A crowd of people in winter coats walked in a circle in front of the Pa. Career Link office on Spring Garden Street, calling the unemployment compensation hotline on their cell phones.
There’s a main problem with a state hotline as jobless residents can’t call to file claims for benefits and resolve issues. The line is always busy and has been for weeks.
The jammed-up phone system is not an outcome of increasing claims. To the contrary, unemployment claims have dropped in 2012 as the job market is improving slowly. Goulet, a spokeswoman with the Department of Labor and Industry said, “We’re working on it, “We’re trying to find ways to get people the help they need.”
Meanwhile, frustrated callers are rushing into Carrerlink of the Lehigh Valley which has two phones connected directly to the unemployment compensation call centers. Those two phones can put up about 8 people per hour, so the line begins early in the morning and keeps growing until the agency has to turn people away.
The callers have been getting larger. Nearly 50,000 residents filed unemployment claims in Northampton and Lehigh Counties in August this year, down 8.6% from the same month in 2011. Statewide, the number of claims in August was near to 900,000, down 12.2 percent from 2011.
Protesters offended over busy signals at the State’s Department of Labor have taken into the protest lines in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project says when callers to the state’s jobless benefits hotline don’t get a busy signal. They get a 3 hour wait.
David Wengert, a social worker who read off the number to the crowd, was laid off in June. He got the busy tone when he attempted to detect what had happened to three missed checks.
“People receiving unemployment like myself, it’s stressful. And it’s already stressful enough that you don’t have a job and you’re looking for work,” he said. He clarified that he finally when to a job placement office, where employees called the Department of Labor through their own back channels to explain this problem.
The state of Pennsylvania has brought back 117 of 135 call center workers and put on unpaid leave. According to Goulet, the claimants must consider the hotlines the emergency room of the unemployment system.
“When you are first sick, you would normally try some self-help — aspirin, rest. Much like going online to uc.pa.gov to look for answers and/or reading thoroughly all information sent to you by the [unemployment compensation] office,” she said. “If you are sick and continue to not feel well, then you would go to the ER. … And, by claimants who could self-help using the phones, lines are clogged for those who truly need to speak to someone.”
Federal Assistance Set to Run Out
The Philadephia contingent was also on the street to complain about the pending termination of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which pays for a longer period of unemployment benefits.
Carmelo Del Valle validated an extension by the fact that he paid into the program all through 25 years as a forklift operator. He has been seeking work for over a year and hopes an extension could carry him into the spring, “because that’s when most of the work comes back up.”
“I just need a little extra help for now,” he said.