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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

DEO doubles staff as pricey jobless website continues to struggle



Ok, this is getting expensive.

More than 250 staffers will be hired over the next three months to help process claims for jobless benefits. Another 80 will be added to help handle calls.

The massive hiring follows the aftermath of the Department of Economic Opportunity's troubled roll out of its $63 million website to process unemployment claims. Since its Oct. 15 debut, it has been plagued with problems, giving the state's more than 230,000 claimants much to stress about as they wait, and wait, for the money they need to survive to arrive. At first, DEO executive director Jesse Panuccio blamed the media for raising needless alarms.

But since December, Panuccio has acknowledged that the website does face persistent problems. On Dec. 20, the state announced that it began enforcing a $15,000-per-business day penalty against Deloitte and was withholding $3 million from the vendor. It will be paid when CONNECT is "fully functioning."

A large number of the thousands of delays in payments since the launch have come in the processing of claims that are in dispute or in question. There are 250 employees, called "adjudicators", who currently review these claims and help make a determination on whether they are valid or not. 

The DEO will add 100 adjudicators in January, another 100 in February and 50 in March.

"We have focused on this area because we know it will do the most to expedite payments to people who have been waiting the longest," Panuccio said in a statement Thursday. 

Another 80 agents will also be added to call centers to help the DEO respond to the flood of calls and complaints it has received since the launch of the website.

"We are dedicated to making sure every claim is processed quickly, and we will continue to work until every claimant is served," Panuccio said. 

How much will all this cost? Panuccio and the DEO have yet to say.

[Last modified: Thursday, January 2, 2014 7:15pm]


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