ATLANTA — Imagine being employed during the pandemic to later learn you’ve qualified for unemployment after your job filed on your behalf.
Channel 2 Action News has learned that these individuals are now being told by the state they have to pay hundreds of dollars in taxes for money they said they returned to the state.
Several people who spoke with Channel 2′s Ashli Lincoln said they tried for months to return money they said the Department of Labor sent them in error for unemployment funds.
Now, the state confirmed to Channel 2 that it sent that money by mistake, but the people still have to pay the taxes on it.
Heather Roberts said Georgia’s Department of Labor is blindsiding her after she received a notice telling her she needs to pay back taxes on unemployment money sent to her in 2020 or legal action will be taken.
Before getting the letter, Roberts said she tried getting in contact with the state to alert it that she didn’t qualify for the $5,063 in unemployment funds mailed to her.
Channel 2 Action News found her employer, Wellstar Healthcare Systems, mistakenly filed an unemployment claim on her behalf.
Roberts, who is a nurse for the company, told Lincoln that she also holds a second job with a medical provider in the Rome area.
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“I feel like I shouldn’t qualify for unemployment because I hadn’t stopped working,” Roberts said.
She said when getting the notice last year, she tried for months to return the money to the state but was unsuccessful.
“I’ve left voicemails. I’ve hung on hold for an hour, an hour and a half to speak with somebody, and then I get hung up on,” Roberts said.
Fed up, she wrote a check returning the money.
“At the beginning of March, my check was cashed by the Department of Labor, and I never heard anything more from them,” Roberts said.
That was until this summer when she got the letter about paying $1,000 in taxes.
“It makes me feel, I don’t even know what to say because I thought I was trying to be honest to send the money back, and I feel like I’ve done the wrong thing because if I would have just kept, they would have never known,” Roberts said.
Lincoln found out that Roberts isn’t alone.
A nurse who works for Piedmont Healthcare System showed Lincoln a letter echoing the same story.
She didn’t want to be interviewed but told Lincoln that she, too, shouldn’t have qualified for unemployment.
“I know of 800 people alone at Emory and 200 at my hospital. So you do the math. If everybody got $5,000, look how much money the state is out of because they paid unemployment to people that didn’t need it,” the letter read.
Lincoln contacted the Department of Labor about the issue.
A representative told Lincoln that they are aware of this issue. But by federal law, the state has to pay taxes first on all unemployment funds issued even if the funds were issued in error.
Lincoln requested numbers from the state and found since the state began issuing out unemployment payments on March 21, 2020, that of the $23 billion paid, about $2 billion has been paid to the IRS and the state Department of Revenue in taxes.
The state confirmed it is investigating other claims of overpayments.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would have never sent it back,” Roberts said.
Lincoln contacted Piedmont and Wellstar health systems to figure out how the error happened. Piedmont has not responded yet, and Wellstar stated it is looking into the claims.
Regardless, the state stated these individuals do have to pay the taxes back. However, there are some steps they can take to get that money refunded back to them.
The State tells Channel 2 Action News anyone who received an overpayment is encouraged to return that money.
They say sometimes when those overpayments are issued and not paid back, an individual could face additional fines. They say it is the responsibility of the employer that’s filing the weekly claim on behalf of the employee to certify legally that the employee does not have any additional funds from another employer to keep this situation from occurring. A Department of Labor spokesperson went on to say when that doesn’t happen, the employee ends up with an overpayment. The IRS does not return that money to the State and it must be recouped.
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