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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida 'working on' ways to fix delays in paying unemployment benefits



Florida has seen the number of people seeking unemployment assistance cut in half since 2012, yet the state is worse at paying claims within a two week window that the federal government grades the state on, a key Florida Senate committee heard Monday.

In 2012, Florida paid 80 percent of new claims within 14 days. But now, Florida is paying those claims within that time frame 70 percent of the time, the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s executive director Jesse Panuccio told the Commerce Committee in the Florida Senate.

“We are working on that,” Panuccio told the committee. “We are working on ways we can increase that. We have policies and plans in place to get that number higher.”

Senators grilled Panuccio on whether the worsening numbers are due to the state’s new online filing system for unemployment, which started in 2013. When the $77 million CONNECT system launched, glitches resulted in applicants faced long delays in collecting benefits.

But Panuccio insisted on Monday that the system has “stabilized” and they are processing thousands of claims every week and disqualifying people who don’t qualify accurately.

The hearing comes just two weeks after a federal report from the nonpartisan National Employment Law Project labeled Florida one of the worst states in the nation to get unemployment benefits. Florida was tied with South Carolina for the lowest percentage of unemployed people who actually receive state unemployment insurance.

From June 2014 to June 2015, just one in eight unemployed people in Florida received benefits that report stated.

That report and subsequent media accounts are why state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she called on Panuccio to address the Senate Commerce Committee. She said one of the questions that needs to be addressed is whether the state’s new online benefits system is putting up too many obstacles for people to qualify for benefits they should be able to get.

“How many people are falling through the cracks because we put up hurdles,” Detert asked.

But Panuccio defended the system by saying while the state has seen the percentage of claims processed in 2 weeks decline, they are hitting other federal guidelines for getting claims paid within a month.

“There are a lot of reasons why a claim may not get paid within that two weeks, but that does not mean, however, that those claims are not getting paid,” he said.

Panuccio told Senators that while on that one measure the state isn’t doing as well as he would like, the state has become among the best in the nation at rooting out fraud in the system.

“We have the nation’s leading system for detecting fraud,” Panuccio said. “Nobody is doing what Florida is doing at detecting fraud.”

Panuccio said the state found 130,000 fraudulent claims in two years, saving taxpayers more than $500 million. 

[Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 9:54am]


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