The state’s new $63 million website for processing unemployment claims is off to a rocky start. Since its unveiling Oct. 15, thousands of complaints have poured into the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity about technical problems that are making it difficult for unemployed Floridians to get their money, as much as $275 weekly.
In the first weeks after the rollout, users might find the website down, or an error message, or be blocked after completing the necessary forms. As many as 400,000 calls were placed by frustrated users, many of them repeat callers who couldn’t get anyone on the phone to help.
Comparisons to the Affordable Care Act website crashes are inevitable, but not entirely accurate. Unlike those shopping for health insurance, people seeking unemployment assistance need the assistance immediately, for housing, groceries or medicine in many cases.
State officials insist the problems are getting fixed, and that glitches are inherent during the rollout of a complex computer system that is processing claims from 230,000 unemployed residents.
But that’s not good enough. The state hired a contractor with a history of troubled website rollouts, and then found itself with few options when problems surfaced before the launch.
To compound the problem, state officials in charge of the launch soft-pedaled the problems until their exposure on social media was reported by the press.
The state’s poor performance needs to be examined. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, has asked the federal Department of Labor, which oversees employment programs, to investigate the delays. And state Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Democrat from Boca Raton, is calling for a state House investigation.
The new computer system, called CONNECT, was funded with federal money. It replaced a decades-old system that was considered inefficient. The added efficiency is needed now that the state, as a result of legislation passed in 2011, requires all claimants to register online.
The state hired New York-based Deloitte Consulting to develop the new system. According to the Palm Beach Post, the company has had problems with technology contracts in California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, where its troubled system is the subject of state hearings.
In Florida, Deloitte delivered its system 10 months late, and after state officials had expressed concerns as the launch approached.
But the launch occurred anyway. In that respect, this rollout is comparable to the debacle unfolding in Washington, where the government unleashed a technically flawed health care website without proper testing.
No private business would risk its future in this way. Yet government agencies seem perfectly comfortable with a rollout protocol that includes crossed fingers and high hopes. That needs to change.
Granted, the state is working to make sure every claimant gets a check as soon as possible. And the performance appears to be improving as the problems are corrected. But the unemployed should never have been subjected to the added stress and anxiety.
Gov. Rick Scott is ultimately responsible. He should look beyond the excuses and welcome any light that can be shed on the cause, whether it comes from Democrats or Republicans. Only then can a recurrence be prevented.