By GARY FINEOUT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) â¿¿ Tens of thousands of unemployed Floridians may be in for a rough time as the state switches to a new system designed to help them get benefits.
The online system that Florida currently uses to process unemployment claims is going dark starting at noon Wednesday. The claims system will stay down and remain unavailable until Oct. 15. This mean that people who fail to put in their claims in time may have their payments delayed.
There are roughly 240,000 people in Florida receiving unemployment benefits that are usually claimed every two weeks. The maximum payment is $275 a week.
But even when that new system comes online, officials are warning of longer wait times and busier phone lines as Floridians adjust to the new "CONNECT" system. The $63 million computer system is being installed with the help of a company whose work has come under fire in other states.
The system put online in Massachusetts erroneously cut benefits to hundreds of jobless residents and required thousands of overtime hours by state employees to handle complaints about glitches. The project went so far off track that the state is considering firing Deloitte Consulting.
Monica Russell, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Economic Opportunity, insisted that Deloitte has "customized" the new system to meet the state's specific needs and that it has been "rigorously tested to help ensure its quality."
"Since February, numerous testers have been dedicated to this effort and we have been assured that the lessons learned from other states are being used to prevent similar issues from occurring in Florida," Russell wrote in an email in response to questions.
State officials say the new computer system will be a huge improvement over the current 30-year-old system used to process unemployment claims. The new system will also feature new anti-fraud measures.