* Center Square…
Reports continue of people receiving unemployment benefits when they didn’t apply for them, and other fraudulent activity. There’s also a slew of reports of independent workers like hair stylists who were shut down by the state in the spring because of COVID-19 being told they have to pay back the money they got for unemployment.
State Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian, said he can’t get anyone at the state agency to return his calls after constituents pleaded for help.
“They were shut down by the government,” Marron said. “They were promised relief, help to make sure they got through. That liked to never come but when it finally did get there, now months later after that’s been spent just so these people can just keep their head above water, the government’s demanding that they pay the money back?”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker reacted to the growing reports saying the federally created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is faulty because it required the benefactor to self-report their income level.
“They put down what they might have thought was going to be their income for the year otherwise, and the state has to verify those numbers on the backend,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said Congress created the program and it’s up to them to fix it.
* Pritzker is right that this is a national issue. New York Times…
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers gig workers, part-time hires, seasonal workers and others who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits, has kept millions afloat. The program, established by Congress in March as part of the CARES Act, has provided over $70 billion in relief.
But in carrying out the hastily conceived program, states have overpaid hundreds of thousands of workers — often because of administrative errors. Now states are asking for that money back.
The notices come out of the blue, with instructions to repay thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Those being billed, already living on the edge, are told that their benefits will be reduced to compensate for the errors — or that the state may even put a lien on their home, come after future wages or withhold tax refunds.
Many who collected payments are still out of a job, and may have little prospect of getting one. Most had no idea that they were being overpaid. […]
House Democrats have called for renewed pandemic relief to include a provision allowing states to waive overpayments when workers cannot repay them without severe hardship. The provision would apply to previous and future cases. A separate House bill, with bipartisan sponsorship, provides for forgiveness if the overpayment was not the recipient’s fault and “such repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience.”
Even so, IDES just has to find a way to be more responsive. And do it, like, now.
*** UPDATE *** Rep. Lindsey LaPointe…
I have filed a bill to waive unemployment overpayments during the pandemic if the state is at fault, HB5861. As reporting has outlined, a big source of the overpayments is PUA and we would need federal action to allow states to waive those overpayments.
After some media coverage, I am now receiving emails from residents quite literally from all over the state with their anxiety provoking experiences and desperation. The state is asking them to payback amounts in the range of $1k-11k. Here are a few highlights.
• “I received an email this week saying that I owe the State over $3,000. That’s about 20% of what they paid me to begin with. I understand miscalculations can be made, but how can you be off by 20%? It makes no sense. My entire family had COVID a few weeks ago, and I barely worked the entire month to recover and care for them. Still, I did not file for Unemployment because it is such a headache. Well, since I haven’t worked, I don’t have much money coming in, and Christmas is two weeks away as well. Where am I supposed to come up with $3000? I think this is an injustice. Why is it my problem that you can’t figure out benefits properly? Still, I doubt it is worth my time to appeal.
I’ve never been on food stamps, SNAP, welfare, or collected unemployment before. I just needed a little help to get me through the pandemic, and now I feel like I am being stabbed in the back”. - Byron, IL
• “Today I received a correspondence letter from IDES claiming that I was overpaid by almost 4k. They are demanding I pay this back in less than a month. When the pandemic hit in March, my hours were reduced from 40 hours a week to 10-12 hours a week. I spent several weeks trying to get approved for IDES, from March-May and finally received my benefits in June. They deposited a lump some, it was back pay from the date that I applied. Now they claim that I was over paid every single week that I received pay and they are demanding that I also pay ALL of the additional $600 back. I am utterly, sick to my stomach. I feel like giving up. This feels like a nightmare.” - Chicago, IL
Previous media coverage is here: https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2020/11/05/illinois-lawmaker-behind-bill-to-fix-ides-overpayment-problems/