TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's unemployment department is asking people to send back the money they were overpaid. One man tells the I-Team he did just that, right away. But the state still turned him over to a collection agency that asked for the more than $700 he was overpaid and tacked on nearly $130 in fees.
Jay Laurie told I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern he lost his job as a substitute teacher in March, at the beginning of shutdowns. But he considers himself lucky since he was able to pick up another job as a security officer quickly.
And that’s when the Levy County man called the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).
Knowing he was receiving unemployment money past the point that he should, Laurie called the state and said, "Please don’t send me any more money.”
According to the state, overpayments can happen once a claimant returns to work or may be the result of an oversight, misunderstanding, technical error, changes in unemployment benefits, appeals decisions, etc.
Laurie shared documentation with the I-Team showing the state overpaid him $742.
“I did what I had to do. I didn’t want to hold the government’s money,” Laurie said. “I didn’t spend the money, I got the letter and I sent it back immediately.”
Laurie told the I-Team he responded to the letter from DEO by mailing in a check. But about a month later, he said, he called the state’s unemployment office because the check still hadn’t cleared.
“I said, ‘They didn’t cash the check.' And the lady said that there’s a lot of them that need to be cashed, like don’t worry about it,” Laurie said. “Then I got this collection form.”
The collection letter came from United Collection Bureau, on behalf of DEO. The collection agency had added a fee of $129.85.
DEO did not acknowledge any problems processing checks for overpayments, but told the I-Team in an email, “The overpayments are sent to collections 120 days after the debt was due. Prior to being sent to collections, claimants receive a notice every 30, 60, and 90 days that the debt is due.”
The I-Team shared the information with Laurie, and asked if he ever received the multiple notices from DEO.
“No. No. No. One notice. Done,” Laurie responded.
A spokesperson told the I-Team DEO recommends claimants make their payments online. Checks sent through the mail have a longer processing time.
Fearing a knock on his credit report, Laurie said he paid the collections agency, extra fees and all.
“I didn’t know what to do when I got the collection letter. When I got it, I just followed through with what it said,” Laurie said.
Now, he’s left waiting for his original check sent to DEO to clear.
“It’s just sitting in the bank and I cannot move that money. And there may be times like when you bounce a check, that causes a chain reaction and people will suffer. Not everybody has $30, $40, $50 bucks to float out there, let alone $700. They’re asking me to float $700,” Laurie said.
He said he worried about others, financially unable to do the same.
“They’re all going to end up getting slammed through the collection agency,” Laurie said.
DEO told the I-Team it’s reviewing Laurie’s case.
Once DEO determines an overpayment has occurred, a Notice of Determination is sent out with the amount to repay. The person can appeal that notice.
A spokesperson said, in general, if you hear from the state's collection agency, you should pay that company.
But it's important to note that you can also dispute any notice received from the collection agency.
DEO's unemployment resource guide also states, "If you are unable to make repayment in full, you may make payments on a monthly basis. DEO will accept any repayments toward an overpayment."
If you've received a letter from a collections agency following a repayment to DEO, we want to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org