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More Hoosiers receive unemployment demand letters as attorneys share tips on how to respond

DWD is demanding some people pay back thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits they received during the pandemic
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development is demanding some people pay back thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits they received during the pandemic.

WRTV Investigates received dozens of emails and social media messages who saw our investigation last month and say they too received demand letters from DWD.
Posted at 10:50 PM, Apr 19, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS— Our investigation into unemployment overpayments has prompted a big reaction from workers who say it happened to them too.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development is demanding some people pay back thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits they received during the pandemic.

WRTV Investigates received dozens of emails and social media messages who saw our investigation last month and say they too received demand letters from DWD.

"When you're given something by the government to help you and then they turn around two years later, you have to pay it back,” said Ashley Larsen of Fishers. “To me it's just not fair."

Larsen reached out to WRTV. She lost her restaurant job in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“We were let go,” said Larsen. “Our manager told us to file for unemployment.”

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development sent Larsen a demand letter to repay her unemployment benefits.

"I received this letter in the mail and it said you missed your court date and you owe $14,163,” said Larsen.

Larsen looked for help and found attorney Jennifer Terry with Indiana Legal Services, a nonprofit that provides free legal aid to low-income Hoosiers.

"As your story illustrated, there are so many Hoosiers that these pandemic benefits were an absolute lifeline during the pandemic,” said Terry. “It kept them out of poverty."

Terry said if you get a demand letter, first of all, do not panic.

“It just shuts people down, so they should push through that,” said Terry.
 
Terry said you should take the following steps if you’ve received unemployment.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’VE RECEIVED UNEMPLOYMENT

  • Check Uplink account regularly
  • Keep your address up to date with DWD
  • Read all communications from DWD
  • Pay attention to deadlines including to appeal
  • Appeal or request waiver

"They shouldn't give up,” said Terry. “They should continue to put in the effort and the time to address, because there are things that can be done to bring some relief."
WRTV also asked Indianapolis employment attorney Shannon Melton for more advice.
 
"First thing is to take a breath, the world is not ending,” said Melton.
 

Melton said if you believe you did qualify for benefits, file an appeal.

You can often resolve the issue by providing DWD with proof of your work history, said Melton.

"If you've got documentation, pay stubs, being able to show more of your story on paper, on documents is better than going in with a good story,” said Melton. “Go back through your emails and text messages to prove your pay, how many hours you were getting, things of that nature. It’s still better to have something rather than nothing so the judge has something to make a decision on.”
 
When you mail or fax in your documents, get proof you sent it.
 
“Make sure it has tracking or signature location because I will tell you just because you sent it doesn't mean they received it, and they will hold it against you,” said Melton.
 
Appeal hearings happen over the phone so do not miss that call, said Melton.
 
“Make sure you answer that, because if you do not answer that, now you haven't attended the hearing and you'll have it ruled against you,” said Melton.
 
WRTV Investigates found unemployment overpayments is a normal part of the unemployment process and is happening in all 50 states. 

Indiana has had $121 million in unemployment overpayments since the pandemic began, records show.
 
The state aimed to get benefits quickly during the pandemic when people were out of work, and now they’re going back and reviewing those cases.
 
“They were pushing the benefits out to help folks without doing a proper investigation into the underlying claims,” said Melton.
 
Part of the reason the overpayment amounts are so high—in 2020 and 2021, the federal government doled out an additional $300 and $600 a week in unemployment compensation.
 
“We received that for quite some time and it wasn’t anything we applied for,” said Larsen.
 
Larsen says after getting Indiana Legal Services involved, the state reduced her overpayment from $14,163 to $493.
 
“Find somebody that can get you through the process,” said Larsen. “You're not alone."

ADDITIONAL TIPS

  • Hire an attorney but make sure it’s financially worth it
  • Set up a monthly payment plan with the state
  • Know the state can garnish your wages and take your tax refund
  • If you enter into a repayment agreement and stay current on payments, DWD will not take further action to collect your overpayment such as through wage garnishment or tax intercepts
  • To request a waiver, complete the Overpayment Waiver Request Application, available as Form 52986 at: https://www.in.gov/dwd/2406.htm
  • DWD will pause any collection efforts while your request for a waiver is pending, although you may still receive collection notices.
  • You can pay “voluntary payments” of any amount to reduce the balance, even if you are not able to enter an agreement to pay the suggested monthly payments

Both the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Governor’s office have not agreed to speak with WRTV on camera about the unemployment overpayment issue.
“If a claimant appeals or requests a waiver, there will be no attempt to collect the overpayment until those processes are resolved,” said DWD spokesperson Randy Spieth in an email to WRTV. “If an individual is eligible for benefits, they would not have an overpayment. An explanation to this determination can be found on claimants’ Uplink account.”

DWD has fully or partially processed 28,191 waivers over the last three years, said Spieth.

“Processed means the waiver was fully overturned, and the claimant does not have to pay back any amount,” said Spieth in an email to WRTV. “Or if it was partially, the amount determined was less than the original overpayment amount.”

Click here to watch or read our original investigation into unemployment overpayments.

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