Up to 46 employees to be affected by closure set for April 4
AUGUSTA – Legislators in both of Maine’s houses voiced concerns Wednesday over the announcement of the closure of the Department of Health and Human Services’ call center in Franklin County. The closure, announced through a letter of intent to employees in mid-January, is expected to affect about 46 jobs in the Wilton area.
“I am writing to you today to let you know the Wilton Call Center, within the Office for Family Independence, will be vacating the premises in Wilton,” wrote Darlene Breau, human resource manager for the DHHS Service Center division. “Effective April 4, 2022 the Call Center will be moved to the DHHS Lewiston office located at 200 Main St.”
According to Breau, the decision to close the office was the result of discontinuing the lease at the Career Center and, in the letter, she said employees would have some options moving forward.
For Sen. Russell Black (R-Franklin), however, relocating employees to a location an hour away is not a good option for any of them, especially given the wages those employees earn amid increasingly higher fuel costs that are rampant across the state.
“We appreciate what the administration did in replacing some of the Barclays center jobs that were lost a few years ago, but to move these workers to Lewiston at this point from Franklin County is not acceptable,” said Sen. Black. “These are $16 an hour jobs and to make them commute to Lewiston and back is unrealistic.”
Black added there are plenty of turnkey locations in Franklin County that DHHS could rent, which would sustain the jobs there instead of moving them to the next county. Additionally, moving the jobs an hour away would lead to economic issues for area businesses dependent upon the center, as well as for employees who have to pay for longer daycare hours and potentially losing out on their children’s after-school activities due to their commuting time.
“I understand there may be remote working options, but some employees have said their internet at home isn’t strong enough to support that,” he said.
That sentiment was shared by Rep. Randall Hall (R-Wilton), who felt that DHHS has had a footprint in Wilton since Barclays’ closure and finding an alternative location in the immediate area to keep the jobs there shouldn’t be an issue.
“The internet in Wilton is about as good as anywhere,” said Rep. Randall. “There was high speed internet available at Barclays’ call center, and I’m sure there are other options in Wilton to be able to keep these jobs here.”
The DHHS call center opened in 2019 at the Department of Labor’s Career Center on Route 2 in Wilton amid the closure of Barclays’ call center, which resulted in the loss of 227 jobs in March 2019. Its purpose was to support the state’s expansion of Medicare.
Senator Russell Black is in his second term in the Maine Senate and represents District 7. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committees.
Representative Randall Hall is in his second term in the Maine House and represents District 114. He is the Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.