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OK, who enjoys calling customer service?
Occasionally, the voice on the other end of the phone, if you’re able to talk to a live person, is halfway around the world, and the conversation is often difficult to understand because of accents and poor telephone reception.
That usually happens when you’re calling about your laptop that’s not working properly, but how about calls to Georgia’s food stamp call center program?
"Did you know that JPMorgan Chase right now has a contract to administer the food stamps program, and if you call the number you are instructed to on the website you will be speaking to someone for whom English is a second language and they live in another country," said state Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat. "And if you ask them where they live, they will say it’s a security issue and I cannot reveal that."
Orrock was talking about Senate Bill 492, which is aimed at improving the state’s purchasing process on construction projects. She wanted an amendment to the bill that would require the call center program be administered in the U.S.A.
"We contract with a private corporation, and they promptly ship the jobs overseas to administer the program, the state program, in this case for food stamps, the state program is administered from foreign shores," Orrock said.
So, is this state program administered from foreign shores?
Georgia’s food stamp program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is managed by the state’s Department of Human Resources. The website has links to information in 11 languages.
DHR spokeswoman Ravae Graham told PolitiFact Georgia that only 3 percent of the calls are handled overseas. Graham also sent us the most recent monthly call data. In February, 1.3 percent of the approximately 2.85 million calls were handled in India and Mexico. All the others were handled in this country.
The senator initially questioned the numbers in a telephone interview and asked for a few days to provide us information. A few days later, she sent us a report done in November by Channel 2 Action News that investigated the use of food stamp call centers outside the U.S. The report noted that 3 percent of those calls were handled overseas.
Orrock was interviewed in that report. She talked about her concerns that some of these calls were handled outside the U.S. "rather than creating those jobs here, because we will be employing people who will then put their paycheck back into our economy."
Orrock told us in a statement that she could have spoken more precisely. She said "administered" was a poor choice of words.
"I am aware that the entire program is not delivered by people working overseas, and throughout my speech made reference to the call centers being delivered overseas," Orrock said in a statement. "In speaking without prepared text perhaps I made a poor choice of words in saying administer, but my meaning was clear and I repeated several times that I was referring to the offshoring of call center jobs for the food stamp program, and not the administration of the entire food stamp program.
"Some of those call center services are delivered here, and my amendment was not aimed at those services," Orrock continued. "The sole purpose of my amendment was to address the jobs offshored with Georgia taxpayer dollars."
Orrock’s amendment narrowly passed the Senate, but it was removed from the legislation when it came to the House of Representatives.
As for our call on her claim, only a small percentage of those food stamp calls are handled outside the U.S. Her statement contains an element of truth, but it ignores critical factors, such as the 97 percent of calls handled here, that would give a different impression of someone unfamiliar with the program.
Under our rating system, Orrock gets a Mostly False.
Georgia Public Broadcasting, Georgia Senate, Day 30, Part 1
Channel 2 Action News investigative report on food stamp call centers, Nov. 14, 2011
Georgia Senate Bill 492
Emails from Georgia Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Ravae Graham, March 9 and 16, 2012
Statement from Georgia state Sen. Nan Orrock, March 21, 2012
Telephone interview with Orrock, March 13, 2012
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