While millions are out of work in New York, the Cuomo administration is paying people from out-of-state low wages to process their unemployment claims, the Post has learned.
One of the firms doing the work for the state Labor Department, Provalus, has offices in Jasper, Texas; Manning, South Carolina; and Brewton, Alabama — and it pays entry-level workers as little as $9 an hour, sources with the company told The Post.
That’s much lower than New York’s minimum wage — which is $15 an hour in the city and $12.50 upstate.
The sunbelt state workers, however, are happy to get New York’s money.
“We’re in Texas. It’s wonderful for a lot of people to be employed and help New Yorkers and our fellow Americans,’” said Christine Gobert, a site administrator working on New York’s unemployment insurance claims.
Manning Mayor Julia Wilson even posted Provalus’s recruitment pitch on her Facebook page.
“Provalus, in partnership with the State of New York, is looking to hire DATA ENTRY RESOURCES in support of the State of New York Unemployment Office. The position is a full-time position with an hourly rate starting at $9/ hour,” the May 3 posting said.
A worker at the Provalus data center in Manning, S.C., said she was hired on a Sunday several weeks ago and began handling New Yorkers’ unemployment claims two days later.
In an internal e-chat exchange among Provalus workers, it was revealed that 159 employees were assigned to handle New York’s unemployment claims.
During the conversation, one employee said as many as 800 workers might be involved, when including three other out of state firms also under contract or subcontract with the New York State Labor Department.
“I don’t think these people know about us being from an outsourcing company,” one data entry specialist said of the unemployed New Yorkers in the e-chat.
Workers in South Carolina are specifically handling claims that were held up for containing incomplete or incorrect information. The New York workers must revise the claims so they can be approved, the worker who spoke to The Post said.
New York’s decision to outsource some of the unemployment claims work while 2 million New Yorkers are jobless drew fire.
“There’s no reason why we’re shipping up to 2,000 jobs out of New York while 2 million New Yorkers are unemployed,” fumed Assemblyman David DiPietro, a Republican from Buffalo.
Senate Finance Committee chairwoman Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said, “I’m confused why they would have to hire out of state workers when we have so many people desperate for jobs in New York.”
An upstate physical therapist at the Saint Lawrence Health System who was furloughed last month and applied for unemployment benefits said she was stunned.
“I was going through the process online. I did it over the phone, got called two days later and initially he [claims processor] said I was all set. I was not all set. They said, `keep calling and calling and calling.’ Finally, I got through to someone and I got to talking with him. He said, `Oh you should come work with my wife and we got to kind of chit-chatting,” said the woman, who only wanted to be identified as Terri S.
She said the claims processor spent time discussing his wife’s hip problem.
“Then he said, `One disclaimer is we live in Omaha, Nebraska.’”
“Afterwards, I thought, `Wow. We have millions of unemployed people in New York. Why is he the one calling me?’” Terri said.
The Labor Department had no immediate comment on how many contracted out-of-state workers it hired.
The DOL has also hired thousands of extra workers to help process claims, totaling 3,100 state and private employees, up from the agency’s 400 workers staffed pre-pandemic.
The embattled department has paid out $9.2 billion in unemployment insurance benefits to two million New Yorkers who have filed jobless claims since the start of the COVID-outbreak, as the state went into lockdown and imposed social distancing rules.
Those moves to contain the killer bug led to massive unemployment as Broadway theaters, hotels, restaurants and retail stores and mom and pop shops shuttered.
The department was initially overwhelmed by the tidal wave of claims, leading to crashes of its website portal and jammed phone lines.
It then moved quickly to hire thousands of additional workers to begin clearing the backlog of claims.