State Lawmakers Question Company Processing Oklahomans' Unemployment Benefits in Interim Study

Oct 20, 2020

Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

State lawmakers during an interim study on Tuesday dug into reported problems with Conduent, the company processing Oklahomans’ unemployment benefits.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has complained Conduent is not giving them detailed enough information on accounts it flags for potential fraud to effectively deal with it. General Manager Paul Gates said federal privacy regulations prevent Conduent from just handing over all the information they have on an account.

"We've asked for a 'friendly' subpoena to be able to provide that information because of the privacy regulations that we operate under within the services that we provide to cardholders, and we've even provided sample language that we would encourage the state to use," Gates said.

OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said even with an adjective like "friendly" in front of it, a subpoena is still a legal step the state shouldn’t have to take for information as Conduent’s client.

"And for the record, my agency cannot issue a subpoena. We do have to work with the [attorney general's] office on that. So, now we're tying up another state agency on something that really, in the end of the day, we are trying to do the same thing, which is to fight fraud," Zumwalt said.

Elected officials have received a host of complaints from their constitutents about Conduent, ranging from frozen accounts to delayed debit cards. Other states that have contracts with Conduent have a provision to instantly issue debit cards. Asked why OESC didn’t have that to help out with more than a dozen in-person claim events so people could have received benefits the same day, Gates said the request came too late.

"I think it was a couple of days before the first event. And so, while we have the capability of that, putting something like that into place in the span of a couple of days was not something that we could accomplish," Gates said.

Zumwalt disputed that, saying even if it was too late for the first claim event, she kept asking for it to happen at ones weeks later.

"Needless to say, we never got instant-issue, but I can say with 110% assuredness I did ask for that. I asked for that with enough time, and I don't think it was a priority for them and that's why it didn't get done," Zumwalt said.

Conduent charges a $15 fee to expedite debit card shipping.

There have also been complaints it’s difficult to figure out when the company will charge cardholders fees when they call for help or check their balance. Sen. James Leewright (R-Bristow) wanted to know how much Conduent has collected in fees from unemployed Oklahomans.

Conduent Client Partner Jason Boswell declined to answer publicly, saying payment processing is a highly competitive industry.

"I believe we can take that outside of this, and we could certainly do— try to identify the means that we could provide that under the appropriate authority that allows it to be protected and not competitively disadvantage us. Yes, sir, we will take that offline," Boswell said.

The state treasury entered into a five-year contract with Conduent in 2017. Zumwalt said despite problems, changing payment processors now would be too disruptive.