For more than a year, people have reached out to NBC 6 Responds with questions and concerns about getting their unemployment benefits.
They are still reporting problems with the online unemployment portal, verification process, and issues getting the benefits they are owed.
NBC 6 Responds recently took their concerns to the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Dane Eagle.
Despite repeated requests, it was the first interview granted to NBC 6 Responds with anyone from the agency in over a year.
When asked if the DEO has done enough to help people who have struggled to get unemployment benefits during the pandemic, his answer was “no.”
“There is always more to do,” he added.
Eagle took over as the head of the state’s unemployment agency in September.
Responding to every consumer complaint
Since then, he has been front and center during talks with state leaders on how to revamp the system.
“It will no longer be CONNECT when we are done with the overhaul. It will be something completely new, user-friendly, something that works,” Eagle said, referring to the online unemployment portal.
For months, NBC 6 Responds has received complaints about a variety of issues related to the CONNECT system, from “error messages” to “glitches” preventing many from applying for benefits on the online portal.
Over the course of the pandemic, the state spent roughly $39 million to update the system. But some say more needs to be done.
NBC 6 asked Director Eagle why the agency decided to rebuild the CONNECT system instead of investing in a new one.
“We looked at doing that,” Eagle said. “It would cost more, and it would take even longer.”
He added, “What we were able to do was salvage pieces of it, coding. There are certain things that are in the system we can salvage that are beneficial to the claimants of Florida.”
The State Legislature approved $94 million to make changes at the agency.
Eagle said this money will go toward converting the online portal over to a cloud-based system, creating departments of accountability within the agency, and creating a new user-friendly online help center.
Some viewers also told NBC 6 Responds locked accounts are keeping them from accessing their benefits. It’s a problem that cannot be fixed until they verify their identities with the DEO.
But some said despite following the suggested steps from the agency, their accounts remain locked.
Eagle pointed to fraud as a reason why people are getting locked out of their accounts, saying bad actors are clogging down the system.
He also said money will be used to hire more people who can handle complicated adjudication issues.
Many of these changes are months, if not more than a year, away from being implemented.
In the meantime, Eagle is asking for more patience from unemployed Floridians.
“We say they are not forgotten, we hear them, we are addressing the situation,” Eagle said.