TROUBLE BREWS FOR MAXIMUS

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The Wisconsin branch of Maximus, the massive for-profit social services company currently finalizing $100 million worth of welfare-to-work contracts in New York City, is plagued by racial and gender discrimination complaints and allegations that it mistreats the welfare recipients it is supposed to help, according to a recent series of reports from Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Business Journal reports that workers in the company’s Wisconsin headquarters have filed at least 16 discrimination complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The company currently has a $28 million contract to administer Wisconsin’s nationally acclaimed version of welfare reform.

Another persistent accusation, according to Business Journal reporter Pete Millard, is that the company routinely refers skilled welfare recipients to its own spin-off, a temp agency called MaxStaff. Former employees say it adds up to a legal form of double-dipping, where the company gets paid once for placing a welfare recipient in a job, and a second time by the firm that has contracted with the temp agency. Maximus denies any impropriety in the arrangement.

In addition, a recent lawsuit has attacked the company’s treatment of non-English speaking welfare recipients. The case, filed in late December, alleges that Maximus summarily cut off benefits to a Laotian woman who could neither read nor write English, after failing to provide her with an interpreter.

Earlier this month, Wisconsin State Senator Gwendolynne S. Moore asked the state legislature’s investigative and research arm to conduct an audit of the company. “Former employees have raised serious questions about the administration of the agency,” said Kelly Bablitch, a policy analyst in Moore’s office. “We want to make sure people are being served.”