Does this sound familiar? A government agency rolls out a highly touted website designed to help more than a million people, only to be overwhelmed by problems that make gaining access to the promised benefits a Sisyphean task. But this isn't about shopping for health insurance on the federal government's balky website. It's about the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's $63 million CONNECT system for the unemployed to apply for benefits. Just as President Barack Obama should be held accountable for issues with the health insurance website, Gov. Rick Scott should be open about the problems with the state's system and how his administration is working to fix them.
Scott sowed the seeds of the problem when the state required jobless Floridians to apply for unemployment benefits online. That would require a state computer system that works efficiently. CONNECT doesn't. And it might even be illegal, as the U.S. Labor Department investigates whether an Internet-only claims process violates federal law. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is urging the Labor Department to also investigate the sputtering CONNECT website. Developed by New York-based Deloitte, CONNECT debuted Oct. 13, 10 months behind schedule. After initially touting the system's success, state officials now acknowledge thousands of claims were delayed or deleted because of technical errors, while other unemployed residents were blocked from entering the website to apply for benefits. The agency's help line became so clogged that only one of every 25 callers was able to speak to someone.
Scott should provide a thorough, candid explanation for why a $63 million website fails to work properly. Until it does, he should open up the unemployment benefits process by allowing residents to apply for benefits in person.
Floridians who are unemployed should not face further hardship and delays in receiving financial help they are entitled to receive just because a state computer system doesn't work.