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

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — On Monday, 13 WREX spoke with three Illinois women who say they're being asked to pay back thousands of dollars of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance they received from the state. Since then, a number of other residents, like Olivia Riek, have stepped forward to share their story.

She says she's faced a number of unemployment issues. In the beginning of the pandemic she was on regular unemployment until the state informed her she should be on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Most recently, she's learned some concerning news.

" I received a letter saying I owed the state $5,730," says Riek.

Riek says she's being asked to repay nearly a thousand dollars more than she received and it's an amount she can't afford to give up.

"Even on my best day, no, I'm not in a position[to pay it back]. Pre pandemic I lived paycheck to paycheck. I have hair falling out, I get physically ill because I'm so stressed out."

Republican Senator Dave Syverson says a main reason for so many overpayments is due with confusion over whether people should list their net or gross income. He says many people incorrectly listed their gross income, which is forcing these overpayments. Syverson says lawmakers have asked IDES if other states have also encountered this confusion and overpayment issues, or if it's a state-specific issue.

"Then we certainly have a better chance at getting the feds to adjust and sign waivers on it," says Syverson. "But if it's something that fell down to the state as clear instructions then it'll be a problem."

Democratic Senator Steve Stadelman says these types of PUA issues are plaguing every state, which is why Congress must act.

"The federal law requires state's to recoup that money, the only way that changes is if congress passes a new law or rules."

Democratic Representative Maurice West says this frustrating development comes after local lawmakers spent the pandemic trying to get constituents their unemployment money.

"Now it makes me angry we have to turn around and talk about people having to give the money back," says West.

Republican Representative Andrew Chesney says his side of the aisle has repeatedly called on speaker Mike Madigan to reconvene so lawmakers can push for solutions on these issues.

"Of course that hasn't happened and we haven't been in Springfield more than 25 days in a year which is unacceptable. The first people to be at work should be the General Assembly and we should be the last."

If you've run into issues concerning your PUA payments and are being asked to repay it, email news@wrex.com to share your story.

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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