Florida spent $25 million in 2 weeks boosting system for unemployment benefits

Many have struggled to submit applications

Florida has spent millions of dollars trying to fix its unemployment system.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity spent more than $25 million over the past two weeks on improvements to the computer and phone systems it uses to collect unemployment benefits applications, records show.

Many jobless Floridians seeking reemployment assistance have struggled to submit applications due to jammed phone lines and glitches with the agency’s website floridajobs.org.

DEO's online reemployment assistance system, known as CONNECT, cost $63 million when it was created in 2013 at the direction of former governor Rick Scott.

Last week 227,000 Floridians filed unemployment claims, U.S. Department of Labor records show.

However, the state’s actual unemployment number may be much higher since many applicants said they were unable to file claims due to complications submitting information to the agency.

DEO executive director Ken Lawson signed a $17,513,212 contract Sunday with a Virginia-based firm that provides call center services.

Under the agreement, Faneuil, Inc. will receive and process overflow calls from the DEO’s existing reemployment assistance call centers.

The contract indicates DEO received 1.1 million calls between March 1-25 but only answered 180,843 of them.

Nearly one million people who tried calling DEO last month did not reach a DEO customer service agent or the self-service phone system, records show.

DEO spent an additional $7.9 million on computer hardware, software, servers and voice recognition and synthesizer system earmarked for the Reemployment Assistance division between March 20 and April 1, state purchasing records indicate.

Since March 10 DEO has submitted purchase orders for 650 Dell laptop computers and accessories totaling $657,524. The documents do not specify which agency personnel will be using them or why the laptops are needed.

Many government agencies and private companies have issued laptop computers and mobile devices to employees to allow them to work from home while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.