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State And Vendor Clash Over Jobless Claims System

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — Florida officials and the company responsible for building the state's new unemployment claims website are in a battle over who is to blame for the site's ongoing problems.

The state switched over to the $63 million system in October. Since then, there have been continued complaints about unemployed Floridians frustrated at their ability to process claims.

The state has been fining Deloitte Consulting $15,000 a day since Dec. 23 and has withheld a $3 million payment. State officials say they will continue to assess the fines until the system is "fully functional."

Deloitte, however, this week sent a letter contending that it has met its contractual obligations and stated it "strongly disagrees" that the state had a right to withhold a payment.

The company said ongoing problems are related to the process used by the Department of Economic Opportunity to assess claims and not technical issues with the actual system. Deloitte officials also contend that more than 310,000 people seeking unemployment claims have used the new Connect system successfully since it was launched.

"We are continuing to work with DEO to clarify the true nature of the remaining issues and holding ourselves strictly accountable for fixing warranted defects as quickly as possible," states the letter signed by Jessica Blume, vice chairman and U.S. public sector leader for Deloitte.

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.

The new system is crucial to those seeking unemployment checks because since 2011 the state has required that people file for unemployment online. At first, state officials contended that any problems with the system were being worked on. The department has sent out daily updates noting the number of people receiving claim payments and how much money has been paid out.

But state officials in December began to publicly criticize Deloitte. Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the department working with the vendor, on Friday disputed that the company has done enough to fix the problems.

" We need more work from Deloitte computer programmers to fix the remaining problems plaguing Connect and less talk from their lawyers about why they should not be penalized $15,000 a day for a system that's still not working properly," Panuccio said in a statement.

The department said one of the biggest problems is that the number of disputed claims that are appealed has risen to "unacceptable levels." DEO officials are also now saying that they cannot verify if more than 300,000 people have received their unemployment checks because information from the system is "highly variable and inconsistent."

Panuccio announced earlier this week that the state was boosting the number of people it has hired to staff its call center and to handle disputed claims. The state is planning to hire more than 300 people over the next two months to speed up the claims system.

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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