Extra staff for Florida's unemployment website to cost around $165,000 per week

CREATED Jan. 6, 2014

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FLORIDA -- Almost three months after the state launched its new $63 million unemployment website, CONNECT, thousands of Floridians still argue problems with the site are delaying or preventing them from receiving their unemployment benefits. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will be hiring more than 300 new staff members over the next two months to assist with claims.  

According to a state memo, those additional staff members will cost around $165,000 per week.  DEO officials said the state has sufficent federal funds to cover these costs.  DEO spokeswoman Monica Russell said she doesn't yet have a timeframe as to when the site will be functioning properly. 

Meanwhile, many claimants are stuck in limbo.  While Russell assures anyone who's owed money will receive it, some can't wait much longer. 

"It's tough because I know the money is there, I just don't know what the hold up is," said North Fort Myers resident Ricky Freeman, who's waiting on eight weeks of checks.  "I can't find work anywhere because I don't have any money for gas to even go look for work."

Four in Your Corner reached out to Governor Scott to find out what message he has for those waiting on their checks.  His press secretary released the following statement: 

"DEO has recouped $1.5 million from Deloitte, penalized them another $3 million, and they continue to hold them accountable," said John Tupps, press secretary for Governor Scott. 

In a daily memo about the website, DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio said getting help for claimants-- especially those who've waited the longest-- is his number one priority. 

Still, some frustrated users feel Governor Scott's administration isn't doing enough to remedy the situation. 

"I think he's got blind eyes," said claimant Kathi Bishop. "It doesn't affect him so he really doesn't care." 

Bishop worked at a local car dealership for more than 30 years before she was laid off.  This is her first time trying to collect unemployment.

"Nobody cares about you," she said. "I imagine there are many people out there who need their unemployment who've just given up."

Governor Scott's likely opponent, former Governor Charlie Crist, released the following statement to Fox 4: 

"It continues to be unacceptable and not only should the contractor be held responsible, but the administration that let this happen to thousands of Floridians when they're trying to get back on their feet," Crist said. 

State officials have not given a timeline about when the remaining issues will be fixed, but have said 24 outstanding issues still remain with the website and 20 additional issues will need to be fixed before the site is considered functional.