(The Center Square) – Missourians who received an overpayment of federal unemployment benefits in 2020 can apply for a waiver to become exempt from repaying the excess amount, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced. However, the department is seeking the return of overpayments of state benefits paid in error as some legislators work to halt that effort.
“If we’re going to be doing a special session, we would love to have a conversation around the unemployment situation that we have going on,” House minority leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said after a special session ended on June 30. “We had many Missourians laid off due to COVID, they received unemployment benefits and were overpaid. Now, the governor is choosing to make them pay all of that money back.”
The labor department distributed $146 million in overpaid unemployment benefits to approximately 46,000 Missourians. During a review, the department discovered the overpayment error and began attempting to reclaim the money.
In March, the House passed a bill to forgive the federal and state amounts by a 157-3 vote, but the initiative stalled in the Senate. During the special session in late June, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, filed a resolution calling for Gov. Mike Parson to forgive certain unemployment compensation overpayments.
“I think that we need to be clear that the governor already has the ability to do all of this,” Merideth said after the special session. “We even passed an appropriation through the legislature that funded the state portion of this, which was the more controversial part. So the legislature has already said, ‘Do it.’ The governor just hasn’t.”
Quade said the state is seeking unemployment benefit repayment amounts as high as $10,000 and $20,000. She also recalled how some legislators during the regular session assured House members the department was pausing its efforts to collect until the issue was resolved.
“We are still being contacted regularly by individuals who are being forced to pay,” Quade said. “We have some with liens on their property because they have not paid that money back.”
According to a news release from the department of labor announcing the federal waiver, “collection activities will begin on state overpayments in August.”
During his news conference after the legislative session ended on May 13, House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, expressed a willingness among Republicans to solve the problem.
“I would say that issue is not over,” he said. “I would tell you that the majority of the people standing behind me cared about that issue. We still continue to care about that issue. It’s unfortunate what happened in the Senate, but this probably won’t be the end of that conversation. We all care deeply about the people that we represent and the struggles – the financial struggles – that they’re going through at home. We were disappointed to see that happen.”
The waiver only applies to non-fraudulent overpayments and for the weeks ending Feb. 8, 2020, through June 12, 2021. Those who were overpaid benefits under any of the federal pandemic programs and are eligible for consideration will be notified in July and given instructions on how to apply for the waiver.
Overpayments received due to errors by the claimant are not eligible for the waiver.