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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Launch of Florida's jobless benefits website ripped on Facebook

15

October

From the way Florida Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Jessica Sims was telling it, Tuesday’s launch of the state’s new online claims system was glitch-free.

“The system is up and running, and as of 2:45 p.m. today, 14,585 individuals were able to claim their weeks and almost 1,400 have filed new claims,” Sims replied in an e-mail asking if there were any glitches. “To serve as many claimants as possible during this transition period, DEO has doubled the Call Center staff.”

But Sims didn’t answer the question of whether there were any glitches. And she didn’t return a phone call when asked about a recording on the department’s 1-800 number announcing the computer system was down.

According to several people who spoke with the Times/Herald, and according to the DEO's own Facebook page, the launch was far from perfect and possibly deeply flawed.

Lewis Horn tried to log on the system Tuesday morning. Horn, 48, lost his job as a manager with American Express in late February. The DEO has alerted him that it was switching to a new online claims system, CONNECT, and he was bracing for problems.

Shortly after CONNECT was supposed to launch at 7:59 a.m., Horn, who lives in Margate, said he tried to get online but couldn’t. Although Sims said the system was up by 8:15 a.m., Horn said he kept getting the site’s maintenance page asking him to “check in later” until about 8:45 a.m. Even after the site was up, however, he wasn’t able to log on until about 11 a.m.

Then he repeatedly got this inscrutable error message: “An exception was caught during the execution of a retrieval query: ORA-01012: Not logged on process ID: 19584 session ID: 581 serial number: 51. Check InnerException, QueryExecuted Parameters of this exception to examine the cause of this exception.”

Asked what it meant, and Horn could only sigh.

“I have no clue,” Horn said.

What he does know is that by the end of Tuesday, Horn still hadn’t been able to sign up for benefits. He still didn’t know why. He couldn’t get anyone to explain what was going on or understand from the muddled messaging on the new website what had gone awry.

“I haven’t been able to get ahold of anyone,” he said. “The recording says everyone is busy and to call back later.”

Although the $275 he gets a week in benefits doesn’t come close to matching the $74,000 he made at AmEx, he still needs it to pay bills. With a three-year-old daughter and wife to support, he worries when he’ll be able to sign on.

“My obligations don’t go away because I can’t get my benefits, unfortunately,” Horn said.

Similar frustration was felt by Randy Scott of Lehigh Acres, who was helping his friend Dawn Kamedulski, retrieve her benefits. But, like Horn, they were denied when they attempted to log-in.

Because the website requires a social security number and a PIN, it’s difficult for reporters to see if in fact the website was “up and running,” as Sims described. Scott said the website was not working. At 4:50 p.m. he played for a reporter the recording people hear when they call the state’s 1-800 number.

“I’m sorry, we’re having trouble with our computer system,” a recorded message informs the caller, before directing them to a nearby benefits office.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Scott said.

With Sims not fully explaining the situation, understanding the extent of the problems was difficult.

From the looks of its Facebook page, the launch was problematic.

"The new connect site is just like our government, IT DOESN'T WORK AT ALL!!!!," read one post by Daniel Bystrak.

"Lucky if you can even get in the system. I can't even get that far," read another post by Donna Johnston. "I have called all day and keep getting 'call again later.' This is so frustrating. According to what I looked up, you now have 14 days after the date you are supposed to claim your weeks to claim them. We need our money NOW. Fix the system or at least have a recording when we call to tell us what is happening. This is crazy."

Dozens of messages like those cover the Facebook wall, many written in ALL CAPS.

“This has taken MY WHOLE DAY TOO, I’M OVER IT!!!!” Robin Bingham Dailey posted. “NO RESPONSE AT ALL NO HELP OR NOTHING. GET YOUR SYSTEM TO WORK BEFORE RELEASING IT FOR US TO FIGURE OUT THE PROBLEMS, WE HAVE FAMILIES TO FEED!!! IS THE GOVERNOR GOING TO PUT FOOD ON OUR TABLE????

The DEO acknowledging certain problems -- at least on Facebook --  by posing them as “frequently asked questions.” But they were often refuted by comments posted by frustrated recipients.

Here’s one example:

Frequently Asked Question: My day to claim my weeks has changed. If you are filing for the first two weeks in your benefit year, your filing day will be either Monday or Tuesday based on the last digit of your social security number. If the number is even, your day is Monday. If odd, it is Tuesday.

“LIARS, the letter stated for me to file today. So you only had 2000 people with 0000-1999 to file today?”

So what’s really going on? Perhaps Sims or someone else at DEO will tell us.

[Last modified: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 7:49pm]

    

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