Should workers be forced to pay back jobless benefits made in error? Ohio senator says no

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in Dayton Ohio

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U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in Dayton Ohio

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is pressing state officials for answers about why Ohioans are being told to pay back unemployment over payments when the state is at fault.

Brown, D-Cleveland, fired off a letter Monday to Kim Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“Thousands of Ohioans already experienced significant delays in receiving their unemployment benefits, and these recoupment letters are aggravating already financially stressful times for Ohio workers,” Brown wrote to Hall. “I urge ODJFS to use its existing authority to waive recoupment of over payments when they were made as a result of an error by the state.”

Brown also urged the department to not send these nonfraud over payment cases to debt collectors.

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Roughly 24,000 Ohioans have received the pay-back letters where over payments were due to error rather than fraud.

ODJFS spokesman Bret Crow said federal regulations require the state ask for repayments.

“We recognize that this puts Ohioans who are already experiencing extreme hardship in the position of having to return money they believed they were entitled to, which most likely already has been spent,” he said.

Nonfraud over payments are often tied to appeal reversals, which occur after facts of a case are reviewed and a new determination is issued, Crow said.

For the week ending June 13, 1.5 million Ohioans filed unemployment claims. Over the last 13 weeks, the state has distributed more than $4.1 billion in unemployment compensation to more than 700,000 claimants.

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During the pandemic, Ohio’s unemployment compensation system has been slammed with historic numbers of claims and criticized for lengthy delays to getting claims approved. Additionally, last week, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the unemployment compensation fund had gone broke, forcing Ohio to open a $3.1 billion line of credit with the federal government to keep jobless checks flowing to unemployed workers.

Ohio’s unemployment compensation system has been in big trouble for several years as the taxes paid by employers weren’t enough to keep up with benefits paid out. State leaders have failed to agree on a fix for years.

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