DEO director set to present analysis of Florida’s aging unemployment system

System blamed for long delays in jobless benefits

ORLANDO, Fla. – The findings of a three-month analysis of the Department of Economic Opportunity’s aging Connect system is scheduled to be presented Monday in Tallahassee to the state Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

Sources told News 6 DEO Director Dane Eagle had expected to make the presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee to present the anticipated cost of revamping the system.

It is likely there will be four options presented, each with a different price tag.

They include retain the already existing system, custom development of a new system, a so called commercial off the shelf system, or another state agency system.

One plan presented is spending about $155 million over the next two years to improve and modernize the current system.

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In an interview with News 6 late last year, Eagle conceded the current system could not handle the staggering demand for unemployment benefits.

“There’s a lot more we need to do,” Eagle said. “My job will be to go to the Legislature with that review and some ideas and recommendations so we can fix this once and for all.”

Eagle said he would be asking for an additional $5 million to bring in additional staff to handle the calls for unemployment issues.

But that request has nothing to do with the software overhaul needed to meet the current demand.

There will be public testimony during the meeting scheduled to run from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, of Orlando, said she wanted to see the numbers before she decided whether the system should be updated or simply replaced.

“To fix it is going to cost a lot of money,” Stewart said. “Because there are a lot of problems.”

Stewart has been working with News 6 to help get unemployment accounts in front of DEO supervisors.

Many unemployed workers report waits for benefits as long as a year.

“With all the money we’ve put in so far, we haven’t had a good cure,” the veteran lawmaker said.

The report is based on a three-month analysis by ISF INC., an IT and strategy firm with several states in the company’s list of clients.

The findings follow a 2019 review by Florida’s Auditor General.

The audit found 17 problems and presented specific recommendations to repair the system but the state never acted on the recommendations.

Stewart predicts the cost of revamping the current system could easily exceed $10 million that would be added to the $119 million the state already invested into the system last year.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy plans to be all ears Monday when Florida’s DEO Director presents the findings of a recent audit regarding the state’s aging unemployment system.

“I’d like to see where we are now, but from my vantage point, I would think we’d need an entire makeover because the system hasn’t worked,” said Bracy. “What I want to see is if there has been a change in process and thought patterns. Are we willing to increase the pay, is the website more accessible?”

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.