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Sen. Nelson pushes for fix of jobless claims website

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Published:   |   Updated: November 1, 2013 at 07:01 AM

TAMPA — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate problems with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s new $63 million website whose technical problems have interfered with people applying for jobless benefits.

Untold numbers of Floridians — the vast majority who have said in interviews for news accounts they are victims of layoffs — continue to encounter difficulties more than two weeks after the state’s rollout of its “Connect” site for unemployment benefits and reemployment assistance.

“I would ... ask that you look into whether the state is doing everything it can to correct problems with its website to meet the needs of all Floridians eligible to receive unemployment benefits,” Nelson wrote in a letter Wednesday to U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez.

“While states administer their own unemployment compensation program … they do so under the Department of Labor which oversees many of the programs our nation has for American workers, including unemployment benefits,” the Florida Democrat said.

“The main purpose behind this federal-state program is to help stabilize the economy during recessions. But it certainly won’t be of much help in my state if those who have lost their jobs face protracted delays in seeking or receiving benefits.”

Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, said the agency welcomed federal government input to fix website problems.

“We welcome any assistance and input Senator Nelson and the federal government can provide,” Panuccio said.

The DEO said Thursday it processed claims from 250,000 people since the system was launched on Oct. 15, when hundreds of people complained to news media and on state Facebook pages about their difficulties with the Connect site.

“I worked my butt off for 17 years, never needing unemployment or welfare or anything,” said Matt Hayes, who was laid off in July from his job as a student adviser for the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa.

“Now the one time I am in need and I have to jump through a thousand hoops just to get nowhere,” Hayes said in an email to The Tampa Tribune.

Panuccio said in an email the DEO and project vendor Deloitte Consulting are working 24-7 to identify and fix technical problems, which claimants can report to 1-800-204-2418 or through floridajobs.org.

“DEO’s No. 1 priority is to ensure that claimants and employers can easily access the Reemployment Assistance system,” Panuccio said. ”We sincerely regret any delays claimants have experienced as a result of technical problems during the launch of our modernized computer system. All claimants should be assured that they will not lose any benefits to which they are entitled.”

The DEO is calling and emailing as many as claimants as possible who have encountered problems to notify them when a fix is implemented and any technical difficulty surrounding their claim is resolved, DEO Press Secretary Jessica Sims said.

She said the two most significant systemic issues centered on Personal Identification Number resets and access to a link to claim benefit weeks. Other Reemployment Assistance processes, including adjudication and appeals, have experienced delays because of technical problems.

“We currently have some work-arounds in place, and we are implementing technical fixes this week.” Sims said. “We also continue to address individual claims issues that have arisen, including individual data-conversion errors.

“We will continue to address these problems as they arise and we expect such issues will continue, as nearly two billion records were converted from the more than 30-year-old system.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7817

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