WASHINGTON—U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., alongside U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure certain unemployed workers are not held financially responsible for mistakes made by states like Florida in the distribution of unemployment benefits. Murphy’s bill – the Relief for Working Families Act would prevent workers who received an overpayment of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits by the State of Florida from being required to repay those benefits if the worker was not at fault for the overpayment and if repayment would cause severe economic hardship for the worker. Under current law, states like Florida are required to seek repayment of overpaid benefits, which many struggling workers did not know were overpayments and have already spent to buy food, pay their rent or mortgage, or meet other basic needs.
Murphy and Herrera Beutler are seeking to include this bill in the broader COVID-19 relief package that Congress is currently negotiating.
“Florida’s unemployment system failed workers when they needed help the most, resulting in non-payment of benefits, under-payments, delayed payments and—in some cases—overpayments,” Murphy said. “Florida workers didn’t cause this mess, and they shouldn’t be punished for Tallahassee’s indifference and incompetence. Requiring workers to pay for the mistakes of our state government only adds insult to injury, and my bipartisan bill will stop this injustice.”
“Washington’s Employment Security Department should not be further burdening struggling workers because of its mistakes. Until it can develop a system to more accurately administer unemployment benefits, we should give ESD the tools to provide relief to folks struggling to put food on the table,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’m introducing legislation that ensures individuals are not held accountable for states’ mismanagement of jobless benefits, but that preserves states’ abilities to crack down on scams and seek repayment of truly fraudulent claims.”
Recent reports describe how unemployed and furloughed workers are finding themselves in debt because of inconsistent or unclear guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and errors made by state unemployment agencies like the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. These individuals are suddenly being forced to pay back thousands of dollars, with state agencies threatening to garnish paychecks and tax refunds to obtain repayment.
The Relief for Working Families Act requires states to waive repayment of PUA overpayments when the individual receiving the jobless benefits is not at fault and where repayment would cause severe economic hardship. Under current law, states are able to grant hardship waivers to individuals who receive state unemployment benefits, extended benefits, and other pandemic unemployment benefits, but not Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
After the collapse of Florida’s unemployment benefits system, Murphy called for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General to conduct an independent federal investigation. She has pushed state leaders to expand the low $275 maximum weekly state benefit for unemployed workers in Florida and has urged Congress to reach a bipartisan compromise to extend federal unemployment benefits that expired this past summer.