Up to 650,000 Michigan Residents May Need to Repay Unemployment Benefits. Here's Why

by Maurie Backman | Published on July 14, 2021

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A person looks worriedly at their computer in their home, resting their hand on their head.

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A mistake on Michigan's part could put a lot of people in a bad financial situation.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the course of the pandemic. Thankfully, unemployment benefits have been made available to those who are out of work through no fault of their own.

But the process of filing for unemployment over the past year and change hasn't been smooth. Many states use outdated technology to process claims, and getting a live person to assist with a claim can be difficult. As such, it's conceivable that mistakes may have cropped up along the way.

That's what seems to have happened in Michigan. According to M Live, a large number of workers were approved to receive unemployment benefits when, in reality, their claims potentially should've been denied. Now, the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency is asking almost 650,000 residents to resubmit paperwork to see if they're actually eligible for jobless benefits.

The kicker? If any of those people are deemed ineligible for unemployment, they'll be asked to pay that money back.

An unfair demand

Many Michigan residents are in a panic due to their benefit payments being questioned, and for good reason. At this point, the pandemic has been raging for a long time, and much (if not all) of the money received in the form of unemployment benefits may have been spent long ago.

A lot of people who collected unemployment may have used it to cover their essential bills, like groceries and mortgage payments. Those in a better financial position may have used that money to improve their homes. But either way, worker advocates are arguing that the state should expect that money to have already been spent, and to ask workers to return it is wrong -- especially since many people may have collected those benefits in good faith, thinking they were eligible.

Now, claimants who are being asked to resubmit paperwork are being given 20 days to do so. And many are no doubt nervous about it.

Earlier this year, Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency determined that certain part-time workers who weren't available for full-time work should not have been eligible for unemployment when they were, in fact, paid benefits. The state then sent demand letters to those people, insisting on getting their money back. As such, it's easy to see why the 650,000 people in question may be anxious.

Michigan has paid $36.7 billion in unemployment benefits in the course of the pandemic. But only $5.7 billion of that came in the form of state dollars. The rest came from temporary federal programs. It's understandable that Michigan may be eager to replenish its pool of funds. But insisting that people without jobs repay benefits they collected as a result of administrative or claims-processing errors is unjust, or so says the Workers' Rights Legal Clinic at Michigan United.

Of course, of the 650,000 people who now risk having to repay their benefits, many may be deemed eligible for those payments after all. But those who are deemed ineligible could soon have a very expensive problem on their hands.

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