NMDWS asks some residents to pay back overpaid unemployment benefits

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions is asking some residents to pay back COVID-19 coronavirus unemployment benefits that the department overpaid out.

The department was charged with distributing billions of dollars in unemployment benefits to New Mexicans but overpaid residents hundreds of millions of dollars.

Linda Russ-Niezgodzki received unemployment benefits throughout 2020 after the pandemic prevented her from working.

“The events weren’t happening anymore so I was not really laid off because I’m an outside contractor but I was not needed," Russ-Niezgodzki said, "and I couldn’t go get another job because I have an autoimmune disease."

This year, Russ-Niezgodzki received a letter stating that she owes around $14,000, which she is unable to pay back.

“When I got this letter it only threatened me," Russ-Niezgodzki said. "It said I owe them $14,200 but it didn’t say why. There was no math calculations or if you want to appeal this. It was just threatening me to go to jail.”

The state’s Department of Workforce Solutions broke it down to six payments at $2,300 a month, which totals to be $13,800. Department officials said claimants can view a payment breakdown online by logging into their claimant home page, clicking on ‘Manage Debt’ from the menu options and then ‘View Overpayment History’.

Claimants can also contact the Benefit Payment Control Unit about claims at 1-877-664-6984.

Russ-Niezgodzki said she has been unable to speak to a real person about the letter. However, a department spokesperson stated that claimants should keep trying if the lines are busy and that they are less busy Wednesday through Friday in the afternoon.

Department representatives also stated:

“Overpayments occur if a claimant is paid more unemployment Insurance benefits than they are eligible to receive. If and when overpayments occur due to fraud, the balance must be repaid in full and no payment plan is offered.

To avoid overpayments, the department encourages claimants to read through all correspondence, respond back to the department with requested documents in a timely manner, and accurately report earnings as they are earned.

If an overpayment occurs, NMDWS sends out an initial notice and determination, along with information on appeal rights. Each month, correspondence is sent to the claimant that shows balance due, payments made, and any updated criteria until the balance has been paid in full.

The following are some of the most frequent causes of overpayment:

  • Failing to report gross earnings or other deductible income correctly. Claimants must report their earnings before deductions;
  • Continuing to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits after returning to work. Earnings must be reported in the week they are earned, NOT when they are received;
  • Failing to report all earnings from work while claiming benefits or failing to provide any other information that could affect the claim;
  • Being reinstated in a job with retroactive pay or back pay award after a grievance hearing;
  • Being paid Unemployment Insurance benefits and later being disqualified because the claimant was deemed not eligible.
  • Not providing income verification documentation when requested by the department. “

    Despite the department’s reasons, Russ-Niezgodzki said it boils down to DWS employees not doing their jobs and claimed she has no clue what to do.

    “I also complained to the governor, didn’t hear back from her because I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to," Russ-Niezgodzki stated. "This is not how you treat your citizens during a pandemic."

    A spokesperson for the Department of Workforce Solutions stated that the state is recouping some money but did not specifically state how much:

    “The state is actively engaged in the process of recovering and managing overpayments. There are several strategies for doing this – some claimants, specifically Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) may be eligible for waivers through which their overpayments will be forgiven; some claimants will see their weekly benefits off-set to pay back an overpayment; and some will see their appeals remanded through the adjudication process.”