DEO director says agency is ’100% committed’ to getting benefits to all eligible residents

ORLANDO, Fla. – William Couper just laughed when asked if he was frustrated with the Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity Connect system.

The furloughed food event specialist has been out of work and collecting unemployment benefits since March 2020 without a hitch. But this March, he said everything changed when he was locked out of his account after he cleared the state’s security checkpoint.

“The thing that gets me is what’s the reason for the lock? I.D. theft or what?” a frustrated Couper asked News 6.

The U.S. Secret Service along with the DEO Fraud division has been investigating cases of stolen identities used to apply for state unemployment benefits and Small Business Administration loans.

In Florida alone, there have been millions of dollars redirected to bank accounts set up by imposters who have cheated the system. CEO Blake Hall said the verification process has been effective in curbing online cheats.

“About 10% of the folks will have to go through a video chat process,” Hall told News 6. “Sometimes it can take a few days after verification for the accounts to get unlocked.”

Hall, a former Army intelligence specialist, said the DEO acknowledged a glitch with the identity verification process, but he said that was corrected on May 2. Hall told News 6 first-time verification will take 72 hours to clear the system and “get unlocked.”

Couper’s wife Karen has attempted to help her husband get into his account, but the locked status had not changed as of May 19.

“It’s putting a damper on paying important bills that we need, electric and food,” she said.

News 6 sent the issue to the DEO’s reemployment team for review. DEO Director Dane Eagle said many cases are taking a few days to a few weeks to be reviewed but that things will be getting better as more than 400 employees will be brought in to handle the demand later this summer.

“We are 100% committed to making sure people that are eligible receive the payments that are owed them,” Eagle told News 6. " We have to work those (cases) behind the scenes and that continues to be a challenge when it comes to CONNECT.”

Starting next week, News 6 will introduce a weekly newsletter with the latest leads on jobs, links and unemployment benefits.

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