A blame game between state officials and the vendor of a $63 million unemployment website spilled into the public this week, further complicating efforts by claimants to receive their jobless benefits while raising the spectre of a costly legal battle.
“We’re in a Mexican standoff,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. “The state is withholding payment. The vendor isn’t fixing the problem. We can’t continue like this. We have to take action, and if they sue us, they sue us.”
Since the Oct. 15 launch of the CONNECT website, thousands of recipients have complained the new system won’t let them log on or register correctly, delaying the payment of benefits that has pushed many to the economic brink.
“I’m losing everything,” said Melissa Perkins, a 35-year-old Sarasota resident amid tears. “I don’t know what else I can do. I have to get people to pay my rent. I’ve worked my entire life since I was 15, and i’ve never asked anyone for anything. What can I do?”
On Thursday, the Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency in charge of the CONNECT website, announced it was doubling its staff of claims processors, at a price to be determined later, because of delays in the processing of claims.
Along with the announcement, the DEO’s executive director, Jesse Panuccio, added a message about Deloitte Consulting, the website’s vendor.
“We will continue to hold Deloitte accountable and I have asked them to devote whatever resources necessary to fix all remaining technical issues,” Panuccio said.
The state and Deloitte have clashed on the project.
Last year, Department of Economic Opportunity officials considered firing Deloitte, which had well-publicized troubles with similar overhauls of unemployment sites in California and Massachusetts.
But this week was the latest reminder of Panuccio’s recently adopted get-tough public stance with Deloitte, the Minneapolis-based contractor the state hired in 2011 to upgrade and improve its claims system, which was more than 30 years old.