Florida Hires New Contractor to Fix Broken Unemployment System

After nearly three months of many Floridians not receiving unemployment checks, the state has found a new contractor to do what its previous contractor, Deloitte, has evidently failed to do.

by / January 8, 2014
In Florida, the new unemployment benefits system, CONNECT, is too broken to even provide information regarding how many Floridians have not received their benefits payments. In this photo from 2013, Racheel Weston stood in line with a few hundred other job seekers during the job fair that the Miami Marlins hosted at Marlins Park in Miami. AP/J Pat Carter

Realizing its 30-year-old unemployment claims system was inefficient, Florida in 2011 hired Deloitte Consulting to build a modern system. For a $63 million investment, the state would receive a new system and website, called CONNECT. But today, the system does not work properly, and some Floridians have gone months without receiving benefits to which they are legally entitled.

From its launch on Oct. 15 to Jan. 8, there has been little progress in resolving the technical issues with CONNECT, and the Florida Department of Economic opportunity has added 250 additional staff members to try to keep up with processing the claims, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The agency withheld a $3 million payment to Deloitte on Dec. 20, and informed the company it would be charged an additional $15,000 a day until the problem was resolved.

On Jan. 8, the agency announced that it has begun negotiating with a new contractor to make recommendations on how to fix their botched system. The new contractor, Paris-based Capgemini, is to begin work by the end of the week, according to the agency.

An agency spokesperson was unable to report how many Floridians have not received their benefits payments because the system is too broken to provide that information, she said. The state has, however, reportedly processed more than 1.1 million claims for more than $331 million since October.

"We want the people to know that we're making sure we have a fully functioning system," the spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times, "and that every person has their claim processed."

The agency’s goal of ensuring that every claim is processed is far from what is happening, however, even three months later.

The Tampa Bay Times featured one of the Floridians who hadn't received her unemployment benefits in months. The mother of three, Tina Cash, was portrayed by the Times as downtrodden and desperate, evicted from her $500 a month residence after losing her job as an administrative assistant in June, and moving into a $300 per month apartment where her power was shut off due to an outstanding balance with the utility.

The story conveyed how Cash had applied for hundreds of jobs with no luck, and was owed approximately $2,000 by the state government -- money that had not been delivered, despite repeated phone calls, faxes, letters, and visits to the unemployment office.

"Yeah, sometimes things get lost," a counselor told Cash.

In a Dec. 19 letter to the DEO, Deloitte noted that the system has already "surpassed, many, many aspects of the multitude of non-integrated legacy systems previously used," adding that it will only continue to improve as it matures and users get acclimated to it. 

And Deloitte attributed problems to "workforce transition issues." For example,  Computerworld reported in late December that adjudicators are doing research outside of CONNECT "and then manually imaging these custom documents," hampering productivity, the letter states.

"Throughout this project, Deloitte has worked in good faith to meet or exceed DEO's criteria for acceptance of our work," Deloitte spokesman Jonathan Gandal said in a statement in late December. "We have successfully completed the tasks and activities outlined in our contract and all subsequent amendments."

"As we have communicated to DEO, we believe that any remaining issues deemed 'high impact' by DEO's own definition either require Departmental actions or are otherwise beyond Deloitte's control," Gandal added. "We will continue to provide warranty support to DEO, in accordance with our contract, and work diligently to resolve any warranty items as they are identified. We will also continue to work with DEO to clarify the true nature of the remaining issues and will hold ourselves strictly accountable for fixing anything within our control as quickly as possible."

When it comes to CONNECT's lack of payments, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has repeatedly called for a federal investigation into the project’s installation, citing possible violations of the Social Security Act, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The Social Security Act requires states to pay out unemployment compensation in a “timely” manner, a requirement that if not met is supposed to lead to a federal investigation.

*This story was updated at 10:05 a.m. on Jan. 9, 2014, to include statements from Deloitte.