MONTGOMERY, Ala. – There used to be a time when people who called Linda Jahraus' home in Laguna Beach, Calif., were actually wanting to speak to her or her husband.
But for the past several months, the majority of callers have been trying to reach an Alabama unemployment hot line. The call confusion has added to the frustrations of the state's unemployed and has left at least two California households hoping for a little less ringing in the new year.
"We almost didn't pick up the phone," Jahraus said Friday after spotting an incoming Alabama number from The Associated Press on her caller-ID. "It's a pain in the neck, quite frankly. The day after Christmas we had 50 or more phone calls and they started at 5 a.m."
The Alabama Department of Industrial Relations administers unemployment benefits and set up a toll-free number for jobless Alabama residents to apply for benefits.
Call centers in Montgomery or Birmingham are supposed to get the calls. But some have been going to California.
Cybil and Harvey Bernash of Irvine, Calif., have also been getting Alabama hot line calls. Cybil Bernash discovered she wasn't alone when she called the hot line number to report the problem — and wound up on the phone with her friend, Jahraus.
"What was really odd is one morning, the phone rang and it was someone I knew," Jahraus said. "It was Cybil Bernash and she said, 'Is this the Alabama unemployment office?' I thought she was kidding. I said, 'Cybil no, it's Linda!"'
Jahraus said she's also reached a family in Newport Beach, Calif., by calling the number.
After making little progress with Alabama officials or her phone company, Jahraus contacted the Montgomery Advertiser, which reported on the story Friday.
Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said state officials are working hard to resolve the problem.
"I can't explain somebody sitting in north Alabama making a call and it ending up in somebody's private residence in California," he said.
A spokeswoman for AT&T Alabama, which has the department's account, called the problem unusual. Spokeswoman Sue Sperry said the company would be working through the weekend to trace the problem. She said it could involve a number of factors, from the long-distance network to a glitch in the switching center.