Governor Ron DeSantis has called it “a jalopy” and “a clunker,” and says it was “in tatters.” He’s talking, of course, about Florida’s online system for handling claims for unemployment benefits, which cost taxpayers $78 million and still doesn’t work right.
The system known as “Connect” continues to cause anger and despair for laid-off Floridians as they cope with the loss of their paychecks during the coronavirus pandemic. The state has bought dozens of computer servers; accepted paper applications; reassigned other workers to handle the crush of calls; and changed managers. But problems persist. The state says the number of processed claims has dramatically increased, but so has the demand for assistance. The number of claims now exceeds 1 million, and DeSantis says the system’s many problems will be investigated.
"Obviously, we had a situation where one challenge was people couldn't even access the system," DeSantis said. "You had 50% — this thing was down 60, 70%of the time—This created a huge, huge source of angst with the public. People need to be able to submit a claim."
At a Monday news conference, DeSantis gave a detailed progress report on efforts to improve the site, but he said there are 900,000 pending claims that have not been processed. DeSantis also announced that he has asked his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, to investigate the original deal, which spiked from $40 million to $78 million and was amended 14 times, according to the governor.
For some, an investigation of the system isn’t sufficient. One legislator wants the state to force the contractor, Deloitte Consulting, to refund all the money, and to prevent the firm from getting any more state business. Democratic State Senator Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg made those requests to DeSantis.
Deloitte is seeking a major contract to build an electronic data warehouse for the Agency for Health Care Administration, which runs the state Medicaid program. The CONNECT system’s project manager at the Department of Economic Opportunity, Tom McCullion, was working as a consultant at AHCA on the data warehouse project, but AHCA said he was let go on March 19.
A Tallahassee judge will hear arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by several workers who claim they are victims of the system's "gross negligence."