As Floridians seek to Rebound from the pandemic, the state will have a new chance to fix its broken unemployment system next year. Lawmakers return to the capitol in March for the legislative session. But before they do, Florida's new unemployment director has said he wants to know what went wrong.
Judy Tanzosch can sum up her unemployment experience in a few words.
"The unemployment system in the state of Florida is just an absolute nightmare," said the Tallahassee woman and contract administrator.
Tanzosch's employers furloughed her for months as the economy and state shutdown.
"It took me, just as a summary, 45 days to get a completed application through," said Tanzosch. "It took almost three months to get any benefits. I actually went back to work and got my first paycheck before I got any benefits."
Her experience was enough to push her into action. Tanzosch has since become an activist, calling for unemployment improvements during rallies at the state capital throughout the summer.
"That system is so full of bugs that it just doesn't work," she said.
Florida's new Department of Economic Opportunity Director Dane Eagle said he aims to fix it. Since starting in September, Eagle has hired 200 new employees, is asking for money to hire more than 100 additional and is implementing an audit of the online CONNECT system.
The former lawmaker laid out his plan for us recently during an exclusive interview.
"We have a third party that's reviewing that," said Eagle. "That's going to come up with recommendations that we're going to review and I look forward to presenting to the legislature."
The contract with iSF Inc. costs about $247,000. Company analysts plan to examine pandemic performance and suggest ways to modernize.
The new audit won't be CONNECT's first. Florida has had several internal reviews of the system, spotting red flags as recently as last year.
Despite that, the system's failure helped make Florida the second-to-last state for on-time payments, according to U.S. Labor data. Only 36% of Floridians got benefits within three weeks this year. The national average was 67%.
"It was not able to hold up to the demand," said Eagle.
Eagle said he'll make clear to lawmakers next session what needs to change to improve those numbers, based on the newest audit's results.
"We'll be asking them for tools to move forward and make sure that is fixed," said Eagle. "So we don't go through this again."
Tanzosch was hopeful that would be the case but said her time in the system soured her optimism.
"Scrap it. Start a new one," she said. "Pay a company to do a new one and do it right."
Here's your Rebound rundown as DEO looks to correct CONNECT:
- The new director has an outside group auditing the online portal.
- For about $247,000, iSF Inc will look at pandemic performance and suggest ways to improve.
- DEO will then present the issues to lawmakers in hopes they'll offer the tools to fix them.
- This isn't CONNECT's first audit.
- It has undergone several internal reviews which spotted red flags before the pandemic.