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More than 10K Missourians receive waiver for federal coronavirus unemployment overpayments

Missouri officials have processed about 23,000 requests for a waiver from repaying non-fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment overpayments — granting waivers to about 10,500. 

Those figures were the latest as of Nov. 16, according to Maura Browning, a Department of Labor and Industrial Relations spokeswoman. The Division of Employment Security (DES) is processing the waiver requests

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. 

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

The waiver process is expected to take up to three years to complete, and DES is still informing claimants who could be eligible for the waiver, Browning said in an email. 

The department began to notify individuals who may be eligible for the waiver in July through the mail and in UInteract, Missouri’s online unemployment benefits service. 

The 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). 

Officials have said they plan to recoup the state-issued overpayments. 

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. 

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, 2020 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. 

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