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Some required to pay unemployment benefits back

Many New Yorkers received a benefit, but were ineligible
Posted at 8:52 PM, Feb 09, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — It took some people multiple hours and days on the phone. Some waited weeks, even months for a check from New York State Unemployment to arrive in the mail or direct deposit at the height of the pandemic last spring.

According to the New York State Department of Labor, New York has paid out more than $65 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 4 million New Yorkers. It’s now finding more than 425,000 fraudulent unemployment claims, and some people who received benefits weren’t really eligible for the money.

“When the pandemic started, the system became overwhelmed,” said Kevin Wicka, a local attorney. “They removed the waiting period, but people still had to certify they met the criteria.”

Now, many New Yorkers are getting letters in the mail, from the New York State Department of Labor saying they’re not eligible for the unemployment benefits they received, and they owe that money back.

“A lot of people saw they could earn up to $1,100 a week in unemployment, and unfortunately, there were some people who tried to take advantage of that,” Wicka said.

Wicka is an attorney focusing on employment in Buffalo. He says the state is now catching up to certifying the benefits for those who received them. He represents an employer who is going through this right now.

“They were deemed essential, and they had the ability to have employees in person or remotely and they had an employee making less than the unemployment benefits. Despite the fact that this person could work remotely, that employee chose to quit and apply for the unemployment benefits.”

He says people, like that employee are now being asked to pay the money back. In many cases, this is costing tens of thousands of dollars.

The New York State Department of Labor says:

“Each claim is unique and there are a number of reasons why a claimant might be required to repay benefits, especially for a brand-new program like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which was launched in the middle of a global pandemic. As always, we notify claimants individually and give them instructions to assist them with the repayment process.”

Wicka says there are some people who may have actually thought they qualified who may now owe that money back. He says those people can request a hearing.