TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Before Gov. Ron DeSantis was even on the job, he was warned.
10 Investigates tracked down a memo sent to his transition team in December 2018.
The memo lists three potential threats the new Department of Economic Opportunity leadership team should consider addressing including:
The technological and administrative capabilities of the Reemployment Assistance program may struggle in the event claims volume increases in the future
The memo was written more than a year before the coronavirus global pandemic which caused widespread layoffs across the state. By June 4, the DEO had received more than two million unemployment claims.
The rapid surge in demand in March overloaded and crashed the CONNECT system time and time again.
The memo was sent by Ken Lawson, then President of VISIT FLORIDA. Lawson is now the the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity but was pulled from the spot in mid-April when the unemployment failures piled on.
Spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre with Gov. DeSantis' office sent 10 Tampa Bay the following response:
The governor was not made aware of the extraordinary deficiencies of the reemployment assistance program. Having said that, no one could have foreseen the challenges presented to our state’s economy by COVID-19. Governor DeSantis has greatly focused on securing the appropriate resources to the Department of Economic Opportunity, including significant technology enhancements and he tasked Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter to temporarily oversee the direction of the agency. As of today, 1.2 million of eligible Floridians have received over $.4.4 billion in reemployment assistance benefits.
By the end of May, DEO Chief Financial Officer Damon Steffens testified in a hearing that the state has made improvements to its servers to better process claims and has hired thousands of more people to take calls.
DeSantis called for an investigation into how the CONNECT system was paid for, the amendments to the contract, along with other issues.
"It’s been a top priority because we’ve put so many resources into it. We know how important it is to people," DeSantis said about CONNECT, the site used to file unemployment claims in the state of Florida, one that he inherited from former Gov. Rick Scott.
While some of the backlog can be blamed on the global pandemic, Florida's unemployment system has been a disaster for years, something DeSantis has admitted on more than one occasion.
10 Tampa Bay tracked down a 2019 audit which was issued March 27, 2019, exactly one year before the coronavirus crisis.
The audit summary explains the purpose of the audit to evaluate design, technology, and overall efficiency. It also revealed problems found two years earlier had not been fixed saying, “The results of our follow-up procedures disclosed that many of the findings in our report No. 2017-039 were not corrected.”
Altogether, the audit listed 17 findings revealing flaws with the RA (Reemployment Assistance, also known as CONNECT) System.
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