Missouri’s labor director was grilled by state lawmakers in both parties, during a Tuesday hearing in Jefferson City involving unemployment overpayments and the department’s subsequent request for reimbursement.

State Rep. Richard Brown, D-Kansas City, speaks on the Missouri House floor in Jefferson City on January 13, 2021 (file photo courtesy of Ben Peters at House Communications)

State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations director Anna Hui testified before the Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight, saying the state overpaid more than $150 million in unemployment benefits last year. She also says overpayments are a regular part of the unemployment program.

The $150 million number frustrates committee chairman Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, who notes the number was about $100 million three days ago. Director Hui says the number changes each day.

Director Hui testifies that about 46,000 Missourians have been impacted by the unemployment overpayments, and emphasizes that her department will work with them on a payment plan. She also says it’s critical for Missourians who have received unemployment overpayments to communicate with her department, for a repayment plan.

“And they can cover a number of different things whether it’s offset against future benefits, offset against tax returns, refunds or again, we establish a payment plan,” Director Hui testifies.

Lawmakers in both parties are critical of that. State Rep. Doug Clemens, D-St. Ann, has filed a bill to change current law that mandates that the Labor Department collect on overpayments. State Rep. Richard Brown, D-Kansas City, tells Director Hui that a woman he knows has received a letter, asking her to repay $23,000. Brown says the woman doesn’t have the money.

State Reps. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, and Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, say Missourians who didn’t commit fraud should not have to repay money, because the state made the error.

“I think we need to figure out a way to let these people keep this money because ultimately they’re never going to trust us again if we don’t,” Lovasco says.

As for Representative Merideth, he’s filed a resolution that calls on Governor Parson to forgive the balance of non-fraudulent overpayments.

During the three-hour hearing, State Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, read a letter from a northwest Missouri teacher who’s being told she must repay $9,000, because of the state’s error. He says the teacher wishes she had been denied unemployment, to begin with.

Lawmakers also learned new details about the pandemic’s impact on the state’s economy and the unemployment system.

Director Hui testifies that Missouri paid out $236 million in unemployment benefits in 2019. That number increased to $5.1 billion in 2020, due to the pandemic.

Copyright © 2021 · Missourinet