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News

Still not quite CONNECT-ed

Department of Economic Opportunity is gaming the system in unemployment controversy

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DISCONNECTED

As expected, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity continues to dwindle into the sort of vague conceptual fog its aspirational name implies. The department’s well-documented flinches and glitches associated with the launch of the state’s CONNECT unemployment software have already become the stuff of blame-game legend, with most state-based minions pointing their fingers at software designers Deloitte for the screw-ups, while spokespeople throw around heavy words like “levied fines” while promising to get to the bottom of it all.

Well, it turns out that the bottom might just be institutional stupidity – or worse, the sort of craven insensitivity that would allow more than 10,000 Floridians to be denied $22 million in unemployment benefits in October and November, because we can?

The Tampa Bay Times, which has been dogged about trying to get to the nut of the fracas, reported on Jan. 23 that the department might be talking out of both sides of its bureaucratic face, especially with the recent announcement that the state would, after three months, make good on the payments owed the 10,000 folks bilked by the system. On Jan. 18, DEO executive director Jesse Panuccio issued a statement that the department had been granted authority by the U.S. Department of Labor to make good on the claims that are more than a week old, if only temporarily, to be audited at a later date. (This, of course, came after U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, raised a media stink and ordered federal intervention). But then on Jan. 23, Pannucio (Pinnochio?) told the paper that it was much more of a mutually agreed upon decision with the USDOL, and sort of a kind gesture, given that the state may have to swallow some overpayments.

But instead of gesturing kindly, the DEO has been fumbling around, spending $165,000 a week on new claims associates and docking Deloitte millions in payment. Meanwhile, California didn’t wait three months to make good on its backlogged payments; California followed the policy as written by the USDOL: to pay reasonable claims if the state can’t prove ineligibility. Florida was gaming the system.

The end result, according to the paper, is that the state looks like it was afraid to take the risk of overpayment in helping the poor (which would come from a state trust fund), and would rather spend the federal money allotted for new staffers who are simply kicking the can down the road – the sad, empty soup can of avoidable poverty. Happy days are here again.

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