Nebraskans want answers after state requests unemployment overpayments be paid back

Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 7:08 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - More Nebraskans are seeking answers from the Department of Labor after they say the state botched their pandemic-related unemployment claims by incorrectly approving them or overpaying them.

After 6 News aired a story explaining how one Omaha woman owes the state $27,000 after they told her she was incorrectly approved for two claims, more viewers have come forward with similar situations, all of them confused and angry.

One of those who reached out was an Omaha man, who wished to keep his identity hidden. At the start of the pandemic, he lost his job and was then receiving unemployment and pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA).

He received payments of $600 per week from April to June - 10 weeks - until he was able to find a new job.

“$600, plus my regular unemployment, the weekly bonus. And then I received a letter at the beginning of this year saying they wanted $6000 back.”

The man then lost his job again due to COVID, so he re-filed for PUA.

“I started receiving unemployment but I was receiving $21 a week and they were taking the rest and putting it towards the overpayment,” he says. “So they just took it back and...I’m stuck.”

Like 6 News has reported before, the man said he was applying weekly and being approved weekly, doing everything correctly, and given no explanation as to what went wrong.

He says that the Nebraska Department of Labor has told him it was a mistake on their end and that it would be fixed, but it hasn’t been. He filed an appeal in February and has yet to hear back.

Others who reached out also say they also owe thousands. One woman says the state is asking for $16,000 back. Another says they want $20,000 back.

In an email, one woman says her appeal to the state was denied.

“When the hearing came to be, I was unable to connect nor was I able to reach the caseworker working on my appeal. As such, State of Nebraska unemployment said that I failed to attend my appealing and the final decision was defaulted to the benefit of the state,” she says.

Another explains how her daughter was asked to pay back $13,000 after her appeal was denied.

“After waiting months for our appeal they had it within days after notification to us. And being unfamiliar we didn’t have much to say. So within a week or so, we received a judgment of having to repay 13K back. Even in cases of no fault of hers, it is their judgment for her to pay it back,” she says.

Of those who sent emails to 6 News, it totals $91,000.

“It sucked because I got kids I gotta support, kids to feed, baseball I gotta pay for, my bills, mortgage, and it’s like just doing extra stuff. I had to DoorDash every night after work to make sure everything was going okay,” he says.

Although the labor department again declined our request for an interview, they say overpayments must be paid back unless there’s a waiver. Federal legislation passed in the December 2020 COVID relief bill allows states to provide waivers to avoid paying back overpayments if the mistake was made by the state.

However, that legislation hasn’t taken effect in Nebraska yet. The department was unable to provide information as to when it might begin.

Since March 29, 2020, the labor department says that 63,684 PUA claims have been filed. Of those, 4.79% of paid claims had overpayments caused by inadvertent error or fraud.

Many who are impacted are still waiting for clear answers from the state.

“I know it’s an error and I get it and I wish someone would just take fault and fix it but I don’t think they’ll do that, because then they’ll have to admit that everyone else’s is wrong too,” the man says.

6 News also reached out to Governor Ricketts’ office on the topic but was referred back to the statement made by the labor department.

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