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Florida Department of Economic Opportunity director resigns after months of unemployment problems

Leadership 'M-I-A' at department, state rep. says
Posted at 6:26 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 18:30:03-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Ken Lawson is no longer in charge of Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency in charge of the state's unemployment benefits.

"In the spirit of moving forward and turning the page, I have resigned from DEO," Lawson wrote in a letter.

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Since the pandemic shutdown started in March and unemployment soared, Lawson has been near the center of the criticism over DEO's ability to handle benefit claims.

"Leadership has been M-I-A at the Department of Economic Opportunity," said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. "Even right now, we have Floridians who have not seen a dime and Floridians who need their claims backdated, Floridians who have become homeless due to DEO incompetency."

State Rep. Anna Eskamani
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, says the entire Florida Department of Economic Opportunity needs to be scrapped and built again from the ground up.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has compared DEO's computer system to a jalopy at the Daytona 500. Over the months, the agency has added operators and expanded server capacity for its website.

"There's no accountability," said Beau Guyott, who back in April walked from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee over frustrations with the unemployment system.

Guyott said change is needed at DEO, and benefits need to be increased and extended beyond the 13 weeks.

"We need policies and new people at DEO, we need to completely rebuild this agency from the ground up, and when it comes to the right person at DEO, it really needs to be someone that isn't a career bureaucrat," said Eskamani.