Florida Unemployment Insurance False Fraud Determinations
In 2013, Florida released a new unemployment benefits website called CONNECT, built by Deloitte. Applicants immediately experienced issues causing unemployment benefits to be delayed or incorrectly denied. CONNECT created significant hurdles for people claiming benefits and included an aggressive system for flagging application errors called the Fraud Initiative Rating and Rules Engine (FIRRE). For example, FIRRE would flag cases where it detected trivial discrepancies on an application—like if someone’s name on the application was not exactly as it appeared on their driver’s license, or an apartment number was formatted differently.
FIRRE would also flag when multiple people filed claims from the same computer, which disproportionately impacts Black, Latinx, and other people of color who are less likely to have a personal computer or broadband at home than white people. Inconsistencies found by data matches would lock an applicant’s account, requiring intervention by a small group of higher level employees. Claimants had limited time to respond to requests for verification to resolve inconsistencies: 48 hours after an initial phone call and 7 days to respond to the subsequent letter. The hurdles to getting benefits extended beyond the computers, as claims representatives were instructed to hang up on people who offered inconsistent information. The wait times for reaching a claims representative were extensive, and an 8-hour hold time was common during the height of the COVID-related unemployment crisis. At the same time, the system failed to tell the applicant if they entered certain disqualifying information, so people were accidentally approved for benefits they later had to pay back.
In 2019, Florida’s Auditor General released a report on CONNECT and FIRRE. The audit confirmed that many people were not given notice and subsequently had their cases locked, with no caseworker training on how to fix these situations. Since Florida’s launch of CONNECT, claims flagged as “fraudulent” increased more than 600%. By 2015, Florida’s percentage of unemployed people receiving jobless benefits was the worst in the nation, at under 12%, and has stayed the second worst since then. In one report, the system’s fraud detection program identified 70,000 fraudulent claims for 2014, even though there are usually only 60,000-90,000 unique Florida unemployment benefit claims in a given year. Many Flordians claim that the system was “designed to fail” considering the government’s lack of action on the system despite multiple audits and reports concerning its failure.
Status of Issue
Florida officials are currently seeking to replace—or at least overhaul—the system. One such plan comes from Department of Economic Opportunity Director Dane Eagle, with consultation from ISF, Inc., to replace the system by 2023.
Links to More Information
Presentation on the FIRRE System
2019 Florida Auditor General’s report
Florida took an aggressive approach to unemployment fraud. Was it worth it? - Tampa Bay Times
More evidence that Florida’s unemployment system was designed to fail - Editorial - Tampa Bay Times
Florida’s unemployment fix could cost $244 million - Tampa Bay Times
2021 ISF Report - Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Improved Delivery of Reemployment Assistance Benefits – Final Report
Key Parties Involved & Contact
Florida Policy Institute
Primary Advocate Contact: Cindy Huddleston
State of Florida Auditor General
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
A guide attorneys and advocates for using the fair hearing process to both challenge benefits tech decisions and gather information for further advocacy.
This guide will help you think through how you can use public records requests to help find out why the state decided to implement a benefits technology system, how they implemented it, and how they are using it.
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