By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A Tampa Republican lawmaker on Friday called for an audit of the state’s overwhelmed unemployment-compensation system, as work was underway to finalize a paper version of the benefits application.
Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, wants the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee to audit spending on the Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT system, which cost $77 million to get online in 2013.
Toledo, a member of the committee made up of House and Senate members, noted the massive number of jobless applications being filed as businesses statewide have shuttered or dramatically scaled back because of the novel coronavirus. But she also called it a “mass failure” of the system “that has seen the same unfixed problems in the past 5 years.”
“If these problems were not solved, we must determine where the appropriation went, and why the DEO (Department of Economic Opportunity) did not seek to prepare for the economic impact of COVID-19,” Toledo said in a prepared statement.
The online system was rolled out amid much criticism in October 2013, following a 2011 unemployment law that raised new barriers for eligibility and cut back on the number of weeks of unemployment benefits.
Two years after the system was operating, a report from the National Employment Law Project found that fewer than one in eight unemployed Floridians — 12 percent, compared to 27 percent nationally — received jobless aid.
Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, said that before the latest rush on the system, the burdensome application process resulted in two-thirds of applicants failing to qualify.
Echoing remarks by lawmakers throughout the state, Toledo said her office has been inundated with calls from people concerned that “application pages will not load, or that in-progress applications reset entirely.”
On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the use of paper applications to try to help with the problems. The Department of Economic Opportunity had received more than 348,000 unemployment applications in the past two weeks, with an additional 2.1 million telephone calls for assistance in navigating the online system and the requirements to qualify for benefits.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson apologized on Thursday during a Zoom teleconference with a couple of state lawmakers.
“There’s a full commitment from me, personally and professionally, to get you the resources you need from my department,” Lawson said during the call, the Times reported.
The agency has shifted workers and started hiring 100 new employees to assist with the calls, while bringing in outside contractors to address issues such as the failure of applicants’ “PIN” numbers to reset.
Meanwhile, DeSantis directed Lawson to use emergency funds to increase the capacity of the online system and has asked other state department heads to find workers who can temporarily field calls.
In a sign of where the state’s jobless numbers are headed, the U.S. Department of Labor on Friday posted the nation’s latest monthly unemployment figure at 4.4 percent, which reflects some of the early effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the labor market.
“We cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March,” a Labor Department news release said. “However, it is clear that the decrease in employment and hours and the increase in unemployment can be ascribed to effects of the illness and efforts to contain the virus.”
Even with the March survey predating many of the coronavirus-related business closures in the second half of the month, the latest figure represented a 0.9 percentage-point jump nationally.
Florida’s figures for March will be released on April 17. Florida had a 2.8 percent jobless rate in February.
Nationally, the report indicates employment fell by 701,000 from a February count, with the leisure and hospitality industry seeing its employment numbers down 459,000.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Florida accounted for 227,000 of the unemployment claims filed across the nation during the week that ended March 27.
Floridians who qualify for jobless benefits can receive up to $275 a week for 12 weeks, among the lowest benefits in the nation.
The way to “help” is vote for every Democrat at the local, state, federal level. Republicans due not care about us. The Florida Republican Party showed us that when they voted down call to have a special session of the Florida Legislature to specifically address the concerns of the Scott DeSantis DEO DEBACLE. Vote Blue in 2020,2024,2026, get these crooks out of office. Nikki Fried, Florida’s 12th Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is a lifelong Floridian, attorney and passionate activist, is the only one who cares about is. Fried for Governor in 2022. She has constantly been left out of DeSantis Cabinet meetings because she is the only Democrat in the Cabinet.
I applied March 23, 20. It was “pending” for weeks. I was allowed to claim benefits for 2 weeks – ending 4/4/20. Now, suddenly I am “ineligible” – no reasons given and no way to appeal. This is simply ridiculous. I know there are a lot of requests, but no one is getting nothing at this point. We need help!!
UPDATE from DeSantis –
List of upgrades to the system includes six-fold improvement on capacity:
•DEO installed 72 new servers.
The system can now handle up to 120,000 simultaneous connections by individuals filing claims. This allows for far greater capacity than the 20,000 connections the system was having difficulty with one week ago.
•DEO published a paper application over the weekend that people can complete and mail in. Before creating the paper application, people could only fill out an application over the phone or online.
The paper application and important information about Reemployment Assistance is available at http://www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19.
•DEO hired a call center, streamlined the training process, and trained more than 200 people so that they can start answering calls today.
•DEO will continue to train more than 700 more individuals throughout the week, so that by next week more than 1,000 individuals will be answering calls for Reemployment Assistance.
