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Unemployment benefit recipients asked to pay back funds after overpayment notices

VIDEO: Unemployment benefit recipients asked to pay back funds after overpayment notices
VIDEO: Unemployment benefit recipients asked to pay back funds after overpayment notices
Updated: Feb. 1, 2021 at 5:41 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A North Charleston woman says she was notified that she must pay $13,481 back to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

Alia Ward says DEW told her she was overpaid unemployment benefits and was not qualified to receive the funds that they already gave to her.

Ward says she was notified on Friday and hasn’t been able to get in contact with DEW to find out what exactly caused the issue.

“I contacted the overpayment line and after about an hour and a half of being on hold day it hung up on me,” Ward said.” I called them again and I was on hold for about an hour 15 minutes, and they hung up on me again.”

She says she filed for unemployment assistance in April of last year and was approved.

“How did you come to the determination to pay me and then eight months later you’re telling me I wasn’t eligible to receive these funds which is the most confusing part,” Ward said.

DEW reports that last year they overpaid $27 million in jobless benefits. However, department officials say the overpayment rate in 2020 was significantly lower than the overpayment rate for 2019. They say that’s because the “amount of money paid was enormously higher” in 2020 than that in 2019.

DEW says overpayments can be non-fraud and fraud related. Officials say cases relating to fraud can include identity theft and intentional representation of information among other things.

Officials say non-fraud overpayments occur “when the agency makes decisions based on the best information available at the time and later receives information that conflicts with the previous information and changes the decision.”

DEW says for example, if an unemployment claim is filed indicating a person was laid off and it’s later determined the person was fired for good cause, the person’s eligibility could be reversed. As a result, officials say an overpayment is created.

DEW says they are reviewing Ward’s case.

“I’m a single mom, it’s already complicated enough,” Ward said. “You’re making it even more complicated, because you won’t answer the phone, you won’t answer my questions. So I’m just like I don’t know what to do at this point.”

DEW says overpayments notices include options for a payment plan and to appeal or to apply for a waiver of “No Fault Overpayment.” People could also lose their tax refunds for repayment.

The DEW website says overpayments can also include the following:

  • You made a mistake when claiming weekly benefits
  • You were not ready, willing and able to work
  • You did not complete the required work search activities
  • You knowingly gave DEW false or misleading information when filing a claim or claiming weekly benefits

SCDEW released the following information saying in part:

“When initial claims numbers and dollars paid out go up like they did, overpayments will obviously increase as well. This is a challenge all state UI agencies are experiencing. Our agency is working daily to help people understand the UI process and ensure benefits are available to the deserving South Carolinians who are truly eligible. At the same time, we are doing everything we can to be good stewards of the money employers have paid into the trust fund.”

DEW says it provides a determination of eligibility or ineligibility on a claim based on the information provided by the claimant at the time of the initial claim. If it’s determined at a later date that the information provided to the agency was not accurate, this can cause an overpayment notice.

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