Florida lawmakers consider future of state unemployment system Connect in 2021

Independent system ‘deep dive’ will determine if aging computer system will be scrapped

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity website Connect may be weeks away from being tossed and replaced if Florida lawmakers like State Sen. Linda Stewart, (D) of Orlando, and State Rep. David Smith, (R) of Seminole County, have their way.

The two are part of a growing number of legislators who want the aging system replaced by new technology that would be capable of handling the anticipated demand for state unemployment benefits.

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“There is no one in the Senate or the House that doesn’t think we have to do something,” Stewart said. “There’s no other solution but to get rid of the Connect system.”

In a letter written to new DEO director Dane Eagle last month Stewart made it clear she appreciated the work he had done to shore up the system but that in her view Connect cannot meet the demand from COVID-19 unemployment.

“We need a new system one that is not designed to fail,” she wrote.

Smith agrees with the notion that spending additional money to keep the current system running would be a waste of time and funding.

“The technology is old and Florida never kept up,” Smith said. “Who owns a 10 year old computer?”

This year the state invested more than $119 million to bring in new software, hardware and staff to handle the surging benefits demand as a result of the pandemic.

Despite that effort thousands of unemployed workers including hundreds of News 6 viewers have experienced delays and glitches linked to return to work and identity issues.

Several lawmakers including State Rep Anthony Sabatini, (R) of Lake County, and State Rep Randy Fine, (R) of Brevard County, said they want to see what is most cost effective first.

Fine, a former software executive, said it will come down to what went wrong and what it will take to update the website.

“I do understand enterprise software and it may not be fixable,” Fine said, adding “Or to fix it could take a huge amount of time and a huge amount of money and it could be cheaper to get a new one.”

In terms of a price tag for a new system Fine said the amount of “functionality and the number of simultaneous users the system is designed to handle will “drive the cost.”

Sabatini agrees with Fine’s facts first approach.

“I support holding legislative hearings on the system and then modifying or replacing it afterward,” Sabatini said.

DEO director Eagle said he hired ISF INC., an IT and strategy firm, to investigate the Connect system.

He also plans to ask the legislature for an additional 108 employees to train on the Connect system.

“There’s a lot more to do,” Eagle said. “My job will be to go to the legislature this session when they come back in January with that review (along with) some ideas and recommendations so we can fix this once and for all.”

If you have an unemployment issue send an email to : makeendsmeet@wkmg.com.

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.