JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri executive leaders wanted to take back around $150 million in overpaid unemployment benefits to workers in the state.
During a lengthy committee hearing Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers agreed to not take back the money because it was the state’s mistake. Director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Research Anna Hui testified to lawmakers for more than two hours, saying the state overpaid more than 45,000 Missourians unemployment benefits.
The state wants to garnish wages and lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, said that’s not right.
“These folks have gotten this letter saying payment is due immediately, for a payment plan that they didn’t set up, saying that their wages are going to be garnished and that is patently unacceptable,” Rep. Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson) said during the hearing.
According to the Hui, the Department of Labor paid out more than $5 billion in unemployment benefits in 2020, compared to 2019, when the state only paid $236 million.
“We realize looking at the claims that were filed, that over 50 percent of the unemployment claims that were filed in 2020 were by first-time filers,” Hui said.
Cindy testified in front of lawmakers after she was overpaid unemployment benefits over the summer.
“In September, I got my first notice of overpayment determination, and it said I had been overpaid for a miscellaneous reason,” Cindy said. “In November, I got my first billing statement and said that I was to be paying $98.08 per month to pay back nearly $2,400.”
Cindy was a school bus driver in the St. Louis area for 27 years before she was furloughed.
“I believe we should not have to pay back any money that we used to get through our months of furlough,” Cindy said. “We did nothing wrong. We did everything we were supposed to do and there was no fraud or intent to get any benefits to which we were not entitled. This is money that we put into Missouri’s economy and to be honest, I hope I never have to deal with unemployment again.”
Hui said money from the state must be returned.
“Under state statute, we cannot waive an overpayment that has been paid out from the state’s unemployment trust fund,” Hui said.
The federal government is offering a waiver for federal dollars.
“The goof of kind of jerking folks around by you get it, no you don’t get it, oh wait, now you do, oh no, you don’t again, that is such a hardship on folks,” Rep. J. Eggleston (R-Maysville) said.
The average amount a person owes back for overpayment is around $4,000 Hui said.
“It may not seem like a lot of money to you to pay out a $4,000 check,” said Rep. Doug Clemens (D-St. Ann) said. “It will break them and they will have no place to go.”
Lawmakers asked Hui what her recommendation would be if she was in their shoes. She responded by saying, “I’m merely here to provide you with how the program runs and what our obligations are as the implementers.”
Hui was also asked multiple times about who makes the decision to take the money back from Missourians. She said the governor’s office. Last week, Gov. Mike Parson told reporters; people should have to pay back the money.
The Department of Labor said it will work with any Missourian who is being asked to pay back the benefits to set up and payment plan if needed.
Three House Democrats filed legislation Tuesday to stop Missourians from having to pay back their overpaid unemployment benefits. Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) filed House Concurrent Resolution 30 asking the governor to forgive the balance of non-fraudulent overpayments.
House Minority Whip Doug Clemens (D-St. Ann) filed House Bill 1035 which would change current laws from the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to collect overpayments, both federal and state.
Rep. LaKeySha Bosley’s (D-St. Louis) bill, House Bill 1036, would chance a statutory fix to prevent the department from collecting federal funds to send back to the federal government.