ARNOLD, Mo – School bus drivers from Jefferson County and St. Louis County are fighting the State of Missouri’s efforts to force them to repay unemployment pandemic funds they received during the COVID-19 crisis.

The drivers were out of work when all the schools shut down. They said the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations told them they were eligible to apply for the funds, but later said they had to pay it back. Cindy Knittig is one of the drivers who have just retired.

”We were all told that we were eligible to collect unemployment because we had no date to return to work,” Knittig said. “The division of labor had sent out emails saying you qualify. So, we all applied, we all got paid, and then they started wanting all the money back. They’re telling me I owe them almost $2,400, and I’ve appealed it when they took my state taxes as payment.”

The state claims Carole Tustanowski of Jefferson County owes $3,600, and they are ready to take stronger measures to receive the funds.

”Now, they’re telling us we owe all that money back, and they’re also threatening garnishments and liens,” Tustanowski said. “Of course, they can’t garnish me because I have since retired by they can put a lien on my home.”

The four bus drivers who were dealing with the same issues said they’ve appealed to the Department of Labor and other government leaders for help, but have gotten nowhere.

Tustanowski said repaying the money would be challenging to do.

“I’m on a limited income now, just the slightest thing will put me into arrears on my day-to-day living, groceries, utilities,” Tustanowski said.

FOX 2 reached out to the Department of Labor, but hasn’t heard back. We also called Missouri State Representative Peter Merideth from south St. Louis for assistance. Merideth has been helping citizens fight the state over repayments.

“And they’re probably right they did what they were told, and the government is just trying to kick them while they’re down and instead of responding to this problem,” Merideth said. “The governor’s office and the Department of Labor seem to be pretending it no longer exists. I’ve managed to help a lot of folks through this process by using my office and contacting the department directly, it shouldn’t take that. The federal government has tried to streamline the process and make it so that state can forgive the money. Our state has made it really hard to do that”.

In 2021, the state legislature tried to pass a bill sparing citizens from repaying the funds. It passed the Missouri House on a bipartisan vote, but it got stalled in the Missouri Senate.