Amid continuing problems with Florida’s CONNECT website for unemployment benefits, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson renewed his call Wednesday for federal officials to investigate whether Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is doing all it can to fix the site.
Nelson in October similarly asked the U.S. Labor Department to look into flaws revealed in CONNECT’s Oct. 15 rollout. Thousands of jobless Floridians have been struggling to file benefit claims and have deluged overburdened help lines.
“Specifically, I ask that you investigate whether the Department of Economic Opportunity is currently in compliance with section 303(a)(1) of the Social Security Act and associated Department regulations requiring states to timely pay unemployment compensation “when due,” and, if not, what actions the Department can take to ensure timely payment of claims due to Floridians,” Nelson wrote in a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.
The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity is battling with tech giant Deloitte Consulting LLC, designers of the state’s $63 million website. Each side blames the other for problems which have forced jobless Floridians to spend days trying to file benefits or repeatedly dial call centers seeking help.
State officials announced last week they plan to add 330 more staffers over the next three months to deal with long waits and disputed claims.
Jesse Panuccio, DEO’s executive director, said Tuesday that the new hires will cost the state less than $165,000-per-week, with federal dollars available to cover the expense.
Still, for the Gov. Rick Scott administration, which has ridiculed Congress and the Obama administration for overspending, the website woes are a problem. They also potentially undermine a central part of his re-election profile as the ‘let’s get to work’ governor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, last fall urged the federal Labor Department to launch an investigation into CONNECT’s balky rollout.
DEO last month withheld a $3 million payment and began fining Deloitte $15,000-a-day over the site’s performance. Deloitte shot back by saying that any lingering problems are the state’s fault.
The department’s decision to throw more bodies into the mix may not prove that successful.
“I’ve had 3 different reps handle my acct in the last 2 weeks. They asked for the same information over and over again and that it would expedited to an adjudicator. Guess what, nothing has been done,” Anthony Dezenzio of Panama City wrote on a DEO Facebook site this week.
Panuccio on Tuesday continued to emphasize that the system is getting better. Since the site deputed Oct. 15, he said 1.1 million claims have been filed and more than $335 million in benefits distributed.
On Monday, he added that more than 18,000 claims were completed and $4.9 million paid to unemployed Floridians.
“Deloitte has committed to bringing additional programmers to Florida to address technical issues and is working on a plan to solve all remaining problems,” Panuccio said. “This is a step in the right direction and each day, improvements to the system continue to be made.”