Federal officials intervene during Florida's unemployment benefits troubles.

Federal officials intervene during Florida’s unemployment benefits troubles.

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Florida’s troubled multi-million dollar unemployment benefits website is going to get help from the federal government.

Since the $60 million website, CONNECT, launched in October it has kept many jobless Floridians from obtaining state assistance. The website has been riddled with errors and has only improved marginally in the past couple of months.

This week, Jesse Panuccio, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, told state lawmakers his agency’s new website is improving. However, federal officials are heading to the state capitol to fix the website until it is completely fixed.

According to The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau,

On Tuesday night, Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson announced officials with the U.S. Department of Labor will arrive later this week to “help fix” the website and won’t leave until the problems are resolved. The initial vendor, Deloitte Consulting, has hired 10 additional programmers to work on the project. In addition, Panuccio announced a $365,000 contract with a second vendor, Capgemini.

In a more guarded presentation than he gave senators in November, Panuccio on Wednesday directed all blame at Deloitte Consulting. No Deloitte officials joined him at the podium, as they did two months ago, a further sign of how fractured, and potentially litigious, their relationship has become.

For now, more problematic for Panuccio are numbers he disclosed to senators showing dubious progress on the website.

Claims that have questions have increased considerably. Because of complications caused by the technical glitches, Panuccio said the number of these cases has climbed to about 60,000 — an increase of between 17 percent to 25 percent.

In addition, calls to DEO have remained persistently high. After a dramatic drop from the first-week high of 1.3 million total calls, the volume of calls flatlined to about 300,000. They have dipped in recent weeks, but the length of time on each call is longer than ever.

This slow-moving improvement has upset lawmakers in both parties.

During Panuccio’s presentation this week, both Democrats and Republicans in the Florida Senate said the status of the website was unacceptable.

Democrats blame Gov. Rick Scott’s new unemployment law and state-level mismanagement for the website problems. Republicans lay the blame on Deloitte– the contractor hired by the state to create the new website.

The Florida Current reported:

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said delays of more than two months to receive benefits in some cases are pushing people into poverty.

“Gov. Rick Scott is responsible for many people being forced into foreclosure, not being able to provide food for themselves and their families, and not having a roof over their head,” Thompson said.

Some Republicans are growing frustrated as well. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, suggested “freezing out” Deloitte, the contractor responsible for Connect, from new state government contracts as long as the system continues to have problems.

State officials have docked Deloitte’s pay and kept $3 million owed the company. However, these incentives to get the site working properly hasn’t done the trick.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, has contacted the U.S. Labor Department to intervene multiple times and now the federal agency has stepped in.

According to a press release from Nelson’s office,

“The secretary of labor has assured me his key staff that handle unemployment insurance will be in Tallahassee by the end of the week; and, they’ll stay there until the problems are fixed,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said in a statement tonight in response to a number of media inquiries.

…U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez spoke with Nelson this evening, as a follow-up to the lawmaker’s recent written request for federal action.  Perez conveyed that the initial purpose of his team’s trip will be to try to institute a way to pay those with continuing claims now and fix problems with the Florida system later, Nelson said.

…Nelson said he believes Perez will have a progress report perhaps as early as next week.

According to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project, jobless Floridians may have been denied more than $22 million in unemployment benefits in October and November of last year alone while the state’s website problems continue.



12 Responses

  1. Mark prindle

    I am one of the 60000 with benefits with held since November of last year.will soon be homeless.

  2. B Schiavo

    Day after day the DEO website gives the same updates, about how much overtime they’re putting in, & how much they’re withholding from Deloitte. While they’re all getting cash we’re being evicted, losing our cars, and are expected to be able to look for jobs with no roof over our heads, no gas if we’re lucky enough to have a car, and trying to keep food in our childrens bellies. Three months of overtime and promises, promises, promises. Banks, landlords & utility companies don’t accept those promises. There are THOUSANDS of eligible claimants who are in such desperate need right now & there are no results, day after day, week after week, month after month.
    We need phones, internet availability and transportation to get and keep a job! They’re “One Stop Career Centers” are useless, even if you’re able to get there. That’s still not going to help a potential employer from being able to reach you for an interview!
    They brag about the number of calls they’re receiving decreasing? Maybe because people are giving up because they give you NO information worth having. They tell you to do things you’ve already done, can give no answers that you need, you can’t speak to anyone who actually makes decisions or can accomplish anything. Their call centers are nothing more than pacifiers. The whole system and those in charge are a disgrace. And to all of you out there who have negative comments about the lazy unemployed, keep them to yourself till you’ve been put in the position these unemployed people have been put in. I myself am gratefully not one of the thousands being cheated out of their benefits. My husband, who at age 49 has filed a claim for the first time in his life, is. We have at least one income and have been able to keep our heads above water, and have a VERY compassionate and understanding landlord whose wife was in a similar position with the FL system at one time. I can’t imagine how those relying on one income are doing it, and I pray they make it through ok.

  3. Ralph Wright

    They all ready found a way not to pay people, JUST DISQUALIFY!!! That is what they are doing now. Just got a stack of Disqualifying notices in the mail for November and December!!! Now I understand how Veterans become homeless!!

