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Unemployment call taker warns of longer wait times after state ends contracts

The Department of Economic Opportunity has canceled contracts with two companies that were hired to pick up calls about unemployment claims of Floridians.

A woman who still works for one of those companies told us she thinks wait times are going to get worse.

DEO spokesperson Paige Landrum told us those companies are AECOM and United Data Technologies (UDT). Together the two companies provided the state with just under 1,000 call takers.

“UDT had approximately 155 representatives working on the DEO account, and AECOM had approximately 800 representatives working on the DEO account,” Landrum said in an email. “It is important to note that these are overall totals, and not necessarily how many representatives were working at any given time.”

Meanwhile, we still hear from many of you who say getting someone to help over the phone continues to be a nightmare.

“I would have to call maybe 50 times before I would be able to get a call back,” Victor Rivera said.

Rivera says he’s missing thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits, and he can’t get any help from customer service centers.

“I don’t think I’m gonna get that money to be honest with you,” Rivera said.

The DEO confirms it’s ending the two multi-million-dollar contracts with companies that supply the state’s call takers because, “The Department is prioritizing vendors who have fully trained representatives to handle all claimant issues and are more proficient in the CONNECT system, are meeting or exceeding contractual performance expectations and providing high quality customer service to Floridians.”

The state also says in part, “Vendors who are not providing as high-quality services will not continue to provide services at this time.”

This contradicts what one call center employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, told us.

“They showed us pictures of reviews to make sure we don’t think that it was because of the quality of our service. They made it very clear that it was the funding,” she said.

That employee says she received an email Tuesday from her company saying services will stop July 21. In the email, the company explained, “The state has assured us this is in no way attributed to our performance on this contract.”

According to the company email, a lack of anticipated funding is why the state severed ties with the two private companies.

The employee said, “Now, especially since a lot of people have been fired from it, it’s going to get even worse. A lot more waiting time.”

Rivera says he’s already had to wait on hold for hours, only to be hung up on or told call takers and their supervisors can’t help.

“The other day, I was on the phone with a representative for six hours,” Rivera said.

According to DEO spokesperson Tiffany Vause, “at any given time, there are 3,000 customer service representatives available to assist Floridians during customer service hours with their Reemployment Assistance claims. More than 6,000 customer service representatives have been added to the team to assist the Florida Reemployment Assistance program.  This difference is needed because customer service lines are open more than 8 hours per day and on weekends. By having additional staff we are able to keep 3,000 representatives available to serve Floridians at any point.”

Statement from AECOM

“For more than 70 years, AECOM has proudly partnered with the State of Florida on
numerous infrastructure projects and services that have supported and benefitted both Floridians and the state’s economy. We have been proud to serve on the front line with the State to meet the need for a short-term virtual emergency call center amid the unprecedented unemployment crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.”

“Within the first 48 hours of our call center’s operation, we successfully staffed, trained, equipped and immediately operationalized call agents. At the time of the notice AECOM recently received from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the center employed hundreds of full-time agents, all of them Florida residents working safely from their homes, who answered hundreds of thousands of calls. Their work enabled the DEO to process more than $9 billion in unemployment benefits. We are proud to have been able to help the Florida DEO and the citizens of Florida during this critical time.”

“AECOM stands ready to assist the State and the DEO should their needs change or funding to support this type of operation become available.”

Statement from UDT

“The State of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity has notified UDT of their intent to terminate all of our call center agents servicing the Re-Employment Call Center Operations effective July 23, 2020. UDT has been continuously reassured that performance is not the reason for the termination. UDT had remained in discussions with the State on implementing innovation that will help DEO address the continued and increasing demand placed on the Re-Employment Call Center Operations while decreasing response times, increasing service levels and decreasing costs to The Department of Economic Opportunity. These challenging circumstances require innovation, commitment, and a relentless pursuit of excellence to help the unemployed residents of Florida bridge the gaps presented by this invisible adversary, COVID-19!”

Statement from DEO

“As the Department works to continue to improve the customer service provided to claimants during this unprecedented time, the Department is prioritizing vendors who have fully trained representatives to handle all claimant issues and are more proficient in the CONNECT system, are meeting or exceeding contractual performance expectations and providing high quality customer service to Floridians. Vendors who are not providing as high quality services will not continue to provide services at this time.”

“The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has ended the contracts with AECOM and UDT. At this time, DEO has determined it is best to focus its efforts on the companies who have provided higher skilled and fully trained representatives.”

“DEO continues to fund more than 3,000 customer service representatives who are available during customer service hours to assist Floridians with their Reemployment Assistance claims. The Department will continue to monitor resource demands and needs to ensure service levels for Floridians will continue to improve. The Department remains committed to helping eligible Floridians receive their Reemployment Assistance benefits as quickly as possible.”

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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