What went wrong with Florida’s online unemployment system?

Florida Unemployment

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The findings of a state investigation into Florida’s online unemployment system were released this week and found the system was not properly designed or tested. Now, 8 On Your Side is digging deeper into what went wrong.

Florida’s Reemployment Assistance claims system called CONNECT was supposed to be a lifeline. But when hundreds of thousands of Floridians lost their jobs and needed help, the system failed.

In March 2020, as coronavirus shut down businesses, 8 On Your Side documented how countless viewers could not apply for unemployment benefits. Unprecedented demand crushed the state’s online system.

Now, in a preliminary report, Florida’s Chief Inspector General says the system was never tested. CONNECT was supposed to accommodate 200,000 users, but the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity or DEO didn’t enforce that contract requirement.

Deloitte, the primary vendor, only tested CONNECT for 4,200 users, according to the CIG report.

In a statement, Deloitte sought distance, writing in part: “We have not worked on CONNECT since May 2015, at which time the system was performing well above the agreed-upon standard for system availability.”

The statement doesn’t explain why the system wasn’t properly tested, as alleged in the CIG report.

8 On Your Side wrote company representatives asking for answers. As of Friday evening, Deloitte hadn’t responded.

State Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat serving Florida’s 47th District, says the DEO now wants millions for a new system that employs cloud-based technology to meet a high demand.

“Do you think the system needs to be replaced and how can we trust it’s going to be done properly the second time around?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.

“It’s a very good question, one of the problems we’re facing today is that every part of this crisis has cost money,” said Rep. Eskamani.

Rep. Eskamani supports funding a fix. She told us she’ll closely watch what DEO does next.

“At the end of the day, it’s the legislature that applies the funding to let DEO move forward with its programming,” she said.

In the meantime, Florida’s Chief Inspector General writes that moving forward, “agencies should know what they want,” like the system capacity requirements. Additionally, the IG says they should better monitor what they are getting and build in an escape plan for noncompliance.

The CIG’s final report will be issued once vendors like Deloitte have the opportunity to respond to the state.

Here’s the original statement Deloitte released to media organizations Thursday:

“We are very sympathetic to the challenges some Florida residents have faced trying to access Reemployment Assistance, particularly at the outset of the pandemic. We finished work on the CONNECT project nearly six years ago after the State accepted the system and we met all of our obligations. We have not worked on CONNECT since May 2015, at which time the system was performing well above the agreed-upon standard for system availability and far exceeding the performance of the system it replaced. The drastic spike in COVID-related jobless claims overwhelmed many states’ unemployment systems, taxing even those that had the latest technological updates. Since the pandemic began, Deloitte has been proud to support several state clients that have paid more than $160 billion in benefits to unemployed workers and their families.”

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