Pennsylvania state senators press unemployment officials about lags in payments, benefits

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry officials were in the hot seat Tuesday during a video conference of a state Senate Hearing, answering to lawmakers about why so many have not been able to get their unemployment benefits. The senators pressed the department on how they are ramping up efforts to help people in need.

Labor Department Secretary Jerry Oleksiak and his deputies took on some tough criticism about the clogged phone lines and major delays in payment — some still with no money seven weeks out of work.

“I must express my outrage at the department’s inability to process the benefits rightly owed to thousands of constituents,” said state Sen. John DiSanto.

“These are our own constituents, they need answers for their own survival,” said state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill. 

Oleksiak reminded them they went from handling 200,000 unemployed workers to 1.8 million in a matter of weeks.

“Am I frustrated? Yes, I am frustrated. I told you, I have family members who are waiting,” he said. 

He also outlined the increase in staff, claim agents and communication efforts.

“But we know that this isn’t enough, so we are doubling our capacity to answer phones on Mondays and Tuesdays, which are typically our busiest days,” he added. 

Lawmakers also noted other issues the department has to work with in handling more than 1,300 COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims and continuing upgrades to the system.

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