TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon have asked labor officials to investigate Florida’s backlogged unemployment system, the Miami Herald reported Monday.
In a letter to U.S. Labor Department Inspector General Scott Dahl, the senators raised concerns about Florida’s failure to process and pay out the nearly 2.4 million claims it has received.
They urged Dahl to look into whether the state has been properly distributing federal aid during the pandemic, and why problems flagged by auditors were never fixed.
“While all states have seen record increases in the number of its residents applying for unemployment, the state of Florida’s performance has proved uniquely poor in its abject inability to assist millions of Florida residents who have applied for and continue to await unemployment benefits,” the letter said.
Federal data shows Florida ranked at or near the bottom of all states in its speed of processing claims.
The Herald reports 1.2 million people have started to receive payments, and $4.4 billion has been paid out, but many Floridians only received a fraction of what they’re owed. Others reported being locked out of their accounts or having applications still marked “pending.”
By comparison, the state of New York, which Schumer represents, had paid out over $10 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 2 million residents by May 20. The state has 2 million fewer residents than Florida.
“Despite the system’s well documented problems, inaction from both current and past gubernatorial administrations in Florida left [the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity] completely unprepared to respond to record increases in unemployment claims caused by a pandemic,” the letter states. “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently stated that the program was ‘designed with all these different things, basically to fail’ and acknowledged that more changes are needed.”
Last month, DeSantis, who reportedly ignored a 2019 audit of the system, said he would ask his inspector general to investigate the contract with Deloitte Consulting, the company that built it.
The CONNECT system, which was commissioned by Sen. Rick Scott during his term as governor, cost tax payers $77 million.
“Drastic improvements are needed, and it is unclear what steps are being taken immediately to mitigate the possibility of future failures in [Florida’s] unemployment processing system.”
Dahl is not required to honor the senators’ request, according to the newspaper.
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