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On Your Side Investigation: 45,000 Missourians told to pay back unemployment benefits during pandemic

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 9:55 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 10:24 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Thousands of Missourians who received unemployment benefits during the pandemic are being told to payback some of the money.

They’re overpayment notices that could lead to a garnishment.

NOTE: Scroll down to check out options if you get such a notice

Just this week, state lawmakers called the Department of Labor Director to a hearing to testify about what happened.

During her two hours of questioning, Anna Hui said the state has overpaid more than $150 million in unemployment benefits to an estimated 45,000 Missourians.

“Without that unemployment check I couldn’t pay my rent that month,” said Stephanie San Paolo in Springfield.

Last spring, she was laid off because of COVID-19.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was terrified. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I’d never been unemployed before,” she said.

Unemployment funds made ends meet for about a month. She must pay it all back, $1,840.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” said San Paolo.

Same goes for Jami Bergesch in Monett, Missouri. She received checks for six months.

“You can’t go to work when you are sneezing, coughing, fever and on antibiotics. If that doesn’t qualify, I don’t know what does,” she said.

She has to payback nearly $16,000.

“There’s no way I can ever repay that on my wages. No way,” said Bergesch.

State workers don’t believe she cheated the system. The bill says non-fraud.

“I know it’s a mistake on their end. They just won’t fix it. They can take your income tax, garnish your wages, everything,” she said.

Both Bergesch and San Paolo tell On Your Side getting answers is not easy.

“It’s hours and hours of being on hold. And most of the time they disconnect you,” said Bergesch.

On Your Side repeatedly asked for interview with the Missouri Department of Labor. A spokesperson declined and sent an email saying:

Federal law requires unemployment payments to be made with the greatest promptness.

The email goes on to say sometimes they then get more information that affects the amount people were paid.

This spokesperson would not say how many Missourians received these overpayment notices or the total amount of money.

The governor wouldn’t talk to us either. Until reporters questioned him about it on Thursday.

“There were mistakes made. There’s no doubt about that. But at the end of the day, I think there is a responsibility as taxpayers money. If someone got more money than what they should have got, they should ask for it back. You don’t owe that to me, but to the people that paid it. There’s going to be someone else tomorrow wanting unemployment benefits too,” said Gov. Mike Parson.

On Your Side reached out Bergesch and San Paolo state representatives.

“I will use every bit of influence I have to make sure individuals who received those benefits do end up keeping them. That’s not something I see as a workable solution,” said Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-District 30).

Bergesch contacted Missouri State Sen. Mike Moon.

“It sounds like there may be a case that she may have to pay some money back,” he said.

Moon says if you’re in this situation, don’t be in a hurry to pay up.

“Don’t do it just yet. There maybe different answers. It could be that someone could see a change after they write the check. It’s going to be difficult to get that money back,” he said.

Both Bergesch and San Paolo have appealed. They’re waiting for a scheduled hearing.

Three lawmakers have also now filed legislation to stop Missourians from having to pay back the money.

If you or someone you know received an overpayment notice, here are options for disputing:

File an appeal.

Contact your state representative.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com

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