SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – In the face of issues including unemployment insurance overpayment, millions of dollars in alleged fraud, and continued customer support problems, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and state officials announced an effort Friday to review and revamp the state’s beleaguered Department of Workforce Solutions. The overhaul comes as the department seeks a new director amid an alleged $250-million in overpayments.
Announcing a so-called four-pronged approach, the Governor says the state will focus immediately on hiring more workers to staff the Unemployment Insurance Operations Center. So far, the state has hired 50 new call center representatives with a plan to hire another 60 more. According to the Governor’s Office, the Operations Center will eventually have a total of 380 workers, a nearly “300 percent increase from the center’s staffing level” from when the COVID-19 pandemic first took hold.
Further analyzing call center operations, the Governor has also appointed Albuquerque Senator Michael Padilla (D) to lead a review of the agency’s call center and response operations and recommend policy changes. Padilla is a CEO of a call center firm called “Altivus CRM Solutions,” and is said to be offering his services “pro-bono.”
“When you get six or several thousand unique calls a day, they will get answered because those calls turn into 20,000 40,000 repeat callers,” said Governor Lujan Grisham. “That is untenable and we have an opportunity at this point in time to do something immediately about it.”
The other three prongs of the Governor’s plan include establishing a multi-agency fraud specialist investigation team; reviewing and replacing outdated technology and contracting with a private company to analyze management and operations. The state is contracting with Abba Technologies, a New Mexico IT solutions firm to do the technology and workplace operations review, which is expected to take three to six months.
The reforms come as the Legislative Finance Committee recently estimated that Workforce Solutions overpaid unemployment benefits by $250 million. The governor has stated that the current system is outdated and could not account properly for new benefit packages created by the federal government and legislature during the pandemic.
Additionally, the LFC report stated that workers were not prepared for the job, made errors in payments, and couldn’t keep up with fraud investigations. Of the $250 million in unemployment overpayments, more than $100 million of that was fraud.
In April, Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley stepped down from his position following a year of managing an influx of unemployment claims as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. McCamley later responded on Twitter saying his departure from the department was due to threats and safety concerns.