Pennsylvania Residents Frustrated and Unable to Reach Unemployment Offices to Receive Critical Aid and Services

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA-People living in America’s Keystone State are experiencing  frustration with Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Offices due to lack of customer service and communication.

“There was just no way to contact unemployment at all,” said Molly Cash, a 23-year old server working at a local Adam’s County restaurant. 

Cash was part of the mandatory food and entertainment sector shutdowns ordered by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, and was out of work for nearly 3 months between March and June 2020. 

Millions of Pennsylvania workers share Cash’s experience. 

Data released today by the US Department of Labor shows that Pennsylvania has the highest insured unemployment rate as of February 6, sitting around 6.5%.

The official Pennsylvania Department of Labor website says that unemployment offices processed roughly 75,000 calls, emails, and chats last week according to their data. Pennsylvania has processed 2,031,851 claims and has approved 1,180,755, shelling out $36 billion over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local unemployment offices did not respond to requests for comment.

For many, unemployment benefits are vital lifelines while they are out of work, and being unable to receive them can spell disaster. Claims can be complicated, and not submitting them properly could mean weeks or months of waiting for the check to arrive.

Cash waited nearly a month for benefits, with no answers, at the onset of the pandemic, an experience many Pennsylvania residents can relate to now. 

“I would call as soon as they opened and would call all day. All I ever got was a busy tone,” said Cash.

“We were left totally in the dark. How much money would we be receiving? When? There really wasn’t much to go off of.”

Claimants who did get through the phone system had no better luck. 

Customer services representatives are inundated with calls, with offices reporting that they receive on average 5,000 to 7,000 calls per day. This has spread unemployment workers impossibly thin.

“I feel like even if I did make it through to somebody, they wouldn’t know what to tell me,” said Cash. “They were just so backed up.”

Local news organizations have even published guides on how to get in contact with a representative as fast as possible, in hopes that they can offer some support where the state has not.

“I wouldn’t say that Pennsylvania completely let us down, but they definitely didn’t meet the standard. It’s hard to pay years into unemployment and then when you need it, it all starts to fall apart.”

Cash has since been approved for unemployment benefits, and now considers herself lucky, as thousands of people are still out of work and unable to collect the benefits they are entitled to.

Federal aid is on the horizon for Pennsylvania workers, with President Biden’s proposed COVID stimulus leaving House committees earlier this week. 

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