78-year-old real estate broker waiting 18 months for unemployment benefits turns to News 6

DEO ‘on track’ to build new system to replace Connect by 2023

John “Jack” Sullivan never thought he would be collecting unemployment benefits at this stage of his life, but at 78 years old, the retired sales manager not only needed benefits, but was “stuck” waiting for those benefits since August 2020.

“It was really tough back then. No money coming in,” Sullivan told News 6. “Then I saw other people got money and I said, ‘Wow, what’s wrong with me?’”

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Sullivan had been a successful commercial real estate broker since 2004, a job he developed after retiring from the car sales business.

Between January and June 2020, sales went flat because of COVID-19 and he needed help.

He told News 6 he did not think he was eligible for jobless benefits because he was self-employed but when fellow brokers started collecting benefits he filed in August 2020.

“Never got a dime, no,” Sullivan told News 6. “I’d almost given up but then I heard your program.”

Sullivan saw a Make Ends Meet special report on News 6 that featured families getting thousands in unpaid jobless benefits. That convinced him to call for help.

“You guys have been great so far,” he said. “You’re my only I hope I guess.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity has been working to update accounts at a faster rate.

News 6 presented Sullivan’s case to the reemployment assistance team and on Thursday, a representative contacted him to begin the review process to backdate his benefits.

”Thanks for all your help. I will keep you posted,” Sullivan wrote in an email to News 6.

The DEO Connect system has been under heavy criticism since the demand for unemployment benefits began in March 2020.

State Rep. David Smith of Seminole County said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle has assured him a new system will be in place by 2023.

“It’s broken beyond repair,” Smith said. “We can’t fix it. We have to replace it.”

Smith said bids for the $74 million budget signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last year are coming in and the project is “on track and on budget.”

“I’m absolutely confident that we will have a replacement system that will meet the needs of Floridians,” Smith told News 6.

If you have an unemployment issue, email makeendsmeet@wkmg.com or text the words “Make Ends Meet” to 407-676-7428.

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.