Food Stamps Create Jobs… in India

Indian call-center employees typically earn about $2.50 to $3.50 an hour, roughly 70 percent less than their American counterparts, said Jagdish Dalal, a managing director at the New York-based International Association of Outsourcing Professionals.

Overseas call center sites, he said, can vary from small "mom and pop shops" with 15 employees to mass operations with 3,000 seats.

But Dalal added that companies that engage in outsourcing often end up facing higher costs related to infrastructure because the transportation and electrical systems in the developing countries often home to call centers, like India, aren't as reliable as in the United States.

Despite these obstacles, he said, the savings from outsourcing persists, with companies saving about 25 percent to 30 percent by locating workers in foreign countries.

The Fight Against Outsourcing

In recent years, lawmakers have attempted to curb federal and state governments' use of outsourcing and met with varying degrees of success.

In 2005, New Jersey passed a law essentially requiring all services under state contracts to be performed within the United States.

Since at least 2003, Congress has considered several bills related to outsourcing, including those that would limit the practice as well as one -- the "Call Center Consumer's Right to Know Act" that would require call center operators to disclose their location to callers. The act never became law.

Most recently, Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., proposed a bill stopping banks that receive funding under the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program -- which includes JPMorgan Chase -- from sending new call center jobs overseas. The bill was approved by the House, but did not move on from there.

While JP Morgan would not say what percentage of its calls go overseas, the other two major companies said all of their calls are handled in the United States.

"While we do not comment on specific client contracts, the support for all of our food stamp programs is handled domestically," Ken Ericson, director of corporate communications for ACS, said in an e-mail.

eFunds used to route calls overseas. It was acquired in 2007 by Fidelity National Information Services and now keeps all public-assistance calls domestic, according to Anthony Ficarra, who oversees the electronic benefit transfer program for the company.

Fidelity is the largest food stamp servicer, handling accounts in 31 states. All of the calls go to centers in Wisconsin, Arkansas, Florida and Minnesota.

"We have a large operation in India ourselves, but because of the nature of the programs, we do it all in the U.S," Ficarra said. "For us there's a long-term sensitivity to not handling those things outside the borders of the country."

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