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Michigan officials applaud federal pandemic unemployment assistance waiver decision

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Michiganders who received extra unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic might have have to pay them back. (An unemployment line in California in 2007.)

Some Michigan residents who benefited from billions in overpaid pandemic unemployment assistance may not owe that money back after all.

The federal government has expanded its criteria for who can get a waiver that would let people keep that money.

Julia Dale directs the state Unemployment Insurance Agency. She called that change “incredibly important.”

Dale said before the rule change, the state’s options for granting waivers were limited.

“The criteria prior — the blanket criteria was limited in options, and this expanded criteria really opens up the universe as to how we can evaluate overpayment claims,” Dale said.

Still, not everyone who received an overpayment may be eligible for a waiver. Dale said it’s possible notices to return some of that money are still going out.

She said despite having people working around the clock on the new waiver rules, it’s too soon to estimate how many people are affected or when they might find out they don't have to return the overpayments..

“It’s just this analysis of the data we have, of the claimants that we have, making sure that we are really taking a comprehensive look of all of the different potential categories that exist where individuals received overpayment notices,” Dale said.

She recommended anyone who received an overpayment notice do two things.

Recipients should first periodically check the Michigan Web Account Manager — commonly called MiWAM — Dale said. That site houses the state’s online system for managing unemployment insurance claims. Dale said her agency will communicate with affected people there.

She said the second thing to do is sit tight — no one needs to proactively apply for these waivers.

Last month, the Michigan House passed a bill that would also provide waivers for some individuals who wrongly received pandemic unemployment assistance payments.

State Rep. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) sponsored that bill. He’s embracing the federal waiver expansion.

“This is exactly why I did my bill. Our families have been victimized by this whole thing of being forced to repay. They’re getting these nasty letters from our government. They’re in a sheer panic,” Damoose said.

Despite the unemployment insurance agency working on processing those waivers, he said he still sees a need to get his bill across the finish line.

“We don’t know all the details of what the federal government is doing yet, and it’s not set in stone yet, so I hope my bill still moves just to lock that in,” Damoose said.

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