TAMPA, Fla. -- More Floridians are being told they have to send money back to the state's unemployment system because they were overpaid.
When Jenifer Austin opened her mailbox last Friday, she was greeted with someone else’s personal information.
“His address, the last four of his social, the amount he owes, I mean it was crazy when I saw it!” she said.
Two letters from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) were inside the same envelope. One told Austin she owes $550 for overpayment and the other told a stranger he owes the DEO more than $1400.
“You guys are just dispensing money out not knowing who you are dispensing money to and then you’re putting random people’s letters in other people’s mailboxes within the actual envelope,” Austin said, about the DEO.
And while Austin’s confident she can pay her portion back, she worries about other folks who still struggle to get by.
“That’s the main thing, here’s something else, let’s pile on more,” she said.
State Senator Jason Pizzo says there is a reason folks were overpaid, they just don’t what that is — only what potentially contributed.
He says at the beginning, applications were being processed in batches and if one pinged for fraud or ID verification, it would hold up the entire batch. He believes when that process changed, some people were given too much.
“If you go to an ATM and you ask for $20 and it spits out 20,000, you don’t get to keep it because it’s a mistake of the bank right?” Sen. Pizzo asked, rhetorically.
But because folks are still hurting and barely able to make ends meet, he says the DEO needs to show leniency.
“Go after them later, please don’t expend resources in trying to comp this and play detective on this,” said Sen. Pizzo. “Let your viewers know, as a former prosecutor who was pretty good in court and trial, that if people are getting prosecuted for an error made on the state’s part, we’ll get a legion of pro bono attorneys to represent.”
Sen. Pizzo says a number of questions still remain about folks haven’t been paid in full, or were rejected entirely. He intends to investigate along with other legislators in Tallahassee in the coming months.
We sent the letter to the other person Austin received in her mailbox to the DEO. They say they are forwarding it on to someone who can address the error.
Meantime -- if you have been overpaid, the DEO says you can send it back to them via mail or online.
Below is the instruction from the state:
DEO allows claimants to make payments, including partial payments until the debt is satisfied. DEO sends an overpayment to collections after it has been established and no payment has been received by the 151st day from the determination or 121 days from the last payment made.
For more information regarding overpayments, click here: http://www.floridajobs.org/Reemployment-Assistance-Service-Center/reemployment-assistance/claimants/repay-overpayment [floridajobs.org]