Michiganders told to pay back unemployment money still pending promised waivers
It’s unclear when Michigan will begin granting additional waivers to people who have been asked to repay their pandemic unemployment benefits.
February guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor allowed Michigan to issue blanket waivers to wipe out the bills of thousands of people who were retroactively deemed ineligible for a federal pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) program.
An agency error led to 530,000 Michigan job seekers being told they had to repay benefits. Some face bills of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
But it could still be weeks or even months before the waivers are reversed.
Related: Michigan can waive more unemployment bills under new federal guidelines
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance agency said technical staff began testing changes to the system online this week to implement the waivers.
“It will probably be a process of several weeks given its complexity. If the tests are successful, then we will be able to start applying the waivers to each population group,” spokesman Nick Assendelft said in an email to MLive last week.
In a recent court filing, however, the state said it could take a year for all bills to be paid.
“The Federal Department of Labor considered that it could take states up to a year – through February 2023 – to process waivers arising from pandemic claims,” the attorneys wrote in a court document dated 31 March.
Michigan’s UIA is currently facing a class action lawsuit that claims the state illegally demanded back its money. The state cited federal guidelines in responding to a motion for a preliminary injunction that would block recoveries on pandemic overpayments.
A US Department of Labor official said the May 2021 guidelines indicated it could take states a year to issue waivers. A specific timeline was not provided in February, but federal officials say they “recognize that states will need time” to waive overpayments.
“Due to extremely high state workloads and arrears, recoveries of overpayments have lagged as states continue to struggle to establish pandemic program overpayments. The Department is working closely with each state to understand the time required to both establish overpayments and, if necessary, waive recovery of such overpayments,” a U.S. Department of Labor official wrote to MLive. .
Related: Michigan agency challenges motion asking court to block collections on pandemic unemployment bills
Advocates are pushing for the state to suspend collections, which include tax filing and wage garnishment, until overpayments are addressed. Two Michigan nonprofits and two labor unions recently filed friend of the courts briefs with the Michigan Court of Claims in support of the injunction.
“Suspend all collection efforts until the state has the time it needs to sort itself out without crushing thousands of Michigan families,” wrote attorneys on behalf of the Michigan State Planning Body and the Michigan League of Public. Policy.
State Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, this week urged officials to take “proactive action” to address the issue.
“I would ask the UIA to determine which claimants who received notice of overpayments are eligible to have the overpayment canceled and their balance unpaid, and then send a ‘legal letter’ to the claimant advising them in writing that his overpayment issue has been resolved and they owe the state nothing,” he said in a letter to Michigan UIA Director Julia Dale.
Related: Motion asks Michigan court to suspend collections on pandemic unemployment bills
By January, Michigan had granted at least partial waivers to 331,000 people. The state has not confirmed how many people are still facing reimbursement bills.
Michigan has the authority to waive unemployment overpayments made in error by the agency. But Assendelft previously said MLive waivers for the PUA program required both state and federal approval.
State officials swore that all truthful claimants would have their bills erased.
“We ask claimants to remain patient and respond to any correspondence from the UIA in a timely manner so that we can resolve these cases and provide relief to those facing reimbursement,” Dale said in a February statement. .
Applicants who receive waivers will be notified by mail and through their MiWAM accounts.
Learn more about MLive:
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