TALLAHASSEE, Fla — For more than seven months, people have grown more frustrated and emotionally drained as they wait on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to pay them unemployment benefits they applied for earlier in the year.
ABC Action News reporter Heather Leigh has pressed the department on a multitude of issues, including lack of payments since March. She spoke to a DEO leader one-on-one over Zoom on Wednesday.
“Is that acceptable to you?” Leigh asked.
“No it’s not acceptable,” said Dane Eagle, who is now the department's third Executive director since March.
Folks hope three is a charm with Eagle already pin-pointing two problems that led jobless Floridians into financial distress earlier this year.
“What I’ve seen first and foremost is that we have a staffing problem,” Eagle said. “We don’t have enough people available to address that demand And the IT system isn’t capable of addressing that demand.”
Eagle admits the call center agents hired in April and May, who couldn’t do much more than reset your PIN, were a short-term fix partially because they weren’t trained to handle claims.
On top of that, thousands of people felt they had slipped through the cracks and been forgotten about.
It’s why ABC Action News began compiling daily spreadsheets to sent to the DEO.
“If those spreadsheets hadn’t been sent in, would we be where we are right now?” Leigh asked.
“I would like to you think that we would be, that no matter what we would be in a better position, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Eagle said.
It’s one reason his first order of business is to hire more experienced behind the scenes employees to work on claims individually — especially the more complicated scenarios.
As for the CONNECT system, “A lot of folks wanna throw it out the window,” Leigh said.
Which may be an option, figuratively, according to Eagle.
“Do we need to replace it completely, can we strip it and evolve it in a different way?” asked Eagle. “We’re going through that process right now”
He also plans on implementing better communication with not only journalists, and elected officials but Floridians themselves when it comes to navigating the system.
And to those who are desperately waiting on money still, “We understand and we hear your cries for help,” Eagle said. “Please be hopeful, please continue to hold on to hope.”