During a second day of legislative hearings into the technical problems plaguing the launch of the state’s new $63 million CONNECT unemployment website, the chorus of Democratic lawmakers seeking answers grew louder.
“I can’t think of a more critical issue for us to demand action on,” said Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando during a Tuesday Senate Democratic caucus meeting. “When you think of a single mom who is waiting for that check and who can’t buy groceries, you think of an elderly person who is too old to be in the workforce, they may fall through the cracks and god knows what will happen to them.”
Since the Oct. 15 launch of CONNECT, which processes unemployment claims for 230,000 recipients, the offices of Gov.Rick Scott, state lawmakers and DEO officials have been besieged with thousands of emails and phone calls complaining about crashes, delays and glitches that are making it difficult for many to collect the money they need to pay rent, bills and groceries.
Because of a requirement passed during the 2011 legislative session, those receiving unemployment benefits must register online to get them. Earlier this year, federal officials found that Florida violated the civil rights of unemployed individuals by requiring them to apply online and take an “assessment” before they receive any unemployment check.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale said he will write a letter outlining his concerns as well as request a meeting with DEO staff to discuss CONNECT next week. He joins two other Democratic lawmakers, state Rep. Irv Slosberg, of Boca Raton, and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who have both asked for investigations into the system.
Meanwhile, the director of the agency that oversees the system said it is working close to normal and was already processing and paying about as many claims as the system it replaced.
Still, he had to deliver some bad news to lawmakers that further undermined his message that CONNECT is working properly.
“We had a server go down for about a half hour that caused some technical issues,” Jesse Panuccio, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, told the House Appropriations committee on transportation and economic development Tuesday morning. “It is now back up, but those are the type of issues that can cause problems.”
Later Tuesday, Panuccio said he didn’t know how long it was down, but added the server crashed again at noon.
Internal DEO emails suggest that the situation was worse than what Panuccio initially reported to lawmakers.
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