Sen. Bill Nelson calls for investigation of Florida’s unemployment benefits website

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for a federal investigation into log-on problems and delays that jobless Floridians are having with the state’s new $63 million website for unemployment benefits.

Nelson, a Democrat, is asking the Labor Department to look into concerns users are reporting about the Department of Economic Opportunity’s new portal for filing claims for benefits.

The so-called CONNECT website debuted last week, after the state stopped accepting claims for several days to phase-in a more secure, fraud-proof  system.

About 240,000 people qualify for jobless benefits, with the state requiring them to make claims online, rather than in person at unemployment offices.

Nelson said that he asked Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez to step in and investigate, because “states administer their own unemployment compensation program … under the Department of Labor, which oversees many of the programs our nation has for American workers, including unemployment benefits.”

In a letter to Perez, Nelson wrote: “The main purpose behind this federal-state program is to help stabilize the economy during recessions. But it certainly won’t be of much help in my state if those who have lost their jobs face protracted delays in seeking or receiving benefits.”

The state had warned people on unemployment that the new CONNECT system requires more personal information from users to discourage fraud. But people are reporting having trouble enrolling, accessing the site and filing claims.