The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
The Ohio Controlling Board on Monday approved more than $11 million so the state Department of Jobs and Family Services can contract with a D.C. company for customer service representatives.
The company, Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc., would provide “up to 200 tier 1 agents to answer calls from claimants on their unemployment insurance applications and benefits,” according to the request made to the controlling board.
At the board’s Monday meeting, the request was discussed by Bryan Stout, legislative liaison for ODJFS. He said Tier 1 agents are the first level of contact for those in the unemployment process, and can answer basic questions like how to reset passwords, and direct callers to Tier 2 and Tier 3 employees, who answer more intensive questions about the system.
“One of the challenges that we continue to deal with and face…is that it’s not just being able to get someone to pick up the phone and say ‘hello,’ but getting someone to have that one-call resolution,” Stout said.
ODJFS already has two contracts with call center service providers and, according to their controlling board request, “plans to maintain a multi-vendor call center.”
The contract with Conduent would end in April 2022, and if the department needed more help with hiring, it would have to come back before the controlling board and ask for more money.
“It’s difficult to project what the situation is going to be with the pandemic, with business… three, four months down the road,” Stout said.
When asked by the board how outsourcing the jobs at the unemployment agency would help Ohioans who could use the jobs, Stout said the contract specifies that at least 50% of the employees hired should reside in Ohio.
“It’s a floor not a ceiling,” Stout said.
Ohio has had trouble with overpayment in unemployment benefits, and is still dealing with fraudulent claims in the system as well. As of March, nearly $3.4 billion in overpayments was reported in the state. Through May of this year, Ohio recovered $150 million in fraudulent claims.