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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Irv Slosberg joins Bill Nelson in seeking probe of state unemployment website



Alarmed by reports that Florida’s new $63-million website isn’t working properly, Rep. Irv Slosberg is asking Florida House leaders to conduct an investigation.

“It has come to my attention that the recently implemented Department of Economic Opportunity unemployment benefits system, CONNECT, has delivered unacceptable and egregious results,” Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said in a statement Friday. “The Legislature and Executive Branch must demand improvements be made to the CONNECT program in a swift, effective manner and should supervise the implementations.”

It’s the second plea for an investigation by a Democratic lawmaker this week. On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the new CONNECT website.

Slosberg directed his statements to Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who chairs the House’s Government Operations Subcommittee. Slosberg said he’s “dismayed” that Boyd didn’t schedule a committee meeting on the topic of the DEO website next week, and asks that the committee hold a meeting on it in December and conduct a bipartisan investigation into the matter.

But Boyd said the DEO isn’t under his committee, and instead is under the House’s Transportation and Economic Development committee. On Tuesday, that committee will hear a report from DEO officials about the CONNECT website.

Since it debuted on Oct. 15, the website has been plagued with reports of crashes, delays, and confusion. For the last two weeks, Gov. Rick Scott’s office has been overwhelmed by complaints from residents. Of more than 3,000 emails, about 14 percent, or more than 400, were about the new CONNECT system.

It’s been difficult getting information out of the agency that oversees the website, the Department of Economic Opportunity. The agency maintains that the launch has been a success. This week, it issued a statement stating that 230,000 total claims have been successfully filed using CONNECT. It also stated that call center traffic has decreased significantly as technical issues have been identified and fixed.

Recipients of unemployment benefits are required by state law to file claims via the website, which has already raised concerns by federal officials. Many claim they can’t file on the new website, which is preventing them from collecting money they need to spend on rent, utilities and food.

“On Oct.16,2013, I became unemployed,” Janet Allsop of Brevard wrote Scott on Thursday. “I tried to contact the ‘reemployment office’ on Oct 17th to register for benefits.  The site is down and I can not reach anyone by telephone.  It is now Oct.31, 2013 and I still have not been able to get online to register or reach the proper people to help me by telephone.  I have bills to pay and I'm at a loss…. I know I'm not the only one who is going through this and the frustration is mounting.  The worst part of all this is, we are all under the barrel, we have to keep trying to get through in order to live.”

[Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 5:14pm]


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