It seems pretty rich after the spectacular crash and burn of the HealthCare.gov rollout. But federal investigators recently announced they are looking into a problem with the Florida unemployment benefits website. Specifically, the feds would like to know why the portal is failing getting unemployment benefits to Floridians who have lost their jobs.
For its part, the Chief of Economic Development for the State of Florida admits that the website is having issues, and told lawmakers that the State may levy penalties against Deloitte Consulting, which is responsible for the site’s design.
And if anyone knows something about websites that don’t work, it’s the federal government.
For its part, Deloitte makes a point of touting its expertise in helping states manage their flow of unemployment claims.
Meanwhile, however, the problems with the Florida website are real. The number of disputed claims since the state switched over to their new online system has zoomed by 25 percent, to as much as 60,000 claims or more.
Why is this a federal issue? Because Florida is taking Federal money: Congress has appropriated federal funds to provide extended jobless benefits to certain states with high unemployment rates, and the Justice Department wants to ensure those federal dollars are reaching the intended recipients.
The federal government has authorized the State of Florida to pay out on any disputed claims that are unresolved after seven days. The State also promised to hold employers blameless on any overpayments as a result of the policy if the employer had met its obligations in the system. Anyone found to have wrongly claimed benefits would be held liable for overpayments, rather than the employee.
The push comes ahead of President Obama’s State of the Union Address, scheduled for January 28th. The President and Democrats would, of course, like to change the subject from the struggling Affordable Care Act, and are likely to zoom in on wage and hour laws and unemployment populism that can potentially energize their base. The focus on Florida unemployment benefits comes at an opportune time – and at the expense of a GOP governor seen as vulnerable to a challenge.
This isn’t the first time Florida’s Governor Rick Scott has come under the federal microscope. Last year, the state got slapped with a Department of Labor order to beef up access to benefits for those with disabilities or who don’t speak, read or write English well.
Florida workers may have lost out on as much as $11 million per month in claims to which they are entitled, according to research from the National Employment Law Project.
Florida has since withheld some $13 million that would otherwise be payable to Deloitte Consulting, and is additionally fining the company $15,000 per day. The website, called “CONNECT” in all, cost Florida taxpayers $63 million, though costs related to its failures are zooming because Florida has been forced to hire extra staff to sort through disputed claims.
The state has also hired 10 additional programmers and entered into a $365,000 contract with another contractor, Capgemini, to help fix the problems. As the issue has evolved, state officials are placing the blame entirely at the feet of Deloitte Consulting. Where earlier press conferences by the Department of Economic Development saw Deloitte executives join state officials at the podium, Deloitte has since stopped sending their own people to the state conferences.
For its part, Deloitte counters that some of the site problems are design problems it inherited from the state and are not Deloitte’s doing.