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ICYMI: Tampa Bay Times’ Already botched, unemployment website failing

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The Tampa Bay Times highlighted today a crucial fact in the broken unemployment system that is currently failing Florida’s unemployed. As serious as the website’s failings are in impeding the ability of unemployed persons to file a claim on the state website, even worse is that people will also not be able to access the federal unemployment benefits recently passed in the Congressional stimulus package signed into law last week.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo commented on the tragic consequences of the broken website:

“Over 74,000 Floridians filed for unemployment in the third week of March, but those are most likely only a fraction of the people who are truly unemployed and can’t successfully file a claim at all. If they can’t file a state claim, they face a Catch-22 that denies them federal relief also. Congressional leaders should be aware that the $600 a week in relief they intended for the recently unemployed may be denied to those who need it the most here in Florida.”

Highlights from the Tampa Bay Times “Ron DeSantis was warned about Florida’s broken unemployment website last year, audit shows”:

  • State auditors warned Gov. Ron DeSantis last year that Florida's unemployment website was suffering major problems, including glitches, error messages and other problems that thousands of Floridians are now experiencing.
  • In a damning 2019 report, auditors found that they had flagged all of the problems with the website in previous audits going back to 2015 - yet state officials had not made a serious attempt to fix them.
  • The consequences for delaying the fixes will be severe. The unreliable system is failing under an unprecedented crush of unemployment claims because of the coronavirus, and many Floridians are unable to apply because the site keeps crashing.
  • If Florida can't get its website fixed, the hundreds of thousands of Floridians thrown out of work could, at the least, be forced to wait weeks for unemployment relief because they're unable to apply for them on Florida's website. At the worst, they could lose out on federal unemployment benefits included in Congress' recent stimulus package.
  • The cost for the mismanagement could be millions, or billions, of dollars in untapped aid that won't make it to Floridians, said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.
  • Neither DeSantis' administration nor the Department of Economic Opportunity, which he oversees and which operates the state's unemployment website, responded to questions about which of the 17 issues in last year's report had been fixed since DeSantis took office in January 2019.
  • The Department of Economic Opportunity has blamed the website's problems on a historic workload caused by the coronavirus. In the third week of March, more than 74,000 Floridians filed for unemployment, nearly double the previous weekly record. That's almost certainly an undercount, because many Floridians have been unable to apply because of the website's problems.
  • But as auditors made clear last year, state officials failed to fix fundamental problems with the site dating back to its launch in October 2013, when Florida's unemployment rate was falling.
  • State auditors detailed those problems in a 2015 audit. An audit in 2016 found the state failed to fix many of the problems they had flagged.
  • Last year's audit was essentially a repeat of 2016's audit, since few if any of the problems had been fixed.