CHICAGO (WLS) -- People who received Illinois unemployment help during the pandemic are now being told they owe thousands of dollars back. Some are being told to cough up as much as $20,000.
State and federal programs are supposed to help most people who received unemployment overpayments by granting them forgiveness. However, the I-Team has heard from many people saying they're either being denied those requests or they're just not getting a clear answer.
"I, like many people, was hit hard and I can't take another hit like that," Lavinia Redmond said.
Redmond was a bus driver for Chicago Public Schools who was laid off during the pandemic.
"It's incredibly frustrating, it's very stressful," said John Sweeney, who was laid off from an educational non-profit.
They both applied for unemployment and qualified, but months later, even after the benefits ended, Redmond and Sweeney each said they got letters to pay back all of their federal and state unemployment without much explanation. Sweeney is expected to pay back $19,000 and Redmond told the I-Team, "They want $20,799 dollars back, every single cent, even though I was approved for it."
Earlier this year, lawmakers decided that people who received these unemployment overpayment letters for being paid "too much federal or state money," can appeal or ask for a waiver. If granted, they could qualify for overpayment forgiveness.
The I-Team has received dozens of emails and calls from people who are trying to get relief, but they can't get answers or they're still getting bills they say they owe the money back.
"A lot of representatives aren't able to assist me," Sweeney said. "I've been told a couple of times that a supervisor would give me a call back and that's just never happened. There was no information about how to appeal or if there was a waiver program."
"There was no way for me to fill out a waiver because there was no link there," said Redmond.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security, which is in charge of distributing federal and state funds and collecting all of the overpayments, said the waiver program has not yet been implemented. The agency said they don't have a time frame of when it will be.
"They're insulting Illinois residents by saying, pay us back money because of the error that we made, I think it's just morally wrong," said Illinois Minority Leader Jim Durkin.
Durkin is trying to get answers for hundreds of people in his district and all over the state.
"My office is still getting phone calls and I thought we were past this," he said.
Rep. Durkin said some people are in limbo about their repayment status and he says others are being told they were denied.
"You owe us money, and if you don't, we're going to garnish your wages, we're going to put a lien we're going to put a claim on whatever type of job you have right now," he said.
If you are in this situation, Durkin said, "Check in with members of your legislature, that's the only way you're going to be able to get the squeaky wheel moving, bring your documents in, and let us try to talk to the Department of Employment Security, I wish there was an easier way about it, but I encourage people to talk to members of the Illinois house, Illinois Senate coming up the ordeal that they're going through. That's our job."
Fortunately, Redmond and Sweeney are back at their jobs, but neither can get answers about money they're told they owe.
"I don't have the money," Sweeney said.
"It's devastating to me," said Redmond. "It's devastating for me and my family and I just can't do it."
If you're still waiting on an answer or if you have been told you were denied overpayment forgiveness, you can also try to make an in-person appointment. Many of the brick and mortar offices have recently reopened but they don't accept walk-ins.
For those who want to dispute state unemployment payback, IDES said they will be sending out letters to those people to request waivers as soon as the program is implemented.
More information about state and federal overpayment forgiveness laws
IDES Federal and State Overpayment Information
Waiver of Recovery of Overpayments Under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) Programs, and the First Week of Benefits Funded by the Federal Government