Leaving Jobless On Hold Costs State $4.6 Million

Money could be used to hire more Employment Development Department employees

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Verizon is cashing in on the volume of calls looking for unemployment benefit advice that go unanswered.

    Workers for the California's Employment Development Department are already coming in to work for free on furlough days mandated by the governor while simultaneously earning overtime to handle the volume of cases over weekends.

    But nearly two-thirds of calls to the EDD are never connected to an actual human being, and that frustration comes with a price -- $4.6 million or more in 2009 paid to Verizon, which provides the agency's toll-free phone number. Every call resulted in a charge, even when it went unanswered.

    That's a significant reduction from 2008, when the state paid over $11 million for the service, prompting it to renegotiate with Verizon.

    But one has to wonder how much of a dent that money would have made in the state's jobless rate had it been used to hire EDD customer-service reps instead.

    Verizon charges the EDD for minutes spent by people seeking benefits and answers to question being stuck on hold, and even for playing a message that urges callers to use the website instead.

    The problem is that people looking for benefits understandably dial repeatedly in the hopes of getting someone, anyone on the phone, racking up over 267 million calls in 2009 -- with only 75 million actually being answered.

    Jackson West has to wonder if a third-party unemployment service might be able to make money by charging callers for independent advice.