Research / BFI Working PaperJul 27, 2021

A Note on the Level of Customer Support by State Governments: A Mystery-Shopping Approach

Many government services are provided at the state level such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and SNAP. Given the lack of competition, a natural worry is that customer support provided by states for these services is less than adequate. While there are many different measures of how a state can support beneficiaries, we focus on just one in this short and applied report: the ability to get a live representative on the phone to help with an application question. To do this, we take a “mystery shopping” approach and make 2,000 phone calls to state government offices. We find substantial heterogeneity in the availability of live phone representatives across states and types of service (UI, Medicaid, etc.). For example, live representatives in New Jersey and Georgia were reached less than 20% of the time while representatives in New Hampshire and Wisconsin were reached more than 80% of the time. We hope that this report provides a simple example for how academics, investigative reporters, and watch groups can help states be more accountable for their customer support systems.

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