Responding to Senate Republicans Regarding Call Center Closings

By: Governor Tom Wolf

November 30, 2016

For more than six months, my administration has been working extensively with the legislature to fund the Service Infrastructure Improvement Fund, which supports technology upgrades, benefit modernization, and unemployment compensation call centers among other things.

However, the Republican Senate made a conscious decision to not vote on House Bill 2375 — which would have funded the system — and thereby decided to make it harder for working class people who have lost their jobs to pay their bills, put food on the table, and find new opportunities.

Their failure to pass House Bill 2375 will also result in more than 500 call center staff members being laid off.

Every single unemployment insurance payment that is delayed and call that is not answered is unfortunately due to the lack of action by the Republican Senate and those who failed to pass this bill before the legislature broke for the holidays.

I’m urging Senate Republicans to take legislative action to fund these call centers at the earliest possible date.

As Senate Republicans are aware, the Department of Labor and Industry has been engaged with the legislature in a dialogue regarding Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund (SIIF) reauthorization since April, and the Majority Leader’s Office committed to my Administration – twice – that House Bill 2375 would be called up for a vote on third consideration.

On the last Session day in October, the bill was not called up for a vote, as committed. Despite not following through on that commitment, my administration received a second assurance from the Majority Leader’s Office that the bill would be called up for a vote on November 16th.

Therefore, the Department delayed furlough notices. On November 16th, the bill was marked for a vote on third and final consideration. And once again, the commitment was not honored. The Senate adjourned without voting on House Bill 2375, and more than 500 families have had their lives turned upside down.

The Department has been transparent and proactive in providing information to the legislature. Therefore, I am providing a timeline of the events related to reauthorization generally and specifically as they relate to information provided to Senate Republicans:

  • January 7, 2016 – The Department sent the first annual SIIF report (due no later than June 30th of each calendar year) to the Labor and Industry Committees. The report had not been submitted under the previous Administration. When the Department became aware of this requirement, it immediately complied.
  • April 2016 – The Department had its first meeting with Senate Labor and Industry Committee staff to discuss reauthorization.
  • May 9, 2016 – Secretary Manderino and Department staff met with Senator Baker. Secretary Manderino provided the Chairwoman with detailed information about SIIF expenditures and discussed both the progress of modernization efforts and the need for reauthorization.
  • May 26, 2016 – The first of six documents was shared with Senate Republicans. The document outlined the need for reauthorization and historical expenditure data.

See all documentation noted in this post.

  • May 31, 2016 – The Department met with Senate Republican Appropriations staff to discuss reauthorization.
  • June 15, 2016 – The Department provided an addendum to the May 26th document to the Labor and Industry Committee staff at the request of staff.
  • The Department continued discussions over the post budget session break with all four caucuses. This included meeting with House and Senate Leadership, Appropriations chairs and/or staff, as well as the Labor and Industry Committees to continue expressing the need for reauthorization.
  • August 22, 2016 – At the request of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee staff, the Department shared a condensed document summarizing the prior two documents sent. Additionally, the Department was asked to describe the “bottom line” if reauthorization did not occur and its exit strategy. Both are contained in this document.
  • September 21, 2016 – The House Labor and Industry Committee held an informational hearing to discuss this topic. Secretary Manderino and the Department’s Unemployment Compensation Programs Deputy Secretary testified.
  • September 22, 2016 – The Department provided all Senate Labor and Industry Committee members with a fourth document. This 10-page document outlined both how SIIF funds have been spent and how the Department planned to spend funds moving forward.
  • October 14, 2016 – An email was sent by the Department to the Leadership Staff of all four caucuses, both thanking all of them for their cooperation on this issue and willingness to work with the Department on this topic, and included a 4-page document that detailed both the additional need of funding under House Bill 2375, and the impacts the Department would face should no funding be granted, 1 year of funding, or 2 years of funding be granted. The email states, “As we approach the final weeks of legislative session. And, as efforts to finalize an extension of Act 34 funding continue, we felt it was important to inform all of you of the impacts that the Department expects to recognize at the various durations of funding recently discussed. This information is being provided so that all of you are not caught off guard by any changes implemented by the Department.” The attachment to this e-mail represents the fifth document provided.
  • October 21, 2016 – At the request of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee staff, the Department provided a final 1-page document noting the differences between Senate Bill 1335 and House Bill 2375, which included the additional oversight and accountability provisions that were included in the compromise language passed by the House of Representatives. This is the sixth document provided.

All told, countless meetings were held with Senate Republican members and staff, and significant documentation justifying reauthorization as well as the ramifications of letting SIIF sunset was provided. You can see this documentation here. I will also note that Secretary Manderino attended the voting meeting of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee when it reported Senate Bill 1335, a companion to House Bill 2375, and answered members’ questions at that meeting.

Regarding the decision to close specific call centers, the decision was made based on a series of variables, including performance, capacity, efficiency, and ability of the centers to handle increased call volume.

I urge Senate Republicans to take action on reauthorization of SIIF at the earliest possible date so that the impact to those facing furloughs can be mitigated to the greatest extent possible.

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