A major state contractor will open a South Texas call center for social services applicants next month in the hometown of Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg.
In a press release, Reston, Va.-based MAXIMUS Inc. made a point of mentioning its collaboration with Peña, a five-term House member who changed parties after the November election.
"Edinburg is a great location and a good fit for our additional call center operations," said MAXIMUS executive Leslie Wolfe, announcing the company expects to employ 400 people there by the end of 2012, as part of its contract helping support eligiblility-determination work by the Health and Human Services Commission. "We are pleased to be working with HHSC, state Rep. Aaron Peña and our friends in Edinburg to provide crucial enrollment assistance to recipients of state health services."
Peña, reached by phone late Tuesday, acknowledged he lobbied for the center to be located in Edinburg.
"I can't take all of the credit myself," said Peña (above, Austin American-Statesman photo). "I've got to give [Gov. Rick Perry's] office and others involved credit for what they did."
The Edinburg operation will be the fifth call center for the state's partially privatized eligibility-screening system for Medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance and the Children's Health Insurance Program, said commission spokesman Geoff Wool. The others are in Athens, Austin, Midland and San Antonio.
Wool, asked if the location decision was the contractor's to make, replied, "It's not strictly their choice. They recommended the [Rio Grande] Valley for the robust labor market and the deep pool of potential bilingual employees and we approved."
Peña said he argued to Perry aides that "many of the people being serviced were from South Texas" and that the Valley's become a hub for call centers because many there know both English and Spanish. "Who better to be on the phone than the people who understand the culture and the community of South Texas?" he said.
Peña, who said he's running for re-election, said he strives for "good relations with all the statewides" -- Republicans such as Perry who hold state constitutional offices.
When the state launched the trouble-plagued privatization effort in 2005, previous contractor Accenture located one of the new call centers in Midland, home to then-Speaker Tom Craddick. Peña, though, dismissed suggestions he's exercising big-time clout as a recent Republican convert.
"My job is to advocate for my community, and I do that every chance I have," he said.
printed in the Dallas Morning News by Robert Garrett