TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — After weeks of downplaying problems with the state's new unemployment claims website, Florida officials announced that they are withholding a $3 million payment to the company that built it.
The state on Monday also plans to start fining Deloitte Consulting $15,000 a day until the system— which helps more than 200,000 Floridians get an unemployment check — is "fully functioning."
Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, said in a letter to Deloitte executives that the "delays caused by these defects have proven to be a true hardship."
"It is simply imperative that Deloitte devote every available resource, and every expert at its disposal, to getting the remaining defects fixed, and fixed now," Panuccio wrote Friday.
The state switched over the new $63 million system in October and since that time there has been a steady stream of complaints and media reports about unemployed Floridians frustrated at their ability to process claims, or to get anyone on the phone to help them. The department wound up disabling the posting and comment portions of its Facebook page after people looking for help starting posting their social security numbers and phone numbers.
In a statement, a Deloitte spokesman said that the "vast majority" of those seeking unemployment benefits are receiving them. Jonathan Gandal added that the remaining problems with the system can only be fixed by the state or are "otherwise beyond Deloitte's control."
"We will continue to provide warranty support to DEO, in accordance with our contract, and work diligently to resolve any warranty items as they are identified," Gandal said. "We will also continue to work with DEO to clarify the true nature of the remaining issues and will hold ourselves strictly accountable for fixing anything within our control as quickly as possible."
State officials maintained that the only way to solve the problem is for Deloitte to significantly increase the number of computer programming staff. The Department of Economic Opportunity said that if Deloitte cannot fix the problem the state may be forced to hire additional consultants and vendors.
There are roughly 240,000 people in Florida receiving unemployment benefits that are usually claimed every two weeks. The maximum payment is $275 a week.
The new system is crucial to those seeking unemployment checks because since 2011 the state has required that people file for unemployment online. At first, state officials contended that any problems with the system were being worked on. The department has sent out daily updates noting the number of people receiving claim payments and how much money has been paid out.
Panuccio, however, in his letter acknowledged that the system was launched in October with "numerous defects" which testing ahead of time did not uncover.
Last week state officials also announced that they had fined Deloitte $1.5 million and had given them until Friday to fix the system.
The problems with the system are also becoming a political headache for Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott has been shown on television brushing aside questions from reporters about the troubled system. During a Friday appearance in Orlando, Scott told local television stations that Deloitte was being held "accountable" and was having money held back because company officials "have not done their job."
Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running against Scott, called it "unbelievable" that the Scott administration has not answered questions about problems with the system until Friday.
"This is a failure of leadership, a failure to acknowledge a problem, and a failure to act until thousands of Floridians have suffered," Crist said in a statement.
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