PARISH, Fla. (WFLA) — Robert Cornwell is grateful for the unemployment money he received after he lost his job due to the pandemic, but now he fears Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity is damaging his financial reputation in error.

“I would think the DEO’s responsibility would be more getting people back to work, and you can’t do that if you wreck your credit,” he said.

Cornwell said he realized in June that he’d been sent too much money so he returned $517 and received this receipt. But months later, he got a bill from the state asking for the same overpayment but for just $275.

When he couldn’t reach the DEO, he paid again, to protect his credit.

“That’s how much my credit is worth,” he said. “That’s how much people should think their credit is worth. $275. Yeah, I’ll pay it again if you don’t wreck my credit.”

It didn’t work. The bills kept coming. When he couldn’t get answers for the DEO, he knew he’d Better Call Behnken.

“Not everybody out there is a thief,” he said. “There are cases where their system is still not working properly.

Luckily for Cornwell, and the growing number of others receiving similar letters, our camera caught up with Dane Eagle, the secretary of the DEO, in St. Pete Beach.

“We understand the concern,” Eagle said. “Obviously it can be concerning to receive that in the mail. So under the governor’s leadership, we’ve done a few things. One, we’ve suspended collections. That’s just not right.”

Addressing resident concerns, the DEO sent Better Call Behnken some clarifying points.

“On overpayments, we are legally required to send them out. It’s required by state and federal law. But we understand the concern. Obviously, it can be concerning receiving that in the mail. Under the Governor’s leadership, we’ve done a few things:

  • Suspended collections through January 2023, looking at doing it further
  • Claimants can go on their account and apply for a waiver if their overpayment is for a federal pandemic program and the overpayment is not deemed fraudulent. If the claimant is determined eligible for the waiver, then and the Department can waive that overpayment.
  • Claimants also have the option to appeal an overpayment

We’ll have more comprehensive communications on that later this week. My team is working hard. We understand the concerns and answering for it. Thank you.”