Florida unemployment agency cuts call centers – NBC 6 South Florida
They helped people process their unemployment benefits, but now they are out of work.
Earlier in the pandemic, Florida spent more than $ 100 million to hire call center workers, but the state is now cutting those contracts.
The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) called the pandemic an “unprecedented stress test” for the state unemployment agency.
According to a report released in February, Florida received more claims in nine months of 2020 than in the previous eight years combined.
It is the stress that has spread to the people who are fighting for their benefits.
“I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve made, how many conversations for two hours and then be cut off at the end with no resolution,” said Paul Gleason.
Gleason is one of the many people who have contacted NBC 6 Responds to try to resolve an issue with the DEO.
He told NBC 6 that his benefits had been suspended for six months.
The DEO told NBC 6 Responds that it is reviewing Gleason’s case.
But while people like Gleason wait for help, the agency has severed ties with most third-party contractors.
At the height of the pandemic, the DEO contracted with three third-party providers to help process unemployment claims.
The contracts totaled more than $ 110 million, according to state records.
But with a decrease in call volume, the department told NBC 6 it was terminating most of those contracts.
“Economic factors, such as the state’s low unemployment rate of 4.8% and twelve straight months of job growth, show Floridians are returning to work. As such, the ministry has phased out all contractors that previously provided call center support except Lighthouse, ”a DEO spokesperson said.
Recently, they laid off more than 1,000 call center workers at Telaforce, a Titan Technologies company.
The state’s contract with Titan was due to end on June 30, but the DEO representative told us that “the department was not completely satisfied with the work the company provided and therefore, due to performance issues, the department chose to terminate this contract earlier. “
A representative from Titan did not respond directly to our questions about what the DEO called “performance issues.” But the company provided the following statement regarding the end of the contract: “Titan Technologies is proud to have served the citizens of Florida during the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. The service provided by our agents has helped millions of Florida residents process their re-employment claims. Over the past 15 months, call volumes have continued to decline and FL WD has developed a plan to move call center operations from the contractor to government personnel. While we cannot continue to support our agents on this contract, we are very proud of the services we have provided and look forward to supporting the State of Florida and FL DEO in the future. “
NBC 6 asked the DEO if it plans to hire more workers to fill the void left by Titan’s end of contract. In a statement, a spokesperson told us about the $ 92.4 million approved in the latest state budget to help modernize the unemployment system, they will use some of the money to hire 435 staff. additional. “to assist with call center support and complaints handling.
The statement went on to say that the department has “more than 1,300 re-employment assistance staff who work to ensure that all eligible claimants receive the benefits they are owed as quickly as possible.” Using internal WD employees, instead of contract call center staff, will allow these employees to better assist requesters in the event of a problem, ”adding: post-pandemic economic recovery…”