The phones were ringing off the hook as people try to take advantage of the grants. By noon on Monday, the Mississippi Development Authority says its call center had already taken 1,600 calls to make appointments. In the meantime, hundreds of new staffers are being trained on everything from computer skills to customer service.
First, they were given the problem. Then these new state employees were asked to come up with a solution. It's the kind of training the Mississippi Development Authority hopes will prepare staffers for real life situations when meeting with people applying for the homeowners grant.
MS Development Authority spokesman Scott Hamilton said, "Because we've never done this before, we don't know exactly what to expect in a lot of situations. So we're going to have to ask our people to do, often times, some problem solving to come up with a new way of doing things. A new way of looking at a problem and solving a problem."
Some of the new hires are greeters, others are data processors. Officials say no matter what their job, everyone needs to be sensitive to what Katrina survivors have endured.
"The people down here obviously have gone through a lot, and they're stressed out," said customer service expert Becky Baum. "We have an opportunity to make some real differences in people's lives, so I think this is a good opportunity for people here to understand that."
The state expects $40,000 people to apply for the grants. The hope is that the training will help the process move as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
"If people have come back, if they don't have the right information, if we create problems up front that have to be solved later, it'll delay everything," said Hamilton.
Since the grant program is like none ever before, Hamilton says he's sure the learning won't stop when the training ends.
Starting Monday, applicants will head to one of three locations including Prime Outlets Mall in Gulfport, St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis and Singing River Mall in Gautier. Remember, you must have an appointment. To set one up, call 1-866-369-6302 or click here to learn more about the program.