Some unemployed Americans are being asked to return their jobless benefits months after they received the money. An investigation by CBS affiliate KMOV4 in St. Louis found that Missouri authorities are asking thousands of unemployment recipients to give back the weekly state payments or face potential consequences. Officials say they incorrectly paid thousands of people, to the tune of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Jenna Rieker, a single mom in Bridgeton, is one of many Missourians to receive a notice, which in her case arrived just before Christmas last year. According to KMOV4, a letter from the state informed Rieker that she had to repay unemployment funds she received between March and August because of what it called an error or omission on her part.
“I filled out the paperwork and I sent it in. I don’t know where I erred, but if I did err, why didn’t you contact me or call me?” Rieker said.
Missouri residents like Rieker aren’t the only ones around the U.S. who have been asked to return jobless aid after they were mistakenly overpaid by their state unemployment offices. In Ohio, officials last year said more than 160,000in August and September through its regular unemployment claims as well as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the federal program designed to help self-employed workers and others who aren’t typically eligible for jobless benefits.
States are either asking recipients to return the money or subtracting the funds from their ongoing unemployment checks, adding to the financial stress of being jobless during the pandemic.
In some cases, the overpayment was due to claimants misreporting their income, but errors by state labor department staff and computers errors also played a role. In Pennsylvania, for instance, a vendor processed duplicate payments, resulting in aid recipients getting too much money.
“That’s on the state”
Missouri Senator Brian Williams, who represents Rieker’s district, said he wants more answers from the Missouri Department of Labor. “If the state overpaid someone, that’s on the state, not on the individual,” Williams said.
After being contacted by KMOV4, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Labor sent a statement saying, “If the individual disagrees with [the department’s] decision regarding an overpayment or believes it is incorrect, they may file an appeal.”
Soon after, state officials called Rieker to tell her she wouldn’t have to pay back the money.
The state also told KMOV4 in a statement that it “is obligated, per federal guidance, to ensure that those receiving benefit payments are entitled to those payments and to collect overpayments when we discover fraud, errors or omissions that were made by claimants resulting in them receiving funds to which they were not entitled.”