Busy Signal — Unemployment Benefits Line Jammed

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HARRISBURG -- Thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians calling for help are getting busy signals instead.

These busy signals follow the layoff of more than 500 state workers who answered phone calls from the jobless to help them file unemployment claims.

The state laid off call workers and closed down three call centers when a four-year program that paid for them expired last month.

Governor Tom Wolf wanted to extend the program, but state senate Republicans claim the governor needs to be more specific about how it will be paid for.

In this standoff, many people trying to get unemployment benefits are stuck on hold.

David Fidler was laid off a week before Christmas. He spends his days making calls to the Pennsylvania unemployment helpline from his home near Pine Grove.

Fidler is a construction worker. He's never had problems filing for unemployment benefits during winter layoffs, but this winter, the Department of Labor and Industry found a problem with his application and asked him to call it's helpline.

He's tried hundreds of times in just the past week.

"It is a disservice to all the people who need this unemployment compensation," Fidler said.

The state Department of Labor and Industry has asked people to head to their CareerLink centers for help.

The one in Pottsville normally sees 10 people per day. In the past two weeks, it's averaged 40 a day seeking help.

Cindy Fisher of Schuylkill Haven went to use a special phone line that will connect her with someone to help with her unemployment filing. There are no busy signals but there is just one phone and a long wait to use it.

"I hope this is the last time I have to call," said Fisher. "It wipes your whole day out. I came here at 12 o'clock. It's now 3. It took my whole day again."

After waiting more than three hours, Cindy Fisher got her turn. A half hour later, the state awarded her unemployment.

But these hotlines are not available Wednesdays, Fridays, or weekends.

David Fidler fears if he doesn't straighten out his unemployment claim soon, he will lose two weeks of benefits.

"I feel cheated by the system that I paid into," said Fidler. "We don't know how long this is going to go on. This could be over an extended period because we can't get any answers."

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry wants those who've been getting busy signals to go to its website.

It was recently updated with answers to some of the newer questions people seeking benefits are asking.


  • Chelsea

    I also am waiting on a claim since before Christmas and am struggling to get by with no money that I put into every paycheck! The website tells me I have to call in..I can’t do that if NO ONE IS WORKING!!! I’ve tried calling the governor and e-mailed multiple times to get my money. How am I supposed to put food on the table if I can’t get my OWN MONEY

  • jimbrony

    “Thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians” – wait a minute – what? I thought the Dems messiah brought all kinds of jobs and got people off unemployment? Hmmm… At least there weren’t any scandals… Oh, never mind. Stand tall America, jobs are coming back soon (if you want to work).

  • tomtom

    hey Donna…you don’t work, it’s taking a little longer for your freebie wagon…boo hooo hooo…who paid for your tats???where did you get the computer???phone??? you make me sick…get a f’n job in the next 2 weeks…trump is cutting your kind out…cry me a river…scumbag…

  • Gerald Filtz

    Quote: “Fidler is a construction worker. He’s never had problems filing for unemployment benefits during winter layoffs, but this winter, the Department of Labor and Industry found a problem with his application and asked him to call it’s helpline.”

    This is an ongoing problem. We have a large number of people in seasonal jobs that rely on their neighbor taxpayers to support them during the off season. While i sympathize with them, this should not be business as usual, where their neighbor taxpayers pay them for not working off season. People who choose these jobs should plan for their downtime and work other jobs.

    • Just Sayin

      Are you saying the sickening amount of taxes does not go to support these programs. So if someone pay taxes 49 weeks a year it makes them a freeloader for claiming 3 weeks of Unemployment? Why don’t they cut programs for those who pay no taxes. Why aren’t my tax dollars going to help working people like myself. I pay plenty so I expect service. It’s like going to a restaurant and paying your bill up front then having no waiters. You just sit there waiting and nobody comes to wait on You!

      • jimbrony

        If you plan your finances and lifestyle properly you shouldn’t need to be subsidized for three weeks of down time. Especially when you know it’s coming.

  • Valfreyja

    Republicans are always sticking it to the working man while claiming to be on their side. Time and again they wrench the knife deeper and time and again you people vote for them. Guess it’s time to reap what you’ve sewn, Central Pennsylvania. This is only the beginning.

    • Just Sayin

      Maybe if the bleeding heart Democrats didn’t sink all our money into the welfare system some of OUR money would be left for programs that actually help the people paying taxes!

  • Darnel Tanksley

    “I feel cheated by the system that I paid into,” said Fidler. ” – This is a misconception. Look at your pay stubs or W2, you see a very tiny portion of taxpayer contribution. Your EMPLOYER is billed for your unemployment. As taxpayers, we all pay a tiny tax in our payroll deduction. Blame Scott Wagner for all of this. He’s just trying to run on Trump’s wave of popularism to be recognized as a strong Gubernatorial candidate. He owns PENN WASTE TRASH and is a terrible cheap employer. He has his head up his butt and does not care about those necessary UC workers or you. I can’t understand why working class people vote against their own self interests. This is the kind of stuff that they voted for. Make America Great Again- When Bosses ruled without Unions, Wage Regulations, and Workers Rights.

