An unknown number of New Yorkers receiving jobless benefits may have to pay some of that money back to the state after they were overpaid a year ago.
The state's Department of Labor said a "small" number of people received double payments in April and May 2020 as the state's unemployment system was crushed from the benefits applications submitted by hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Upper West Side resident Bryn Taylor is among those who could be forced to give back the cash.
The 40-year-old freelance fashion stylist got an email from the labor department on Friday telling her she had an "overpayment" on her account with more details expected to arrive in a letter, according to an email alert shared with Gothamist.
"When I read that it was an overpayment, I felt incredibly confused at first, because I thought, 'Oh, did I miss something?'" Taylor told Gothamist/WNYC. "I felt a little insulted, actually."
The freelance fashion stylist had to stop working a year ago because her work requires in-person visits to clients' homes and shopping trips. She qualified for the benefits through a federal program expanding unemployment payments to out-of-work freelancers—which Taylor called an "absolute lifesaver."
"We were very patient as recipients of this unemployment in the early days," she added. "I've been keeping meticulous tabs on my unemployment payments since I filed."
Now, Taylor will try to apply for a waiver so that she doesn't have to pay the state back.
The state's labor department said on Twitter that it is "required to recover any overpaid funds" under federal law. Anyone who was overpaid will get a letter with more information as well as details about how to submit a waiver to forgive the overpayment. The department said those who are impacted can request a waiver application beginning 12 p.m. on April 23rd.
Without a waiver, unemployment payments will be reduced by 20% until the overpaid funds are returned.
Taylor said many on unemployment suspect it was an initial $600 paid out to New Yorkers in the rush to pay out the benefits to those forced to stop working to stay safe from coronavirus.
"If this is what this is, to me, it was supposed to be paid to us because it was the department's fault that there was such a lag between our application and acceptance," Taylor said. "So it didn't feel like it was a favor or a handout."
During a press briefing on April 8th, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo said everyone who had filed for unemployment would get an additional, immediate $600 payment that the state expected to be reimbursed for by the federal government. "People need money now in their pocket, so New York will be doing that immediately," Cuomo said at the time.
The labor department said the overpayments were from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. People who were alerted about the overpayments can file an appeal or waiver within 30 days of receiving a paper letter in the mail with details about how to file one. If they file that, their benefits will not be reduced until a final decision is made. The department did not immediately specify how the overpayments occurred. It also did not immediately respond to questions about how many people were impacted or how much jobless New Yorkers will have to return.
This article has been updated with additional information from the Department of Labor.