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Florida DEO promises improvements after independent review of unemployment system

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Posted at 7:55 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 23:10:06-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - — The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says changes will be made after an independent study of the Reemployment Assistance system found ways to improve.

The 200 page study conducted by a third party was released Friday evening.

The study found the CONNECT system was not built to process the volume of claims received during the pandemic.

"We saw hotel cancellations and major layoffs sweep across the state of Florida especially among the service industry which is one of the largest economic sectors and folks started piling into the unemployment system," said State Representative Anna Eskamani.

The study laid out the state's rising unemployment rate after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It stated, "In February 2020, the unemployment rate in Florida was 2.8%. By March of 2020, the unemployment rate rose to 4.4% and then it rose even higher in April of 2020 to 13.8%.

In that same time period, the system went from less than 5,000 claims per week to more than 500,000 claims per week.

"Other states had similar surges, I just didn't see a break down in their systems. It runs the gamut...some states smaller populations running older systems or newer systems or what have you, but we weren't prepared. We weren't even prepared for even a little blip," said State Senator Jason Pizzo.

The study finds there were issues ranging from an inability to establish a claim to being unable to talk to staff and also a delay of benefits. The increased workload exposed weaknesses in the systems, according to the report.

"Alot of the conclusions in this report, I think for those of us who have been dealing with the unemployment system for a year now are not surprised by it. We know the website can't handle the traffic," said State Representative Eskamani.

The DEO released the 200+ page study late on Friday, February 26 with these as the "key findings"

  • 1. The Department continues to perform tirelessly to ensure benefits are provided to claimants.
  • 2. The CONNECT system was not built to process the volume of claims received during the pandemic.
  • 3. Substantial investments were made during 2020 to stabilize and scale out the system.
  • 4. Those investments resulted in necessary increases to annual RA IT base budget.
  • 5. Additional cloud migration investment is needed to realize performance and cost optimization.
  • 6. Software architecture investment is needed to enable timely implementation of user-focused services.
  • 7. Business Process Optimization (BPO) and user interface investment is necessary to streamline the user experience.

The department also wants to create the "Office of Economic Accountability and Transparency and the Reemployment Assistance Modernization Strategic Planning Office."

According to a release, the proposed legislation will be sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) and Representative Chip LaMarca (R- Lighthouse Point).

“This partnership with the Department of Economic Opportunity is vital in ensuring accountability with the state’s Reemployment Assistance program,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean. “Floridians are frustrated with the current system, and I am proud to be taking the steps necessary to improve its management and efficiency by providing the Department with these additional resources.”
"The last year has been incredibly difficult for families across our state. Losing loved ones and being out of work has put a tremendous burden on all of our communities. I’m proud to sponsor legislation that will help families get the reemployment benefits they need more efficiently. I vowed to take on this issue and revise the way Florida’s system operates and I look forward to making this a reality with Gov. Ron DeSantis and his team at DEO,” said Representative Chip LaMarca.