TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been critical of the state’s unemployment benefits system in recent weeks as it has been overwhelmed by claims during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s called the unemployment website technology “a jalopy” and a “clunker.”
On Monday he called for an investigation.
During a news conference in Tallahassee, DeSantis said he will be directing the state’s Inspector General to conduct an investigation into how the $77 million CONNECT system was paid for, among other questions.
“I think that that’s something that’s very important for the people of Florida to know,” DeSantis said Monday. “I’ve talked to different people in the legislature, I’ve talked to citizens and taxpayers. People want an accounting about why this cost so much because it’s one thing to not have a good system if you go on the cheap or whatever, but to pay that much money and then all the problems we’ve had to deal with, you know, it’s a big problem."
The administration of former Florida Gov. Rick Scott launched the website seven years ago.
The system was never designed to manage the crush of applications it is seeing in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, but from the day the system was turned on, it has had major problems. It was a disaster when it launched in late 2013.
“It was designed with all these different things to basically fail, I think,” DeSantis said previously.
The system has routinely failed state audits going back to 2015 and the flood of people losing their jobs at businesses that were forced to shut down amid the novel coronavirus has exposed further flaws. Applicants have reported issues with the website crashing and being ruled ineligible for benefits.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried also wrote to the state’s Chief Inspector General on Monday formally requesting an investigation into potential mismanagement of Florida’s unemployment system.
Fried said that following several audit reports detailing over 600 problems with the CONNECT unemployment system, about which the Governor was briefed in 2019, thousands of Floridians have struggled to receive unemployment assistance during COVID-19 due to technology and staffing issues.
The letter reads in part:
“Despite these known failures, the Governor has not acted with the urgency or transparency that the situation necessitates. Given these failures, I hereby request that pursuant to Section 14.32(2)(a), Florida Statutes, you initiate an investigation into potential mismanagement of the CONNECT unemployment system.
As head of the state’s consumer protection agency, I make this request on behalf of the thousands of Floridians who have been unduly frustrated by their state government’s inability to timely process requests for unemployment assistance, for whom economic recovery depends on the competent government response they deserve.”
More than 1 million Floridians have submitted claims as of May 3, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and over 280,000 of those people were found to be ineligible.
So far, $979 million has been paid to out, according to DEO.
DeSantis said that despite the early issues with the site, the changes made by his administration — such as suspending bi-weekly certification requirements, adding 72 new servers and increasing staff at call centers — have made a difference.