  4. Millie Peever

    I have been waiting since November, thank goodness we have another income, but the reality is bills are on the back burner, this is crisis mode for so many! Fix the damn thing!!!!!

  5. Alan S.

    I have be waiting since Oct. I am homeless , car will be repo this week .. This was my only income. I have applied to many places and no job still.. Please help…my case is still under adjudication since Oct 2013

  6. Angry

    My girlfriend filed her claim last January. Received two notices saying she was entitled to benefits about 2 weeks after that. About two weeks after that she received a notice saying that she “missed a hearing” and the judgement went in favor of the employer. She had never worked for said employer. She actually called her ex-employer and they confirmed that they would NOT be fighting it. She then made calls to the regular 800 number which claimed they had “lost her claim” and she’d have to file again. With some faxing and certified mailings we sent them all the b.s. and she is now constantly being dodged by some “arbitrator” who is supposedly some type of lawyer to get her her money. I’ve been supporting us both on a very limited income (luckily we live a very simple life). This whole system is BS and every politician in Florida should be standing up for the people and fixing this issue before ANYTHING else!!! People are losing homes, going hungry, can’t pay to keep their cars on the road to get to a damn job even if they had one! WTF!? Politicians are the absolute scum of the Earth and they’re doing this on purpose. They don’t want to pay out to the people who legitimately need the money. This is supposed to be a short term solution, but not paying is making it a really really long term one!!!

  7. Mike M

    I have the same issue where my claim is sitting with pending issues that aren’t showing in my inbox to even be able to correct them, I am homeless now living in someone’s shed and thankfully foodstamps is still working or I wouldn’t be able to eat, I can’t afford to pay my car payment so been dodging them but have no money for gas or anything else to even be able to go to an interview if I even got one. I apply online for jobs as much as I can considering my living situation. I am finished pretty much and I filed in october of 2013, thanks florida for looking out for your residents and to think I was born here too.

  8. Mike M

    Oh and to add to the BS I have called their 800 number 100’s of times to be told I need to speak with someone and then when it goes to transfer me it says they are experiencing high call volumes and to try my call later everytime, they did however send me the prepaid debit card with no money on it and no indication of when a payment will be deposited on the card, THANKS for sending me a worthless piece of plastic FLORIDA.

  9. Ginger

    I, too, am going through the “disqualify” period – for 6 weeks and counting. Having issues with their website, connecting to a person, etc. I have a call with an adjudicator today ( allegedly) which will no doubt be as useless as everything thing else involved with this system. Unfortunately, people are losing their shelter, possessions, going hungry, etc. and no one within the system seems to care. Does anyone have any knowledge and/or experience in “what do we do now”. Are there any class action lawsuits (if that’s applicable)…….it’s not just unfair -it’s devastating and life “destroying.”

  10. pure .hell

    the real problem isn’t the unemployment idiots it’s you guys who allow these fools to make you wait,for something you have the right to by united state laws,if someone lie to you at 1-800-204-2418 0r 1800-681-8102 0r 1800-385-3920 get there name before they get your info,and expose them to there manager or the u.s labor at 1-866-487-2365 this will stop the long wait on your case,the phone hang ups and the slick rudeness of there unemployees answering the phones,they only know how to get your information,everything else their lost in, just plain stupid,i believe the only way to stop this problem is get rid of there employees and employers by exposing the whole staff as just bums.maybe one day the feds will see whats really going on and it will be televised.

  11. Tracey B.

    I am one of the people who stopped receiving RA benefits back in Dec ’13. After 4 months and almost losing everything I finally began receiving RA benefits at the beginning of May after claiming in April. I received 1 week & then 2 weeks of payment. All of the sudden there are “pending issues” & they are withholding my RA payment. My car will be repossessed in 3 days, my lights turned off and my Insurance cancelled. There is still money left in the claim…I can’t take this anymore. It is devastating! I am a single mom receving no assistance and am constantly looking for a job but am “overqualified” This is ridiculous!

  12. Jenn R

    This incompetence is still occurring. I am in my second attempt to receive benefits this year. My first attempt, after being laid off with 100+ other people, went unanswered. I never received a penny from this backwards program. Luckily, I obtained a job within 30 days and was able to save myself. However, within 90 days, I was fired without cause for the sake of a millionaire’s ego (I’ve never been fired in my entire 15 years on the workforce with multiple letters of recommendation), never even was written up, but it’s been over 30 days since I filed for benefits. I received multiple notices that my benefits were approved even due to being fired without cause, yet my benefits are again under appeal and I am awaiting a decision. It’s been over 30 days!? Are you kidding me?! I’ve already lost my apartment, I can no longer afford health care or my cheap car insurance and I’m about to lose my car. All the jobs I apply to don’t even bother to call me back because these companies do not want to deal with an adult college student’s potentially changing schedule despite my 10 years as a paralegal. I am in desperate need of this assistance, but whenever I call I’m told that I have to wait for my last employer to respond to my claim, but the website says I’m approved for benefits while on another page it states an appeal has been filed and I need to await a decision. I’m royally screwed right now; thinking of claiming bankruptcy….wait, I can’t afford to file for that either. Thank you, Rick Scott. You will not be getting my vote November 4th.


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