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Dems Criticize Gov. Scott Over Troubled Unemployment Website

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Florida Democrats have criticized Gov. Rick Scott for failing to provide leadership or take ownership over the state's troubled $63 million unemployment website.

"In over three months, Rick Scott has failed to make fixing the system a priority," said House Democratic Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale in a conference call with Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and reporters.  "Rick Scott has never set a deadline or a goal for fixing the system."

Berman estimated that $20 million in claims have been delayed because of the new system.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry quickly called the comments from the Democrats "specious attacks." Asked about the system last Tuesday, Scott said the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the new Connect website, "will make sure it works." Scott then added that his goal is to get people working to "make sure that no one has to rely on any system to give them unemployment benefits."

Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio has placed most of the blame for the problems at the hands of Minnesota-based Deloitte Consulting, which built the system.

Deloitte -- which has faced questions over the rollout of multimillion-dollar websites in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California -- has said the Connect system "has surpassed the performance of the unsustainable systems it replaced."

Connect, rolled out last October, has been in the works since 2009 to replace a 30-year-old system jobless Floridians used to claim their weekly benefits, monitor accounts and request information.

The department provides up to $275 weekly to more than 200,000 unemployed Floridians.

After officials from the U.S. Department of Labor reviewed the website at the request of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the state agency announced that benefit payments would start to be sent to people whose continuing claims have been held up for "adjudication" for more than seven days. Panuccio estimated on January 15th that up to 60,000 cases have been flagged for review, up from about 48,000 when Connect went live on October 15th, 2013.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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