Thousands in Louisiana Received Notices They Were Overpaid Unemployment Benefits

September 19, 2020 Updated: September 20, 2020

A programming error caused more than 4,000 jobless in Louisiana to receive notices saying they had been overpaid thousands of dollars in unemployment compensation and had to return the money, according to reports.

Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) Secretary Ava Dejoie told The Advocate that incorrectly programmed computers miscalculated jobless benefits and automatically sent the notices to people who applied on March 29 and 30.

Katherine Stephens, a legislative worker laid off in April, told WBRZ-TV that after her benefits stopped last week, she received letters saying she’d been overpaid.

“I have no idea what’s going on and it’s really terrifying,” said Stephens, who added that she was unable to reach the LWC by phone to clarify the matter.

Many people received two letters, according to WBRZ-TV, one for unemployment insurance, the other for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. Stephens received two letters, saying she owed the state $4,278 and the federal government $9,600.

“They’re essentially asking me for $14,000, and I have 15 days to either pay it or appeal,” she said.

The error was discovered after people began to contact the agency about the overpayment letters, prompting the commission to begin sending out notifications about the mistake.

“The LWC will send a ‘Notice of Adjustment’ to these individuals within the next week that will indicate their overpayment balance is $0. Currently, no action is required by any of those impacted,” the commission stated in a news release.

Commission media office staffer Frededreia Dunham told The Associated Press in an email Sept. 18 that the LWC has sent nearly 8,500 “cancellation adjustment notices” to more than 4,300 people.

“There are around 20 overpayment cases that have not been canceled yet. There are variations within these cases which require further steps to be taken before canceling,” she wrote.

“LWC is working with the vendor to correct this technical issue. We apologize for any confusion,” the commission stated in the release, adding that “the vast majority of individuals will not owe anything related to this issue.”

The erroneous notices were sent on Sept. 9 and 10. The commission, which administers unemployment compensation and tax funds in Louisiana, said it had set up a dedicated email account for people dealing with the problem.

“I apologize,” Dejoie told The Advocate.

Dejoie told the publication that the week in March when the people who were affected by the computer error applied for benefits was an unusually busy week for the commission, which received some 97,000 jobless benefit applications. She added that, before the pandemic delivered its colossal hit to the economy, 2,000 new jobless claims would be considered a very busy week.

Nationwide, the week of March 28 saw a record 6.87 million Americans apply for unemployment benefits.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM