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Illinois residents who received financial assistance during pandemic being asked to pay money back

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Hairstylist Brittany Welch says as an independent contractor she doesn't qualify for uenmployment.

"I had to apply for PUA because my income was ripped out from underneath me without a week's notice," says Welch.

PUA or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, is a federal program approved in the Cares Act that allows states to provide relief to workers who don't meet unemployment qualification. Welch says she understood hairstylists like her should get roughly $198 a week through the program. Her payments were nearly double that. Welch says she tried to reach out to the state for clarification.

"I have it documented and screenshotted 783 times I was either disconnected or hung up on," says Welch.

RELATED: Local lawmakers address major issues with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as Illinoisans asked to pay back thousands of dollars

Welch says now the state has caught up to the error. She received a letter telling her to pay back $4,883. She says that's roughly all the funds she was given.

"So they're asking me to pay back something. I don't have an overpayment at all, that's all I got," says Welch.

Carly Inman, who also works as a hairstylist found herself in the same boat with IDES asking for roughly $2,800 back.

"They didn't give me as much as they're asking for back," says Inman. "They'll pretty much be getting back everything they gave me."

And Marie Pastion says she's in the same boat as well. She's on the hook for roughly $1,600.

"It's pretty well everything thing they had given in assistance. They're pretty much asking for everything they gave me, back."

A spokesperson with IDES released the following information to 13 WREX:

Overpayments within the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system is an unfortunate consequence of a federal system haphazardly put together without much foresight concerning how it would negatively impact PUA claimants (self-employed, sole proprietors, 1099 workers, etc.).  The federal guidance given to every state for PUA systems allows a PUA claimant to establish their own weekly benefit amount prior to verification by state unemployment systems.  Additionally, the same federal guidance does not allow states to waive the recoupment of PUA overpayments, which has resulted in claimants, under federal requirements, being required to pay back funds otherwise needed for their families, rent, mortgages, and groceries.  This is especially concerning for claimants and state unemployment agencies given the impending expiration of PUA on December 26, 2020, barring additional federal action from the federal government. At this point, unless there is a change to the federal guidance provided by USDOL, or unless there is federal action taken with a new or expanded federal stimulus package, Illinois, and every other state in the Union, is required to recoup overpayments made within the PUA system.  While IDES understands the additional financial burden this places on claimants and their families, the Department is prepared to work with claimants impacted to best approach repayment options and plans.

Rebecca Cisco, IDES Information Strategy Director & Public Information Officer

"I feel like it's time for the state to step in and not do this to us," says Welch. "If this goes through a lot of us will have to unfortunately claim bankruptcy. We can't survive off our income now."

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden is the Investigative Reporter at WREX. She joined the team in December 2014 as the evening producer. In 2015 she made the move to evening reporter before joining the 13 Investigates team in May of 2018.

She grew up in Woodstock, Illinois and graduated from Woodstock High School in 2009. Mary graduated with a degree in Journalism and Marketing from Loyola University Chicago in 2013.

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