Former unemployment call center employee: ‘You couldn’t help these people; we were babysitters’

In April, as Florida’s unemployment system was crashing under the weight of the number of claims, the state signed contracts to bring call centers online to help meet the demands. But a former employee said she wasn’t hired to help process claims, just to answer phones.

One woman, identified only as “Jessica,” told WFTV she worked for Titan Technologies, one of the companies hired by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

“They were like, ‘You are really going to be helping these people. They have been waiting for months. They have been waiting for weeks,’" she told WFTV. “After going in and working, you come to find out that you can get into the account, but you can only see so much and you can only do so much.”

“Someone would call and they would be crying and ecstatic that they finally got a human being after they’ve been on hold for four hours,” Jessica said. “People are mad because they are waiting three hours, and I can’t help them submit their application, because we don’t have a submit button.”

According to Jessica, employees were given a list of answers to common questions, but did not have access to claims or the ability to submit information. She also told WFTV that there was almost no communication between employees and DEO, and that even call center supervisors couldn’t submit claims.

“These supervisors are people that were hired either before you or after you, and they have the same training and the same credentials as you so they can’t get any further than you can, nothing, they can’t get any further,” she said.

According to Jessica, at the call center, the connection to the state’s unemployment website was almost as unreliable as the public site, and the system would routinely crash, leaving people waiting for hours on hold.

“I couldn’t help them. It was really sad because ... there were people saying they are going to commit suicide. I had people crying, telling me that their 92-year-old father is going to be homeless because they take care of them and they have no money,” Jessica said. “It was the most stressful thing because no matter what you do, you couldn’t help these people. We were babysitters, and they would say, ‘Give them this number and tell them to call.’"

In a statement, the DEO said:

"DEO recognizes that many individuals are seeking an improved level of customer service that Floridians expect during this unprecedented time. To quickly serve Floridians, in March, DEO took immediate action to begin increasing staffing so that DEO could best serve Floridians impacted by COVID-19. DEO hired multiple Customer Service Center vendors to quickly assist Floridians and our agency. Since late March, DEO has been able to add more than nearly 6,000 customer service representatives through our contracted Customer Service centers and our DEO team members.

DEO immediately began training these individuals on the top issues that were preventing Floridians from completing their applications, such as PIN resets and Frequently Asked Questions, to ensure they could serve Floridians quickly. This enabled our seasoned DEO employees to prioritize claim specific questions and allow our third-party Customer Service Center providers time to learn the system which ensured Floridians got paid, quickly.

To understand the volume of calls DEO receives, the week ending March 8, DEO received 28,000 calls and the week ending March 14, DEO received 224,000 calls. Since March 15, DEO has received more than 19.8 million calls. To put in perspective, an average call takes 20 minutes from start to finish on claim-specific questions.

Serving Floridians during this unprecedented economic and public health crisis continues to be the number one priority of DEO."