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Idaho unemployment call center expanding to 100 staffers

Officials said the center opened with a staff of 30 and was immediately overwhelmed; it was then boosted by another 20, but still couldn’t handle the calls.

BOISE, Idaho — The call center that’s helping Idaho’s Department of Labor cope with a huge backlog of unemployment claims would see its staffing double from 50 to 100 by next Wednesday, under an additional $3 million in funding approved Thursday, the Idaho Press reports.

State Labor Director Jani Revier said the center opened with a staff of 30 and was immediately overwhelmed; it was then boosted by another 20, but still couldn’t handle all the calls. “Now, after having a full week … we know that 50 is not enough,” Revier told Gov. Brad Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee. “We need to be more in the neighborhood of 100 agents to really address the incoming need.”

CFAC approved Revier’s request for $3 million in federal coronavirus aid funds to expand that staffing; Labor already has received $10 million to address the more than 145,000 initial claims for unemployment filed since the coronavirus pandemic began. Revier said the additional money would expand the contract with Maximus for the call center; the contract runs through the end of December, when the federal aid runs out.

RELATED: 'It just doesn't make sense': Caldwell woman waiting on unemployment questions back-to-work cash bonus

Alex Adams, CFAC chairman and the governor’s budget director, asked whether the state’s paying more than the going rate for call centers in the area. Revier responded, “While it may not be the cheapest alternative, it was the alternative that we could use to staff up the quickest and have the technical expertise to … work through this backlog as quickly as we can.”

“It just seems to me this is a practical answer to a real problem,” said businessman Dennis Johnson, who moved to approve Revier’s request. Former Sen. Shawn Keough seconded the motion.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin made a substitute motion to instead “give that money to a local Idaho call center and work to put Idahoans back to work.” Her motion died for lack of a second.

In a statement McGeachin sent to KTVB, she said: 

"Based on my discussion with the owner of a local call center, the cost appears to be 2-3 times what it could be to use an Idaho-based call center. I made a motion to recommend the $3 million be used to contract with an Idaho company. For the same amount of money, we could be hiring 147 Idahoans at $20 per hour."

RELATED: Idaho Department of Labor catches up on backlog with new call center: 'There is a lot of pent up demand'

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, said, “I am still and I’m sure all of us are getting phone calls from constituents who have said, ‘I have filed the end of March, I have called, called, called, I have not gotten anywhere.’”

Revier said, “We know that we have a backlog, and we need to get through this.”

McGeachin cast the only vote against the additional $3 million in funding.

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