When a mid-Michigan woman was told to pay back her unemployment benefits, she decided to lawyer up.
“They basically sent me a bill saying you owe us $14,000,” said Mary Payne, Flushing resident.
Payne was laid off in March when COVID-19 hit and her employer went out of business.
She said she filed an unemployment claim, but since September, she’s been getting letters from the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) accusing her of misrepresentation.
“What ended up happening is they sent me this document saying that it was fraudulent,” Payne said. “My claim was fraudulent and that I misrepresented myself, which I did not.”
Now the UIA is sending Payne notices that she needs to pay back all the benefits she collected, with interest. If she doesn’t, her wages could be garnished.
She’s been working as a pharmacy technician since August, so one can imagine her surprise when she received a notice telling her she was also approved for more benefits.
“So why are you sending me more money if you say this is a fraudulent claim? I don’t get,” Payne said.
Payne was so frustrated she decided to hire an attorney, Christine Wasserman from Flint.
“The way that the unemployment administration is administering these benefits is truly sad,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman said they’ve tried several times to get Payne’s case resolved. She said when they’ve gotten an agent on the phone, they just get hung up on. She said they have all the paperwork to prove Payne’s claim was legitimate.
Payne is paying Wasserman more than $200 an hour. Wasserman believes the UIA should pick up these fees when the claim is resolved.
“I do believe that unemployment should reimburse individuals who incur attorney fees and agencies like the legal services for money that has to be spent to make sure that they’re doing their job correctly because it’s truly unfair,” Wasserman said.
TV5 has been reaching out for weeks to get a response from the UIA about other people who have also received payment notices. But so far no one has gotten back for an interview or a comment.
Wasserman said she has about 80 clients hoping to get their cases reviewed. About 15 percent are being asked to repay benefits.
She thinks the new acting director of the UIA, Liza Estlund Olson, should step up and do something about cases like this.
“She had a unique opportunity to step in and make real changes in terms of effecting an approval process for implementing an approval process that truly helps and I don’t think she has done that,” Wasserman said.
Payne wishes someone would just talk to her.
“I gave it to God a long time ago,” Payne said. “I figured he’d work it out, but I think it’s kind of silly that I had to get a lawyer to handle this. When if you think they wanted their money, they would call me back or help resolve the claim.”