Lawmakers look into state-issued benefit cards

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Lawmakers are taking a shot at fixing problems with unemployment.

Legislators took a close look on Tuesday at the process the state used to hand out benefits, specifically debit cards.

Long phone wait times and getting cards late that don’t have any money on them, those are complaints heard by lawmakers. Legislators went looking for answers on Tuesday.

“Every conversation I have with Conduent feels like a battle.” Said David Ostrowe, State Secretary of Digital Transformation.

State officials and lawmakers discussed the issues they have had with the debit cards used to deliver state benefits.

“There was a lot of delay, a lot of confusion and a lot of very disgruntled Oklahomans that were needing their money, much quicker, much more efficiently,” said Senator Mary Boren.

The Democrat from Norman organized a bipartisan study hearing into Conduent, the government contractor that runs the cards issued by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC). Service complaints have come in on many levels, but fraud was the most frequent complaint addressed during the hearing.

“If they believe there was fraud, so instead of going out to just the ones that they were certain of, they would do a sledgehammer approach to stopping some of those cards then it was hard to get them back up and reactivated,” said Sen. James Leewright (R-Bristow).

Conduent officials took part in the hearing through Zoom. They say call wait times are down to about two minutes and admit there were issues with card delivery in the first months of the pandemic, but say that has been fixed.

“We have continued to deliver cards on a regular basis and are not seeing systemic problems in those deliveries,” said Paul Gates, Conduent General Manager.

So what more can be done to fix the issues with the cards?

“ I think we need to have flexibility as a state to be able to look at other electronic payments, whether that be purely direct deposit or Venmo, Apple Pay,” said Ostrowe.

OESC officials say it wouldn’t be wise to break the 10 year contract with Conduent that runs out at the end of next year. They say it would cause more problems than it would fix, but as for future deals?

“If I see any hope for Conduent, it would be that they would present a product that is a lot better than the one that they negotiated back in 2011,” said Boren.

Conduent isn’t actually paid by the state. They make money off fees and the interest from the funds the state gives them to hand out. So far, Conduent has distributed over $3.5 billion from the OESC since March.

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