In Philly, 'bat phone' helps unemployed connect with understaffed office
A lot more Philadelphians are heading to Pennsylvania CareerLink offices these days for help resolving issues with state unemployment claims.
Budget cuts have cost nearly 500 system employees their jobs, meaning fewer people are answering phones and emails — and claimants are having a difficult time connecting with the employees who still have their jobs.
Philadelphia's four CareerLink locations have what some refer to as the "bat phone," a reference to the "Batman" show from the 1960s. Calls from the line are prioritized over calls from someone's home.
That was welcome news for Rosemarie, who filed an unemployment claim roughly two weeks ago and is still setting things up so she can get her first payment. It hasn't been easy.
"One time, I tried for two hours. It was busy, busy, busy. Then when I did get a person, I think it was on Tuesday when I did get a person, they disconnected me," said Rosemarie Thursday after using the bat phone at CareerLink's Center City location.
The out-of-work bartender from South Philadelphia, who asked her last name not be printed to maintain privacy, said the frustration is making a bad situation worse.
"People are suffering. The workers are suffering. Employees are suffering. Everybody is suffering. They want to help the economy. This is not helping the economy. Not at all," said Rosemarie.
Steve Davis has had trouble too. He lost the PIN number tied to his claim, but, like Rosemarie, getting hold of a state unemployment worker for help has been impossible — no matter what office he's called.
He's tried reaching people in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Altoona and Erie.
"They all came up busy," said Davis. "I get lucky when I'm down here."
The bat phone is available three days a week — Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Nicki Woods, site administrator at CareerLink's Center City location, said on a typical day, roughly 50 people come in to use one of two phones.
They start lining up before the office is even open, she said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated he'll sign a measure that will send $15 million to the struggling system, but it'll take time before it receives the funds and possibly begins hiring back some of its employees.
The money is being seen as a temporary fix and not a long-term solution.
"We're watching closely," said Woods of the measure.
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