STATEWIDE — The company that helped build CONNECT, the state of Florida's flawed unemployment benefits website, says the system's major problems during the pandemic is not its fault.

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The conversation with Deloitte on Monday was part of a meeting of the Florida Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

Deloitte leaders said they're sympathetic to the challenges Floridians have and are still facing with unemployment during this pandemic.

When questioned by state legislators, Deloitte officials said the system was working well when it first launched in 2013 and was stress-tested to handle hurricanes and a financial crisis. But the pandemic caused a drastic spike in demand.

For almost a year, Spectrum News has been reporting extensively on the issues with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's CONNECT system, including delayed benefits and issues accessing the site.

Deloitte leaders said they fulfilled their contractual obligations with the state.

"These challenges are unrelated to our work on CONNECT which began 10 years ago and concluded in May of 2015. CONNECT was designed to comply with Florida specific rules, requirements and policies, many of which were new and coincided with the launch of this complex system in October of 2013," said John Hugill, a consulting principal at Deloitte Consulting.

A state report shows CONNECT was not tested to meet the demands of the pandemic, and many issues went unaddressed years after the system first started.

Company leaders said the problems are likely because of server limitations.

"An increase in claim volume and demand on the system was overwhelming, basically, and required states to move with great speed to do that. Those who were on 'cloud' (computing) across the country were able to do that much faster," said Scott Malm, a labor workforce development leader at Deloitte Consulting.

Florida DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle said he understands concerns from Floridians still waiting for benefits and knows the system is still flawed, but staff are working around the clock to pay benefits owed.

Since March 2020, DEO has worked with more than 2 million claimants, with more than $23 billion in state and federal assistance.