Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida official overseeing Florida’s backlogged unemployment system held a news conference Monday to address criticism about how Florida has handled the more than 1 million claims filled due to coronavirus layoffs and furloughs.
During the hour-long news conference DeSantis replayed how the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has worked to fix the application system CONNECT, add a new mobile application site and bring on more than 2,000 call takers. When the surge first started in mid-March, the DEO had 50 call takers, according to the governor.
He also said he is calling for the inspector general to investigate the creation of CONNECT, which was put in place under Gov. Rick Scott’s time in office.
The state paid a total of $77.9 million to Deloitte in 2013 to rebuild the state’s unemployment website.
“There were a bunch of issues when this thing was launched,” DeSantis said, adding it’s not the same issues CONNECT faces now, “This is a capacity issue that just seemed to be something that no one paid attention to.”
DeSantis said he has directed the inspector general to investigate how CONNECT system was paid for including why the contract was amended 14 times.
The governor has previously said the CONNECT system was flawed and not prepared to handle a surge of this capacity.
“Any system was going to have some problems, but, if we had anything other than 3 or 4% unemployment, this system was going to be a problem," DeSantis said. "Even a mild recession, this would have been a problem and so that’s not a good use of taxpayer money.”
Asked if he would considering banning Deloitte from state contracts DeSantis said it depends on the outcome of the investigation.
However, the IG investigation is unlikely to resolve the current problems Floridians face attempting to speak with someone at DEO about the status of their claims or who have yet to see any payments.
Department of Management Services Secretary John Satter was handed the reigns of overseeing the coronavirus unemployment response on April 15 after DeSantis asked him to step in and takeover for DEO Director Ken Lawson.
Satter spoke briefly at the end of the news conference about some of the reasons why so many Floridians are reporting they have yet to receive one payment more than a month after submitting an application for benefits.
Of the 1.7 million applications submitted to the DEO about 1 million are not repeats, Satter said, adding some people may have even submitted as many as three applications.
The biggest time delay in sending out checks, Satter said, is the large number of applications that are incomplete, either missing an employer identification number, social security number or contact information.
”Without those we have to take those out of the electronic system and process them manually,” he said.
The state has to verify social security numbers through the federal government which can also take time.
When asked about Floridians who are “clearly eligible" for benefits but they have been denied Satter said they will be paid.
“Certainly if someone is eligible for benefits they are going to receive those benefits,” Satter said. “No one is going to be out money.”
In addition, contacting workers who have incomplete applications has proven difficult and time consuming.
“That’s the big lift we have right now,” Satter said. “We’re doing as much notification as we can. Sometimes people don’t give us an email address.”
With the volume of applications, Satter said there are bound to be errors.
As of Sunday, the last time the DEO updated its re-employment claims dashboard, 45% of the more than 1 million claims have been paid adding up to more than $979 million in benefits payments. More than 282,000 applications were declared ineligible, however, some of those may qualify for federal pandemic benefits and will need to be invited to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in the CONNECT system.
There could be multiple reasons why a claim is denied, according to the DEO, including they are making money in another state, or their identify was unable to be verified.
Anyone who was denied unemployment and applied prior to April 5 should reapply, according to the DEO.