The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

January 29, 2013

State labor chief: Police probing hotline problems

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's labor secretary told lawmakers on Tuesday that state police are investigating whether the state's hotline for jobless benefits was sabotaged, even as she assured them that the problems plaguing it in recent months are improving.

Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway said at a legislative hearing in the Capitol that she considers the phone system "largely fixed" and expects to see call volume continue to drop.

"I think this next six months will be critical," she said. "We are working on this around the clock."

Calls to the state unemployment compensation centers skyrocketed in September to 8 million, up from about 900,000 a year earlier. The calls exceeded 15 million in November but were down to fewer than 7 million last month.

Hearthway said police were notified because of the volume of calls, and there also were questions about where they originated.

"We don't know whether there's any intentional activity or not," Hearthway said. Police may not be able to determine whether sabotage was involved, she said. A call seeking comment from state police headquarters was not immediately returned.

Hearthway said whether the overall problems are improving will become clearer in a month or two, because January and February are traditionally busy months for unemployment claims.

She said the situation was worsened by a $30 million reduction in federal funding, support that could fall by an additional $10 million next year.

She also blamed a new phone system for exacerbating the problems, along with cellphone applications that automatically redial after reaching a busy signal.

"It did choke the system and probably explains a good chunk of the 15 1/2 million calls that erupted in November," she said.

Hearthway said she hoped to have more claimants use the Internet, as is more widely done in other states. Florida, she said, requires claims to be made over the Internet.

"The phone system is largely fixed at this point, and I feel we've turned the corner," she told legislators.

Having people contact the agency through a fax has helped the situation, Hearthway said. She told lawmakers that faxes from legislative offices go to a dedicated line, with its own team, as opposed to the fax number given out to the wider public. She said Labor and Industry receives about 1,300 faxes a week.

Calls are more frequent earlier in the week, she said, suggesting that people who call on Thursday or Friday are less likely to encounter delays and busy signals. Another tip for callers is to call from landlines, not cellphones. The Labor and Industry Department stopped evening and weekend hours because they were underutilized by the public.

Hearthway said she would look into a suggestion from Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, that the department try displaying its name on incoming calls, so that people know to answer.

An email system for people to contact the unemployment compensation centers should be operational soon, she said.

Senate Labor and Industry Committee Chairman John Gordner, R-Columbia, said he expects the hotline problems to be further discussed during the upcoming budget hearings.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • Smaller payout to seniors urged

    State Lottery officials say less means more for seniors.

    July 29, 2014

  • Portage ambulance aid will add portable CPR device, other tools

    Federal funding awarded to Portage Area Ambulance Association will soon put “a third man” alongside their two-person crews when emergencies occur, ambulance operations manager Edward Nelson said.

    July 29, 2014

  • paint_twp building Paint Township considers offering part of building for rent

    Four years after Paint Township built an addition at the Basin Drive building to house its growing police department, much of the new space likely will be offered for rent this fall because the township supervisors say it's no longer needed.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Old Rockwood hotel will soon be history

    The historic – but dilapidated – Merchants Hotel in Rockwood is expected to be razed soon.
    On Tuesday, Somerset County’s three commissioners unanimously agreed to a demolition plan for the building, which was constructed in the 1880s. The arrangement calls for a private citizen, William Nair, to tear down the structure at 703 Main St. in exchange for being allowed to keep any salvageable materials.

    July 29, 2014

  • ATV blast ready to roll at Rock Run

    Organizers are keeping the spirit of the Fisher’s ATV Reunion at Rock Run Recreation Area alive despite losing the support of the award-winning Outdoor Channel TV show “Fisher’s ATV World.” Now called the Rock Run ATV Summer Blast, the event will continue to offer demonstration rides, motor competitions, product vendors, live music, camping and trail riding.

    July 29, 2014

  • Culvert 1 Preservationists use age-old method at historic site

    Preservation work on two historic culverts associated with the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site has been completed. The culverts were reconstructed using a variety of techniques, including dry stone masonry, which was used to build the culverts more than 180 years ago.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local briefs 7/30/2014

    July 29, 2014

  • Report: Local jobless rate up in June

    A report released Tuesday by the Department of Labor and Industry showed an increase in unemployment locally from 6.4 to 7.1 percent in June.

    July 29, 2014

  • Detroit dealer admits role in Johnstown heroin ring, could face life in prison

    For more than a year, Kenneth “Kane” Carter ran his drug ring like a fine-tuned business, federal prosecutors said following his 2012 indictment.

    July 29, 2014

  • Police: Women stole thousands from elderly sisters, used money to show St. Bernards

    Two western Pennsylvania women have been charged with stealing thousands of dollars from two elderly sisters and using the money to attend dog shows.

    July 29, 2014

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads