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Democrat, Republican co-sponsor bills to forgive overpayment of state unemployment benefits

Senators from both political parties introduced legislation to forgive the overpayment of Missouri unemployment benefits during the pandemic recession in 2020.

State Sens. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis County, and Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, filed identical four-page bills (SB673 and SB709) on Dec. 1 before the 2022 legislative session begins in January. Approximately 40,000 Missourians received overpayment of $40 million in state unemployment benefits between March 27 and Dec. 31, 2020.

“We both got a lot of phone calls from people where their wages were garnished to pay this,” Beck said in an interview with The Center Square. “This has been a real problem and we felt like it was the right thing to do, so we both agreed on this particular subject.”

In March, the House passed a bill to forgive the federal and state mistaken amounts by a 157-3 vote, but the initiative stalled in the Senate. During the special session in late June, state Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, filed a resolution calling for Republican Gov. Mike Parson to act on the problem.

“We gave Parson the authority and direction to forgive ALL non-fraudulent overpayments and he just refuses to do it,” Merideth posted on social media in July. “He insists on state government kicking folks while they’re down and making them pay for the government’s mistake. It’s wrong and he needs to stop.”

Parson said in July his administration was analyzing ways to resolve the situation.

“We’re working with the departments on that,” Parson said during an appearance in St. Louis. “We’re trying to find out how we’re going to move forward on that solution. I think there are more conversations to be had. The general counsels are involved. There are a lot of moving parts to it.”

A process to forgive overpayment of federal unemployment benefits made to Missouri claimants was implemented earlier this year. In August, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DOLIR), without any new law or any directive from the administration, began the process of reclaiming overpayments, including wage garnishments.

The proposed 2022 legislation requires the (DOLIR) to waive the repayment of any unemployment benefits that were incorrectly but non-fraudulently distributed to claimants if the benefits were paid out of the state unemployment compensation trust fund.

While many Republicans argued fraud was rampant in the overpayment of unemployment claims, Beck said reviews found very few cases of inappropriate filings.

“A lot of folks I talked to were retired and they had jobs to just make ends meet,” Beck said. “They were told they qualified for this unemployment.”

If the legislation passes, the DOLIR must within 90 days notify those unemployment claimants denied a waiver with information as to how they can now appeal. Claimants then have 60 days to indicate their desire to appeal and the DOLIR must then cease all efforts to recover the overpaid benefits.

“Under no circumstances shall DOLIR or any division thereof attempt to recover the overpaid benefits while the case is pending appeal,” the bill states.

If the DOLIR recovered an individual’s overpaid unemployment benefits, the legislation requires the department to notify the claimants by certified mail within 15 days of its discovery of the recovered funds. The DOLIR must repay the funds to the individual within 30 days of the notification if the amount is less than $10,000. If the amount is greater than $10,000, repayment of funds must be made within a reasonable time period agreed to by the DOLIR and the claimant, with interest. If the DOLIR fails to notify the claimant of the over-recovery, interest begins accruing from the date of discovery, regardless of the amount.

This article was originally posted on Democrat, Republican co-sponsor bills to forgive overpayment of state unemployment benefits

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