Calls for help from unemployed go unanswered

You've been laid off or, through no fault of your own, have lost your job.

You're depressed and doubting, and looking for support. And you need an unemployment check.

So you call the Unemployment Compensation hotline number.

Chances are you get a busy signal, so you wait.

And you wait.

And you wait some more.

You're not alone. Dozens and dozens of Pennsylvanians are complaining that they're getting a chilly reception from the so-called hotline.

“I was on the phone for over an hour waiting for somebody,” said Shirley Ortiz of Middletown. “Sometimes I never get ahold of anyone, or if I do nothing gets resolved.”

The specifics of Shirley's employment history differ from dozens of others, but their stories about the hotline are all similar. They reached out to our abc27 Facebook page and shared tales of woe.

Christopher Josephs says he made 76 calls in one day.

Jeff McCloud had to dial at least 100 times.

Kristi Eckrich complains he spent an entire day trying to call.

Melissa Sell says her record on hold was three hours.

And Cathy McKee laments it's just getting worse.

Deborah Hume, a laid-off construction worker from Steelton, is blunt and likely speaks for the group.

“Their customer service sucks, to be quite honest,” she said.

Hume says she fought through numerous busy signals only to get people that seemed too busy to be bothered.

“The attitudes that I got from customer service people I've spoken to, a lot of them are rude, like they don't like their job and they don't want to have to talk to you,” she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry acknowledges the problem. Spokeswoman Sara Goulet wouldn't go on camera and answer questions, but she did issue the following statement:

“Labor and Industry is keenly aware of the situation with the unemployment compensation service center phone lines. We appreciate the continued patience of claimants as our staff work to resolve a complex problem as quickly as possible. We continue to encourage claimants to use the website to file initial and continued claims, check claim status and get answers to questions.”

But patience is in short supply for many, like Ortiz. This is, after all, money she and her employer paid into the system. It's no handout. It is the holidays. She has bills.

“There's not gonna be a Christmas this year for my family,” she said.

Labor and Industry encourages claimants to use its website to make claims or check on the status of claims. Hume insists she did that, but was directed online to phone in and then dealt with the dreaded, incessant, busy signal.

“I finally said, 'You know what? This is ridiculous,'  and I hung up,” she said.

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