| TALLAHASSEE, Fla.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Jan 15 U.S. Department of
Labor officials will travel to Florida to investigate the
state's troubled unemployment compensation website following
criticism it is failing to get jobless benefits to laid-off
workers, an official said on Wednesday.
Florida's economic development chief told a legislative
committee on Wednesday that he was "frustrated" by glitches in
the $63 million website and related services. He said the state
government would consider additional penalties against Deloitte,
the website's designer.
"The state's unemployment website is a dismal failure, and
Governor Rick Scott is responsible," state Senator Geraldine
Thompson, a Democrat from Orlando, said at a news
conference. She said some of her constituents have gone nine
weeks without payment, and some are in danger of losing their
homes and cannot afford food.
Jason Kuruvilla, a Labor Department spokesman, said
officials would arrive in Florida later this week to examine the
Unemployment is a hot topic for state Democrats, who support
President Barack Obama's effort to extend jobless benefits. They
have depicted Republicans in Congress as heartless for opposing
Scott, a Republican up for re-election this year, has
trailed Democratic challenger and former Governor Charlie Crist
in recent polls. Democrats have persistently hammered the
governor on several hot-button partisan issues, like healthcare,
immigration and social services.
Last year, the Department of Labor ordered Florida to
improve access to jobless benefits for people with disabilities
or limited English proficiency.
Under revised procedures introduced in 2011, Florida
requires everyone who applies for unemployment benefits to do so
online. A person must complete a 45-question online exam that
tests reading, math and research skills before he can receive a
In Washington, the office of Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida
Democrat, issued a statement saying that he had spoken with
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez about the malfunctioning website.
A study by the National Employment Law Project indicated
that jobless Floridians may have lost more than $22 million in
unemployment benefits in October and November because of the
website's problems, Nelson said.
The governor's office responded with a suggestion that
critics, including Nelson, should worry more about flood
insurance rates for coastal residents and less about online
sign-up snarls for unemployed workers.
Florida ranks among the most tight-fisted states in the
country when it comes to providing jobless benefits for the
The average unemployment benefit paid to recipients in
Florida was just $231 a week last year. Only Alabama and
Mississippi paid out less in average weekly jobless aid.
MORE FINES AND MAYBE A FREEZE
A group of Democratic lawmakers assembled in front of the
Senate chamber on Wednesday to demand that Deloitte refund
taxpayer funds paid for the "CONNECT" system. They spoke before
a meeting of the Senate budget panel's Subcommittee on
Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, which is
reviewing the situation.
State Senator Tom Lee, a Republican, suggested that
Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which
administers the state's jobless benefits program, should order a
boycott of Deloitte until the website works.
"To what extent do we have the authority to freeze them out
of doing business with the state of Florida until this system is
fixed?" Lee asked.
The website's rollout had been a letdown, Jesse Panuccio,
the DEO's executive director, told a Senate Appropriations
Committee on Wednesday.
Panuccio said the agency is pressing to get the website
working before looking at additional penalties. The DEO fined
Deloitte $4.5 million in 2012 and withheld $1.5 million in
payments after a botched conversion of the enrollment system.
Last month, the DEO announced it would not pay Deloitte $3
million as scheduled and levied fines of $15,000 a day.