Sep 30 2002

SHELBY LETTER TO AGRICULTURE SECRETARY EXPRESSES CONCERNS WITH FOOD STAMP PROGRAM'S OVERSEAS CALL CENTER

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) expressed concerns to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman regarding the use of a third party entity overseeing Alabama's food stamp programs that refers inquiries and questions to an overseas call center.

Alabama has signed a contract with eFunds to administer their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program for food stamp recipients in the state. Alabamians with questions regarding their benefits are referred to eFunds toll free phone number that transfers calls to India.

"I question the need and propriety of federal benefit programs being essentially administered from foreign countries," said Shelby. "This practice is especially troubling when we hear stories of call center facilities across the United States being closed as others are opened in India."

"The irony is that many of those who lose their jobs in America's call centers may very well have to turn to food stamps or other government programs for assistance," added Shelby.

Senator Shelby's letter to Secretary Veneman is attached:

 

The Honorable Ann Veneman, Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Veneman,

I am writing to request your assistance in investigating a practice involving third party administration of food stamp benefits through Electronic Benefit Transfer programs.

It has recently come to my attention that the state of Alabama and possibly other states have contracted with third party entities to administer their food stamp programs. In particular, Alabama has signed a contract with eFunds to administer their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program for food stamp recipients in the state. However, should Alabamians have questions regarding their benefits or need to clarify personal information, they must use a 1-800 number that transfers their calls to the country of India.

While third party administration of a benefit program seems completely logical given the complexities involved with EBT programs, I question the need and propriety of federal benefit programs being essentially administered from foreign countries. This practice is especially troubling when we hear stories of call center facilities across the United States being closed as others are opened in India, as is the case with eFunds which now employs over 1300 people in its call centers in India. The irony in all of this is that it is extremely likely that many of those who lose their jobs in call centers in the United States may very well have to turn to food stamps or other government programs for assistance.

I recognize that the welfare reform act of 1996 requires all States to convert to EBT issuance by the year 2002. However, I am troubled that while the federal government is subject to numerous "buy-America" provisions those provisions do not apply to federally funded programs administered at the state level.

Again, I am extremely troubled by this practice and would appreciate your assistance in looking into the pervasiveness throughout the States of not only the third party administration of EBT programs but also the outsourcing of those programs to overseas call centers. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration of this important issue. I look forward to your reply.

 

Sincerely,
Richard C. Shelby