The Lamont administration is allowing the responsibilities for determining and providing pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) to be stripped away from more than 50 dedicated workers at the Connecticut Department of Labor and awarded to two Virginia-based companies: Maximus and Protiviti Government Services.
As a state employee and taxpayer, I have to ask one question: Why?
COVID-19 has changed the game for all of us. Like the majority of people who have been working through the pandemic, I have felt the frustration, pain and struggles that come with a crisis of this magnitude. But COVID-19 has not sapped our commitment as frontline workers to providing quality public services and solving problems as quickly as possible.
The assistance we offer at the DOL is more than just filing for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits or PUA. Our duty is not only to help claimants receive the benefits that they need but also to ensure that our unemployment trust fund is not misused. We understand that economic solvency is critical to helping citizens when they struggle with employment.
Moreover, who is better situated than we are to take care of our own fellow state residents in their time of need? Our customers need excellent services, but they also need people who can relate to their struggles and sympathize with them.
As state employees, we are part of the community and we can guide claimants to other services and resources available. We are aware of job opportunities and state regulations that can be useful for them. We not only offer general phone numbers for different communities and associations; we also make referrals and assure the claimant that someone will contact them to help with their needs.
A private company does not care about the risks of failing to provide quality services or protecting our trust fund because it has very little to lose. A private company is not committed to protecting sensitive data and information, as we are trained to do. A private company is not watching out for the best interests of our agency and our clients, but only for its profits.
Sadly, poverty and economic struggle represent a big business opportunity in this time of Depression-level joblessness. Numerous media reports have covered Maximus’s poor treatment of its workforce, including misclassifying highly skilled employees as low-level workers and failing to provide affordable, quality healthcare to their own employees. Another news story paints a troubling picture of a company cutting costs at the expense of its clients. Is this what we need happening to people whose lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic?
Maximus and Protiviti were awarded contracts without review by the State Contracting Standards Board. Nor has there been any acknowledgement of Maximus’s history in our state. More than 20 years ago, the Rowland administration awarded the company a $13 million contract to administer child-care assistance programs covering about 24,000 people—families on welfare or the working poor. It was reported that Maximus was unable to process thousands of applications in a timely fashion, leaving parents and care providers without income to take care of their kids and pay their bills on time.
Here at DOL, we have amazing and efficient workers who get the job done day in and day out. We are transparent and we are accountable. But we are understaffed, which is why, in this time of crisis for Connecticut citizens, the state should be investing in its own people instead of boosting the profits of a billion-dollar corporation with a notorious reputation like Maximus.
If I could talk to Gov. Ned Lamont, I would say the money you invest in your own workforce will be returned many times over to the people of this state. That outsourcing takes money out of the state economy, maybe even the country. And that by insourcing, you will be helping your fellow residents by maintaining excellent public services and jobs that support our communities.
Carol M. Torres-Gonzalez of Canterbury is a member of AFSCME Local 269, representing workers at the Connecticut Department of Labor.