California pays millions for jobless center phone message service

Millions of failed calls to the state's unemployment insurance call centers are costing California taxpayers millions of real dollars.

The Employment Development Department pays 5 cents to Verizon each time a caller dials its toll-free numbers to file or get help with an unemployment insurance claim and EDD staff can't handle the call.

Instead of getting a busy signal, callers – 25.6 million of them in December and another estimated 42 million more in January alone – get a pre-recorded message telling them that the department's phones are getting more calls than staff members can answer. The message urges callers to file their claims through the department's Web site.

That message service has cost taxpayers at least $5.7 million since 2004, state call center records show, but most of the tab – $4.6 million since the beginning of 2008 – has come since the economy sagged and the state's jobless rate hit 9.3 percent.

In January, the service cost the state at least $2.1 million because of the unprecedented number of callers dialing in to the message, according to EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy.

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