(WSYM) — Michael Elrod from Belleville says the most recent letters he received from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency are confusing and stress-inducing.
One tells him he is still eligible for benefits and needs to re-certify. One sent two days later has stressful news.
“I get this letter that I owe them $8,000 back,” said Elrod.
He says the agency is demanding he pay back all the money he received. Phone calls trying to resolve it got nowhere.
“Do you have this money to pay them back?" I asked him.
"Heck no. Heck no. I am still not working,” said Elrod.
The Michigan Unemployment Agency says this happened to hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan because the federal government has become more specific when it comes to who is eligible for pandemic assistance.
These letters telling people they owe thousands are causing families enormous stress. 7 Action News spoke to two lawyers who are experts in dealing with the unemployment insurance agency to take an in-depth look at what you need to do if this is happening to you.
They say number one, do not ignore the letter telling you to re-qualify under updated reasons to qualify.
The state had a list of reasons that people could select as they applied for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance.
These are four examples of reasons.
- Your work hours have been reduced as a direct result of COVID-19.
- You are seeking part-time employment and affected by COVID-19.
- You have insufficient work history to qualify for regular unemployment compensation and are affected by COVID-19.
- You are unemployed or working less than regular hours as a result of COVID-19 and were denied benefits on another claim.
These four examples are no longer qualifying reasons. As a result, people who selected these reasons are being asked to prequalify using a new list of qualifying reasons.
“They are very similar, the ones the agency is saying are not good enough anymore. They are very similar to the COVID-approved reasons. So be familiar with those and see what ones you do fit it,” said Rachael Kohl, Director of the Workers' Rights Legal Clinic at Michigan United.
Watch advice from Joshua Kay below.
That might resolve it. However, if you get a negative decision from the agency, you need to protest.
“They can then protest that result to start the appeals process,” said Joshua Kay, University of Michigan Clinical Professor of Law & Co-Director Workers Rights Clinic.
You want to protest within 30 days.
“Even if you don’t know what to write and you write, I protest, and you get it in within that thirty days that is better than doing nothing at all or writing multiple paragraphs and getting it in late,” said Kohl.
Continue to respond to negative decisions with protests until it is sent to an administrative law judge.
“When you get to the ALJ or the judge stage you are entitled to a free advocate in the state of Michigan,” said Kohl.
These attorneys are optimistic that if people are proactive they will not have to pay the money back, under the law.
“The federal government has issued guidance indicating that states may waive what the state would consider an overpayment. And the circumstances of this particular case where it is the state’s mistake and it is not as if these people are sitting on the money, they used the money exactly as they were supposed to to meet their daily needs, this is exactly the kind of circumstance where a waiver is appropriate,” said Kay.
The Unemployment Insurance Agency tells WXYZ it is authorized to waive overpayments if “the state determines that the payment of PUA was without fault on the part of the person who applied for benefits and that repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience as defined by state law.”
As for Elrod, he is calling on state leaders to make sure people aren’t put through such a stressful situation in the future.
“If we put a huge debt over your head that was going to make you wonder how you were going to take care of your children, how would you feel? That is what I say to them. Fix it,” said Elrod.