HARRISBURG, Jan. 29, 2012 – State Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione today joined House and Senate colleagues in questioning Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Labor and Industry about chronic delays and busy signals plaguing the state’s unemployment compensation phone system.

“Some of these callers have worked all their lives, paid plenty in taxes, and the first time they need government service it’s a nightmare,” Tartaglione said. “Being laid off is hard enough on workers.  An indifferent bureaucracy is the last thing they need.”

At the Capitol today, the House and Senate Labor Committees held a joint hearing to question Labor Secretary Julie K. Hearthway about the thousands of complaints received by lawmakers from unemployed workers unable to access the unemployment compensation phone lines.

The backups began even before state officials closed the Philadelphia call center and laid off dozens of workers last year, and have continued to frustrate clients.

Hearthway said a $30 million budget cut, along with “significant growing pains” in employing a new phone system and long-delayed computer improvements have contributed to the problems.  Despite the chronic delays, the department pushed forward with plans to cut staff while ending night and weekend hours for its call centers.

In a letter sent last July, Tartaglione has warned that cuts in staffing would create significant problems in the system.

“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.

Tartaglione has introduced Senate Bill 281, which would provide additional funding for the administration of unemployment compensation using a percentage of funds from the employee tax already collected.