You Got Your PUA, and Now the State Wants the Money Back
The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on every American, and no more so than if you are self-employed, an independent contractor, or gig worker. Luckily there was Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) available to replace some of the lost income caused by the pandemic. When the economy opened up, you could get back to work, make a living, and put the stress of the pandemic behind you. Then, many months later you get a letter from the state unemployment department demanding their money back. They say there was error or you were overpaid. Worse yet, they say you committed fraud. Now what do you do?
You fight it. You appeal their redetermination. If you don't, then the state's demand for repayment with interest may lead to garnishments. If they say you committed fraud, then you could be barred from future benefits.
Most state unemployment departments were overwhelmed with an avalanche of applications for regular unemployment benefits and PUA benefits during the pandemic. In good faith, they paid benefits to applicants without requiring much proof. Now that the dust has settled, they are reviewing what they paid and auditing past claims filed by applicants. If they find something out of the ordinary, states generate a repayment demand or information request. In any case, it is vital to respond in a timely manner. It is vital to appeal overpayment demands. If you don't take it seriously, then the consequences can be dire.
In appealing a repayment demand, details are vital. Providing proper proof is the only way to will stop their demands. Sometimes knowing what to provide as proof may be tricky, so you may need to provide information that you believe is enough to substantiate you were eligible for the PUA benefits.
Organizing the information is also important. You can't just provide a stack of paper to the state and expect them to sort out the mess. You have duty to prove your eligibility for PUA benefits.
Lastly, if there is going to be an appeal hearing, it if vital you prepare your defense by outlining what you are going to say and cite as evidence. Preparation for the hearing shows the hearing officer that you are taking this matter seriously and that you are clearly eligible for the benefits.
If you don't have time to fight the overpayment demand or just do not feel comfortable appealing your case on your own, you should consider hiring an attorney. In Arizona, only licensed attorneys can represent claimants in unemployment appeals. Never hire a non-legal professional to handle your case as their abilities to help you will be limited.