TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The COVID-19 crisis put over a million Floridians out of work but when they turned to the state for help, many found only frustration.
Critics say the state’s CONNECT benefits system failed when people needed it most. Late Monday afternoon, just days after Florida’s Chief Inspector General found the state’s online unemployment system was not properly designed or tested, the company who designed the website was in the hot seat and answering questions from Florida senators.
As lawmakers grilled Deloitte, the company defended its actions, saying the state took over the unemployment website years ago.
“I do want you to know that this makes you all look very bad. You agree with me?” State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from District 38, said. “It’s very concerning.”
The CIG report released last Thursday states CONNECT was supposed to accommodate 200,000 users, but the state didn’t enforce that contract requirement. Deloitte, the primary vendor according to the CIG report, only tested CONNECT for 4,200 users.
John Hugill, a principal at Deloitte Consulting, appeared before senators Monday.
“That requirement was one of 1,400 requirements on this project that we went through,” said Mr. Hugill.
Multiple senators questioned Mr. Hugill about the unemployment website’s capacity.
“Did you ever meet the contractual capacities?” State Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Republican from District 25, asked.
“I want to say that we did meet the contractual capacity because that requirement, like any other requirement, is translated through the project and evolves through the project,” said Mr. Hugill. “It wasn’t a literal 200,000 at that point in time.”
Representatives from Deloitte appeared to dispute the CIG’s report Monday, stating they never agreed to ensure 200,000 users could be on the site.
8 On Your Side saw and heard that for ourselves over the last year as unemployed Floridians struggled to register for help they desperately needed.
“CONNECT was performance-tested and stress-tested to handle both hurricanes and financial crises using volumes from the Great Recession as the benchmark,” Mr. Hugill said.
He stated Deloitte wasn’t responsible for chronic issues with the website, as the state took over maintenance in 2015.
“I want to express how very sympathetic we are to the challenges some people had trying to access reemployment assistance,” Mr. Hugill said. “At the same time, it’s important to understand that these challenges are unrelated to our work on CONNECT.”
Deloitte still has several more weeks to submit a written response to the state.