The government overpaid jobless benefits to many unemployed Americans, and folks in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas have reportedly been asked to repay some.

By Catey Hill
October 06, 2020
Getty Images

Millions of workers have received unemployment checks since the pandemic began, but some may soon be asked to repay a portion of that money. Here’s what gives. 

Who exactly might have to repay benefits? Many unemployed Americans who received more in unemployment benefits than they should have—many of whom do not even know this occurred—may be on the hook for those overpayments, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.  

That may be particularly true of those who applied for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provided relief for those who lost their jobs because of coronavirus, helping many workers—such as the self-employed, contractors and gig workers—who weren’t eligible for regular unemployment. While states often opt to waive collecting repayments when they overpay certain types of unemployment benefits—you can find a chart outlining what is allowed to be waived by state here—PUA overpayments must be repaid.

How did these unemployment overpayments happen? Some of these overpayments were the result of people misreporting their income. But Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, says that some of the PUA overpayment problems may have happened because state unemployment programs were created for more traditional workers, and thus may not have been equipped to figure out the benefits for nontraditional workers, like gig workers and contractors, correctly.

How do I find out if I might need to repay these benefits? Some workers report that they’ve already been asked to repay benefits in states like Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio. The Dallas Morning Herald states that about 185,000 people were overpaid in Texas from March through September, while CBS News reports that some 160,000 Ohio residents were overpaid in August and September. 

Most likely, Evermore says, you will receive an official notice from the government if you owe money. “States are either asking recipients to return the money or subtracting the funds from their ongoing unemployment checks,” CBS News reports. 

How much might I have to repay? That depends, of course, on how many weeks you were overpaid and what the overpayment each week was, explains Evermore. But, she says, the typical PUA benefit was somewhere between $100 and $250 a week, and some people could have been overpaid for months. 

What might happen next? The inability to forgive PUA overpayments may get overturned, says Evermore, adding that other unemployment programs do allow states to opt to waive repayments. And House Democrats recently introduced a new version of the Heroes Act, which would allow some overpayments to be forgiven.