    • Just Sayin

      When I look at my Federal and State taxes, I see a sickening large Amount! Ultimately, aren’t these programs funded by our federal and state taxes. I didn’t see any cuts to the welfare System! Why do they always cut programs related to people who actually pay taxes?

  • Rob Van Ness

    Thanks for the coverage, David. Both my son & daughter-in-law were blind-sided by this defunding. Both having just earned promotions, they were later informed, just before Christmas, that they would no longer have jobs as of December 19th. Not because of poor performance, but because their funding was lost. The vote was never taken, because the “government” had to go on vacation.

  • You keep voting for these people!

    Pay close attention to this line. Read it over and over again if you have to. The democrat wanted to keep these services and the Republicans said no. Place the blame where it belongs! “Governor Tom Wolf wanted to extend the program, but state senate Republicans claim the governor needs to be more specific about how it will be paid for.”

    • Gerald Filtz

      Agreed. The Left has an endless list of “must haves” and has no problem with endlessly raising taxes to pay for them. If this was important to the governor he should have offered cuts elsewhere to pay for it. This idea on the Left that the taxpayers are an endless source of money and that it all belongs to Leftists is ridiculous.

    • Just Sayin

      Again, Maybe if the bleeding heart Democrats didn’t sink all our money into the welfare system some of OUR money would be left for programs that actually help the people paying taxes!

  • mark rodman

    I’ve been trying since thanksgiving, i filed online and received an email stating i’d get paper work in 10-12 days, never received it! I tried going online to check my claim but it asks for my pin number and i don’t have one! I refiled again online, and received the exact same email! I was only off weeks, was back work and unemployment left me messages to return a call, tried calling and received the busy signal everytime! Started a new job this week and get paid bi-weekly, now i will receive pay for only 1 week on the 25th, i need this unemployment to paybills, get food and pay for gas to and from work! Ugh!

  • Just sayin

    It is awful the way they treat working people. My wife was off Christmas week and had a claim open but it went “Inactive” because she didn’t file a claim for months. We each sat with a phone going up and down the list of number for the UC centers for two hours and couldn’t get through. Tried to reactivate the claim online. Over a week later still not active. She still is unable to file her claim for Xmas week! What is going on? Why isn’t anyone doing something about this?This is insanity! They blame it on cutbacks. Why don’t they make cutbacks to the welfare program instead?

    • Darnel Tanksley

      What would you be if you were attached to another object by an inclined plane, wrapped helically around an axis? (answer below) That is the case here son. Even if they were fully staffed you would be denied from what you say. You have to reopen an inactive claim timely. You say you want to claim for Christmas week- You would have to reopen the claim Sunday 12/25 – 12/31 Saturday ONLINE. The internet does not backdate. Speak to an agent within 2 weeks -An agent can backdate – That was this week You have tomorrow. Otherwise, you will speak to an examiner then routinely be denied. Then you would have to file an appeal and meet with a referee. They were fired as well.

      Therefore, you are screwed. Blame Scott Wagner- Why do people vote against their own self interests?

  • Paula

    It is a terrible shame that the state is not handling this problem and making live people available to answer questions. I have been unable to connect wth a human since November. Answers to my questions and appeals are not on the website so I filed an appeal and arbitrator will NOT answer questions because he/she is not employed by UC office. It is a system that sets you up to fail and not be able to collect benefits that you are eligible for. Unemployment numbers for the state are clearly skewed because I and many others are not working and not on any list. This was brought up in the election campaigns and it is certainly true.

  • donna

    hi my name is donna i seen the piece that was done on the unemployment segment i went to the cite and i did that to reopen a claim and they sent on my email that it was received and after that i finally got a hold of a live person and i had asked them if my request went through and they told me no. so that does not work. this is for dave bowman

    • Darnel Tanksley

      Donna, Internet reopens still need to be processed by a human. With 500 less humans, backlogs are inevitable.

    • Just sayin

      We Have both worked for 40 years genius! Another blowhard not knowing what they’re talking about. Unemployment benefits are not welfare we pay into UC insurance! Go back down into your Mom’s basement! I’ll match what I pay in taxes to you. My wife’s schedule depends on the school. If they are off she is off for the holidays..

      • TC

        Correction. Not one penny comes out of your check for unemployment. 100 percent of UI.benefits are funded by your base year employer(s). Its the # one biggest misconception folks have about unemployment.

    • Derp

      Clearly you didn’t read the ‘state workers laid off’ part. Laid off means they go back to work when it becomes available again. That’s how this system is supposed to work.

      • Darnel Tanksley

        Not true. Lancaster closed the building and it’s up for lease. That’s 180 people that would have to relocate or have a very long commute. Many state wide were told that these are permanent layoffs.

    • jimbrony

      Based by the number of down-votes you got, I guess there are more people out there that would rather not work and still get paid. Dems and libs don’t like it when you tell the truth. You even made it real simple for them and they still didn’t like it.

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