Phone Issues Affect Pennsylvania Unemployment Claims
Jobless Pennsylvanians had a tough time filing claims with the state in fall 2012 due to a $30 million fall in federal funding, out of date technology and possible sabotage, the Corbett administration said.
But alterations have been made, state Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway told a joint House and Senate panel.
“We feel the phone system is largely fixed at this point. And I feel that we’ve turned a corner on some of these issues,” Hearthway told the joint labor and industry committee.
Not everyone agreed.
An official of Community Legal Services, which offers free lawful support to low-income Philadelphia residents, said in written statement that it’s still taking too long for lay-offs to get the aid they need.
According to Sharon Dietrich, managing director of the organization, a paralegal tested the system earlier in January and experienced wait times that ranged from 48 minutes to four hours. And sometimes, Dietrich said, the paralegal couldn’t get through at all.
“A significant problem … is that calls from cell phones fare particularly poorly. For instance, she called from a land line and a cell phone at the same time. The land line call got through in one hour and six minutes. The cell phone call took three hours and 57 minutes,” Dietrich said in her statement.
Hearthway said the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry bought a new phone system on October 23. It restored what she called the “antiquated” technology that had been employed since the state’s call centers were established in the late 1990s. Still, she said, the change was not as smooth as expected.
“I anticipated glitches; there were more than just glitches with that phone system, which made the situation worse than it otherwise would have been,” Hearthway said.
The labor/industry secretary also said an investigation is under way to decide if someone tried to hack into the system to make it almost impossible for anybody to get through to the call centers.
“The numbers are astronomical, unprecedented. There are some things that look very suspicious,” she said. “State police are investigating certain aspects of this: whether there was any intentional sabotage of the system or not, whether there were computer programs that were designed to have that kind of rapid redialing system.”
All funding for Pennsylvania’s administration of unemployment compensation programs comes from the federal government, Hearthway said. As the number of unwaged claims dropped considerably from January 2011 to September 2012, Washington paid the state $155 million in fiscal 2012-13, which is $30 million less than it collected the year before.
Hearthway said the commonwealth could see another $10 million stripped from its budget because less people keep on seeking unemployment benefits.
She said January is the department’s busiest month for jobless claims and the complaints were down from last year’s rate.