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Woman Was Approved For PUA Benefits, But Later Ruled Ineligible, And Now State Of Illinois Is Garnishing Her Wages And Charging Fee For It

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The State of Illinois is taking money out of one woman's paycheck for every cent she got in unemployment – saying she never should have received the benefits they approved.

But we've told you some in Illinois can have those overpayments forgiven - if it was the state's fault they were overpaid in the first place.

So on Thursday, CBS 2's Tara Molina asked state officials why they are docking paychecks before people even have the chance to fight back. The state is also charging fees on top of those docked payments.

One of the people affected by all this is Danielle Skopis, who has to pay a $15 processing fee to the state every paycheck just so the state can garnish it. This is all while she waits for the Illinois Department of Employment Security to respond to what she calls repeated requests for help.

"You get it in the mail and your mind goes to, what? Why? How?" Skopis said.

Essentially, Skopis is getting a bill for every penny she received in unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program – totaling $5,008.00.

It was a program, she said, "for which it was later determined I was not eligible."

At one point, the state approved the benefits for Skopis and paid them out.

She believes if she wasn't eligible for the money she got, it is not because she didn't provide the right information.

"They approved me," Skopis said.

And because Skopis doesn't have $5,008 laying around, she said, "There's no way."

Skopis has fought this in every way possible. Right now, she is waiting on the state to decide whether she's eligible for a waiver.

Unemployment overpayment waivers, in cases where it was not a person's fault they were overpaid benefits, are made possible through federal relief.

Skopis is working as a state caregiver now, and has waited about two months for an answer on her waiver application.

In that time spent waiting on the state, she said, "they're garnishing my wages."

That goes for every paycheck.

"They also take out a $15 processing fee which does not go towards that $5,000," Skopis said.

Skopis isn't the only one.

IDES reported it has received 67,678 waiver requests and has approved more than 25,000 of them - totaling more than $94 million dollars.

The state also denied 41,913 waiver requests. Those people will have to pay the state back.

Skopis is still waiting to find out which group she is in.

"It consumes your life," she said. "If you're going to accuse me and take money from me, I deserve the respect to understand why."

We asked state officials about the garnished wages - when it starts and how that money, and those fees, is paid back.

There was no response to those questions.

A spokeswoman for the IDES did clarify why some are being denied:

"Per federal law, a PUA overpayment waiver would be denied if the claimant did not indicate on the survey sent to them:
--The overpayment was not created through no fault of their own
--Recovery of the overpayment would not be against equity and good conscience

"Effectively, what this means, is each claimant fills out the survey on the correspondence sent to them and selects yes or no to those two questions (was the overpayment created through no fault of your own; would the recovery of the overpayment be against equity and good conscience), and the survey is then reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the Department.

"Hypothetically, a waiver would be denied if a claimant indicated the overpayment was created through no fault of their own, but during the review process, it is discovered the claimant was working while collecting without reporting those wages to the Department. That would result in a denial of a waiver because the overpayment was created as a result of their collecting benefits for which they were not eligible. Each request of an overpayment recovery waiver is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

"In general, claimants who are denied an overpayment waiver request still have access to the traditional appeals process. Claimants should contact the Claimant Services Center at 800.244.5631 and select the appropriate queue to schedule themselves for a callback."

The IDES provided this breakdown on overpayment waivers, which only apply to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, system geared toward people such as gig workers – and not to the regular unemployment system:

  • Overpayment letters sent out:
    o 174,685
  • Total dollar amount representative of those letters:
    o $961,565,796
  • Waiver requests received by IDES:
    o 67,678
  • Waiver requests granted:
    o 25,745
  • Waiver requests denied:
    o 41,913
  • Total dollar amount representative of waiver requests granted:
    o $94,958,888
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