US. unemployment rate falls to 8.4 percent

A help wanted sign hangs on the door of a Target store in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday. 

Some out-of-work Pennsylvanians are reaching out-of-state claims representatives when they dial an unemployment compensation assistance line operated by a vendor hired by the state Department of Labor and Industry.

The agency and the vendor, InspiriTec, acknowledged that in response to questions raised Monday by CNHI’s newspapers in Pennsylvania.

Eleven claims representatives hired by Inspiritec, based in Philadelphia, live in either New Jersey or Delaware, according to information provided by the company on Monday.

The Department of Labor and Industry awarded InspiriTec a $33.6 million contract, covering from May 1, 2021, to April 30, 2022, that calls for the company to hire as many as 500 people to work in call centers answering calls from unemployed Pennsylvanians.

Thus far, the company has 192 call center workers, including the 11 out-of-state workers, according to the information provided by InspiriTec on Monday.

There were 434,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians in May, the latest data available from the state.

“The commonwealth is contracted with UniqueSource to provide call center staff through InspiriTec. InspiriTec prioritizes hiring people with disabilities, veterans, and disadvantaged individuals, providing jobs to those who may struggle with employment,” said Sarah DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Industry.

“During the pandemic, InspiriTec shifted from brick and mortar to remote work environments. As a result, a very small number of staff members assigned to their Philadelphia call center may be taking calls from remote locations nearby, including just across state lines in New Jersey or Delaware. Although we prefer staff members to remain in Pennsylvania during their employment because L&I has struggled to hire and retain enough staff to meet the high call volume to the UCSC, these staff members have been retained,” DeSantis said.

State Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer County, said that if the number of out-of-state workers hired by InspiriTec increases, it might be worth revisiting, but based on the small number of out-of-state workers increases, but he doesn’t object to the number of out-of-state call center workers on staff thus far. He said that it’s worth considering that InspiriTec gives employment preference to veterans and disabled workers.

“It doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose to eliminate those positions and retrain people,” he said

State Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, when asked if he had a problem with InspiriTec using out-of-state workers to answer the phone for the state’s unemployment assistance line, responded: “I would say, ‘no.’”

Gordner said that it’s not uncommon for workers to live in one state and work in a neighboring state. There are thousands of workers who live in the Poconos and commute to New York City, he said. His son, Cole, has gotten hired to be a law clerk for a Delaware Superior Court judge and plans to live in Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, he said.

State Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, said that InspiriTec may be having the same challenge hiring workers that businesses across the state have complained about.

“How many PA residents in the Philly area, who are on unemployment, applied for the jobs with InspiriTec?” he asked. “There are probably laid off telephone call takers who did not apply for these call taker jobs,” he said, pointing to the state’s move to paying unemployed workers an extra $300 in unemployment benefits authorized by the federal American Rescue Plan.

Twenty-five states, including Maryland and Ohio, have moved to end the $300 benefit boost. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, still allow workers to collect the extra $300 a week.

“The extra $300 a week is keeping some people from applying for any job at all,” Roae said.

A job listing for the unemployment compensation customer service representative position on the InspiriTec website indicates that the position is remote and temporary and the pay rate starts at $15 an hour.

This comes as the state has reinstated a job search requirement for people seeking to collect unemployment, beginning this week.

Because claimants always file for benefits the week after they are unemployed, individuals will start certifying they looked for work beginning July 18.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

 

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CNHI PA State Reporter

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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