Call center back in Mo.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:02 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A toll-free call center for Missouri welfare recipients will soon be staffed in Missouri, costing taxpayers $1 million more annually than if it had been kept in India.

The help line for some 300,000 households that receive electronic benefit cards for food stamps and welfare payments became a popular political example of the outsourcing of American jobs during last year’s elections.

The phone center, operated by the government contractor eFunds Corp., was moved from India to Wisconsin last July — shortly after Democratic primary challenger Claire McCaskill criticized then Gov. Bob Holden for allowing it to operate overseas. State officials said at the time that they wanted to eventually bring the call center back to Missouri.

By Feb. 1, it will be operated by the Kansas City-based subcontractor USA 800, officials for the state and eFunds confirmed Monday.

Moving the call center to Missouri will cost the state an additional $532,614 during this fiscal year that ends July 30, compared with the cost of keeping it in India, said Janel Luck, deputy director of state Family Support Division. During the next full fiscal year, the extra cost will top $1 million, she said.

Those expenses are on top of the roughly $7 million annually the state pays eFunds to manage its electronic benefit system.

The move will bring about 15 to 20 jobs to Missouri, said eFunds spokesman Thom Brodeur.

The Associated Press first reported in October 2002 that eFunds had moved the call center to India. At the time, the Department of Social Services said it was too late to request a Missouri-based call center as part of a new five-year contract with eFunds that began in February 2003.

But last year, the legislature appropriated $300,000 to re-bid or re-negotiate the contract. Holden’s administration expedited the move, resulting in a cost higher than budgeted.

The call center was moved from India to Wisconsin a few days after McCaskill brought up the issue during a televised debate against Holden — about a week before the August primary election in which McCaskill defeated Holden.

McCaskill was later defeated by Republican Matt Blunt in the November general election.

Blunt, who took office as governor two weeks ago, said his administration was simply fulfilling an obligation the state made before he took office, but he agreed with the move.

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