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Self-employed recipients of pandemic aid get requests to pay back money

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hoosiers who needed a lifeline during the pandemic are now being told they have to pay all the money back.

Several people reached out to News 8 for help.

Indiana’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program provided benefits to the self-employed, independent contractors and others who usually don’t qualify for unemployment. Federal money funded states’ programs as part of measures first signed into law in March 2020 by President Donald Trump.

Now, an unknown number of Hoosiers including Lynn Moreau have been told they need to pay it all back. Moreau, owner of the The Eyelash Place, has more than a half-century of experience making sure every last hair is perfect. Her business, like many others, was forced to shutdown in March 2020 for the coronavirus pandemic.

“Your property taxes go on. Your bills go on. Your income comes to a screeching halt,” Moreau recalled.

Even when she could reopen, business was down 75%.

“Nobody’s going to church. Nobody’s going to clubs. Nobody’s going to gatherings,” Moreau said. “Our business is all about looking good to do those things.”

Moreau estimates her business is still down 50%.

She and the other employees filed the paperwork for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to help make up for lost income.

In April, she saw an online notice saying she needed to provide proof of employment. She said she hadn’t heard anything from the state until then. “No,” Moreau said.

Moreau said she sent in the required documents but two months later, in June, just a few weeks ago, she finally heard she’d been denied.

“I got a notice they want all of it back. They want $10,000 back,” Moreau said. “It’s rather discouraging. You don’t have a lot of faith in what’s going on here.”

Moreau plans to go in person to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development on Thursday to get some answers, taking a decade’s worth of tax forms with her to back up her case.

“I certainly don’t want to pay it back. I don’t think I owe it to them,” she said. “I wonder how many people are having this problem because it’s just not right.”

News 8 has spoken with another person with a similar story from his business, too.

Indiana’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ended June 19.

News 8 on Tuesday reached out to the Department of Workforce Development Tuesday afternoon. They couldn’t speak to Moreau’s case individually, but sent back a statement.

“The most likely causes are either a finding of fraud or a finding that the claimant did not provide proof of employment. With either case, the claimant would have received a determination of eligibility with an explanation. As to Proof of Employment, this is a requirement that Congress implemented when it continued CARES Act benefits through the Continued Assistance Act. Claimants on PUA are required to submit proof of employment within the timelines set by the federal legislation, otherwise they forfeit PUA benefits paid under the Continued Assistance Act.”

Indiana Department of Workforce Development