Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Business

Florida imposes fines on company for problems with unemployment website

TALLAHASSEE — The state has started to impose daily fines and is withholding a $3 million payment to penalize a company that has helped overhaul the technically troubled unemployment benefits computer system.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced Friday that it will hold back the payment and is enforcing a $15,000-per-business-day penalty against Minneapolis-based Deloitte Consulting for failing to deliver a "fully functioning" system.

Deloitte will be able to collect the payment when the website, known as CONNECT, is considered fully functional, department executive director Jesse Panuccio said Friday.

No deadline has been set for the system to be fully functional, but additional penalties could be applied if Deloitte is unable to complete the work without more consultants and vendors being brought in to direct and monitor the work.

"We always said there are issues with the system, and the question is, at what point do we withhold payment and institute penalties?" Panuccio said in an interview. "We think we've reached that point."

Representatives of Deloitte were not immediately available for comment.

A release from the Department of Economic Opportunity recognized the criticism that has come from many users since the new $62.8 million CONNECT system came online Oct. 15.

"While Deloitte has made progress over the last few weeks, and many claimants are able to process claims without incident, the bottom line is that the overall system is still not working properly and the base code has not been stabilized," Panuccio said in the release. "The people of Florida deserve better, and after two months, Deloitte's failure to provide this functionality is simply unacceptable."

Panuccio added that despite increased department staff levels and hours to handle questions and problems with the new website, the delays have caused case load work "to increase to unacceptable levels."

Officials from the department have previously described the troubles with the system as mostly technical glitches involving "back-end processes" and the adjudication of contested claims.

CONNECT has been in the works since 2009 to replace a 30-year-old system people used to claim their weekly benefits, monitor accounts and request information. The department provides up to $275 weekly to more than 200,000 jobless Floridians.

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