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Missouri unveils waiver for federal coronavirus unemployment overpayments

Missourians who received erroneous federal COVID-19 unemployment overpayments could soon be able to seek a waiver from recovery through the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, it announced Tuesday. 

The potential waiver only applies to federal overpayments given from Feb. 8, 2020, through June 12, 2021, under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), and Lost Wages Assistance (LWA). 

It covers non-fraudulent money given to Missourians through no fault of their own. Those who qualify for the waiver should be notified in July with instructions on how to apply, the department said in a news release. 

The Labor Department estimated earlier this year approximately $150 million in overpayments — of both federal and state funds — were sent to about 46,000 Missourians during the pandemic. Most of the overpayments were from federal funds, the department said. 

Lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to push through a forgiveness plan for Missourians who received these overpayments through no fault of their own. During multiple hearings, individuals testified regarding just how detrimental it would be for collections to start on those funds. A school bus driver told legislators she owed about $13,000 in erroneous overpayments. 

The Labor Department said it would begin collections on the state’s portion of the overpayments in August. It said it could not authorize a state waiver because Missouri law does not allow for it and federal guidance only applies to non-fraudulent federal overpayments. 

“I think we’re still going to work on the state portion of that. We’ve talked about that several times. I think we’ll be addressing that issue,” Gov. Mike Parson told reporters Wednesday. “If it was a legitimate mistake we’re fine with that, but if there’s anything besides that you’re not going to get a blanket waiver.”

More than half of Missourians who filed for unemployment in 2020 were new filers, Labor Department Director Anna Hui told lawmakers earlier this year. Monthly initial claims increased to more than 300,000 in 2020; in 2019, that number was less than 50,000. 

The first major spike came during the week of March 21 which saw 42,207 filings — more than 10 times the prior week. Weekly initial claims then remained above 90,000 for three weeks in a row. The increase coincided with quarantine and stay at home orders that shuttered businesses and left workers in a variety of industries without jobs. 

Although Labor representatives said they would work with individuals on payment plans, multiple individuals testified during committee hearings that they could not make contact with officials or said they were warned the state would begin to garnish their wages. 

A spokesperson previously told The Missouri Times about $40 million of the overpayments came from the state whereas $108 million was from federal funds. 

Missouri ended federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits by June 12 in an effort to encourage more Missourians to rejoin the workforce amid nationwide labor shortages. 

This story has been updated.