Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Jobless Claims' Problems Are Easing

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Jobless Claims' Problems Are Easing

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE

Despite a troubled start, a new state computer system that handles jobless benefits for unemployed Floridians is improving, and the majority of claims are being processed, state officials told a Senate committee Monday.

In mid-October, the state Department of Economic Opportunity began using the $63 million CONNECT computer system to process jobless benefits. But a series of glitches -- including a requirement that claimants establish a new personal identification number -- blocked thousands of jobless Floridians from accessing the system.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, asked the federal Department of Labor to investigate what went wrong with the new system, which was paid for with federal money and designed to make the jobless claims process more efficient by replacing an antiquated system dating to the 1970s.

But Jesse Pannuccio, the DEO's executive director, told the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee that the major problems have been resolved.

"The first two weeks of implementation have been rockier than expected," Pannuccio said. "On the whole, the system is now properly processing the substantial majority of claims."

Calls to the DEO spiked after the CONNECT system went online on Oct. 15, reaching nearly 400,000 a day in the first week, although many of those calls were repeated efforts by frustrated claimants.

But by last week, Pannuccio said the calls had "decreased dramatically," ranging around a little more than 100,000 on peak days.

Pannuccio said some delays are still possible, but the DEO was in a position to make sure the issues "are quickly but also properly and carefully resolved." He also said any jobless Floridian whose benefits are delayed because of the state's technical difficulties will receive his or her full benefits.

Deloitte Consulting, the private contractor that is installing the CONNECT system, reported that claims are now being processed at roughly the same rate as they were under the former system -- about 77 percent of claims are filed and paid within a week. …

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