Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Nelson criticizes state for delays in getting checks to the unemployed

CLEARWATER — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday criticized the state for months of delays in fixing its state unemployment claims website and noted that one day after he got federal officials involved, money started flowing again to the unemployed.

Asked whether the governor and state administration bear most of the blame for not getting a fix in place sooner, Nelson responded: "I think you need to go and ask the executive."

Since the mid-October launch of the $63 million CONNECT website, which processes unemployment claims, thousands of payments have been held up by technical malfunctions, leaving claimants increasingly desperate.

At Nelson's behest, federal officials, including Gay Gilbert, administrator for the federal unemployment insurance program, arrived in Tallahassee on Friday to investigate Florida's oversight of the website, which serves about 235,000 claimants. A day later, the state Department of Economic Opportunity announced that U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez had given it authority to pay claims that have been delayed longer than a week.

Nelson said all it took was "a little bit of communication" and "putting the people's interests first," along with finding a vendor that could make the system function.

Perez "very easily fixed that by saying, 'You go on and make the payments. We will settle up later.' That's the right thing to do because there are people's lives at stake," Nelson said.

He added that he hopes there will be restitution for claimants who have suffered hardships while they were unable to collect unemployment benefits.

Nelson also called on the state to help those in danger of losing their homes because they couldn't get their checks.

"I think the state of Florida has a responsibility to get in there, make the compensation (claimants) didn't get in the past and then try to step in and work with the banks where mortgages hadn't been able to be paid," he said.

Nelson took questions from reporters while in Clearwater to speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally. During the 20-minute conversation, Nelson also answered questions about similar problems with the federal government's Affordable Care Act website, calling the glitches "inexcusable" and saying that "somebody ought to get fired."

While the congressman said he successfully used the website to sign up for insurance himself, he's heard reports about people who are still having trouble navigating the site or receiving identification cards and insurance reimbursements.

"That's just an administrative malfunction that's got to be straightened out," Nelson said.

Most Americans are already insured through their employer, Medicare or Medicaid, Nelson said, so the glitches affected only about 20 percent of the population. However, he said he faults the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott for failing to expand Medicaid, which would have given another 1 million Floridians access to health care.

During the session with reporters, Nelson also talked about the move to legalize marijuana in Florida. He said he opposes across the board legalization of the drug because he believes it is harmful.

But "marijuana used as a medical relief for people that are desperate, I agree that ought to be legal," he said.

Marijuana legislation, he said, is "best left to the states" rather than the federal government.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected]

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: Gay Gilbert, administrator for the federal unemployment insurance program, visited Tallahassee last week to work with officials on a fix to the CONNECT unemployment website. The visitor was incorrectly identified in an article Tuesday.

Nelson criticizes state for delays in getting checks to the unemployed 01/20/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 1:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Only the Brave' honors sacrifice of front line firefighters amid California wildfires

    Movies

    No one knew that the release date for the forest firefighting movie Only the Brave' would coincide with one of the most destructive wildfires in California history.

    Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), plan to do the backburn at the Chiricahua Mtn. fireline in  ONLY THE BRAVE. (Columbia Pictures)
  2. 'The Snowman' has a star-studded cast based on a blockbuster murder novel, but it's a mess

    Movies

    Mr. Alfredson, you could have saved it. We gave you all the tools — a star-studded cast, a blockbuster best-selling Scandinavian murder novel by Jo Nesbo, and three time Oscar winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker. So why is The Snowman such a jumbled nonsensical mess?

    Michael Fassbender in "The Snowman." (Universal Pictures)  1213107
  3. Find every new Shine festival mural in St. Petersburg with this map and photos

    Visual Arts

    The leaves don't really change in Florida, but go outside and it's clearly that time of year when St. Petersburg's walls get a little more colorful.

    There are 14 new murals up in St. Petersburg for the Shine Mural Festival. [Eve Edelheit | Staff]
  4. Michael Connelly's 'Two Kinds of Truth' is Bosch at his best

    Books

    Harry Bosch's office is a long way from his former desk in the Los Angeles Police Department's elite robbery-homicide squad.

  5. Local craft beer of the week: Malt liquor? Yes — 3 Daughters Brewing's Ctrl + Malt + Del

    Bars & Spirits

    In 2004, Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery was well into the process of making a name for itself through envelope-pushing beers, like 120-Minute IPA and World Wide Stout, brews notorious for their astronomical alcohol content.

    Photo by Justin Grant