One year after Dane Eagle takes over DEO, problems persist

Tuesday marks one year since Secretary Dane Eagle took over as head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

One of his goals was to improve Connect, the DEO’s unemployment website.

The agency has hundreds of additional workers. Nearly 2.5 million people have gotten benefits paid since March of 2020 but many others have issues.

Dozens of people write to complain to WINK News about the website and their inability to request payment and the lack of real people to speak to for help.

Gia Cuccaro has experienced one glitch after another with the Connect website and feels like every time the DEO implements something new another issue pops up.

“They fixed little things, tweaked here and there, throughout this past year and a half. But now we are right back to square one,” Cuccaro said. “It’s back to square one where people can’t even claim their last week now … It just seems that when you’re taking two steps forward, you’re taking 10 steps back.”

The DEO said it’s using more than $100 million to improve the unemployment system. They’ve hired more than 400 people to help make it better.

“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,” Eagle said back in September of last year.

Eagle was not available for this story.

WINK News was told that if we waited two weeks to talk to Eagle for this story, he would offer us an exclusive. We have renewed the request to speak with Eagle about the issues viewers are having with unemployment claims.

But community advocate Vanessa Brito worries the 2-year project that began two months ago will take too long for those who need help now.

“I’m mad because I can’t, I can’t fathom how it just keeps getting worse, and people’s situations just keep deteriorating,” Brito said.

Brito has dedicated the last year and a half to helping people get their benefits. The DEO blames the constant issues with Connect on the pandemic and the unprecedented amount of people applying for help.

On top of that, the DEO said it’s working to make sure fraudulent attacks and claims don’t happen.

“People are scared, scared that they’re gonna be out on the streets scared, they can’t put food on the table,” Brito said.

Brito doesn’t blame Eagle for Connect’s problems, saying you can’t fix years and years of issues in just one year, but she doesn’t feel the agency is transparent or communicative.

“I have claimants email him all the time, you know, and there isn’t even an auto-response anymore,” Brito said. “That does, you know, destroy the hopes of so many people.”

The DEO does say it considers communication a top priority. Still, the concerns and questions of many have gone unanswered.

“I mean, it’s the exact same problems that were happening in the beginning are happening again,” Cuccaro said.

Reporter:Andryanna Sheppard
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