By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
About 4,900 jobless Floridians will start receiving unemployment benefits.
State officials announced this week that after the federal government stepped in and approved payments, some of the thousands of Florida residents that have been waiting for assistance will start getting help.
Florida’s new $63 million online unemployment benefits system had spent three months riddled with errors that were keeping people from receiving unemployment benefits. The state has received a lot of criticism for the mismanaged program.
Recently, the U.S. Labor Department sent staff members to Tallahassee to help sort out the problems created by the website, at the request of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
However, there are still more than 40,000 people that are still stuck in the faulty system and are not included in that round of payments.
“Payments should begin arriving on Wednesday,” said Jessica Sims, spokeswoman for DEO, in an email. No South Florida payment data was available, the state said, but there are about 25,000 Broward and Palm Beach residents on state benefits that average $230 a week.
…Florida originally agreed to expedite payment to about 11,000 who had continued claims, the DOL spokesman said in an email on Tuesday. But during testing of programming changes, the state discovered that about 5,900 of those claims “failed to meet the minimum eligibility requirements,” a DOL spokesman said.
DEO’s Sims said some claimants were deemed ineligible because they reported earnings during their claim week that “exceeded the threshold for benefit payment or they had a re-employment assistance overpayment owed to the state” — usually from a previous claim.
These individuals will receive a notice of determination with information on the appealing the denial, she said. [sic]
Of the 36,000 initial claims backlogged, 21,500 remain to be paid, the federal government said.
The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald asked federal officials overseeing the state’s system to explain why there are still so many people not receiving payments.
According to the Times/Herald, officials at the U.S. Labor Department said “the state ‘agreed to expedite’ 11,000 (not 10,000) ongoing claims and began to implement the necessary changes to the system.”
“During testing of these changes, the state discovered that approximately 5,900 of these claims failed to meet the minimum eligibility requirements,” the spokesman said in an e-mail. “As a result, approximately 5,100 of these continuing claims were processed over the weekend.”
So more than half of the initial amount of late claims to be paid were subsequently rejected.
What’s more, federal officials asked the DEO to reevaluate an additional 10,000 claims that had been denied.
Of those, “2,700 remain backlogged pending (review),” the spokesman said.
On top of that, the spokesman said about 1,000 claims had been flagged for “identity issues” and will be investigated as potential fraud or improper payments, the spokesman said.
There are many more cases out there. During testimony to state senators earlier this month, DEO executive director Jesse Panuccio said there were about 60,000 backlogged cases. In her statement, Sims said that there are 41,000 claims awaiting a determination. But because of the unreliable CONNECT system, it’s unclear if these numbers are accurate.
Besides federal intervention, the state has been fining Deloitte, the company that created the glitchy website, everyday that the major issues are not fixed. State officials also withheld a $3 million payment to the company.