Unemployment Call Center Still Plagued by Problems

TALLAHASSEE, Fl Florida’s unemployment dropped three tenths of a percent in the last month, but large numbers of people continue to have problems accessing benefits through a new computer system, so now the state is withholding payments to its contractor.

Problems with the state's web site where people sign up for jobless benefits persist nine weeks after launch. After defending the issues as minor glitches, the state has now had enough.

Jesse Panuccio is DEO Executive Director. "Today, DEO announced that it is withholding payment, the contractual installment payment of three million dollars that was due because the system is not in a place where we feel it's fully functional and that the payment is due. We've also instituted liquidated damages of 15 thousand dollars per business day."

Three weeks after Florida launched the 63 million dollar Connect system the contractor and state were called before legislative committees to explain problems, including doing a poor job of answering calls.

Voice of Rep. Ed Hooper, Tourism and Economic Development Committee Chairman, "So, when it was bad we were at 32 percent and when it was vastly improved we were at 52... We're catching half of the calls."

Fast forward six and a half weeks and the call problem has gotten worse. Instead of half the calls being answered, statistics from this week show only 29 percent of the unique calls get someone on the line.

Exec. Dir. Jessie Panuccio tried to explain. "You may be seeing in terms of reaching fewer unique calls would be that as we get more things fixed and the easy problems get fixed the calls can take longer because the issues are more complex."

With delays on the phone and a website that's hard to get onto, DEO says its hiring a hundred and 92 temporary staffers to try and make things better.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is also threatening to bring in outside IT consultants if the problems are not fixed quickly.

State lawmakers say they will call DEO and the contractor back before committees in early January.

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