Florida's CONNECT Unemployment System Still Struggles, 7 Years After Launch
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a record number of Floridians filing for unemployment benefits, and most of them are struggling to navigate an online system that hasn’t seemed to work properly in the seven years since it launched.
“The idea was to move to an online portal ideally to speed up and to simplify the process, and of course we all know that didn’t happen,” says WFSU correspondent and Sun-Sentinel columnist Steve Bousquet.
The trouble-prone CONNECT system launched in 2013, two years after the Florida Legislature made significant changes to the state’s unemployment system.
Those changes cut in half the number of weeks applicants can receive benefits, based on the state’s unemployment rate. The new law capped weekly payments at $275, required applicants to take a skills test, and set other requirements to be eligible for compensation.
Florida was coming out of a recession at the time, and the state trust fund for paying jobless benefits was borrowing money from the federal government. Republicans approved the changes, while Democrats balked that jobless workers were being punished.
The CONNECT system added new hurdles to the mix. At least $77 million has been spent on the portal in the last seven years. An audit from early 2015 found more than 100 problems had been identified with the system, and little has changed. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently referred to it as a jalopy.
The governor says improvements are being made. He’s put new leadership in charge of CONNECT, more servers have been added to handle a high number of applicants, and more help has been added at call centers.
“The system is better, but the system isn’t working properly yet,” says Bousquet, as applicants continue to be bumped from the online system or are forced to wait on hold for hours. “The problems are massive, and they’re persisting.”