(The Center Square) – Ohioans victimized by unemployment fraud or were overpaid unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic could be off the hook for repaying those funds, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
ODJFS Director Matt Damschroder said late last week if a waiver is approved, claimants will not have to repay money previously labelled as an overpayment and also could receive benefits that have been withheld because of an overpayment status.
Claimants should be notified soon of how to apply for a waiver and processing could begin later in the summer, Damschroder said.
“We understand the hardships that overpayments caused during what is already a very stressful time.” Damschroder said. “Our unemployment program is in a much better position than it was a year ago.”
Damschroder said $1.7 billion in nonfraud overpayments were made since the beginning of the pandemic through May. The fraud-related overpayments to those who did not qualify for traditional unemployment, such as self-employed individuals, was $444 million.
Ohio House Democrats introduced a bill earlier this year that would have required ODJFS to waive overpayment collection. That bill was sent to the House Insurance Committee in February. It’s had one hearing.
“Our unemployment system is broken. We saw that on full display when thousands of Ohioans waited weeks and even months during the height of the pandemic to receive the benefits they paid into,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron. “With many Ohioans continuing to struggle to find work, make rent, or pay their bills, the last thing the state should do is pile on more burdens by forcing people to pay back overpayments they received through no fault of their own or be penalized due to a poor system that allowed fraud to run rampant.”
The state has recovered around $150 million in fraudulent payments through its Cyber Fraud Law Enforcement Working Group, led by former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers.