CONNECT scrutinized by Fla. Senate

Published On: Jan 15 2014 04:45:12 PM EST

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Four months after launch, CONNECT, the state's new $63 million computer system, isn't processing claims any faster or better than the decades-old system it replaced. Officials of the state Department of Economic Opportunity were grilled Wednesday by lawmakers looking for answers.

By its own admission, the state said its new unemployment computer system, scrutinized by Florida Senate, is only processing 73 percent of the claims it receives each week.

"Yeah, it is pretty close to the performance we were having prior to go live," said Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jessie Panuccio.

Contractor Deloitte is being fined $15,000 a day. The fines are continuing until the state is satisfied the system is working.

"More than 20 high-impact issues from the Nov. 15 list still remain," said Panuccio.

Staff is being added to handle calls. An outside contractor has been brought in to advise at a cost of more than $300,000.

One state senator called for sanctions against Deloitte, which has been paid more than $300 million since 2009.

"To what extent do we have the ability to freeze them out of doing business with the state of Florida until they've satisfied the terms of this agreement?" asked Sen. Tom Lee, R-Hillsborough.

It has been four months to the day since the CONNECT system launched. The department's own estimate is that between 15,000 and 17,000 people who should be getting benefits aren't, but officials said that's only a guess because the agency isn't sure reports from the system are accurate.

Lawmakers said real people are suffering.

"People have gone for up to nine weeks without any kind of reemployment assistance," said Sen. Geraldine Thompson, R-Orlando.

The U.S. Department of Labor is sending in a team to help the state. The team is expected to arrive this week.

More than 20,000 people called the Department of Economic Opportunity on Tuesday. The agency said the call level is an indication of the health of the computer system.

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