As wait times at short-staffed centers skyrocket, Pa. lawmakers appear unmoved

Claims examiner Penny Erney

Claims examiner Penny Erney

Two to three hours.

That’s how long it takes to get through to one of Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation call centers these days, following a funding dispute that resulted in closing centers in Altoona, Allentown, and Lancaster, and termination of more than 500 employees.

That’s on average, too — callers can potentially be on hold for up to five hours, if they get through at all.

Sara Goulet, with the Department of Labor and Industry, said it’s a huge step backwards from just a few months ago.

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“Before layoffs, and before we took our folks who were soon to be laid off off the phones, our average wait time to call the UC service center toll free number was just under 10 minutes,” she said.

The state’s CareerLink offices have also become markedly busier. They offer direct phone lines to unemployment compensation services, which people usually use if they can’t get through at home.

Lancaster office employee Valerie Hatfield said she now sees many more of those frustrated people.

“From January through November last year, we were averaging 15 people a day,” she said. “In the last four or five weeks, we’ve been averaging 50 a day.”

The funding standoff that started all this was between the Senate GOP and the Democratic Wolf administration.

It concerns a four-year funding stream to the unemployment compensation program that expired at the end of 2016. The governor wanted to extend it, but the Senate’s GOP majority said he hadn’t provided a specific enough plan for funding.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said he’s still waiting for more details.

“We’re not saying that there’s not investment to be made here. But, right now, the best that we can make of it, they’re just looking to continue the status quo,” he said. “That’s not acceptable.”

A spokesman for the governor said the administration has provided “all information requested.”

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