WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Concerns and questions continue tonight across our region regarding challenges many people are facing to obtain unemployment compensation benefits.
Tuesday the person who runs that state agency met virtually with reporters from across the commonwealth to discuss those problems. Rarely does a day go by when someone doesn’t reached out to the I-Team with a concern or complaint regarding unemployment compensation claims.
The basic message Tuesday from Harrisburg? We hear you and are doing our best to resolve these issues.
“I am going to do everything I can to resolve outstanding issues with unemployment programs as quickly as possible,” Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Jennifer Berrier said.
Berrier responded Tuesday to concerns from people all across the commonwealth regarding challenges connecting with her agency to file unemployment claims, such as one complaint from a Schuylkill County man who reached out to the I-Team to look into the situation.
“I start at 7:58 in the morning sometimes before that. I’m averaging on average 3,000 calls a day. Some days I do 6,000. I still get a busy signal,” Michael of Kelayres, Schuylkill County said.
As did the I-Team when we tried to get through last Friday. Secretary Berrier urged people to use email, not the phone.
“We are working through our email accounts very quickly. We suggest email because it allows our folks the chance to go into the claim and resolve issues more quickly versus the phone. Admittedly yes there are still customer service issues within the department. We are continuing to evaluate what we can do to provide better access to our folks,” Berrier said.
“We have begun making PEUC and PUA payments to the Pennsylvanians who are out-of-work because of the pandemic and need these benefits,” said Berrier. “And while we know that payments were issued to many claimants over the past four days, we are also aware that some people have encountered issues. We understand the frustration of the claimants who’ve been waiting for their payments to resume – we are frustrated too and are working to make it right. Our team resolved the PEUC issue last evening and is identifying and fixing PUA issues as quickly as we can. We will provide regular PUA updates until the issues are resolved.”Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier
And many state lawmakers, like Senator John Yudichak from Luzerne County say the department is antiquated and understaffed and the COVID-19 pandemic was simply too much for the department to handle.
“Several administrations have failed to invest in the infrastructure at the Department of Labor and Industry,” Senator Yudichak said.
When asked what’s being done to upgrade the computer systems and or put more personnel on staff, Berrier responded: “We are continuing to hire folks of course to address our telephone issues and also our email accounts. We still continue to move forward with our benefits modernization project that we have. Basically replaces our outdated main frame system. We are really much looking forward to the modernized aspects of that system and we are still pushing forward and hopefully going live with the new system in the springtime so that will help significantly with what we are going through.”
Secretary Berrier says the delay in federal funding of two federal programs that provide unemployment benefits to those folks who lost their jobs due to pandemic added to these “connecting” issues. They are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC.