North Louisiana woman receives letter demanding return of overpayment on unemployment benefits


RAYVILLE, La. (KTVE/KARD) – The Louisiana Workforce Commission has told a Rayville woman she has to pay back the money she got for unemployment because she was not qualified to receive it.

Chelsea Honzell says she filed for unemployment back in March due to COVID-19 after having to leave her job because of underlying health conditions. Earlier this month, she got the first letter telling her she had to pay back $11,000. Since then, she says she has received two more notifications to pay back even more money, bringing the total to $20,000.

“Basically saying I was disqualified the entire time and now I owe almost $18,000 back to the state,” says Honzell. “How did you allow people to get paid for a certain amount of time when they were supposedly disqualified from the very beginning?”

Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Dejoie says she can’t speak on any specific case, but she does say overpayment notices are given out for a variety of reasons. Honzell says her letters indicate she is disqualified because she left work for personal reasons and because she didn’t have a car.

“I didn’t have a vehicle that was working and I couldn’t use public transportation to go look for employment or to get a job. I live out in the country and my car was broken down for about a month but that doesn’t mean I still can’t work from home.”

The state says overpayments are established while they work out the circumstances of that situation.

“If someone was to say they were unable to work, we need to know the circumstances because a basic premise of state unemployment is you have to be available to work,” said Dejoie.

Chelsea had 15 days after receiving the first letter to appeal, which she did. She says she shouldn’t have been receiving unemployment checks if she was actually never eligible in the first place. Now having to pay back the money while still unemployed has put her in a very difficult position.

Though, the state says nothing is final.

“We have rules and regulations that we are bond and laws that we must operate by but it is not our intention to harm any individuals at all,” said Dejoie.

Chelsea says this has happened to other people she knows as well. The Louisiana Workforce Commission says since March they have paid nearly $6.7 billion for unemployment. Last year, they only paid around $153 million.

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