Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS), the state agency that administers unemployment claims and payments in Ohio, says $413.6 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) overpayments were awarded last year. Nearly one in five people who applied for unemployment benefits under the PUA program have received notices from ODJFS that they were overpaid. According to ODJFS, it used reported income without verifying to get payments out quickly when PUA became available to Ohioans under the CARES Act, and only more recently has the agency started to verify income and adjust payments. As a result, amid the on-going COVID-19 pandemic many people have seen their benefits stopped and received notices that they need to pay back thousands of dollars.
Overpayment of PUA benefits to unemployment claimants who were not at fault for the improper amount and notices demanding repayment of money long-ago spent to survive the pandemic has been a nationwide issue. As a result, in December 2020, Congress passed the Continued Assistance Act and authorized states to waive the repayment if the state determines that the payment of PUA was without fault on the part of the person who applied for benefits and that repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience. But the waiver provision is permissive. That means Ohio could choose not to waive the PUA overpayments. At this time, it is not certain that Ohio will allow waivers, but signs indicate that the state may be headed in that direction.
In mid-February State Reps. Lisa Sobecki and Jeff Crossman introduced House Bill (HB) 139, legislation that, if passed, would require the Director of ODJFS to waive the collection of certain unemployment benefit overpayments received by Ohioans through no fault of their own. This legislation is aimed at helping those who were not at fault for the overpayment by ODJFS or for those for whom repayment would cause an undue hardship.
Sobecki and Crossman recognize that many Ohioans have been struggling to pay rent and buy groceries, and many had difficulties collecting their unemployment compensation, in the first place. As Rep. Sobecki has said, “Many Ohioans can’t afford to pay back an overpayment they might have received. This isn’t the time to require those overpayments.” They argue the state should waive unemployment overpayments to protect Ohioans if the payments were received in good faith through no fault of the unemployment recipient. According to Crossman, “Forcing unemployment recipients to repay the benefits they were initially told they were rightfully entitled to only adds more insult to injury during this pandemic. In many cases, the initial delays in receiving benefits took months to begin with and created substantial hardships for people.”
In late April, ODJFS interim director Matt Damschroder testified before the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, which is considering HB 139. Damschroder explained how the state mistakenly overpaid thousands of claimants. According to Damschroder the ODJFS system was set up with an incorrect system query for the PUA program. Damschroder told the Finance Committee that ODJFS intends to release a plan on waiving overpayments sometime in May. Whether the proposed legislation requires the state to waive the overpayments of PUA or whether ODJFS comes up with its own plan for waiver remains to be seen.
In the meantime, if an unemployment claimant receives a notice of overpayment, it is possible to file an appeal. If you have questions about unemployment benefits or related issues, the attorneys at FMR are here to help.
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