WASHINGTON - Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, Toledo) says she is outraged that the Bush administration is refusing to prohibit states from using workers in other countries to answer telephone inquiries about the federal food stamp program.
In a speech on the House floor late Thursday, Miss Kaptur said she has been stymied in trying to prevent overseas workers from answering many of the food stamp phone inquiries.
Miss Kaptur, the senior Democratic woman in the House and vice chairman of the House Agriculture appropriations subcommittee, had asked Eric Bost, Agriculture Department undersecretary for food nutrition and consumers, to see that the department places a ban on outsourcing such work overseas.
Miss Kaptur expressed frustration that the Agriculture Department refused to prohibit states from sending such work overseas. "The USDA that we pay for - we pay for their salaries, U.S. taxpayers, we pay the salary of the U.S. secretary of agriculture ... they said, no, they would not ban sending the work overseas.
"Something is haywire when we allow multinational corporations to take our U.S. taxpayer
dollars and give them in the form of government contracts to companies that then outsource the work to foreign workers and foreign countries ... . It is absolutely indefensible, when so many of our taxpayers cannot find jobs," Miss Kaptur said.
According to an article Tuesday in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, 38 states have contracts with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. to handle inquiries about the federal food stamp program, which is part of the USDA.
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. officials didn't return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment. J.P. Morgan has call centers in Bangalore and Pune, India, as well as a center for automated calls in Delaware.
Maurice Jones, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services, told the newspaper that only about 10,000 of the 400,000 monthly calls made by Virginia's 195,000 food-stamp recipients go to India, where people handle the inquiries. The rest go to the call center in Delaware, Mr. Jones said.
He estimated that six or seven jobs could be created in Virginia to handle the 10,000 calls each month that are now made to India. He was quoted as saying, "In an ideal world, I wish we could have a call center in Virginia staffed by present or former food-stamp clients."
At a hearing Wednesday before the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Bost said the USDA would consider letting states hire contractors to sign up people for food stamps. Currently, federal law requires government workers to handle that job - as opposed to handling phone inquiries and complaints from people already signed up for the program.
Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida has told his state Department of Children and Families to see if nongovernment workers could handle applications for food stamps, as well as Medicaid and other welfare benefits, according to the Associated Press. The proposal reportedly envisions a U.S. contractor, with American employees doing the work.
The "outsourcing'' of American jobs overseas has become an issue in the presidential political campaign.
After a top White House adviser on the economy said that outsourcing can be beneficial to Americans, Sen. John F. Kerry (D., Mass.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has made a number of speeches questioning the rising use of foreign workers to do the work once done by Americans.
In her speech on the House floor Thursday, Miss Kaptur argued the USDA policy of permitting food stamp inquiries to be answered by overseas workers "is not only inappropriate, it is outrageous, particularly when you look at growing food stamp rolls because of unemployment in this country and this administration not extending unemployment benefits to people.''
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