Over 1,000 unemployment claim call takers let go as Florida DEO cancels contract
FLORIDA – After months of helping people file for unemployment, more than 1,000 call takers are now in the unemployment line unable to collect.
“It’s kind of frustrating for all of us because we were there for everybody making sure they got their extra $600 and $300 every week and now the governor has ended that relief for everybody and laid off all of us,” explained an anonymous call taker.
Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity is the agency that hands out the money and the federal unemployment runs out in three weeks.
However many people collecting believe they’re seeing signs that the DEO is starting to turn out the lights and close up shop.
The DEO let go of more than 1,000 call takers who helped process unemployment claims in Florida. DEO officials said in a statement they had already planned to phase out third-party contracted staff as call volumes decrease while the pandemic improves.
If you turn back the clock to 2020 call takers hired by Titan Technologies complained they were unable to help people file for unemployment. Some said they were doing more harm than good.
The call takers for the DEO last year described the process to collect as chaotic as they were not equipped to do much at all.
Fast forward to 2021 and call takers say not much has changed.
A call center worker fired this week asked NBC2 to protect her identity as she shared an email sent from the management informing workers they no longer had a job.
“We didn’t know until we woke up for work and people were trying to log in and they didn’t even know we were closed,” she said.
The company was one of those hired by the state to process unemployment claims.
TITAN TECHNOLOGIES RELEASED THIS STATEMENT:
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
reemployment claims. Over the past 15 months, call volumes have
continued to drop and FL DEO has developed a plan to shift the call
center operations from contractor to Government staff. While we cannot
continue to support our agents on this contract, we are proud of the
services we provided and look forward to supporting the State of Florida
and FL DEO in the future.
“What happened to all that stuff we were submitting? Have they just completely disregarded and gone with their own system now?” she asked.
The employee said employees were still working from their homes and using their own personal computers to help process claims.
That means employees were using their own computers to handle sensitive information of laid off workers.
She said workers were supposed to delete information in their computers but she said it wasn’t monitored and questioned whether all workers had deleted private data as instructed by the company.
The employee who had been with the company for a year said she had answered hundreds of fraud calls from people reporting identity theft. She said fraud was rampant.
Vanessa Brito is an unemployment advocate who helps thousands of people navigate the broken system and after hearing the claims said she was not surprised.
Brito agreed with those who said it looks as if the DEO is starting to shut down its operation
“They’re just like federal benefits are ending and we frankly aren’t going to be paying people anymore,” Brito said.
She pointed out that thousands of people still can’t get the money they’re owed.
“What does the Director Dane Eagle have to say about the backlog that he acknowledged was so bad just two months ago in March and now there are less people to work on it?” Brito asked.
The DEO said in a statement late Wednesday that they weren’t satisfied with the Titan Technologies work and ended the contract early.
They say they’re phasing out third party contractors because people are going back to work.
Federal benefits expire June 26th.
READ THE DEO’S FULL STATEMENT HERE:
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department prioritized scaling up Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Center staff, which included third-party contractors, to assist with the significant increase in call volume made to the Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Centers. The Department previously planned to eventually phase out all third-party contracted staff as call volume continued to decrease due to the economic turnaround post-pandemic, as reported in several articles such as this one and this one. Secretary Dane Eagle previously stated in November 2020, “Since, as I mentioned the claims are coming down week by week, we’re looking to offload that and eventually would like to get rid of the call centers completely.” As a follow up to that commitment, the Department’s contract with Titan was set to expire on June 30, and the Department was not planning to extend this contract. However, the Department was not fully satisfied with the work the company was providing and so, because of performance issues, the Department has chosen to end this contract early.
As part of the state’s 2021-2022 budget that Governor DeSantis recently signed, $92.4 million in state and federal funds is being provided for continued operations and to modernize the state’s unemployment system. This funding will allow DEO to provide a more user-friendly experience for claimants applying for Reemployment Assistance benefits, as well as hire 435 additional Reemployment Assistance staff members to assist with call center support and processing claims. Currently, the Department has over 1,300 Reemployment Assistance staff working to make sure all eligible claimants are paid the benefits they are owed as quickly as possible. Utilizing internal DEO employees, instead of contracted call center staff, will allow these employees to better assist claimants with any issues.
Economic factors, such as the state’s low unemployment rate of 4.8 percent and twelve consecutive months of job growth, show that Floridians are returning to work. As such, the Department has phased out all third-party contractors that previously provided call center support, except for Lighthouse. The Department currently contracts with third-party contractor, Lighthouse, for Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Center support through the Unique Abilities Partner Program. You may view contracts, as well as any payments made to these third-party contractors, here.
The Department remains committed to making sure all eligible claimants are paid the benefits they are owed as quickly as possible.
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