California's unemployment dept. phone bill hits $3.5 million

If you thought your phone bill was high, consider what the California Employment Development Department is paying -- $3.5 million -- to give callers a recorded message with information on unemployment benefits because its operators are too busy to answer the phone.

The state's unemployment call centers are so swamped with phone calls from the unemployed, its operators can't answer the calls. So instead of busy signal, callers are given a recorded greeting offering basic benefit information and a suggestion that they seek answers online, according to a San Francisco Chronicle story.

EDD pays Verizon a nickel to provide the recording for each call. The service cost $1,000 to $100,000 a month, depending on volume, but an astronomical volume of calls in January and February cost EDD about $3.5 million instead of giving callers a busy signal.

Verizon said it will work out a new deal with California to lower the costs when calling center volumes spike, and that it would give the state a $2.6 million rebate.

Think the phone company would cut me such a deal? Nah. That's because it's all about volume. Jaw-dropping volume.

More than 50 million attempts were made in January to reach the call centers, (it dropped to "only" 26 million in February.) Most of the calls come from benefit seekers who had to redial between 20 and 30 times until a state worker answered.

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