PINE GROVE -- They needed help, they got busy signals, and the state Department of Labor and Industry promised changes for unemployed people trying to get their benefits.
The department changed its web page, hoping to drive more unemployed people away from their phones to their computers.
The phone lines had been jammed since mid-December when the state closed call centers and laid off more than 500 people who answered the unemployment help lines.
David Fidler spent two weeks trying to get unemployment benefits and finally, "we were able to get to the source and resolve the problems," he said.
The longtime construction worker dialed at least 500 times from his home in Pine Grove to get help.
But phone calls from home were never answered. Instead, he drove 15 miles to the Schuylkill County CareerLink office in Pottsville. He arrived a half hour before the facility opened and he was eighth in line.
Another hour, and he got on the direct line to a helpline worker and got approved for benefits.
"I think the problem has just eased up a little bit," Fidler said.
But David Pritchard from Berks County got nothing but busy signals for three weeks when he went to the CareerLink office near his home in Reading to use the help line.
"They told me I would probably not get waited on by four o'clock, which was five hours later, so I got on the phone with these people, and I called them and they said it wasn't too bad up here. So I drove an hour to come up here," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Industry says the situation is improving slowly.
People who got through on the help line last week were on hold for about two and a half hours. This week, the wait time is down to little more than an hour.
Before the layoff of call center workers, wait times averaged 10 minutes.
The department wants the jobless to apply and get help on its website.
David Fidler says that might not help older workers.
"I didn't grow up with computers. And if it wasn't for the jobs I had through the years where I had to learn computers, I would be lost."
Fidler also says he'd be lost if he kept trying to get help using his home phone.
Leaders at the Department of Labor and Industry believe the backlog will slowly improve as more seasonal unemployed workers get processed, and as more people do get their questions cleared up online.
But a plan to fix the problem, by approving money to bring back call center workers for one more year, appears stalled in the state legislature.