NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans filed unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic, but some of them are just now discovering they have to pay back the money.
Randall McKinney told News 2 he was approved for unemployment benefits during the pandemic after leaving work due to health issues.
Nearly two years later, the state sent him a letter claiming he was overpaid $4,500, so he needed to return the money.
“It’s been a struggle because they’ve been garnishing my check,” McKinney said.
The state has been taking 25% of his earnings from his paycheck for the past five months.
“I’m just struggling to keep my head above water right now,” McKinney said.
He has had to dip into his savings and has gotten behind on his bills.
Many others are in a similar situation, including Cindy Saulsberry, who News 2 reported owed more than $10,000 back in unemployment benefits in April.
“I have scrambled around, wondering whether I need to get a roommate to help me pay for this because I don’t want it hanging over my head,” Saulsberry said. “Ten-thousand dollars is a lot of money to me, and it would take me years to pay it back.”
Saulsberry updated News 2 this week, saying that due to a number of reasons, including having to pay back her benefits, she could no longer afford to live in Murfreesboro and moved out of state.
Meanwhile, McKinney said he worries how the unemployment error will impact him even after he pays off the debt.
“I think it’ll be paid off some time in the next couple months, but even so, the impact that it’s had on me over the last four to five months, it’s just, it’s going to take me some time to get over that,” McKinney said. “It’s going to take me some time to bounce back to where I was four or five months ago financially, with my savings, with my credit score, all of that.”
A spokesperson for Tennessee’s Department of Labor and Development provided News 2 with the following statement:
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development processed hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims, providing billions of dollars in assistance to Tennesseans, for more than a year during the COVID-19 crisis.
As required by the United States Department of Labor, TDLWD must go back and audit all claims to ensure accuracy. Because of the volume of claims during the crisis, staff continues to crossmatch wage data with claims filed during that time.
A crossmatch can reveal many issues, including failure to provide requested information, failure to report earnings, and failure to report separations but the claimant continued to draw benefits. Any claimant found in overpayment has the right to file an appeal of the decision.”