INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Brittany Mullins says after she lost her overpayment appeal, she received a letter stating she only had 15 days to pay back $25,444 in pandemic unemployment benefits to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
“Your heart sinks,” Mullins told I-Team 8. “Unless you’re independently wealthy, and then you wouldn’t be getting unemployment [anyways], no one has that kind of money.”
Mullins says she was a nail technician at Guys and Gals salon and day spa in Batesville. She says when the pandemic hit, the salon was forced to shut down for four months, which is why Mullins applied for unemployment.
“It makes the person fearful of filing for what they said that we were eligible to get,” explains Mullins. “I presented everything from the very beginning when I applied for it and they approved me.”
At one point, Mullins says she stopped filing for unemployment because she was no longer actively looking for work, in order to take care of her stepdad.
“My stepfather was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and it turned out to be cancerous. So I chose to help him get back and forth to appointments,” Mullins said.
Mullins says her stepfather passed away this past March. She says she tried to explain her situation to the appeals judge when he asked her why she wasn’t actively looking for work during that time, even though she had stopped filing for unemployment. The judge denied her appeal and gave her 15 days to pay back the overpayment.
Mullins says she is appealing once again. But the second appeal, she has to pay for.
“[It’s] $250 for the second appeal,” she said. “I was thinking, am I going to have to hire an attorney and go into my pocket that way?”
Mullins said between the pandemic and losing her stepdad, she’s just trying to stay afloat. She says she will start work again this fall.
“[For the DWD,] to take advantage of people when they’re down is kind of despicable,” Mullins said.
I-Team 8 reached out to the DWD to ask why those who were eligible for pandemic unemployment benefits are being asked to repay the money and why they are being giving a short amount of time to do so.
The DWD gave this statement to I-Team 8:
“As we’ve stated, overpayments unfortunately are a normal part of the unemployment insurance process. This is because the unemployment insurance system is balancing the need for quick payments to claimants/employees with the need for accurate charging of employers as employers fund the regular unemployment insurance system. An overpayment occurs when an individual is paid more benefits than he/she should have been paid either due to claimant/employee, employer or agency error. The most common reason for overpayments is when a person fails to report all wages on their weekly request for payments to the DWD. DWD notifies claimants if it is determined that they received an overpayment. The person may then appeal the determination that led to the overpayment. Additionally, the claimant can also request a waiver of the overpayment. There is more information on the appeals and the waiver process on the DWD website and in the COVID FAQs. If a claimant appeals or requests a waiver, there will be no attempts to collect the overpayment until those processes are resolved.
To be clear, if a person is eligible for benefits, they would not have an overpayment. The overpayment is the direct result of a finding that the person is NOT eligible for benefits. This decision could be made through the initial determination of the claims investigator, through an appeal to an administrative law judge, or to an appeal to the Review Board. For example, a claims investigator could find that a claimant is eligible. The employer could appeal to the administrative law judge, who might also find in favor of the claimant. The employer could then appeal to the Review Board who could overturn the decision and find in favor of the employer. This is just one of many examples of how the process could play out.
As to repayment of benefits, the claimant can enter into a payment agreement. They can contact the number on their overpayment notice to set up an agreement. As a reminder, all collections cease if the claimant has appealed or filed for a waiver.”Indiana Department of Workforce Development