Local News

State doubling staff for unemployment cases after website snafu

TALLAHASSEE-The state Department of Economic Opportunity is hiring 330 workers to help process unemployment assistance applications due to troubles with a new $62.8 million online system.

DEO will add 100 "adjudicators" this month to help handle questions when the new system flags a claim, with another 100 to be hired in February and 50 more in March, DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio said in Thursday's update on the troubled Connect system.

The department will hire another 80 individuals over the next two months to assist with other calls from people with questions about unemployment benefits, agency officials said.

State officials did not immediately provide an estimate for the cost of hiring the new workers.

The new hires will double the number of people now handling the work caused by "technical difficulties" with the online system, which has caused problems for users and headaches for state officials since going live Oct. 15.

"We have focused on this area because we know it will do the most to expedite payments to people who have been waiting the longest," Panuccio said.

The move comes after the DEO started to impose fines of $15,000 per business day on Dec. 23 against Minnesota-based Deloitte Consulting, and withheld a $3 million payment to the company for failing to deliver a "fully functioning" system.

DEO spokeswoman Jessica Sims said Thursday the fines continue to be imposed.

Deloitte -- which has faced questions over the rollout of multi-million dollar websites in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California -- has stated that the company has completed the work outlined in its DEO contract and that the Connect system "has surpassed the performance of the unsustainable systems it replaced."

DEO disputes Deloitte's contention.

"We will continue to hold Deloitte accountable and I have asked them to devote whatever resources necessary to fix all remaining technical issues," Panuccio said on Thursday.

No deadline has been set for the system to be fully functional, but additional penalties could be applied if Deloitte is unable to complete the work without more consultants and vendors being brought in to direct and monitor the work.

Connect has been in the works since 2009 to replace a 30-year-old system out-of-work Floridians used to claim their weekly benefits, monitor accounts and request information. The department provides up to $275 weekly to more than 200,000 jobless Floridians.

The changeover, which is in part covered with federal tax dollars, includes about $28.2 million for Deloitte Consulting to set up the website.

Deloitte was penalized $4.5 million last year by the Department of Economic Opportunity due to project delays.

In Massachusetts, a new unemployment assistance program launched in July was two years late and up to $6 million over budget.

Meanwhile, that state's Department of Revenue severed a separate contract with Deloitte in 2013 after spending $54.2 million since January 2011 to upgrade its computer system, which dated to 1989-1990, according to State House News Service.

"We were alarmed," said Massachusetts Commissioner of Revenue Amy Pitter, who said user acceptance testing in September 2012 determined there were "fundamental" problems with Deloitte's approach. DOR is now seeking to develop a new system with GenTax, which it estimates will bring in $30 million per year in additional unpaid tax revenue.