“In contrast to businesses, which often face strong competitive pressures to provide quality customer support, states have very little oversight and incentive to make sure that their call systems are efficient,” the researchers write. “Consequently, already vulnerable populations will face additional hurdles because of the faulty nature of the system.”
Across the country, callers with tax questions were almost twice as likely to reach a representative than callers with questions about unemployment, the data indicate. Callers to tax offices also were more likely to reach a representative than those calling Medicaid or SNAP offices. In Hawaii, Missouri, and New Jersey, no calls about SNAP benefits were answered by representatives, while at least some calls to income-tax offices were.
Research assistants with questions about unemployment never managed to reach representatives in Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, or Virginia. They had the best chances of getting through in Idaho, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
In states where representatives were harder to reach, there was no evidence that governments were compensating with better websites or enhanced messaging services, the researchers note, adding, “Our hope is that this research can provide more accountability for state governments to improve the customer support that they provide to their residents.”