People who have a problem with unemployment benefits get endless busy signal.
The state’s call center for PA unemployment benefits in downtown Allentown is not set up to assist the unemployed, but most days some will turn up anxious for answers after receiving a non-stop busy signal when they try calling.
An employee of the call center memorized one woman who claimed she had pressed redial 137 times before she even got the automatic answering service that inform you how long your wait will be. That wait for her was 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The call center employee said, “It’s bad, it is really bad”. Allentown’s call center on Hamilton Street is one of seven in Pennsylvania. The state stopped an eighth call center in Philadelphia in August and jobless 78 workers in response to a loss of federal unemployment benefits.
Presently, the state has 520 employees to receive calls and handle calls for the 525,000 laid-offs as per Sara Gourlet, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor & Industry. Of those unemployed 275,000 are collecting benefits.
Gourlet started inspecting into this after a neighbor told her he had been trying for days to reach someone in an unemployment office who could tell him how to resolve a problem with his claim.
He strived hard to fix the problem online at the Labor department website but there’s no selection available for his specific issue. “I tried calling 30 or 40 times,” he said. “You can never get through.”
After hearing number of similar stories, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia had a paralegal do an 11-day experiment to observe how long it would take her every day to expend on the toll-free-number.
For instance, on Aug 28, 2012, the paralegal got 37 consecutive busy signals and stopped trying after two hours. On Sept.5, she got 78 repeated busy signals after four hours. The least amount of time it took her over 11 days to get in touch with a live person was 29 minutes.
According to Sharon Dietrich, managing partner of Community Legal Services, the logjam has left many of her agency’s clients in terrible crisis. “It’s true all over the state,” she said. “A lot of my clients are using cell phones and they have limits on their cell phone minutes. We have some people who come to our office just to use a phone to call.”
Dietrich said she recognizes that the state is attempting to do more with less. But layoffs at call centers and cuts in the hours the jobless can get help –now a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday – restricting people who are seeking work.
She said, “I don’t think you can run a system where people can’t access the system.”
In brief, there aren’t sufficient people employed in trying to help the laid offs find the way to unemployment system.
According to Gourlet, the curbs have come in response to a $30 million drop in funds the state obtains from the U.S. government to manage unemployment compensation. As the state unemployment rate has dipped, together with the number of people filing for PA Unemployment benefits, so has the federal money for administration.
Gourlet recommended that the unemployed can call from the CareerLink Union Boulvard, which has a phone line with better chances of getting through to staff at the call centers.
The call center employee has also told Gourlet that the staffs are under guidelines to stay on the line when a call comes from a CarrerLink so the phone can be passed from one jobless person to another to another.
Gourlet, who said the state plans to include more temporary call center workers, said callers sometimes have shorter waits calling later in the day and later in the week. Other unemployed people have had some success calling their legislator to mediate.
Keep in mind; the Legislature previous year passed a law that in order to collect benefits, the laid offs must now be able to prove they have applied for three jobs per week as well as signed up for employment search services with the Pennsylvania CareerLink.
So how can we anticipate people to do a full-time job search if they have to use up business hours redialing when they have a question about their checks?