Why is Florida DEO asking some unemployment recipients to pay benefits back?

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Throughout the pandemic, 8 On Your Side has chronicled countless Floridians fighting to be paid unemployment benefits.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has paid out more than $15 billion in state and federal funds since March. Now, it’s demanding some people pay it back.

That includes Tiffany Kimmel, a single mom from Pinellas Park who says she’s lost a lot these last few months. First it was her job as an office manager, then it was her father. Now she’s on the verge of losing her unemployment benefits after receiving a notice of overpayment.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Kimmel said over Zoom.

Kimmel learned she owed the state $1,100 when she applied for unemployment earlier this year. It was overpayment from a previous unemployment claim she collected on years ago.

Not wanting benefits to be delayed or denied, Kimmel says she paid the debt in April. She collected unemployment for weeks only to recently be disqualified by that past overpayment she says.

The DEO wants that money back.

“Even though I had paid the balance off this year, it still didn’t matter,” Kimmel explained. “And now they’re saying I owe them $3,300.”

Jamie Brown also believes she was issued a false overpayment notice. Hers was for more than a thousand dollars.

“We’re following their orders because we don’t know, and now we’re being penalized,” she said. “That’s not fair.”

After exhausting her benefits, Brown says the CONNECT site prompted her to file for the PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, program. Thinking it was just for 1099 workers, she called the DEO to double-check.

Brown says employees reassured her to apply, that if the link appeared, she qualified. So she did and was approved, receiving benefits for a few weeks only to then have her eligibility reversed.

“Do you feel like you’re having to pay for their mistake?” 8 On Your Side’s Victoria Price asked.

“Yes,” Brown said. “Absolutely.”

According to the DEO’s website, overpayments can occur at any time for a number of reasons. Some of the reasons listed include circumstances that would be of no applicant’s fault, such as “oversight,” “misunderstanding” and “technical errors.”

You can appeal an overpayment notice. Both Kimmel and Brown have.

What they don’t have, they say, is the money to pay the state back.

“I don’t have any money to give them right now,” Brown said. “I’m trying to make ends meet.”

“And even if I did, I wouldn’t pay it back,” Kimmel added. “I’d pay my bills first.”

Kimmel says she is retaining an attorney to fight the state.

The DEO did not return 8 On Your Side’s questions about these specific situations.

LATEST ON FLORIDA'S UNEMPLOYMENT ISSUES:

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