Tri-State woman ordered to pay back thousands in unemployment benefits

Unemployed Tri-State woman ordered to pay back $12,885 to Ohio
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 5:08 PM EST|Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 11:28 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Imagine this: You lose your job, you’re approved for unemployment benefits, you use the money to get by... then suddenly you’re told you have to pay it all back.

That’s what happened to Sarah Zolandz, a Winton Hills woman who recently received a letter from the Ohio Unemployment Office informing her she has 45 days to return the money it sent her.

The sum: $12,885.

“I had never been on unemployment,” Zolandz said. “It was something I was personally against, for myself. I’m someone that thrives off of working. It actually took a lot of egging on from a few friends and family members who said, ‘You need the money, I think that you should do it, and you’re not going to be alone in this.‘”

Zolandz says she applied for unemployment in March by going to the state website and filling out the proper information.

Weeks later, she began receiving payments of $299 per week and $600 per week of the federal government’s pandemic unemployment benefits.

“And it came just in time,” she explained, “because the month was ending at that time, and I had to pay my rent. I had to help out with the bills as much as I could.”

Each week thereafter she applied again, and each week she received benefits.

That lasted 15 weeks, until she received the letter saying she had been overpaid for “non-fraud” reasons. There was no other explanation.

Now she owes the money back.

Ohio Unemployment Office Director Kimberly Hall spoke to FOX19 NOW about overpayments.

“We are examining right now any state and federal law that would allow us to identify some very narrow, limited circumstances that might allow us to waive overpayments,” she said.

Previously Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown wrote Hall a letter, which reads in part: “The state must ensure that any overpayment notices sent to unemployment beneficiaries clearly state whether the overpayment is the fault of the state or the individual.”

He added Tuesday in an interview with FOX19 NOW: “I just don’t believe that the person who gets the check that did nothing wrong, didn’t file fraudulently or even incorrectly, should have to pay for that.”

While Zolandz waits to see who’s at fault, for now, according to the letter, she’s on the hook.

“I could start a job today, but within 45 days, I’m not gonna have anywhere near $12,000.”

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