I-Team 8

Indiana Workforce Development waives $5M in pandemic benefits

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After nearly a year of I-Team 8 demanding answers from the Department of Workforce Development on why thousands of Hoosiers were being asked to repay unemployment benefits they were eligible to receive, the department says they have waived $7.3 million in unemployment overpayments since September 2020.

A total of $5 million of that has been directly from the federal pandemic unemployment program.

“There was panic within the pandemic,” said Indiana state Rep. Greg Porter, a Democrat from Indianapolis. “A constituent of mine, she went through it (and) she saved the paperwork. It still took her nine months, taking off work twice, to go downtown to plead her case.”

More than 1,000 Hoosiers emailed I-Team 8 describing similar issues.

In July, I-Team 8 demanded answers from Fred Payne, the commissioner of Workforce Development. He said, “We only want to go after overpayments that people did not legitimately receive.”

However, many Hoosiers told I-Team 8 the process of getting things resolved was complicated and even more so stressful.

Jennifer Glynn, who began an unemployment Facebook group last summer, said, “Seeing some of the things that they went through, it was tough at the moment. … They were about to get kicked out of their home or apartment, or they didn’t have food or needed diapers.”

Glynn was not an expert in unemployment, just a mom who had been through the process before. She regularly gave advice on how to navigate the employment system and touched thousands across Indiana who leaned on her for guidance. In the last few days, she says, she has taken the group down after doing all she could.

“I was already fixing PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) issues when the DWD was just starting to train their workers on PUA and that was pretty shocking in itself,” Glynn said.

Porter, the state representative, says Indiana has a $5 billion surplus and that more of the money needs to be dedicated to upgrading technology and training at Workforce Development.

“People are intimidated when they get on the computer,” Porter said. “You have to have individuals who are like on-boarders to help people go through this process, and you had to have the IT (information technology) to accept all the work that needs to be done.”

A spokesperson for Workforce Development sent a statement to I-Team 8:

“To date, DWD has made decisions on about 2,500 individual waiver requests and 5,400 are pending review. DWD remains committed to granting a waiver to every Hoosier who is entitled to receive one.”

The department also reports it’s “in the process of implementing several blanket waivers, which will increase the overall amount waived and will also resolve many of the individual waiver requests received. DWD is using the flexibility provided by the U.S. Department of Labor to issue blanket waivers.”