Texas is attempting to recoup unemployment payments after mistakenly sending them to thousands of Texans amid the pandemic.
According to the Texas Workforce Commission, more than $32 million was overpaid since March due largely to mistakes made by claimants during their application process or their former employers.
The commission has sent 46,000 notices to people, saying they were overpaid or ineligible to receive benefits.
The commission said it has a team that audits unemployment claims to ensure that these mistakes don’t happen.
“TWC may receive new information that changes the outcome of a claim that can result in overpayment,” Cisco Gamez, spokesperson for the TWC, said in a statement.
Cathy Rohde, a substitute teacher in Conroe, was approved for unemployment after her school district closed in March. But she received a notice in June, saying she has to pay back $1,800 because teachers are not eligible to receive unemployment during summer break.
“It made me feel like I’ve been tricked,” Rohde said.
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Edward Charles, who has to pay back nearly $500, received his notice from the TWC in recent weeks and said he believed it was a mistake by the TWC that led to the issue.
“If they are saying I have to pay it back it was a mistake on their behalf and I don’t think anybody should be penalized for such a mistake,” Charles said.
The TWC said it would be flexible and allow claimants to repay their respective amounts over time.
“We will let them figure out how they can best pay it back, whether it takes 30 days, 60 days or however long,” Gamez said.
Gamez said the vast majority of claims were unaffected and the 46,000 people who now have to repay some of their benefits are a very small percentage.
“To put it in perspective, compared to the 3.7 million claims that have been filed this year, it is just a little over 1%,” he said.
But for Charles, it’s another financial obligation that comes at a time where money remains a challenge.
“This is America man, I don’t think it should be like that,” he said.
Elizabeth Vargas received employment benefits after being furloughed. In her application, she noted that she was receiving a $200 weekly stipend from work. But the state agency interpreted the stipend as severance pay, making her ineligible for any benefits.
Vargas is now expected to pay back more than $600 — money that she has already spent. But Jeff Larsen, an attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid, said Vargas should be eligible due to lost wages.
“I’ve just completely lost hope,” Vargas said. “I can’t be on the phone all day trying to get a hold of someone when nobody is helping me.”
Gamez said in a statement that state law prohibits individuals from qualifying for unemployment benefits when receiving certain types of severance.
“You must report any severance pay,” Gamez said in a statement. “We make a decision on whether the severance pay affects the claimant’s benefits.”
Any claimants overpaid by the state can request waivers from repaying federal benefits provided under the CARES Act stimulus package.
The commission also noted that it is not deducting overpayments from claimants’ benefits during the pandemic.
NBC 5's Jack Highberger contributed to this report.