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Georgia overpaid $84 million in unemployment. Now they want it back

A CBS46 investigation found since the start of the pandemic, Georgia overpaid $84 million dollars worth of unemployment benefits.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 1:51 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Thousands of Georgians who received unemployment benefits during the pandemic are being told they have to pay it back.

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, it’s because these people were overpaid. It may have been their own fault, it may have been their employers fault, but now they’re receiving notices telling them to pay up.

If you’re one of these people, CBS46 Investigates learned there are two ways you may be able to get off the hook. File an appeal or submit an overpayment waiver. Read below for more details.

‘I didn’t try to cheat the system’

Leslie Renae Brannon shows CBS46 Investigative reporter Rachel Polansky letter after letter from the Georgia Department of Labor. All of them say the same thing. She was “paid during a period of disqualification,” and now, she owes the state more than $10,000.

“How could they have let it get to that point?” Brannon asked, as she fought back tears. “I don’t understand what happened.”

Brannon who lives in Griffin worked part-time at Columbia Sportswear in Locust Grove when the pandemic hit, and the store temporarily shut down.

► DOWNLOAD | Georgia DOL overpayment waiver at bottom of page

Brannon shows us letter after letter from the Georgia Department of Labor which say she was...
Brannon shows us letter after letter from the Georgia Department of Labor which say she was “paid during a period of disqualification.” And now, she owes the state more than $10,000.(Rachel Polansky)

She applied and was approved for unemployment benefits and she thought that was that, until the overpayment notices began arriving in her mailbox.

“I did everything right. I, I didn’t try to cheat the system,” Brannon said.

She’s not alone. Other Georgians have taken to Facebook to voice their concerns, like Scott M. who wrote “now the DOL says we owe $9K” and Dawn A. who wrote “I’m going through the same thing... and my payments are close to 700.00 a month.”

Georgia DOL weighs in

A CBS46 investigation found that the state overpaid $84 million dollars worth of unemployment benefits, since the start of the pandemic.

Now, the Deputy General Counsel for the Georgia Department of Labor says they’re working to recover some of that money.

“Under federal and state law, if you receive benefits you’re not entitled to receive under the law, that technically is an overpayment. We are required when someone receives benefits they’re not entitled to receive, to establish an overpayment and collect that amount,” Jeffrey Babcock, told CBS46.

So far, the Georgia Department of Labor has recovered or gotten back $38 million dollars.

But how did this happen in the first place? Babcock says a number of mistakes can trigger overpayment of unemployment benefits – from reporting your earnings incorrectly, to a simple misspelling on your application.

“During the pandemic, with the increased volume of claims, that also resulted in increased number of overpayments,” Babcock said. “In the way the system was structured in the beginning, we were required to pay them based on their self-certification that they did have a job or business or earnings. We had to pay before we could verify any of that information was correct so obviously that led to a lot of fraud.”

Jeffrey Babcock, the Deputy General Counsel for the Georgia Department of Labor.
Jeffrey Babcock, the Deputy General Counsel for the Georgia Department of Labor.(Rachel Polansky)

There was also an unprecedented number of claims submitted. Georgia Department of Labor processed 5.2 million unemployment claims, since March 2020.

What now? File an appeal or submit an overpayment waiver

If you’ve received an overpayment notice, you do have options. You can file an appeal or submit an overpayment waiver.

Babcock says the waiver is your best option if no fraud is involved and you’re not at fault.

“We’re doing our best to provide a solution and we believe this does provide that solution,” Babcock said. “You look at these all on a case by case basis.”

Right now, the state has waived $289,000 overpayment dollars. Babcock expects that amount will rise as more people file overpayment waivers.

As for Brannon, she said she’s not responsible for the state’s hasty rollout of unemployment funds – and she doesn’t think it’s fair she’s being asked to return the money.

“We’re determining whether you were overpaid or not,” Babcock said. “The waiver process is where we can determine fairness.”

Georgia Department of Labor reiterates that you should not ignore overpayment notices. That will not make them go away. They will exist like any other debt unless you pay, file an appeal or submit an overpayment waiver.

If there’s something you would like CBS46 investigates to dig into, fill out this submission form.

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