Relief at last to those dependent on unemployment benefits

CREATED Jan. 18, 2014

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced Saturday it will immediately pay unemployment benefits to claimants whose accounts have been "on hold" for more than seven days.  

The announcement comes three months after the state launched a new, $63 million unemployment claims website, CONNECT, that has been plagued with technical issues. 

On Friday, DEO met with US Department of Labor officials who authorized the temporary payment to claimants who have been waiting in an adjudication or "hold" stage longer than a week.  Some Fox 4 viewers have had their accounts on hold for up to three months.

"DEO has directed Deloitte to immediately program the system to pay all claimants in adjudication who have been waiting longer than one week," said DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio.  "This step should serve as a great relief for claimants who have faced hardships due to technical problems with the system.  Some claimants have suffered and DEO and USDOL are committed to helping them through all legal and available means.”

Accounts that are in adjudication have been flagged for state officials to determine whether the claimant is eligible.  Technical problems with CONNECT have caused more accounts than usual to be flagged, increasing caseload and creating a large backlog of accounts needing review.  

According to DEO, if it is later determined that a claimant was not in fact eligible for benefits, the individual will be responsible for reimbursing the state.

An analysis by the National Employment Law Project suggested problems with CONNECT have denied or delayed thousands of Floridians more than $20 million in unemployment benefits.   

US Department of Labor officials arrived in Florida on Thursday after US Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) made two requests for a federal investigation into the website and its problems.  

Saturday he released this statement: 

“The Secretary of Labor promised me that he would send his folks to Florida to fix the mess the state has made of its unemployment benefits system, and it seems he’s doing exactly that."

Labor officials told Nelson they will stay in Florida until the website is fixed.