounts.
But the terrible news: Out-of-work Marylanders eligible to receive unemployment benefits, some of whom have been waiting for several months, are anxiously awaiting the Department of Labor to approve and distribute their benefits.
Hundreds of unemployed Marylanders are taking to social media to express their frustrations over navigating the Department of Labor’s new online unemployment portal, Beacon 2.0.
Others have tagged the Labor Department’s Twitter account or replied to the department’s tweets, demanding answers about why they cannot speak with a live agent on the phone and why their emails have gone unanswered.
Others say that they received notices of overpayments of benefits and incorrect tax statements.
Some claimants say they’ve been waiting months for their unemployment benefits.
Need to know what taking so long with these benefits. I’ve been waiting since September with no update. I have kids to support and I’m on the verge of losing everything because of this! Money was provide from the governor to hire more employees for what?
— Natasha (@NanaRivera153) February 2, 2021
I have been waiting since 12/16/2020 and they still ask me for more documents, it is not enough for them with my Driver license and my SS,I have sent them everything and more.I sent a message on this page and nobody answers, three days ago what a way to play on people’s nerves
— Maca (@vikina) February 19, 2021
Been pending since dec 18. Can’t get ahold of anyone. But make sure to take Monday off
— MONEY PLAYS (@kody20912091) February 16, 2021
1/4— SERIOUS QUESTION: what are MD residents supposed to do? I have called EVERY SINGLE WEEK DAY SINCE 12/22, emailed, created a case w/ corresponding case #, & STILL NO CONTACT with ANYONE. Followed every step & recommendation. THERE’S NOWHERE TO TURN!
— Ofelia (@ofeliabelen27) February 17, 2021
My son has been calling and emailing every since July with no answer.
Right! I’ve finally recv’d $$ that were due to me for the last 10weeks then yesterday they say I’ve been overpaid!!! Unbelievable!! Non fraudulent but the right had don’t know what the left is doing! Soooooo frustrating! I’m filing an appeal! How can I owe you anything?
— Pat Connell Baker (@addyson1108) February 11, 2021
It’s sickening that people with active UI accounts have been waiting for weeks or months to get a check. My fiancé has gotten nothing in two months except, “we’re working on it”… Christ, our water got turned off n he’s losing it!
— MJ Lester (@madisonjaneles1) February 5, 2021
can you help me to resolve my unemployment payment, it’s been oh hold for 4 months now!!!!! please help
— Joodi (@High_mountain77) February 6, 2021
Meanwhile, other claimants are using social media to question why they cannot get hold of a live agent on the telephone or why their emails have gone unanswered.
What can I do if benefits were applied for in my name??? I’ve lost my SSI because of this & that’s all I have. I’m permanently physically disabled & need the SSI to live on. Please help! I can’t get through on the phone & have email & filled out the fraud form
— *Jenny* (@MsJennySharie83) February 1, 2021
I’ve been trying to reach out to get my benefits for over two months. Calls and emails haven’t been answered and of course the office was closed.
— King Nell (@KingJohnson1124) February 2, 2021
You guys are not answering any phone calls for two weeks now. My phone is about to be cut
— KZtheArtist (she/her) ??? (@KelseySaintjean) February 2, 2021
Hello I’m having trouble with my unemployment. I’ve tried to call almost a hundred times still to no avail. If possible could you please help me resolve this issue or point me to somebody who can?
— Reama (@junewill123) February 3, 2021
Is anyone at @MD_Labor working? Have been trying to help our employees with claims for a month. No one replies to emails & can’t reach a person. Been hung up on repeatedly. Ridiculous. Beacon is the biggest disaster ever.
— Kelly Hall (@kellyhall314) February 1, 2021
I’ve called 82 times TODAY. Nothing. Not a person picked up. I’m sick of this.
— DarkBunnykins (@DarkBunnykins) February 3, 2021
No one’s helping me, either. Still can’t get thru Beacon reopening claim unless I update irrelevant employer info from yrs ago. I don’t even know the info anymore (the biz closed ages ago).
Thanks to Beacon, no unemployment benefit for me even though I’m 100% eligible. It’s BS.
— Ipsuel_2.0 (@Ipsuel) January 29, 2021
Tiffany Robinson mostly silent on unemployment backlog
Labor Department Secretary Tiffany Robinson has remained out of the spotlight, though earlier this week she told WMAR-2 News reporter Mallory Sofastaii, “In a matter of 60 days, they’ve already resolved about 14,000 claims that’s an extreme benefit to our customer base and our pending backlog,”
Many claimants say they cannot reach a live agent over the phone. The agency’s system, they say, instructs callers to call a separate phone number. Claimants say they hang up and dial a new number, only to be greeted by another Round-robin scenario, which tells them to call back at a later time. Repeat cycle.
Robinson said Tuesday that claimants are welcome to call the Department of Labor’s unemployment insurance division if they so desire.
“I know some people still have a hard time getting through, but there’s the option for the callback if they’re early enough in the queue to get that option.”
But claimants say they aren’t receiving callbacks.
Unemployed Marylanders have since taken to Twitter to gripe about the Labor Department’s failure to return their calls, and they say the agency’s phone system sends them into an endless loop. Plus, they say, the agency doesn’t respond to email inquires.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has maintained a high profile during the COIVD-19 pandemic, holding weekly (and sometimes daily) press conferences and appearing almost weekly on national television to highlight and plug Maryland’s assertive response to containing the virus that has killed over a half-million Americans since last March.
It’s surprising that Hogan (and for that matter, Robinson, the head of the agency) has said little about the Labor Department‘s massive unemployment backlog during Hogan’s recent public appearances.
You can watch below Sofastaii’s 18-minute interview with Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson.
The Silver Lining in Maryland’s Unemployment system?
There may be some good news on the horizon for the unemployed.
On Wednesday, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved two new contracts – totaling $150.2 million, fully financed by the federal government – to increase staffing at the Labor Department’s unemployment division, erasing the massive backlog of outstanding unemployment claims.
In addition, the Board approved a $1.6 million contract that hires a Virginia-based IT company to support the state’s unemployment system and update its technology between the old unemployment infrastructure and Beacon 2.0, which was launched last September and needs some tweaking.
Maryland’s Labor Department has already spent $172 million to update the state’s antiquated claims system.
The agency shelled out $102 million to increase its staffing to answer the nearly 21,000 incoming calls (on average) it receives daily. The agency also entered into a $70 million contract to address the backlog of unemployment claims; a $1.5 million contract was, in addition, awarded to a company to handle the agency’s overpayments.
Several Maryland state lawmakers say their offices are fielding multiple calls a day from frantic constituents demanding answers about why their benefits are still pending and when they’ll be distributed.
Earlier in February, Maryland’s legislative leaders rolled out a series of policy reforms intended to revamp the state’s unemployment system.
The short and long-term reforms would bolster the agency’s customer service, improve its agents’ response times and ensure the agency is ready to meet its future challenges.
Mr. Hogan’s office told WBAL-TV that the state legislature broke the unemployment system “years ago when they wrote the problem into state law,” which, the administration claims, “leaves claimants vulnerable to being stuck in a complicated adjudication process.”
Going further, the governor’s office said, “the legislation falls so far short of what people need right now.”
“It does not address the root problem of having a system that operates completely differently in resolving cases from 46 other states. That may be how legislators want it, but they are needlessly keeping far too many people trapped in limbo.”
As a point of clarification: The state’s executive branch – Governor Hogan – runs the Department of Labor; the legislature is responsible for providing oversight.