MO lawmakers say Labor Department went back on its word to halt collections

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Posted at 5:58 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 18:59:37-04

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers claim the Department of Labor went back on its word to halt collections of overpayment money.

41 Action News first reported this issue in July 2020, when Missourians reported receiving notices of overpayment from the agency. The notices said they had been overpaid due to no fault of their own, through agency error and they needed to pay that money back.

After months of stress and struggling to get any information about the notices, the agency explained about 45,000 Missourians had received them.

The agency said it paid out $148 million in benefits to people it later found to be ineligible, including $40 million from state coffers and $108 million from federal programs.

A bill working its way through the Missouri legislature would waive the federal portions. If the bill becomes law, claimants would still have to pay back the state portion.

The bill passed the Missouri House in March.

Its sponsor, Rep. J. Eggleston, (R - District 2), said the Labor Department made a verbal agreement with lawmakers in March to halt collections on all federal payments. The agreement also addressed the state portion of payments. The agency agreed to stop sending out garnishment notices or placing liens on properties of people who have filed appeals or had made contact with the agency to set up a payment plan.

Rep. Jered Taylor, (R - District 139), Chair of the Special Committee on Government Oversight, said lawmakers continued to receive calls from constituents receiving lien and garnishment notices.

"We felt like they weren't being honest with us, they didn't hold up their end of the bargain," Taylor said.

Taylor's committee called a hearing Tuesday to question Labor Director Anna Hui about the notices.

"In the beginning, her position was that we somehow misunderstood the agreement, but upon pressing it, eventually she apologized that it was their error, they should not have sent them out, there was just too much to be processing and they sent out some of the letters when they should not have," Eggleston said.

During the hearing, Taylor said Hui said the agency placed 32 liens on claimants who had already filed appeals.

"I don't know if that number's true, I mean I'll be honest with you, there's a little bit of a trust issue now with the understanding of what was going to happen and that didn't happen so you know, I'm skeptical," Taylor said.

The agency has since agreed to put a pause on all collection notices, federal and state, for the time being.

Affected claimants received an email Wednesday from the agency letting them know.

Taylor said the agency has committed to work to verify notices and make them more clear in the future.

"And then also to make sure that their right hand is talking to their left because right now it's not, they should be notifying each other that if there's an appeal or a payment plan then no collection efforts should be happening, and that's not only during the pandemic, that should be all the time," Taylor said.

Taylor said there have already been cases of claimants winning appeals on the overpayments.

"I have a feeling we're going to see a significant number of these appeals play out and I think the individuals are going to win their appeal," Taylor said.

If the bill becomes law, claimants would need to fill out a waiver and be approved to have the federal portions of their overpayment waived.

In the mean time, Taylor is urging anyone still receiving any type of collection notice to contact his office so lawmakers can hold the agency accountable on its new promise.

41 Action News requested an interview with Labor Director Anna Hui. The agency has not gotten back to us.