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News 8 receives 450 complaints about Indiana’s unemployment system in 2 days

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — News 8 has received more than 450 complaints about Indiana’s unemployment system since Friday.

Nearly 200 of those complaints were from Hoosiers who faced demands similar to ones that News 8 last week shared with viewers: Pay back the thousands of dollars already received from the state even though you may have been eligible for it.

Almost every single complaint sent to News 8 over the weekend told of heartbreaking struggles to survive.

Of the three women News 8 talked to on Monday, all have orders to repay the state all or most of their pandemic unemployment benefits. One common theme in the rejections: The state claims it did not receive proof of employment, even though nearly all of the woman say the information was successfully uploaded on the state’s website.

Cythnia Shipley

Cythnia Shipley is a contract dog groomer. The place she worked permanently closed in the fall. The state has ordered her to repay $11,000 she doesn’t have; her house is in foreclosure, and money is running out.

“But, once I pay my utilities and my phone bill to (be able to) apply for jobs and whatnot, I’m broke,” Shipley said. 

Joann Reffitt

Joann Reffitt is a school-portrait photographer. Her company was forced to shut down during the pandemic. She has been ordered to repay nearly $4,000 of unemployment benefits.

“Our bosses said, ‘OK, you’re laid off for the pandemic. Claim unemployment.’ So, we did, and then, after the fact, they came back to us and said, well, during this timeframe you guys shut down. Well, we don’t shut down, but they still say we can’t claim it,” Reffitt said.

Gina Tomasello

Gina Tomasello was a self-employed cleaner. She was approved for unemployment from the beginning; now, the state ordered her to repay close to $7,000, which she is already doing at a rate of $100 a month.

Tomasello filed an appeal, which was denied when she didn’t verify her phone number. When she asked for a second appeal, the state refused. “And just because I forgot to verify my phone with them, they wouldn’t let me have another appeal,” Tomasello said. 

In summary

All three were approved by the Department of Workforce Development for unemployment benefits. Federal law expanded unemployment eligibility during the coronavirus pandemic to include the self-employed, contractors, and gig workers. All three have depended on the federal and state governments’ pandemic unemployment benefits to keep the lights on, food on the table, and roofs over their heads.

News 8 has again asked Workforce Development for direct answers to questions about the confusion, the documents on proof of employment, and about the appeals process for those ordered payback the money. Again, News 8 heard nothing.

News 8 is going to keep asking these questions until the commissioner of Workforce Development, Fred Payne, or Gov. Eric Holcomb provides real answers.