Illinois Unemployment: PUA overpayments may be forgiven; IDES to issue waivers

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC 7 I-Team investigated overpayments of unemployment benefits involving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). People who are unemployed are being told to come up with amounts ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 - sometimes, more than $20,000.

PUA was added to regular state unemployment to get money into the hands of contract and gig workers. But what if you are being told you were "overpaid?" There's good news: you may be forgiven.

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"I'm going to be on the street, probably, March 1 if this is not taken care of," says Michael Sabo who drove business travelers to and from the airport in his Lincoln Town Car prior to the pandemic. Now he's out of work and on PUA through the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).

"I just want somebody to call me," he said. "You know, somebody could connect with me and let me know 'this is what's going on.'"

The Lisle man said about two months ago, he was told by the state that he owed almost $22,000 in "overpayments."

After that happened, Sabo said the state started deducting what he owed and stopped giving his unemployment benefits - meaning the money stopped coming.

"I've contacted everybody I can, the governor's office. And, you know, I'm a person. I'm 75 years old, you know, and you know I'm a, I'm a better Vietnam veteran, you know, and you know I work hard, even you know I have leukemia," Sabo told the I-Team.

We forwarded Sabo's information to IDES. The agency won't comment on specific claimants, but its acting director addressed the widespread overpayment issue in an interview with the I-Team late last month.

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Last month, the Acting Director of IDES, Kristin Richards told the I-Team, "We're working with federal partners to develop a process for how those individuals may request a waiver. The federal law does require us to adjudicate all of those matters on a case-by-case basis."

IDES said it is preparing to issue notices and questionnaires for PUA claimants identified to have had an overpayment, to determine who may get a waiver. IDES added it has reached out to the U.S. Department of Labor for direction on how to grant the waivers.

That PUA overpayment "forgiveness" can happen because of the pandemic relief package passed in December. The legislation included language to address the PUA Overpayment issue by forgiving some of the overpayments. It was drafted by Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.

"Some received larger amounts than they should have, and to ask them to return that money at this point is not reasonable and a cause of real hardship at a time when people are struggling to get by," Durbin told the I-Team. "So I think if the mistake was on the government side and there was no evidence of fraud on the person receiving the payment, that they should be forgiven. Watch closely, treat it carefully, as a serious matter and in some cases, a lot of money that needs to be taken seriously."

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You can reach out to your local lawmakers for help getting answers if you don't receive an IDES questionnaire about waivers.

The overpayment issue has been an ongoing challenge for dozens of people who have called the I-Team.

IDES has stated, "It's suspected that many people dealing with this unknowingly overestimated their income, or submitted "gross" incomes, instead of net incomes after taxes, hence showing a higher income and getting more benefits. New documentation requirements may also help prevent this issue.

Sabo doesn't believe he overestimated his income. He said the benefits he collected were far below that $22,000 "overpayment."

But on Wednesday, Sabo discovered his overpayment was forgiven. He also showed the I-Team screenshots showing his weekly benefits are going to be paid out again, too.

Just like Sabo, others could also be seeing those overpayments deducted already from their weekly benefits. IDES says that if an overpayment "waiver is granted" then people in that situation will be refunded the amount that they paid back to the state.
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