State unemployment website glitches keep some Floridians from their only source of income
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12/16/13 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: Unemployment, labor, Rick Scott, Deloitte, Florida, Department of Economic Opportunity

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Job seekers line up at the Coliseum in downtown St. Pete to have resumes edited.


photo by Josh Holton, 2011

Glitches in Florida’s new unemployment compensation website have been keeping some people from receiving their only form of income. The CONNECT website launched in October, but still isn’t working up to par. Unemployed people like Susan McGrath say they can’t even get anyone on the phone to answer questions

“What happens is, they’ll say, ‘it’s a high-volume call period, please call back later.’”

McGrath had to wait to file a claim until the new website launched because the old one was already down when she first tried to start the process. After the new site launched on October 15th, everything seemed to have gone smoothly for McGrath. But a few weeks later she found out she had to provide additional information. Searching for answers, McGrath took to the phones only to find a recorded voice telling her to call back later. It was three weeks of hearing that message before McGrath said she was able to speak with someone.

“When the operator called me back, she said, ‘we’re waiting for the adjudication – there probably has already been an adjudication, but we don’t know what it is because they’re not able to post it to the website because of the website problems.’”

The Department of Economic Opportunity has extended its call service hours. Phone lines are now open from 7 in the morning until 8 at night Monday-Friday, Saturday from 8:30-4 and Sunday from 9-4. They’ve also added 150 staff members. McGrath, who worked in the hotel industry, has claimed 8 weeks of unemployment benefits and hasn’t seen a dime yet, but some people have likely gone longer.

“And, I didn’t even ask this but she volunteered the information, she said, ‘people have not been paid since September 28th.’”

But a report on the Department of Economic Opportunity’s website claims nearly 900,000 claims have been filed and more than $250 million has been paid out since the website launched in October. The state of Florida calls its unemployment compensation program reemployment assistance. Governor Rick Scott touted the name change last March saying it would better encourage people in the program to find new employment. However, those relying on the assistance like McGrath say the website hiccups are actually keeping them from looking for a job.

“It’s time consuming and it takes a lot of resources and time that I’d rather be putting forward into looking for my next position.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Economic Opportunity declined an interview request and instead referred to a status update of repairs to the website. According to that report Deloitte, the company hired by the state to create a new site, is paying $1.5 million in restitution and updated its contract with promises to have the glitches fixed by December 20th. According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, a spokesperson for the Department of Economic Opportunity wouldn’t list the exact problems. A director of research at the Center for Research and Labor Studies at Florida International University, Bruce Nissen, says the state has a track record of not supporting displaced workers.

“In general, Florida has made the qualifications you have to have had in order to access unemployment more difficult. In other words it’s things like you have to have worked many, many more weeks within the past year than many states would require. Florida has also made its benefit levels very, very low within the context of the United States. So when you look comparatively Florida does very poorly by unemployed workers. The general attitude seems to be, it’s your fault, not, what can I do to help you out to get you back – until you get back into a situation where you can be self-sufficient again.”

Deloitte was also behind the Kentucky healthcare exchange website that helps residents find low-cost health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. According to the New York Times, that website is enrolling 1,000 people a day. States that chose to use the federal exchange website, including Florida, have met with far less success as glitches continue to keep people from enrolling. McGrath, the hotel worker trying to collect unemployment, is angry that the health insurance website has received so much attention, while the unemployment website doesn’t seem to be making as much of a fuss.

“Healthcare is important, but having a slow website for healthcare is not even comparable to being able to not file a claim or not being able to receive unemployment resources.”

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity’s update from last week, 38 items are being worked on including the adjudication process, appeals, benefit payment control, individual claimant issues and the employer identification resolution process. Deloitte is also being questioned by lawmakers in California where unemployment claims were delayed or botched after the company updated a website there.

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Seems to be one more example of Tea Party faction of GOP working very hard in states with GOP governors and legislatures to make government not function. Their goals, resurrected from the John Birch Society, are to stop government in it's tracks, discourage citizens from participating in government, and replace popularly elected government with corporate owned government that will discontinue all socially responsible government programs. Ending unemployment compensation is their one of their top priorities along with deregulating favored profit making businesses. This is not just a Florida problem. the plan of making government unresponsive to citizen wishes is well planned and being carried out in states, particularly in the South and rust belt states where incomes are dropping and unemployment is rampant.