HARRISBURG, July 27, 2012 – State Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione has written a letter to Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway asking her to reverse and administration decision to furlough nearly 100 employees who process claims and investigate fraud.
“Not only will this result in joblessness for a substantial number of employees in an economy which has been slow to recover, but also, it will further diminish the quality of service provided by the department,” Tartaglione wrote.
The letter, co-signed by 15 Senate colleagues, came in response to an administration decision to close Philadelphia’s Unemployment Compensation Service Call Center and to consolidate the Claims and Field Operations divisions of the State Worker’ Insurance Fund. The decision eliminates the jobs of 75 workers in Philadelphia and 24 additional workers in Erie, Dauphin, Northumberland and Lackawanna counties.
Those workers process and investigate claims, ensuring prompt payment of benefits and detecting cases of fraud. This year, the administration led passage of a sweeping package of reforms that cut benefits to workers and targeted what it claimed was widespread fraud in unemployment claims.
“If there is widespread fraud, then it makes no sense to cut workers who investigate claims,” Tartaglione said. “These workers were already overwhelmed by record claims during the recession and slow recovery, and fewer of them means more frustration both for laid off workers and for employers who want claims investigated thoroughly.”
Full text of letter:
Dear Secretary Hearthway:
This letter serves to address the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s recent decision to close Philadelphia’s Unemployment Compensation Service Call Center and to consolidate the Claims and Field Operations divisions of the State Workers’ Insurance Fund.
With this decision, 75 employees have been furloughed in Philadelphia and a total of 24 employees have been furloughed in Erie, Dauphin, Northumberland and, primarily, Lackawanna counties. While the news of these layoffs is alarming, of greater concern is the Department’s failure to notify elected officials of its intentions to discharge workers prior to taking such action.
As Legislators and residents of this Commonwealth, we offer our utmost disapproval.
While we realize there have been fewer unemployment claims filed in recent months, and while we recognize the importance of efficiency within the Department, we neither understand nor support the rationale behind these decisions. The impact of closing an entire unemployment compensation call center and furloughing employees who investigate suspicious workers’ compensation claims will prove detrimental to the Commonwealth. Not only will this result in joblessness for a substantial number of employees in an economy which has been slow to recover, but also, it will further diminish the quality of service provided by the Department.
With unemployment rates remaining above pre-recession levels, thousands of individuals continue to rely upon unemployment to support themselves and their families. Currently, these claimants are reporting difficulties in gaining adequate unemployment compensation services, such as obtaining their initial benefit payments in accordance with federal standards and gaining telephone access to call center employees in a timely manner. Additionally, the current application and bi-weekly filing system is not user-friendly, requiring greater explanation and assistance from call center employees. It is reasonable to assume these problems will grow and compile further following the closure of Philadelphia’s call center, as there will be fewer employees to address claimants’ concerns.
Similarly, numerous employers and workers from across the state depend on SWIF for workers’ compensation insurance. To ensure the Fund does not pay false claims, the Department has teamed up with the Office of the Attorney General to fight fraud attempts. Just as the Department advocated for the passage of Act 60 of2012, which ramped up efforts to reduce the occurrence of fraud in unemployment compensation benefits paid to claimants, it is likely such efforts are underway in the restructuring of SWIF; yet, it seems unlikely that a reduction in the number of investigators within SWIF would result in greater efficiency and accuracy in identifying fraudulent behavior toward the Fund. As a result, while merging divisions and laying off workers may decrease the Department’s financial expenditures in the immediate future, less SWIF employees investigating possible fraudulent claims seems to hold the potential of becoming more costly for the Department in later years.
At this time, we ask that you reconsider your decision to furlough approximately 100 employees of the Department of Labor and Industry. The loss of employees at the Philadelphia call center and SWIF investigators from various locations throughout the state would surely be problematic and undesirable for the Department, employers and claimants now and in the future.
Without an opportunity to converse in this matter with the Department and to review any relevant data that prompted the furloughing of these employees, we cannot and will not support the actions taken by the Department in this instance. If you wish to discuss this issue, please feel free to contact my office at (717)787-1141.
Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione
Sen. John Blake
Sen. Jim Brewster
Sen. Jay Costa
Sen. Andrew Dinniman
Sen. Jim Ferlo
Sen. Wayne Fontana
Sen. Vincent Hughes
Sen. Richard Kasunic
Sen. Daylin Leach
Sen. Judith Schwank
Sen. Tim Solobay
Sen. LeAnna Washington
Sen. Anthony H. Williams
Sen. John Wozniak
Sen. John Yudichak