Report suggests $20M in unemployment benefits lost in website glitches

CREATED Jan 14, 2014

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TALLAHASEE -- After Bryce Aaron spent three months helping uninsured Floridians enroll for Obamacare, the healthcare navigator never thought he would face website problems again as significant as those with the website.  

When he lost his job at the beginning of the 2014, he faced a new slew of problems trying to apply for unemployment benefits through Florida's new unemployment claims website, CONNECT.

"I'm aware of how difficult it can be and how frustrating-- now on the consumer side-- it is to try to access a website that's giving you problems," Aaron said. 

Aaron isn't alone. According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project, problems with CONNECT have cost tens of thousands of unemployed Floridians more than $20 million.  

"The whole purpose of unemployment is to deliver these benefits to people when they need them while they are out of work, not six or eight weeks later after they've missed a mortgage payment of a rent payment," said George Wentworth, Senior Attorney for the National Employment Law Project. 

Florida officials warned the report's findings may not be accurate because the CONNECT system is not producing accurate data.  Department of Economic Opportunity's spokeswoman Jessica Simms also said fewer people are applying for benefits, so the report's calculations may be overstated.

Wentworth criticized Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's handling of the issue, believing officials' current method of handling claims will contribute to further delays. 

"The responsible thing and the action that is most consistent with federal law would be for the Florida agency to pay these workers immediately and to sort out any eligibility issues after the fact," Wentworth said. 

A Florida law passed in 2011 requires claimants to file for unemployment online, but state leaders are considering amending the law temporarily to explore other options to get unemployed Floridians their benefit checks.  A Senate sub-committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the website's problems.