5 On Your Side

Letters seeking repayment of unemployment benefits spark confusion, worry

Posted January 28, 2021 3:13 p.m. EST
Updated January 28, 2021 6:57 p.m. EST

— The letters are ominous, declaring the "reversal of a previous decision" for unemployment benefits received last year.

"I just couldn’t understand what went wrong," said Michele Hudson, one of 3,500 North Carolinians who received the letters.

The state Division of Employment Security said $14,350 – $5,950 in state benefits and $8,400 in federal benefits – was paid to Hudson in error and that she owed it back.

"I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I didn’t know what to do," she said.

Complicating her situation, the two letters she got arrived just before the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, so it was three days before she got clarification.

She spent the weekend trying to figure out where she could borrow money to pay it off.

When Hudson was finally able to speak with someone at DES, she said she was told "it was a glitch in our system."

"Their explanation was horrible. They couldn’t understand why I was panicking," she said.

She said she asked for written confirmation of the mistake but was told DES couldn’t do that.

Hudson contacted 5 On Your Side after seeing other stories about miscommunication with DES letters.

DES spokeswoman Kerry McComber told 5 On Your Side "a technical issue caused the system to calculate an overpayment in error." She added that "money was not paid in error" and that "accounts have been corrected."

McComber said DES will notify everyone who was sent a letter, in writing, that they are not liable for the payment created by the error.

"If their computer system is sending out letters like this, they need to take a look at their computer system, because this is scary," Hudson said.

Until she receives her confirmation letter, she plans to keep checking her DES account online.

"I think I check it more now than I did when I was trying to get the unemployment started," she said. "I guess, as long as it still says zero, I’m fine."

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