The foremost frustration for unemployment claimants is the reality of being out of work and relying on the state for a check.
But add to that the vexation of being placed on hold for what they have described as "an endless loop" of recorded messages, and some claimants have resorted to dialing numbers where they'll at least get an answer: the offices of their state legislators.
State legislators said they've received numerous complaints from unemployed people who experience long delays and, in some cases, are cut off by the phone system before they get answers.
But the state says it has already addressed the problem, so the solution being offered might be as frustrating as
the problem: Avoid calls or continue waiting.
Bypasses call center: West York claimant Bridgette King, 41, said she has learned to bypass the call center entirely when she needs to conduct business about her claim.
"It's a lot easier to go online, so I go online every other Sunday," she said. "You can never get through to the Lancaster office. I don't even bother trying. If there's nobody available, the call will just drop. I haven't dialed that number in so long and I wouldn't even attempt to."
She said she uses the Internet or visits a CareerLink office when she needs information, "but that's a problem for people who don't have a ride to CareerLink, or older people without the Internet."
Complaints to legis lators: At least four state representatives in York have received complaints and have intervened on behalf of their constituents.
State Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Springettsbury Township, said his office helped people who were "being placed on an endless loop where they're never able to talk to a person." But part of the problem is just that there are too many unemployed people, he said.
Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, blamed the consolidation of call centers, which included closing a Philadelphia center and sending its workload to locations such as the Lancaster office that fields York's callers.
"People are very impatient, first off, so even if it's a fairly short delay, I'd be the same way," Miller said. "It's frustrating, and evidently some of the cutbacks that were made caused some delays."
Miller said the main concern is "getting people back working so we don't have so many people calling in," because there's no money to hire additional staff.
State response: Labor & Industry spokeswoman Sara Goulet said the state understands the frustration, but officials have already hired back enough workers to make staff even with its pre-cut levels.
She said the state has also been upgrading phone systems so they're more efficient at directing people to the answers they need.
But she said people can sometimes be too reliant on phone calls, and she advised that the phone system should operate under the same philosophy as a hospital emergency room: Neither should be used unless people really need it.
The state is asking people to first read all written information they've been sent, and they'll typically find most of their questions are answered, she said. People are also "strongly encouraged" to go online or visit a CareerLink office.
Goulet said the state's test calls to centers have shown that, "for some reason," people have better luck getting through when calling from a landline.
She also recommended people try calling during off-peak hours, such as Thursday and Friday afternoons, instead of calling Monday mornings.
Solution? Patience: Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said people "just have to be patient sometimes."
"I don't like that either, whether it's my credit card place or whatever, and you need to press 1, press 2," he said. "But I think it'll be rectified shortly and people need to be patient."
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York City, said the phone lines have been a major problem and his office has received numerous calls.
"Not a day goes by that somebody doesn't call the district office," he said.
Part of the problem is there are too many people out of work, and his office has sometimes been able to help cut through the dilemma by contacting a liaison in the Department of Labor & Industry, he said.
But as for a long-term solution, he reluctantly said the only solution appears to be patience.
"I hate to say it, but I don't know what else to say on that one," he said.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.