HARRISBURG - Following this week's joint legislative hearing of the Senate and House labor and industry committees, the committees' four chairs said they are committed to a bipartisan effort to work with the Department of Labor and Industry to address the difficulties unemployment compensation claimants have experienced in filing claims.

Senate Labor and Industry Chairman John R. Gordner (R-27) will convene a working group to include Senate Minority Chairwoman Tina Tartaglione (D-2, Philadelphia), House Labor and Industry Committee Chairman Mario Scavello (R-176, Monroe) and House Minority Chair Bill Keller (D-184, Philadelphia), according to a statement from Gordner's office.

"Call volume at the UC service centers is dramatically increasing due mostly to technology problems, while at the same time, claims are decreasing," said Gordner. "It is unacceptable that persons who are entitled to benefits are having difficulty in obtaining them. I am pleased that the department is taking steps to address this; however, my colleagues and I will work to provide better resources to address this matter."

Administration of unemployment compensation benefits is 100 percent federally funded, and Labor Secretary Julia K. Hearthway testified before the committees that funding has been reduced by $30 million in the current fiscal year. She expects further federal cuts approaching $10 million for the coming fiscal year.

Hearthway further told the committees that the preferred method for claimants to file for benefits by is by Internet; however, many times claimants receive a message to call the service centers to provide more information. This has resulted in numerous busy signals and delays in claims, according to Gordner's release. The department has updated its phone system and added dedicated fax lines in efforts to speed service to claimants.

Claimants should first attempt to file claims by Internet at www.uc.pa.gov. If claimants do not have internet access or receive a message to contact the centers, the toll-free phone line is 888-313-7284. Claimants may also fax to 717-525-5150, which will prompt a UC service center representative to contact the claimant within three days.

Gordner said Hearthway will update both the Senate and House appropriations committees on this issue during budget hearings in February and March.

"In the meantime, the four chairs will work with the department on legislation to provide it with the best resources - whether it consists of continuation of technology upgrades, more claims processors, or both," Gordner was quoted.