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Letters to unemployed warn of overpayment, some may owe thousands

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BATON ROUGE - Major sticker shock for people on unemployment since some of them received mail that says they owe back thousands of dollars. The letters say people were overpaid, and they have 15 days to file an appeal or pay the money back.

After WBRZ aired a 2 On Your Side story about the issue, the Louisiana Workforce Commission issued an apology for its error, but the organization took its time in responding to the matter. And in the meantime, the many unemployed Louisianians who received the 'overpayment' notices were shocked and confused. 

Katherine Stephens was working at the legislature when she was laid off due to the pandemic and became eligible for unemployment benefits in April.

"That was such a relief," Stephens said. "I was able to keep up with my student loans and pay the bills I have without any stress."

Stephens continued to apply for work and even tucked a few dollars away in her savings account. Then last week, her unemployment benefits stopped. On laworks.net, Stephens saw that there had been an overpayment on her claim. She started calling the Louisiana Workforce Commission but didn't hear back.

On Monday, she received two letters in the mail that went more into detail about that overpayment. The letters said she owed back $4,278 for unemployment insurance and $9,600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. Stephens is now worried she'll have to pay back $13,878 in benefits, most of which she no longer has.

"They're essentially asking me for $14,000 and I have 15 days to either pay it or appeal," she said.

Turns out, she's not alone. Two On Your Side has heard from multiple people who received letters this week from the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Many of them are being told they owe thousands of dollars back to the state. Like Stephens, they have questions that haven't been answered.

"I can't get anyone on the phone to find out if this is a glitch in the computer software, I have no idea," Stephens said. "The hardest part is just not having anyone respond, so I can't get any information from anyone about what the problem is."

On Tuesday, 2 On Your Side asked the Louisiana Workforce Commission about these letters via email. More information was promised that day, but 2 On Your Side did not hear back. After more people contacted 2 On Your Side about the letters, once again questions were asked about what the letters meant, if they went out in error and how many were mailed. A response was not given.

On Thursday, the Louisiana Workforce Commission issued an apology for its error, saying, ""(LWC) is aware of approximately 7,600 Unemployment Insurance overpayment notices that were generated on September 9 - 10, 2020. LWC is working with the vendor to correct this technical issue."

The organization also said the vast majority of individuals who received overpayment notices will not owe anything related to the issue.


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