JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Floridians trying to access the state's new unemployment benefits website are running into some issues and we're learning that the state and the contractor building the site might have known about possible issues over a year ago.
In a letter obtained by our partners at Action News which shows the state tried to terminate the contract with the firm because the site was behind schedule and there were design flaws but eventually just devised a corrective action plan and kept going. The state paid the consulting firm $63 million to design and build the site.
Claimants have been complaining of website glitches and long hold times on the phone while trying to get benefits. Julie Jones tells our partner Action News she's had many issues claiming benefits in the past, so she thought when the state rolled out the new website, she'd finally have some luck.
"Sitting on the phone and getting that same automated response and not getting through, is worse than sitting at a dentist office," says Jones.
Senator Bill Nelson has asked the Department of Labor to officially investigate the issues with the rollout.
The state said in a statement to us that they're sorry for the issues and are working round the clock to fix them.
LETTER FROM SEN. BILL NELSON TO DEPT. OF LABOR SEC. THOMAS PEREZ
Dear Secretary Thomas E. Perez:
It is being widely reported that an untold number of Floridians are having trouble applying for unemployment benefits because of problems plaguing the governor's and state's new $63 million economic opportunity website.
While states administer their own unemployment compensation program - Florida is relying on this online system - they do so under the Department of Labor which oversees many of the programs our nation has for American workers, including unemployment benefits.
The main purpose behind this federal-state program is to help stabilize the economy during recessions. But it certainly won't be of much help in my state if those who have lost their jobs face protracted delays in seeking or receiving benefits.
I would ask that you investigate the circumstances surrounding the roll out of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s online unemployment claims system; or take this matter into account in any other pending investigation.
I am enclosing for your review a few recent media reports outlining more specifically the problems people in Florida are facing.
I would also ask that you look into whether the state is doing everything it can to correct problems with its website to meet the needs of all Floridians eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
I look forward to hearing from you on this matter soon. Please feel free to contact me or my counsel Clint Odom with any questions you or your staff may have.
OFFICIAL DEPT. OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY STATEMENT:
“DEO’s number one priority is to ensure that claimants and employers can easily access the Reemployment Assistance system. We sincerely regret any delays claimants have experienced as a result of technical problems during the launch of our modernized computer system. I know Reemployment Assistance is a vital source of income during a time of need. That is why DEO and its project vendor are working around the clock, seven days per week, to identify and fix any technical problems claimants are encountering. While we have made great progress over the last two weeks, we will not rest until every single claimant is properly served. All claimants should be assured that they will not lose any benefits to which they are entitled.” – Jesse Panuccio, Executive Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity
- DEO continues to process the majority of Reemployment Assistance (RA) claims without issue. To date, more than 230,000 total claims have been successfully filed using CONNECT.
- DEO values every individual’s claim and wants to ensure all claimants that they will not lose any benefits to which they are entitled because of a technical issue. DEO will also backdate any claim delayed because of technical issues.
- DEO has contracted with Deloitte Consulting for a fully operational system, and we continue to work with the company to ensure that is what we get.
- For the minority of claimants affected by technical issues, DEO is proactively calling and emailing as many as possible to notify them when a fix is implemented and any technical difficulty surrounding their claim is resolved.
- The project team has largely addressed the two most significant systemic issues that claimants were experiencing since the launch. Those issues centered on PIN resets and access to a link to claim benefit weeks. We are now receiving very few calls about these issues. We know that, as we move forward, new technical issues may arise, and we will work to promptly address them.
- We also know that some other RA processes, including adjudication and appeals, have experienced delays due to technical problems. We currently have some work-arounds in place, and we are implementing technical fixes this week. Based on fixes we have already been able to institute, we have seen efficiency gains and better performance in these two areas.
- We also continue to address individual claims issues that have arisen, including individual data-conversion errors. We will continue to address these problems as they arise and we expect such issues will continue, as nearly two billion records were converted from the more than 30-year-old system.
- Call center traffic has decreased significantly as technical issues have been identified and fixed. Calls to the DEO call center decreased by 61 percent this Monday (October 28) from last Monday (October 21), and there was a 64 percent reduction this Tuesday (October 29) from last Tuesday (October 22). Nonetheless, call centers will remain open extended hours. Those hours are 7AM to 8PM EST on Monday through Friday, 8:30AM to 4PM EST on Saturdays, and 9AM to 4PM EST on Sundays.
- It is important to note that the requirements for RA have not changed, but the new CONNECT interface presents screens and queries in a new manner. Accordingly, it will take time for claimants, employers, and DEO staff to acclimate to the new interface. This acclimation period will cause some natural and unavoidable delay. We appreciate the patience of system users during this period and are confident that, in time, CONNECT will provide a better user experience. Some of the benefits of CONNECT include 24/7 access to information, the ability to check the status of a claim online, and enhanced security features to protect from identity theft and fraud.
- It is important to note that some issues claimants are encountering are not technical system errors. Not every RA claim is a valid one – the system regularly flags some claims for further investigation or denies them outright if the claimant is not entitled to RA. This is a normal part of the RA process.
- Given that this complex computer system is still new, it is probable that additional technical problems may arise, and we have teams working around the clock, seven days a week to address such issues. The team will continue to do so as long as necessary.