DEO Overpaid Millions in State Unemployment Benefits in 2020

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Florida paid more than $104 million in state reemployment assistance in 2020.

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We often hear about the challenges people face getting their unemployment benefits, but some received more money than they qualified for in 2020.

NBC 6 Responds found the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) paid millions in overpayments last year.  

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Florida paid more than $104 million in state reemployment assistance in 2020. That’s nearly nine times the amount paid the previous year, when far fewer people in the state applied for unemployment benefits. In 2019, the state overpaid $12,309,380 in state reemployment assistance.

The data shows more than half of the money overpaid in state reemployment assistance during 2020 has been recovered.

The DEO told NBC 6 this data does not include overpayment information among all programs, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) or the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

When asked about the total amount paid in overpayments in the state, the DEO said the data was “not readily available.”

It’s an issue unemployed people have contacted NBC 6 Responds about over the last year.

Myrtle Young is one of them.  

“I start getting another $900, another $1,000, another $500, and then I went to my mailbox and there was a check for $4,000, and I am like, something is not right,” Young told NBC 6.

Young contacted NBC 6 Responds after she said she was overpaid more than $12,000 in unemployment benefits.

She said she paid the money back, but the error led to a delay in her getting important tax documents.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows Florida’s overpayment rate was 33.8% from October 2019 to September 2020.

“This wasn’t a problem that just suddenly appeared. This has been a problem with the system for decades,” Cindy Huddleston said.

Huddleston is an attorney and senior policy analyst at the Florida Policy Institute.

She told NBC 6 an overpayment often does not mean the person applying committed fraud.

While some applicants do make mistakes during the application process, Huddleston said system errors with the state’s online portal are overpaying some claimants at no fault of their own.

“I think that indicates to me just the overall problem with CONNECT as a whole and the inadequacies with the computer system,” Huddleston said. “The same problems that are keeping eligible people out are apparently still glitches that are causing the overpayments.”

According to a report from the Florida’s Auditor General, the DEO flagged a system defect that “erroneously increases the claimant’s available balance by the amount of the overpayment, permitting the claimant to collect the amount of the overpayment twice.”

The report states the issue has been worked on since 2015, but as of January 2021, it still wasn’t fixed.

NBC 6 Responds reached out to the DEO to find out if the defect has been fixed. We have not received a response yet.

The DEO addressed the issue in the audit saying “The Department concurs with the finding” and that it “will continue to identify and implement enhancements…to improve the processing of data.” It also mentioned a project geared to assist the department “with implementing more effective system controls to promote more consistent and accurate processing of data regarding claimant benefit payments and employer charges.”

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