NCLEJ Advocates for Workers to Keep Unemployment Insurance Overpayments

Representing workers across New York State in coalition with Legal Services NYC, New York Legal Assistance Group, Volunteers of Legal Service, Empire Justice Center, Brooklyn Defenders Services, and National Employment Law Project, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice urged Governor Kathy Hochul to stop collecting money from workers who were overpaid unemployment benefits through no fault of their own. In a letter, the groups asked Governor Hochul to immediately cease all unemployment overpayment collection efforts and follow the United States Department of Labor’s (U.S. DOL) new federal unemployment overpayment waiver guidance.

New York State has aggressively attempted to collect money from workers who were overpaid unemployment benefits during the Covid 19 pandemic. Overpayments were not the fault of workers, most of whom did their best to follow rapidly changing guidance during the pandemic as the New York Department of Labor (NY DOL) rushed to approve unemployment benefits to meet the urgency the crisis required amidst rapidly changing guidance from the U.S. DOL, new staffing, and system changes. The vast majority of claimants, who are now being charged with overpayments, used the benefits for their exact intended purpose—to put food on the table and pay rent, bills, and medical costs while they were unemployed.

In their advocacy letter, NCLEJ and others pointed to the punitive effects of New York’s attempt to recoup overpayments, writing that it “has been devastating for New Yorkers emerging from an extended economically precarious situation. Many of these people are low-income workers who are already struggling to make ends meet, and have no way of repaying this money.”