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Help on way for some -- not all -- waiting for late unemployment payments


Checks will begin arriving today for about 4,900 workers who have had their ongoing claims delayed longer than seven days, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

While good news for many who have waited 11 days since the state first announced it was “immediately paying” all late claims, the newly disclosed number of payments is less than half of  the 10,000 delinquent claims the state initially said it was paying because of delays caused by the state’s new $63 million website, CONNECT.

Why the decrease?

According to a statement issued Tuesday night by DEO spokeswoman Jessica Sims, the DEO was initially told by CONNECT’s contractor, Deloitte Consulting, that 10,000 ongoing claims, or those claims from unemployed workers who had already qualified for assistance, were delayed. The DEO first disclosed this number to the Times/Herald on Jan. 21 -- three days after first announcing it was paying the claims after it was “advised” to do so by the U.S. Department of Labor. What remains unclear is when Deloitte then concluded that out of those 10,000, only 4,900 were “eligible”.

“After programming the system, it was discovered that the majority of the claimants in this (10,000) segment were ineligible because they reported earnings in their claim week that exceeded the threshold for benefit payment or they had a reemployment assistance overpayment owed to the state,” Sims said.

Those who were denied will receive a notice that they can appeal, she said. Those receiving checks should start to see them arrive today.

Asked for comment, the U.S. Department of Labor provided more detail, some of which was different from what DEO was disclosing. Federal officials got involved at the behest of  U.S. Senator Bill Nelson when it became evident that thousands of unemployed workers had been waiting weeks and, in some cases, months for back claims.

According to a Department of Labor spokesman, the state “agreed to expedite” 11,000 (not 10,000) ongoing claims and began to implement the necessary changes to the system.

“During testing of these changes, the state discovered that approximately 5,900 of these claims failed to meet the minimum eligibility requirements,” the spokesman said in an e-mail. “As a result, approximately 5,100 of these continuing claims were processed over the weekend.”

So more than half of the initial amount of late claims to be paid were subsequently rejected.

What’s more, federal officials asked the DEO to reevaluate an additional 10,000 claims that had been denied.

Of those, “2,700 remain backlogged pending (review),” the spokesman said.

On top of that, the spokesman said about 1,000 claims had been flagged for “identity issues” and will be investigated as potential fraud or improper payments, the spokesman said.

There are many more cases out there. During testimony to state senators earlier this month, DEO executive director Jesse Panuccio said there were about 60,000 backlogged cases. In her statement, Sims said that there are 41,000 claims awaiting a determination. But because of the unreliable CONNECT system, it’s unclear if these numbers are accurate.

“The reporting function of the system is still not reporting consistent and accurate data and all of these figures have been presented to DEO by Deloitte so this is the best information we have available at this time,” Sims said.