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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Paying for Someone Else's Mistakes

I was a log home designer for over five years when the housing market imploded and the credit lines dried up. Once that happened, my job, along with countless others, was cut. I was fortunate enough to qualify for state unemployment compensation (UC) benefits, having worked and earned many times over the minimum requirements. The initial application process was easy enough; I answer employment history and salary questions, and they go back to my former employer to confirm it. All it took was a few days of waiting, and I was sent my Notice of Financial Determination, congratulating me on qualifying for benefits.

My job search started immediately, but with the housing market in a state of disrepair, no one in my area was looking for drafters. Countless resumes and cover letters went out, but next to nothing came back. When it did, I was told either that I was overqualified for the position or that they had decided to restructure from within. The months ticked by and having no firm offers, I became very concerned that I would be left without any form of income to help support my family. A few weeks before my benefits ran out, the President signed into law a bill extending UC benefits for millions of people like me who were in jeopardy of losing them. I was ecstatic, thankful for the lifeline that would help keep my family afloat.

While filing for EUC, I received a notice in the mail from the state saying that my benefit year would be ending, and that I would need to file a new application to continue receiving benefits. I went through the same application process, and within a few days got a letter in the mail with my Notice of Financial Determination. Everything seemed in order; it gave my weekly benefit rate and length of time I qualified for, but it also had some new information. It said that my qualification of benefits hinged on additional information.

I placed another call to the state asking what additional information they needed, and without asking any questions simply told me that I did not qualify for any more state UC benefits and would be kicked back to the EUC program. Once the EUC funds ran out on my claim, there was nothing else that I could do because I no longer had enough credit hours worked to support the claim. I was devastated, having just been told by the state that I qualified for six more months of benefits only to have them take it back.

So I filed my bi-weekly claim the Sunday after that depressing conversation, watching my funds deplete, wondering if I would ever find a job. I checked my bank statement that week, and to my surprise I found two deposits made. One was the EUC deposit, the one that I was expecting. The next was the regular UC from the state; you know the one I didn’t qualify for a few days before...

By this time I had the UC service center on speed dial, and immediately called them up to ask what in the world was going on. The person that I talked to said that I re-qualified for the state UC benefits and never should have been told otherwise. They also stated that I should have been taken off of the EUC program list to avoid overpayment. They proceeded to tell me that with people being laid off and filing for unemployment in record numbers that they had to add extra staff to support all the claims being filed. They told me that the UC service center employees basically train for a week, and after that they are on their own. A week is plenty of time to learn all the ins and outs of the entire UC system, you know.

The lack of knowledge of the people that I was interacting with at the UC service center coupled with a computer glitch that allowed both of the payments to be processed made for a huge mess that could have easily been avoided. I asked what exactly the overpayment meant for me, and all they would tell me was that sometime in the future they would expect it to be paid back. I told them I thought that was fair. After all, it was a mistake and the money did not really belong to me. I asked to make sure that they had taken me out of the EUC program to avoid this happening again, and they assured me it had been taken care of.

Fast forward two weeks when I filed my next bi-weekly claim and the same thing happened. I checked my bank statement to see if they had corrected the error, and alas, they did not. So now I had two more weeks of overpayment to worry about. Another call was placed to the center, but this time I was not as happy. I told them the whole story, about how I was in the wrong system and was overpaid the last time I filed. I explained that I was told that the problem was taken care of and that the overpayment would not happen again. But it did… The only reply I received was that they were terribly sorry, but the money would still need to be repaid.

I thought about that for a moment, and asked why I should have to pay back someone else’s mistake. The first time it happened I had no problem with it. It was an oversight/computer glitch and I was told it was taken care of. The second time, however, was not my fault. If the people that they have on the phones handling the claims knew what they were talking about I would not be in this mess. It was frustrating to basically hear “I’m sorry but too bad… It will still need to be repaid…” They told me that it would be several months before they got the information sorted out, and not to worry about it until then. So I didn’t.

About four months after all of this went down, I was finally sent an informational letter stating that the repayment of benefits would begin with the next time I filed. There was also something about an appeal form, but that was not sent with the packet of papers I received. I called the center again, but they told me that my time to appeal the repayment had passed and there was no way to get out of it. I explained to them that it was their oversight that caused the headaches, but they would not hear it. All in all, I was overpaid a total of seven weeks, which totaled about $2500. So in the end, my checks were cut in half to repay the amount that never should have been as high as it was. The balance has finally been repaid and life goes on, but what a headache it was getting here.

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