11 Investigates getting action on unemployment claim issues

PITTSBURGH — Donna DeMarco and her daughter Darby Testa of Pittsburgh’s southside applied for unemployment compensation in the fall after losing their jobs due to the pandemic, but for months both have run into red tape trying to get their claims processed.

Finally, some good news tonight for the mother and daughter who contacted 11 Investigates out of frustration because they were in limbo waiting to get their benefits for so long.

Just hours after 11 Investigates contacted the state Monday to find out what was causing delays in their claims, both mother and daughter finally saw movement.

“I’m just very excited, very excited,” said Donna DeMarco.

By Wednesday morning, the $7,500 in back-unemployment money Darby was owed was finally released.

“I woke up this morning and it was in my account,” Darby said. “I’m very excited and very grateful.”

Ongoing Delays

Over the past month, more than two dozen people have contacted 11 Investigates telling us they are still having issues with Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation despite a $35 million upgrade to the system this summer.

Last week, we profiled Donna and Darby, talking with them about ongoing delays and problems they were having with their claims.

“I’m a single mom trying to raise my child with no income since September 15th,” Darby told us.

Donna explained that she’s worked for 44 years paying into the system and was frustrated to find unemployment benefits not there to help when she finally needed them.

“I’m constantly anxious. There’s no money coming in. All my savings are gone, the little bit of savings, they’re all gone,” she said.

Both were frustrated by how difficult the state makes it to contact them.

“Emails unanswered, there’s no chat, no text, phone calls — you wait forever,” Donna said.

Finally, action

Following the interview, 11 Investigates contacted the state to find out what was causing the delay in payment for Donna and Darby and provided their claim numbers to the Department of Labor and Industry. A spokesperson responded, saying, “they passed on the names and cases numbers to the appropriate folks for follow up.”

That very same day, both Donna and Darby got calls from a claim’s interviewer who told them their cases had been escalated.

“I think it was absolutely your story. We haven’t seen any movement. We haven’t had any conversation, email, calls other than the same old we’ll call you back,” Donna said, calling 11 Investigates with the update. “You’re amazing, thank you.”

She was thrilled that a real person was finally talking with them and helping.

“We had an employee named Jayme who has taken ownership of it,” Donna said. “She actually asked relevant questions. She had my file pulled up. It was one person who could have a total look at everything.”

Fixing claim issues

Donna says the employee who first called Monday has been very hands-on and in touch with them repeatedly.

For Darby, she says, it was an easy fix. Her claim had already been cleared for payment Dec. 3 but was never processed due to a computer glitch.

“Darby’s was pretty cut and dry. There was a glitch in the system, so they fixed it for her manually. Mine was a little bit more involved because of severance pay,” Donna explained.

Donna thought her case was resolved too after getting a notice Monday saying she also qualified for benefits; but just hours later, she got a second notice saying the department is doing further review.

“A determination will be made, and I’m confident it will go through, and I hope to start receiving funds, as well,” Donna said.

She says another delay is still frustrating, but at least now someone is talking to her. She hopes others facing similar delays can get the same attention without having a news report done.

“They’re apparently understaffed, and they’re apparently having some problems with their new computer system. I hope they get that rectified.”