Bus drivers, teachers forced to pay back thousands in unemployment benefits

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 9, 2015) - Hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in unemployment benefits are being demanded back by the state. Officials at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development are saying school bus drivers and head start teachers that received the payments were actually ineligible.

Drivers and teachers are adamant that they should not have to pay this money back. Workforce Development officials never picked up on the ineligibility until it was too late; now years later, some folks are having to pay back thousands of dollars.

“$2,700 will also be coming out of my children’s mouth, will also be coming off their backs for clothes, food, shelter,” said school bus driver Terri Wells during a rally at the statehouse Monday.

Wells has collected summer unemployment benefits since 1998.  Her company is unable to provide a steady summer paycheck.

“I don’t have this laying around nowhere, not my mistake; I did what I was told I can do,” said Wells.

She’s been told she needs to pay back $2,700 from unemployment benefits that the Department of Workforce Development says she didn’t deserve.  It was money collected over years of workless summers; money this mother of four says she doesn’t have laying around.

“This is unspeakable. So once again, when we go and apply, we put all of our information down, been doing it for years,” she said.

“They’re not unemployed. They have reasonable assurance they’re going back to work,” said Joe Frank, communications director for the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development.

The law was changed in 2011, disqualifying drivers and teachers from summer unemployment benefits.

“What we did was we sent out a postcard to all Indiana employers that have anyone employed in the state of Indiana,” said Frank.

But the money was paid anyway; DWD officials say employers should have told their employees that they were no longer eligible. Now, years later, the state is demanding that money back.

“The reason why there’s a lot of overpayment notices going out now is because the supreme court ruled that not only is the law correct, these folks are to repay these overpayments,” said Frank.

“They’re the ones that have to hit the button, yes you’re eligible, no you’re not eligible, enter, done, boom, there’s your money,” said Wells.

Drivers like Wells are asking the DWD commissioner to waive the repayment fees that total into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Additionally, lawmakers this session are looking to change the current law back to the way it was prior to the 2011 changes.

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