Spike in Pa. job hot line calls curious
HARRISBURG — Calls to the state's unemployment compensation service centers have mysteriously skyrocketed since September, and the agency doesn't know why.
The volume of calls to the centers rose to nearly 8 million in September, compared with slightly more than 900,000 a year earlier, Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway told state lawmakers in a letter Monday. In October the calls exceeded 11 million, and then reached 15.5 million in November.
The problem is all the more perplexing because the unemployment claim caseload is on the decline, measured either by number of initial claims or by the duration of claims, Hearthway wrote in the letter, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
“We are looking at all possibilities that may explain this dramatic increase,” Hearthway wrote. She promised to use “all appropriate and available resources to uncover the causes of this aberration.”
State legislators have been fielding complaints from constituents, said Erik Arneson, spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus. He welcomed Hearthway's letter, saying eligible claimants deserve to have their paperwork processed without an undue burden.
On Tuesday, the ranking Democrat on the House Labor and Industry Committee wrote to colleagues to say he would reintroduce a bill that would direct state funds to shore up unemployment compensation service centers. House Democrats held a public hearing two months ago about busy signals and long wait times in the phone system.
“When a person loses their job and reaches out to a service center for help, the very least they expect is for somebody to pick up the phone and talk to them,” said Bill Patton, House Democratic spokesman. “For hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians without jobs, that is not happening.”
Labor and Industry Department press secretary Sara Goulet said the state has been working with Verizon to figure out what has happened. Among the possible causes are automated calls. In the past month some numbers linked to high volumes of incoming calls have been blocked, and that seems to have helped, she said.
“The worst part is we're not able to provide people with the help they want,” she said. “We totally understand the frustration.”
Goulet said many of the questions that come in through the number can be answered online, and the state has dedicated a fax number to help direct people around the problem. It generates a call back from a staff member within three days, Goulet said.
Other alternatives include going to one of 68 Pennsylvania CareerLink centers around the state, where open phone lines are maintained for people who need help. Eight unemployment compensation centers, initially built as walk-in facilities, are no longer open to the public, but instead serve as call centers.
Labor and Industry Department press secretary Sara Goulet said the state has been working with Verizon to figure out what has happened. Among the possible causes are automated calls.
In the past month, some numbers linked to high volumes of incoming calls have been blocked, and that seems to have helped, she said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Consumer comes to the rescue as companies step back
- Trib 30 stocks drop to four-month low
- PPG submits offer for French sealants, adhesives business unit
- Natural gas industry buys share of Super Bowl spotlight
- Wall Street closes January on down note; Dow sheds 251 points
- Obama seeks $215M for precision medicine initiative
- Phelan: Fuel-saving tips for winter driving
- Kennametal plans plant closings, job cuts in fallout from oil and gas decline
- Consol Energy posts $74M profit in fourth quarter
- Energy companies vie for experienced workers with skills in high demand
- Wolf signs ban on new drilling beneath state land