FLORIDA, USA — We now know Florida's unemployment system didn't stand a chance one year ago when the pandemic hit.
Gov. Ron DeSantis' office on Thursday released Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel's early findings about the Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT reemployment assistance system, which has caused headaches as Floridians have tried to get help during the pandemic.
The report found major failures with Florida's $81 million unemployment network dating back to 2013, when the system first went live.
Friday in Tampa, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor (D- Florida) said she hopes the Florida legislature will fix the unemployment system this session.
"Florida's unemployment system was a disaster and it caused undue heartache and pain for hundreds of thousands of Floridians," said Castor who hadn't had a chance to look over the report yet.
Among the findings in the report was a determination that the system was never fully tested.
The state contract required the CONNECT system to be able to support at least 200,000 concurrent external customers when it was initially deployed, according to the report. But, the inspector general found it was only tested with 4,200 concurrent users.
There were other red flags about the system revealed by audits over the last several years.
State Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) has proposed legislation to make some changes to the unemployment system.
It includes creating a reemployment assistance office at the Department of Economic Opportunity for oversight. House Bill 207 would also revise the duration of benefits and the amount you're paid if you're unemployed.
"What we need to do as a legislature is ask the hard questions. I don't think the prior administration or this administration really paid much attention to it and I think Floridians paid the price," said Diamond.
At a news conference about vaccines Friday afternoon in Winter Haven, 10 Tampa Bay asked Governor Ron DeSantis about the findings in the report.
"I haven't had a chance to review it yet so we obviously put that into practice. I thought it was important for them to do it. We've been bouncing around in Ocala, Tallahassee, this. I'll definitely take a look at it this weekend and get back to you," said DeSantis.
In the meantime, many Floridians are left spinning their wheels with a glitchy system.
Rep. Diamond says he's helped thousands in Pinellas County get through to the Department of Economic Opportunity. He welcomes Floridians to call or e-mail his office for help.
Vanessa Brito became an advocate for people across the state and runs various social media platforms trying to help people navigate the state's glitchy system.
On Friday, Brito said, "Calling isn't going to fix anything. Calling may delay you. There's nothing they can do."
You can get connected with Brito and other Floridians working to navigate the system through her Facebook page.
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