FLORIDA - By just about every measure, the October launch of the State of Florida’s new unemployment website was a failure. The CONNECT site was designed to streamline the process of delivering unemployment benefits to thousands of Floridians, what it did instead was lock people out, delaying and in many cases completely failing to provide basic unemployment benefits. Things with the system became so bad that DEO was forced to hire an extra 330 employees to deal with the situation.
In March, Eyewitness news uncovered internal emails from the Department of Economic Opportunity showing that while some senior staff at DEO were praising the new site during its launch, other employees in the department were sounding the alarm; complaining that systems were failing and customers were irate.
As DEO began the process of fixing the site, it also took the step of fining Deloitte, the company hired to build the site, $15,000 a day.
Now, eight months after the launch, DEO says the site is fully functional and all problems have been resolved.
“DEO service levels are now outperforming those achieved under the old system, and the main service challenges experienced during the launch of CONNECT have been resolved,” said DEO spokesperson Jessica Sims. “These performance improvements have resulted from technical fixes implemented by Deloitte, policy changes at the agency, increased staff, improved management practices, and an improving economy with fewer overall claimants. In addition to the efficiencies that CONNECT offers, implementation of the new system also has eliminated the severe risk of overall system failure presented by the old system.”
Despite the flaws in the launch of the system DEO says it has paid $31.2 million of a $47.1 million contract to Deloitte. This figure does not include $1.5 million in fines and another $2.1 million in credits from Deloitte to DEO.
“I’m not in it to get wealthy, I was in it just to survive and I have not seen one penny,” says Kissimmee resident Eric Nordine.
After paying into the unemployment system for more than 20 years, in 2013 Eric lost his job and still has not received any unemployment assistance from DEO. In May, Eric landed a new job and has been back at work full time. Eric says he still needs the money owed to him to repay the bills he and his family acquired while he was out of work.
“Between medical bills, past due utilities, monies borrowed to feed my kids, so I have borrowed from family and I have to repay that, that is my obligation,” says Eric.
DEO says it is working to resolve cases like Eric’s and make sure everyone who was owed unemployment assistance receives the benefits they paid into.
“I don’t think they understand at all,” says Eric. “If they did something would have been done before now.”