Letter from the Editor
In this month’s edition of Labor Link, we are focusing on improving our customer service, with an emphasis on utilizing new technology. The Department of Labor adapts to the changing times by consistently striving to upgrade our systems to better serve those in our state.
Phase-Out Prompts Phone System Upgrade
The phone systems used by the Labor Department’s Division of Employment Security underwent an upgrade in early November. The former phone system was adequate to handle former call volumes (approx. 50,000 calls per month in 2008), but could not keep up with current call volumes (approx. 140,000 calls per month).
In July, when Congress passed the last extension of federal benefits, the phone lines were overwhelmed with claimants who needed to speak to a claims representative to assist in getting their claim handled. Because of the influx of calls, some callers received a message stating the number was no longer in service, which was incorrect.
With current federal legislation requiring these benefits to expire at the end of November, call centers are gearing up for another flood of calls. To assist them in serving the residents of Missouri, the Labor Department has installed a new phone system capable of handling a higher call volume. While the old system could only handle three calls per second, the new system can handle as many as 14 calls per second. Additionally, 90 phone lines were added to the existing 300 lines, to allow for an increased number of calls to be handled simultaneously.
The most exciting feature of the new phone system is the capability of allowing callers to receive a courtesy call-back instead of waiting on hold. Claimants who do not want to wait on hold on the line have the option to enter their 10-digit telephone number to then receive a call-back when it is time for them to speak with a claims representative.
“I think we’ve all experienced the frustration of being on hold,” said Department of Labor IT Director Jason Volkart. “Whether it’s walking around your house with that phone stuck to your ear, it’s very frustrating. This call-back feature will allow them to go on about their normal life, and then receive that call-back. It’s going to eliminate a lot of cell phone minutes that claimants may be using, its going to eliminate toll-free charges for the state of Missouri. There are just a lot of benefits to this new system.”
DES Goes After Overpayments
In continuing efforts to ensure the integrity of the Missouri Unemployment Trust Fund (UTF), the Labor Department has procedures in place to identify and recover overpayments. An overpayment occurs when benefits are paid to an individual to which they are not legally entitled, whether by fraud or by mistake.
Within the Labor Department’s Division of Employment Security (DES), the Benefit Payment Control (BPC) Unit is responsible for detecting these overpayments and making sure the money is repaid to the UTF.
The BPC Unit works very hard to recoup these payments so that the money can be paid to eligible Missourians. Between January and October of this year, the BPC Unit referred 224 cases that involved fraud overpayments to local prosecuting attorneys for criminal prosection. There are an additional 623 cases pending referral. In the same time frame, 121 cases referred by the BPC Unit resulted in convictions.
“It is frustrating to know that there are individuals knowingly filing for and receiving UI benefits that have no business doing so,” said Mike Kauflin, a Claims Supervisor in the BPC Unit. “UI fraud wastes Missouri Department of Labor resources and employer-contributed tax dollars. If we recover UI benefits that were paid out to claimants that shouldn’t have been, then we have done our job.”
There are different ways to reclaim the money involved in overpayments. Many claimants set up repayment plans but for the ones who refuse to cooperate, money is intercepted from future unemployment insurance payments as well as tax returns and lottery winnings.
DWC Offers Dispute Management
Settling a workers’ compensation claim can be a long, expensive, stressful process. But it doesn’t have to be that way—imagine a confidential, free service, with a trained mediator helping both sides come to an agreement and successfully resolve the issue. Sound too good to be true? It’s not! Just check out the Dispute Management Unit of the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC).
This service is available to parties before a formal “Claim for Compensation” is filed, and must be agreed to by all parties. Mediations are generally handled by conference call, eliminating the need for participating parties to travel—saving both time and money. All parties involved in the dispute must agree to mediation, and a trained mediator from DWC oversees this confidential process. Once an agreement is reached, it is placed in writing and signed by both parties.
Glenn Easley, one of DWC’s professional mediators, believes this program is very beneficial to anyone involved in the workers’ compensation process. “This program is voluntary, but it does have the potential to save all concerned considerable time, trouble and expense, especially when compared to contested litigation.”
Many people have taken advantage of this useful service, and the Dispute Management Unit is always there to lend a helping hand in resolving workers’ compensation issues. Find out more or contact them on our website, Dispute Management Unit.