New Mexicans can soon request waivers for mistaken PUA overpayments

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Many New Mexicans getting unemployment help through the pandemic were overpaid and may have to pay it back. The state’s Department of Workforce Solutions says it will soon offer waivers for people who were overpaid by mistake through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.

News 13 received calls and emails from people saying they got those notices for repayment and are shocked to see what they owe. For some, they said it’s tens of thousands of dollars.

“Since the pandemic started, we’re looking at a little over 20,000 people total,” Department of Workforce Solutions Cabinet Secretary Bill McCamley explained. “Now, many of those have already… paid their overpayments off.”

The department said the following reasons are the most common for overpayment: Failing to report gross earnings or other deductible income correctly. Claimants must report their earnings before deductions; continuing to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits after returning to work. Earnings must be reported in the week they are earned, not when they are received; failing to report all earnings from work while claiming benefits or failing to provide any other information that could affect the claim; being reinstated in a job with retroactive pay or back pay award after a grievance hearing; or being paid Unemployment Insurance benefits and later being disqualified because the claimant was deemed not eligible. “Most of the time, that is people putting in their gross wages that they’ve made overall over here, but then only paying taxes on their net wages,” McCamley said.

People have up to 15 days to appeal if they think they were notified by mistake, but McCamley says more help is on the way for people with monetary issues with their claim. There’s a provision in a short-term relief bill passed by Congress that lets states waive PUA overpayments for people who qualify. “And if we agree that people meet those criteria – having financial hardship or it was an issue or not their fault and they can explain that – then we have the option to provide waivers to those people alone,” McCamley stated.

McCamley said the department is working on a way for people who collected too much unemployment to request those waivers, hopefully starting the week of March 22. Claimants will be sent a questionnaire to determine if they’re eligible.

More than 150,000 New Mexicans were on unemployment at one point in June, which is fifteen times the pre-pandemic levels. As that number has come down to just under 109,000 as of Thursday, the department said it finally had time to identify the overpayments.

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