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New Unemployment Benefits System Leaves Thousands Frustrated While State Leader Chalks Up Issues To 'Growing Pains'

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - A week after the state implemented a new computer system for unemployment benefits, state officials hail its success. But users of the new system still say they cannot get through to file their claims.

"It's a joke" or "you cannot get through on the phone" are among the many complaints that KDKA has received about the new unemployment compensation computer system.

On Wednesday morning, Acting Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier acknowledged some issues but insists the new system is working.

"In the past eight days, we've had just under 367,000 individuals with unique Social Security numbers file for their weekly benefits either using the online system or by phone. And we've had over 40,000 individuals with unique Social Security numbers open a new claim for benefits," said Berrier.

"These numbers are tracking the old claims and new claims we were seeing on the old system, so we believe a majority of individuals are successfully able to log in and file using the new system."

But KDKA money editor Jon Delano asked the secretary about the ongoing complaints.

Delano: "What exactly is going on here? Why cannot people get through to you, and get through quickly?"
Berrier: "Thank you for your question, Jon. As with a transition with any new system, there are going to be some growing pains with it. "

Growing pains is how Berrier describes the challenges, but those who cannot get their unemployment benefits have a very different take.

"The new system is much more complicated than the old system was," says Heather Sgro of Carnegie.

Sgro is one of thousands having trouble connecting on the new system.

"I tried calling – three days of calling and just getting a busy signal, a really fast busy signal. There was no way to get through to them," says Sgro.

WATCH: KDKA's Jon Delano Reports

"We want this system to work for everyone, so if it's not working, we want to hear from you to help you out," says Berrier.

"To further help us reach individuals, we are launching a new text feature tomorrow. This new test feature will notify individuals that we are trying to call them," says Berrier.

Berrier says unemployment compensation personnel frequently cannot get through to customers because people won't answer restricted government phone numbers. So this is another new effort to connect: texting.

"Our folks will actually text that individual. They will provide their cell number when they actually reach out to us," says the secretary.

Delano: "Is text messaging the answer?"
Sgro: "I think it's another way for scammers to get to people."

Berrier says don't worry.

"To prevent fraud, we will not be asking for any personal information over text or have individuals click a link. We will solely be letting individuals that are trying to reach us so that they know to answer the phone."

So customers say they can't get through on the helplines, while the secretary says her people can't get their calls answered. Obviously, there's a communication problem.

Berrier did say she's hiring another 200 customer service agents next week.

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