ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- There was a massive response to a News 4 investigation reported Monday night, and now, lawmakers and leaders are vowing to help. The State of Missouri has been demanding people pay back the unemployment benefits many say were desperately needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I don't have something by the end of January, I am on the street,” said Bridgette Fraschetti. She is one of thousands who are now in debt to the State of Missouri. “They say I owe $5,360.”
“Now, they want $2.400,” said Dominick Randazzo, who is in the same situation. “You can be on hold for four or five hours and then they hang up on you."
People all around the state have been receiving a letter, some saying there was an unintentional error or omission in their unemployment benefits. As a consequence, they have to pay back the unemployment funds many of them had received over months, money they say they desperately need.
“Are you going to come and take the clothes off my child's back? Because that's what I used to buy with some of the money,” said Jenna Rieker.
News 4 Investigates revealed data showing more than 11,300 people were overpaid under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation fund. The total amount is over $44 million of federal taxpayer funds, administered by the state.
Rieker, of Bridgeton, is one of the many Missourians to receive the notice. In March of 2020, she was furloughed from her customer service job, exactly one year to the day after she had received an award for her hard work.
“Should the state have been able to catch these errors sooner?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager.
“Yes, they should have,” said State Representative Doug Clemens. “And that comes down to the resources we give the department.” Clemens says outdated systems and understaffing may to blame.
But now, he says the state shouldn't be asking for the money back, in most cases.
“Ultimately the department has the discretion to forgive these debts and in these times, I think we honestly need to do everything in our power to make sure the money stays in these folks' pockets if it’s no error of its own,” Clemens said.
He says in a time of crisis, the state shouldn't threaten to penalize people for simple mistakes.
“And those penalties are very, very real, with no intervention, their paycheck will be garnished, they will lose their tax returns. Either way we need to intervene and make sure those things don't happen,” Clemens said.
He's drafting a letter to the governor, but in the meantime, if this is happening to you, he says, “Please reach out to your elected official, that's what we are here for, we work for the people,” he said.
“I am appalled, it’s absolutely unacceptable and I am appalled at their behavior,” said Fraschetti. People like her say they can't even believe it. "It’s disheartening, I have lost my faith in the system."
Missouri isn't the only state dealing with this. Many others are reporting they, too, incorrectly paid people.
Illinois reports it overpaid about $36 million from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Fund.
Tuesday, News 4 received a statement from Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner's office:
“Congresswoman Wagner’s constituent services office is available every day to help constituents who are having issues with unemployment benefits. If anyone has been asked to repay benefits or are having other issues, please contact the office at Wagner.House.Gov and we will work with you to review the process and refer your detailed case to our legislative liaison at the Missouri Department of Labor.”
Following News 4's initial story, hundreds of Missourians reached out to us for help. Here's what you can do:
If an appeal has not already been filed in this case, you can find more information about how to do that by clicking here.
Contact your state and federal elected representatives. Some have already committed to providing assistance and they are considering measures that would waive what is owed. You can look up your representative here.
If you are being told to pay back money, we want to hear from you. Email Lauren Trager at Lauren.Trager@kmov.com