New Orleans Part of the citizen pain that comes from subcontracting the handling of public services to private companies is the certainty that someone is making money with no accountability to anyone and absolutely no regard for the economic hardship involved for citizens. A perfect example that I am witnessing close at hand involves JP Morgan Chase’s handling of the debit cards it loads with unemployment benefits for eligible recipients in the great state of Louisiana. If anyone cared about the unemployed getting benefits they are legally entitled to receive and furthermore whose premiums they have personally paid for just this problem, it would be different. In Louisiana, like many states, one cannot escape the feeling that the state government is in cahoots with the bank to depress the level of benefit payments by not correcting its terrible procedures and systemic flaws.
Let’s talk about real examples though.
In recent months I followed carefully the cases of a number of people who were laid off and dutifully applied for unemployment. They did so on-line, which seemed to be an improvement from the past procedures. They also filed their job searches and weekly claims on-line which is also a good thing. So props to the State of Louisiana for some wins in the system.
The problem came when it came time to actually pry the money from JP Morgan Chase which was responsible for providing the debit cards loaded and ready for the unemployed workers to receive their benefits. Supposedly there was a number at Chase to call. There was never any answer. Furthermore, they would change the number almost daily and in several cases I watched; in fact they did change the number daily! Qualified workers trying to access benefits were like gamblers trying to find a floating crap game. Ridiculous!
In many of these situations after weeks of trying to access the system – and in one case, months – the only way the workers got their benefits was to physically make their way to a Chase branch bank in East New Orleans that was handling unemployment, and finally there get the pin numbers to allow them to access their benefits. This would be bad enough, but the Chase mischief doesn’t stop there. I know of two cases where the claimants are unable to reapply for benefits because they have less than one dollar on their card ($.53 in one case), and by the rules they are not able to get their extension until they have “exhausted” their benefits. Chase has even been trying to get these workers to open new bank accounts with Chase in order to “spend” the money. Crazy!!! Meanwhile one worker I have followed has not been able to resolve this with Chase for a full month, and the other is watching the clock move that way.
I’m sure this is a lucrative contract for Chase. I’m sure they get to “invest” the “float” on the money once they receive it in due course from the State of Louisiana, especially since they take their sweet time getting the money to where it is supposed to go.
The point of this terrible game seems to be to keep people from getting their money. That’s not the way any benefit program should be allowed to work, and when a subcontractor like Chase is involved, they should be fired and the State of Louisiana should stand up and start doing the right thing rather than prattling more rightwing ideology from the Governor’s office about how private enterprise does it all better.