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Struggles Continue With New Unemployment Computer System

November 25, 2013 - 6:00pm

The majority of technical "glitches" that first confronted users of the state's overhauled unemployment computer system appear to have been smoothed out.

A spokeswoman for the agency said Monday that the system is working for "a vast majority of claimants."

However, the Department of Economic Opportunity's $62.8 million system called "Connect" continues to struggle for some users.

Claims by jobless people that are flagged for investigation or are under appeal continue to be a major hurdle to correct.

"We're working tirelessly to make sure that those issues are resolved," said department spokeswoman Monica Russell. "And we want to make sure that all claimants, and those that are entitled to receive benefits, will receive them."

The new state system went online shortly after the federal health-care website had its own not-so-spectacular introduction in October.

The Department of Economic Opportunity's goal is to complete the remaining conversion issues by Dec. 20.

The investigation and appeals issues, known as "back-end processes," have been the biggest bugs for the new system.

The problem was highlighted when department Director Jesse Panuccio and Jessica Blume, an official with Minneapolis-based Deloitte Consulting, appeared before state Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee to discuss the new system on Nov. 4.

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

In exchange for $1.5 million in contractual relief and credits, Deloitte was given an extension from Nov. 15 to Dec. 20 to improve the appeals issues, according to Department of Economic Opportunity records.

Deloitte was penalized $4.5 million last year due to project delays.

"We contracted for a fully operational system and we want to make sure we get that," Russell said.

Otherwise, the system is working at "pre-Connect levels" in terms of payments to claimants, she said.

A Twitter account set up to help people resolve problems hasn't been needed to provide responses in more than a month, but the agency's call centers continue to be busy, with nearly 7,000 calls requiring "live customer interactions" just last Friday.

Since the Oct. 15 launch, more than 600,000 claims have been filed, with more than $171 million paid out.

Department officials have said the new system is designed to be more user friendly, can be used 24 hours a day and is expected to be easier for the department to maintain.

Connect has been in the works since 2009 to replace a 30-year-old system people 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 call centers will be closed Thursday for Thanksgiving.

"We'll be open Friday and Saturday and Sunday and we will continue to do so until the majority of issues have been resolved," Russell said.

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