Julie Kushner

State Senator

Julie Kushner

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working Together for Progress

September 24, 2021

Labor Leaders Call for Department of Labor to Take Action on Unemployment Overpayment Issue, Help Those Still Struggling

HARTFORD – Today, leaders of the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee – including Senate Chair State Senator Julie Kushner (D-Danbury), House Chair State Representative Robyn Porter (D-Hamden/New Haven), Senate Vice Chair State Senator Jorge Cabrera (D-Ansonia) and Committee Member State Representative Anne Hughes (D-Easton/Redding/Weston) – joined together at the State Capitol to call on the Connecticut Department of Labor to take action on the continuing problem of unemployment compensation overpayments made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Labor Department reports it has corrected more than 100,000 claims made that it considers fraudulent – but many people left jobless during the apex of the pandemic and who received crucial funds from the Department, who needed the funds they received, are being asked to pay back money they do not have.

“So many people suffered during the pandemic, particularly at the beginning when businesses, schools and daycares closed down, and working families were left without any options to pay their bills. They didn’t have a job to go to, and if they did, they had no one to take care of their kids. It was a tragic situation, and no one was at fault. This pandemic created havoc and so many people and working families suffered in ways that are unimaginable,” said Sen. Kushner. “What concerns me is we’re at a moment where notices of overpayment of unemployment is overwhelming for people, particularly people who haven’t even gone back to work. We’re calling on the state, the Department of Labor, the administration, the legislature – we need to do something quickly to reassure people that we’re going to be there for them through yet another crisis. We want to make sure individuals know that there are options if they receive an overpayment claim. They can appeal or apply for waivers and for forgiveness. We need to make sure everyone knows the state has been stepping up – and this is another moment where we need to step up.”

“I want to be totally clear – there are cases of fraud,” Sen. Kushner continued. “The Department of Labor has uncovered more than 100,000 cases of fraud. We have no mercy for those folks. For them, we should fully enforce penalties. But we’re not talking about fraudulent cases. We’re talking about poor, hardworking people who are trying to get by during a crisis. They are the people we need to stand with.”

“This is an awful issue. I’m appalled that we are talking about repayment of UI overpayments as we continue to fight through a persisting pandemic,” said Rep. Porter. “I want everyone to know that we are working on the issue, however there are many details that we do not have knowledge of yet and we know the devil is in the details. With that being said, I do not want to act in haste, as haste makes waste. However, what I do want to do is respond expeditiously as we work collectively to gain information that will enable us to make the right decisions based on viable options. There are federal and state laws that must be considered. That is why being well-informed in this complex and intersectional issue continues to be a big concern. At the end of the day, I want our constituents to know that they are not in this alone and that my colleagues and I are working to ensure that the claimants who legitimately received benefits will be relieved of the burden to repay any overpayments they may have received, while those who acted fraudulently will be held to the full extent of the law. I’ll end with this, I am encouraged that Speaker Ritter has said that he is in full support of our efforts and that we have the resources to make it happen. Now, it’s a matter of figuring out how we get there while being legally compliant.”

“This is a one in a century pandemic that has upended the lives of many of my constituents,” said Sen. Cabrera. “The economic impact on their lives and families still lingers. As we continue to manage the unknown and get back on our feet we must not add to the pain and suffering of so many citizens who still need support and help. I am hopeful we can find a solution that does not do further harm to our constituents and their families.”

“We heard from hundreds of desperate and frustrated constituents who filed for unemployment, heard nothing about the status of their claims for months, and struggled to survive without an income, paycheck, or unemployment insurance,” said Rep. Hughes. “When a check finally did arrive it was put to immediate use to survive. If these economically distressed workers received an overpayment, or partial overpayment because of miscalculation or glitches in the cumbersome filing process, it is on us as a state to immediately reduce this distress, and streamline our process to forgive or waive these obligations. Our understaffed and antiquated computer system made errors in the calculation and processing of claims. We must adequately resource our Department of Labor and support sufficient resources and expertise to investigate fraud, where those claims are warranted.”

Recent media reports have indicated that among many legitimate cases of fraud in the unemployment system, a significant number of people receiving unemployment overpayment claims asking for restitution to the state were out of work during the early days of the pandemic and face serious financial pain if forced to pay back the large sums owed to them. Labor leaders, aware that the circumstances of the pandemic were unique and that these individuals are not at fault for losing work accordingly, are seeking ways for them to receive relief without suffering more financial harm.