John, you’re absolutely right. The system was designed to make it harder for the unemployed to get benefits or keep them so that guvnuh Rick Scott’s unemployment numbers would be low. As Joe Gruters, Republican Party of Florida said, “$77 million? Someone should go to jail over that.” Yet how many republicans in the legislature at that time voted against the appropriation? And how many supported any of the audits conducted about the system, all of which identified significant and extensive problems? But that’s par for the course: once a crook, always a crook. And it’s usually by some anti-big government blow heart who has no qualms about feeding greedily and frequently from the public trough.
Approve and use hydroxychloroquine plus zinc plus antibiotic early in onset and send us back to work. Liberals would rather let us die.
FOLLOW THE MONEY – Besides lining the pockets of donors to Scott and Cronies election campaigns and PACs, who were paid inflated fees to construct the system, this system was “Designed to Fail” on purpose by not being user-friendly and easily over-burdened when needing to be used by many folks. That way folks who truly needed unemployment assistance would easily get frustrated and not use the system; such that Rick Scott and his Cronies could use the data from the under-used system to try and convince the sheep who live in Florida that Tricky Ricky’s “Get to Work” initiatives were truly putting Floridians to work.
DID ANYONE WHO CONSIDERS THEMSELVES AN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER EVER STOP TO QUESTION WHETHER THE DATABASE FROM WHICH UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES ARE DERIVED MIGHT BE SPEWING DATA THAT SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED VALID BECAUSE THE DATABASE IS BEING UNDERUTILIZED AND, THUS, UNDERREPORTING UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES BECAUSE IT WAS “DESIGNED TO FAIL”?
The reality is, only jobs mainly being created were minimum wage jobs. Plus, via his “Get to Work” sham, Scott and Cronies paid political donors back by giving them a license to steal by giving them mucho $ and other incentives to promise to come to Florida and create new high-paid jobs when, in reality, there never was a sincere desire from these donors to do such and there certainly wasn’t any sincere effort by Scott and Cronies to hold these political donors accountable.
Tricky Ricky Scott; when his methodology of shafting taxpayers via Medicare Fraud via a private company got discovered, he decided to work from inside Government via buying the Florida Governorship and, now, a seat in the US Senate so he can play along with all the Grifters at the Federal level.
Does one think somebody who claims to be a businessman would ever lay down the amount of personal cash they did to buy a position in Government without first running a Cost/Benefit Analysis to determine how they can get the best return on their investment in themselves via milking the system/tax payers for every dime possible?
FOLLOW THE MONEY…
Its obvious to any Informed American with 1/2 a brain that these systems and operations weren’t design to handle such an immediate on-slot of such high volume. Perhaps you bozos should focus on increasing operational capacity and upgrading systems to improve processing and response times. Its sad to see that the dysfunction of government isn’t just relegated to DC.
Here’s a novel idea for all you local and state clowns, and your DC counterparts… how’s about you focus on how you can “help”, before you waste our time and money figuring out who you can “hurt”.
The Unemployment Agency is a disaster.. It is like the three stooges.
Speaking of disasters, The Maven is ready to make the following prediction:
GANNETT, currently trading at an all-time low of 68¢/share, the owner of the Fake Newsocrat, WILL FILE FOR CHAPTER 13 BANKRUPTCY and reorganize.
Later this spring, or summer.
GANNETT is counting on Nancy and Chuckles Schumer sneaking a failed newspaper bailout into one of the subsequent Porkulus Bills.
$77 MILLION for a Web Site used by just Florida? YES, PLEASE, Audit the hell out of that.
“All you need to do” to get ready for aliens landing or an upheaval of the economy from an unprecedented pandemic during our lifetime is just pour a billion dollars into each new computer system. Why didn’t the legislature fund that? Ridiculous to think anyone could foresee this but it is funny to watch the purse string holders blame the peons.
Maybe they did. Reminds me of the $5billion Obamacare website that didn’t work either.
Ah, yes. HealthCare.gov. Who can forget that piece of work. Signature legislation and it crashed when more than 5 people tried to use it at the same time. It took months to resolve the issues. It was the biggest fail in the history of IT.
Imagine if we were trying to navigate this current crisis with the people that brought us the HealthCare.gov fail.
I’m pretty sure that Obama designed and coded this website with Soros, so it makes sense that it barely works. In any case, I bet if the people desperately trying to use this 77 million dollar application hadn’t gone to Starbucks so much they would have a few months of operating expenses saved up.
Let’s talk about the people who were able to file on the website. The DEO is not approving claims that were made after 3/16. Not one person who has filed after that date has been approved that I have came across. How about the people who has no money for food or late fees that are charged daily at an upwards of $50 a day for rent.
$275, plus $600/week, after the Porkulus Bill passed:
Lots of news stories about how messed up the state unemployment system is. It wasn’t scaled up to go from little use to tons of use. Lawson sweating it; hope they add employees, servers and bandwidth in time to catch everyone.
I applied for unemployment on 4/1/2020. I have been trying to call the authentication line for 5 days and can never get through. Very stressful and frustrating. Can someone please help.