Hoosiers Forced to Pay Back Unemployment Benefits

Bev applied for unemployment, and initially received it, despite not being at her full- time job long enough to build up a benefits base. She went through a series of part time jobs, none enough to sustain her and her three children. Every time, unemployment would investigate, halting her payments.

Posted: Feb 7, 2021 10:39 PM
Updated: Feb 7, 2021 11:52 PM

"I'm flabbergasted."

That was the reaction Bev Galloway had when she received this letter from Indiana Department of Workforce Development, saying she had to pay back all of the unemployment money she received since the pandemic began.

"How can you say I owe thousands of dollars back, when I didn't work", said Galloway. "We were quarantined. There was no work for these weeks."

Bev's saga began last February. She had just gotten a full-time job waitressing and bartending job at Smitty's Italian Steakhouse on Evansville's west side.

"Then the pandemic hit. It changed everything", said Galloway. "They closed down on March 15th. And when they called us back, it was limited capacity, so we didn't have as many hours."

Bev applied for unemployment, and initially received it, despite not being at her full- time job long enough to build up a benefits base. She went through a series of part time jobs, none enough to sustain her and her three children. Every time, unemployment would investigate, halting her payments.

"So I would get one or two weeks, and then they'd flag me", said Galloway. "Then, for two, three, four, five, six weeks, I wouldn't get anything. Then I would get a couple grand, because that's what they owed me for weeks they hadn't pay me."

Those lump sums eventually amounted to $14,000, every penny Bev is now being told she needs to pay back. And she's not any position to do that.

"I'm a single mom of three kids", said Galloway. "For ten years I've been doing it by myself. It's not easy, but I'm doing it. We're so behind in rent, if they didn't have a moratorium on rent, they'd probably kick us out. Because of all the financial and the Coronavirus. It's so hard."

Like most people in her situation, Bev has signed up for every public assistance program she's eligible for, however in most cases, the social safety net is taxed to the breaking point due to the pandemic.

"I don't have very much of a Christmas without assistance", said Galloway. "So, when it didn't come through, we cried a lot. It's a big deal."

Now the State of Indiana is sending more threatening letters, saying they'll take her tax refund. A vital piece of Bev's financial puzzle.

"I called to try to make payment arrangements, saying I can't have you take my taxes", said Galloway. "That's what I use to catch up my bills. They said your first payment will be three hundred and something dollars. And I'm like, I don't even get that on a weekly paycheck. I cannot pay that."

Bev says the financial toll on her and her family is nothing compared to the emotional one.

"The mania, not being able to sleep, where your mind races, worrying about how are we going to get this money", said Galloway. "If we don't get this money, what are we going to do. I don't have a support system that can take me and my three kids on. There's nowhere we can go. We'll end up in a homeless shelter. So I'm up nights worrying about that."

The single mother of three tries to shield her children from the family's economic plight, but it's not always easy.

"I had to take my son out of his karate classes and he's really disappointed and so am I", said Galloway. "Because we were so excited to be able to pay for him to get into those. You see the disappointment on their face. You never want to do that to them."

Chad Sullivan, who works at Jackson Kelly PLLC, has been practicing unemployment law for the better part of two decades. He says people in Bev's situation received benefits, despite not having an unemployment base far from alone.

"Eight week period, starting in March, there was 640,000 unemployment applications that were submitted...", said Sullivan.

"...Obviously, that's exponentially higher than normal. I think the process had to be expedited to get people there benefits. Now with time, they've gone back and looked at whether the granting of those benefits were proper or not. And that's why I think you're seeing more of these clawbacks of overpayments than usual."

There is an appeal process for overpayment, however Sullivan says a waiver for people in Bev's dire economic straits could be a better option.

"If you're seeking waiver of the overpayment, under that process, one of the reasons is economic hardship", said Kelly. "So, in the cases you're talking about, it sounds like they might have a claim."

Bev is seeking a hardship waiver, however the hope for a better tomorrow seems hard for the single mother of three to envision.

"When I look into the future, I feel stuck and scared. And I don't feel that way. And I want to find a way out of that", said Galloway.

We reached out to the indiana department of workforce development to ask about Bev's situation. Unfortunately, they declined to comment, and instead referred us to their website.

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