New head of DEO explains plans for agency, clearing backlog of unemployment claims

Published: September 22, 2020 5:54 PM EDT
Updated: September 23, 2020 7:28 PM EDT

The new executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said that one week into his job, his first assessment is what he calls a “workload vs. manpower issue.”

Dane Eagle spoke with WINK News via Zoom from his car as he traveled to survey Hurricane Sally damage in Pensacola and answered some of your more pressing questions.

RELATED: Suggestion Box – Florida’s unemployment system

“One thing I’ve really been focused on is communication,” he said, discussing his plans for the department.

“While there’s a great team assembled, they need more help. And with the balance budgets, with the government jobs, that is a cost that we have to incur,” he said. “We’re ramping up staff in our communications department, ramping up staff in our legislative affairs department, ramping up staff in our Reemployment Assistance department and the IT department. Those are all very crucial areas to addressing this problem.”

The main issue: the remaining backlog of claims for reemployment assistance, Eagle’s number one priority.

“We’ve paid 97% of eligible claimants. That’s a great number, but the 3%, that means 3% of Floridians, 3% of families out there are still waiting to get … what’s owed to them. So that’s something that I’m committed to.”

RELATED: DEO’s Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard

He couldn’t give a timeline on when that number will reach 100%. Meanwhile, he said he’ll be reviewing everything that’s gone wrong to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“The governor has admitted that the system was designed to fail people. Terri Adams wants to know what are some concrete plans you have to improve fix or entirely replace the unemployment website?” asked WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on behalf of a viewer.

“The CONNECT system has obviously had its problems and we’re trying to address that. We’ve got a good IT team looking into it. They’re overworked as well, so we want to make sure that they’re addressing the right issues at the right time, doing the right builds, having the right programs installed so that people can get that user-friendly access, that we would all hope and expect like we would if we go to Amazon or something like that,” Eagle replied.

“We’re trying to assess long-term what’s the best thing to do, rebuild or replace, but in the meantime, we’ve got to maintain and continue to rebuild and try to be innovative with the current system we have. Unfortunately, that’s the only answer we have in the short term.”

Eagle is also preparing for the next legislative session when lawmakers are expected to propose an increase in unemployment benefits.

On behalf of a viewer named Don Austin, our reporter asked: “Will you try to make that happen? Do you want to see benefits raised?”

“It will be up to them to decide. We won’t certainly meddle in that process, but we will provide the data and the information they request so that they can make the right decisions,” Eagle said.

The director said that before his appointment, he reached out to every legislator in the state to get their perspectives on what they’ve seen with their constituents, what has worked and what hasn’t, and suggestions for improvement.

“I think that information is invaluable, being able to come into DEO and help assess from the ground level what we were seeing, and think about it collaboratively, and bring our ideas together and really try to be innovative and think outside the box.”

Eagle said he’s making himself available like he did as a legislator and improving on communication with you.

“I think that some of the best ideas are going to come from claimants who have dealt with the system, they’re going to come from the legislators who are working with those claimants,” he said. “I’m looking at everybody for communication and ideas. So send them our way.”

Have suggestions on how to improve our current unemployment system? Submit them here and we’ll take them straight to the top.

For ongoing updates and information on unemployment, follow WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on Twitter and Facebook.

She also updates the WINK News FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.