On October 15, Florida launched a new website for unemployed workers to claim their benefits. But glitches with the site have meant that more than $20 million in benefits hasn’t been doled out to those who need them, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
After the launch of the new $63 billion system, people who needed to file a claim for benefits were met with troubles logging in or navigating the CONNECT website. (A 2011 law requires recipients to register online.) That was followed by a huge and sudden decline in the percentage of unemployed workers who filed claims, falling from 17.2 percent in September to 15.5 percent in October and just 13.4 percent in November. Its claims fell to the lowest level in six years between the launch and early December, and the average number of weekly claims fell by 18 percent, the sharpest decline in 15 years.
State officials told the Sentinel that these numbers may not be accurate given that one of the problems with the new website is that it isn’t producing “reliable and consistent data” and said that fewer people are trying to get benefits because the state’s jobless rate is falling.
As the Miami Herald reported, the state hired Deloitte Consulting in 2011 to upgrade its 30-year-old system to modernize it and save in processing costs. But Deloitte fell behind on schedule and the state threatened to terminate its contract. The firm switched project managers and hired more staff on location, but the site was still plagued with troubles after the launch. “Unemployment offices were packed with those who said they couldn’t log on,” the Herald writes. “Phone lines were jammed. Calls were dropped. Frustration grew.” Thousands of complaints were sent to Gov. Rick Scott (R)’s offices. On December 20, the state announced it would charge Deloitte $15,000 for each day the site isn’t functioning and withhold $3 million to be paid when the site is fully functional.
Deloitte has had other problems with overhauling unemployment websites in California and Massachusetts. After California launched its new system on Labor Day, so many applications were stalled that they had to be processed by hand and 148,000 people waited weeks for their benefits. Massachusetts’s system, which was launched in July, was two years late and $6 million over budget and still cost the state $800,000 in overtime and new hires to resolve glitches.
Unfortunately for many residents of Florida, the share of people struggling to get benefits is still much lower than it probably should be. The proportion of unemployed people who get benefits was 16 percent in 2012, the lowest in the country.
And many who would have previously been able to get benefits are now cut off. The state had already cut off benefits at 26 weeks of unemployment last year, one of just six states to cap them so quickly, but that cap is now just 16 weeks as of January. While federal benefits used to kick in to fill in the gap for the long-term unemployed, Congress let them lapse at the end of last year, leaving 73,000 Floridians without support. Florida’s workers were out of work for the longest periods in the country in 2011 and 2012, a fact that likely held true last year, averaging 44 weeks without work. If the long-term benefits aren’t extended, more than 260,000 unemployed state residents will be left in the cold.