Local bus driver: They’re telling me to pay back my unemployment money

Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
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PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - While unemployment claims are at an all-time high, now a plan that was created to help people is actually causing more of a setback for some.

Putnam County bus driver Debbie Lett has been a driver for more than 30 years and has worked summer bus driving jobs for extracurricular activities and extra cash. However, COVID-19 wiped out the extra summer money she’s been used to making for roughly 16 years.

“I was actually hired like I normally am, but then I received a text message from my boss stating that due to COVID-19 they were not running summer buses this year,” Lett said.

So she filed for unemployment to try and make up for the cash she was used to getting. She was approved and earned unemployment benefits for roughly three weeks, but then received another letter saying she was ineligible and had to pay all that money back.

“For them to hand it to you then turn around and say ‘oh we need that back’ just because you work for a school or educational entity, that’s fine but they’ve made provisions everywhere else” she said. “So make a provision for us.”

Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of Workforce West Virginia, said everything varies case by case and school employees are placed in a couple of different categories when it comes to unemployment.

“You have full-time professional or even full-time non-professional education employees who are technically still employed, so they have a reasonable assurance to go back to work. Those folks, under the law, are not going to be eligible to collect unemployment because they’re either totally or partially employed,” Adkins told WSAZ. “The second group involves substitute educational professionals, whether it’s teachers, bus drivers or cooks, if they do not have a reasonable assurance to return to work then they may be eligible for unemployment.”

He said due to Workforce wanting to get cash out fast to those who need it and the governor waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, they were not able to check and verify every application. But once they reviewed the paperwork, they realized some people got overpaid and others were paid who shouldn’t have been paid at all.

Now Workforce is asking for those who were overpaid or ineligible but still received money, like Lett, to pay it back.

“Either you’re entitled to it or you’re not, and if you’re not entitled to it then it’s against federal law, and we have to re-coupe that.”

WSAZ asked how many claims were overpaid or paid when they should not have been. Workforce officials said they will get the number for us within the next few days.

Workforce also said they will be offering payment plans to those who need to pay back the funds.

Copyright 2020 WSAZ. All rights reserved.

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