April 29, 2009— -- Michele Brown has seen Americans' struggles with jobs first hand. She lives in hard-hit Florida, spent 20 years in the real estate business and recently had her days as a nanny cut back after her boss had his own hours reduced.
But nothing prepared her for what happened one day when she called a toll-free line to inquire about her food stamps.
"The woman who answered the phone -- it's not like she wasn't nice or anything -- but it was kind of evident that she wasn't in the States," Brown said.
It turns out the woman was at a JP Morgan Chase call center in India.
"That really put me over the edge," said Brown, 52, of Jupiter, Fla. "It's not right because we need the work here. People are in a bad way here."
Americans have never liked the idea of jobs going overseas. But for many, it's more offensive when taxpayer dollars -- including those in the federal stimulus plan -- go to create those jobs. And when those jobs deal with food stamps, unemployment insurance and other public benefits, well forgot irony, to many it's just downright plain insulting.
Unemployment in Florida is now 9.7 percent.
"Why is the state of Florida sending these jobs away?" Brown asked. "The thing that really iced it for me, I knew that JP Morgan had gotten bailout funds."
So she called her local politicians and then she reached out to her local newspaper, the Palm Beach Post. The paper did a story two weeks ago about the $50 million Florida paid JP Morgan in the last three years to administer the food stamps distribution.
Those services include 24-hour customer-service call centers. Some of those calls were answered in Bangalore and Gurgaon, India. Others were taken at two U.S. call centers.
The next day the head of the state's Department of Children and Families said something needed to change.
"I don't want any calls going to India," he said. "We need to take care of this."
The state now has a commitment from JP Morgan to move all of its calls to the United States, according to Judi Spann, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families.
Florida isn't alone in sending its customer service calls overseas.
There are three major companies that provide debit cards to food stamp recipients: JP Morgan Chase; eFunds, which is now part of Fidelity National Information Services; and Affiliated Computer Services or ACS.