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Unemployed workers in Michigan being asked to pay back thousands in UI benefits

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Posted at 10:41 PM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 22:41:25-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michiganders rely on the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) whenever they’re laid off from work.

The state has paid out billions of dollars in benefits but now wants some of it back.

FOX 17 has received several emails from people who say they’re getting bills from the UIA.

But they tell me they were legitimately laid off during the governor’s shutdown and collected benefits.

They’re now being asked to pay the money back.

COOK'S PUA ISSUES

Bruce Kirschbaum worked part time as a line cook at Vault Café and Bakery in Caledonia.

When the pandemic forced people to shut down in March, Bruce lost his job and filed for unemployment. His boss wrote the agency a letter explaining the layoff.

“After they sent that determination saying you don’t qualify for regular unemployment, they told me I did qualify for the PUA,” said Kirschbaum.

He picked up another job in July and continued to certify and report his wages. When answering questions about his original employer, he made a mistake.

“Because I started this new job I just got confused and I filled out the PUA based on the new job. So, all the answers were ‘no.’ So, I made a mistake and I acknowledge that,” said Kirschbaum.

During his layoff he did get benefits, but then he got a notice from the agency that he misrepresented himself. So, he made an appointment and called.

“They only give you 15 minutes, so I said, 'I really wanna get to the crux of the matter,' Kirschbaum told FOX 17. “And, I left that phone appointment more confused than I was before.”

The UIA confuses a lot of people, especially when they can’t get answers from new hires on the phone.

They’re told to be patient and everything looks good on their account.

But it did not look good to Bruce. He got another notice in the mail saying he owed all the payments back.

More than $9,700 he collected over three months. He mailed in his protest on Nov. 11.

“November 21st I got a letter from them saying, ‘You were late; the original determination is final.’”

Bruce got laid off again in November, but the benefits were denied. He says he doesn’t want that money.

He just doesn’t want to have to pay back what he rightfully collected.

“You know it seems pretty straightforward to me that I was laid off, you approved the benefit, I received it; all I did was take another job,” he said.

BARTENDER'S PUA ISSUES

“You took my job away from me,” said John Rogers of West Bloomfield.

He worked as a bartender for a hotel in Birmingham.

When the governor shut down bars and restaurants in March, he filed for benefits. He collected until he went back to work in late July.

“Everything that I received--they want it back; they said I’m not eligible for that,” said Rogers.

His MIWAM shows an outstanding balance of more than $16,000. There’s even a place for him to fill out an online check for payment.

John mailed and faxed in proof that he was out of work. He too has filed a protest and is waiting on an answer. Frustrating to say the least, as no one at the agency has provided him an update.

“They say I owe all that money, that I wasn’t deserving of that money when I was working in a restaurant full time, no problem, why do I owe it?”

PROBLEMS ADDRESSED

After FOX 17 Problem Solvers contacted the UIA, I found out that John’s issue is now being looked at by a manager.

Bruce’s collection and restitution claim has also been stopped, and he is even being sent an additional $1,300.

UIA RESPONSE

I asked the UIA: if all of these people had legitimate jobs and the governor shut them down, why would they owe?

Below are my questions and the agency’s response:

RYAN: If they don’t feel they owe, and the state sends requests and says it’ll garnish wages etc., what can they do?

UIA: Anyone who has a determination of an overpayment and does not agree with it should protest the determination. The steps to protest are included on every determination letter issued by the agency. Protests can be submitted online through their MIWAM account or in writing on Form UIA 1733 [michigan.gov]. The form is located on the UIA website. Protests must be received within 30 days from the mail date on their determination.

RYAN: They’re emailing me saying they were approved and then asked to pay back $10k-$16k. Why would they be told that if they had a legitimate claim?

UIA: There are a multitude of reasons why some or all payments may be determined ineligible after initial approval - often this leads to the overpayment of any benefits paid. Some examples of what could cause an overpayment are: failing to report all earnings for a particular week, adjudications on refusal to work, or you were found to be ineligible at a later date.

RYAN: Others never filed but someone else fraudulently used their SSN to get benefits. How can they get that figured out if they’re not getting answers on the phone?

UIA: Claimants should make sure they report the fraud online. They may also schedule a phone appointment for this issue. New phone appointments become available every week. They should also use the link provided to them for support when the alert pops up saying their SSN number was already in use. We have a technical team that makes outbound phone calls to claimants that will assist in getting their account up and running. These staff will handle technical issues with accounts. The link is: https://talentdashboard.state.mi.us/uihelp/ [talentdashboard.state.mi.us]

RYAN: Several people told me they called in, and the worker on the phone said it’s an error and they in fact DON'T owe. So how can these people make sure 100 percent, as it could drastically affect their taxes?

UIA: Often, switching between claim types could result in a temporary overpayment that gets adjusted during nightly system updates. This may be what some claimants are seeing on their accounts. As noted above, if a claimant disagrees with an overpayment determination, they should protest it (see q. 1).

RYAN: How many people are being asked to repay benefits?

UIA: We are unable to provide a number at this time.

RYAN: What are some of the reasons they would be asked to pay it back? I know one woman’s letter said “misrepresentation,” but she told me she was off work and submitted everything you asked for.

UIA: Misrepresentation must be investigated when a claimant provides information that conflicts with information the agency possesses. Please see q. 2 regarding overpayments.

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