'Nobody should be asked to pay back one cent,' advocates fight for blanket waiver on ESD overpayments

Since the pandemic started, there have been tens of thousands of people who received notices of overpayment from the Employment Security Department (ESD).

ESD said most cases were resolved after people submitted additional information, but there are still many who have ongoing overpayments in their account. 

"In my opinion, nobody should be asked to pay back one cent of this in the first place," said Chelsea Rustad. "It was really upsetting and surprising and confusing to see that he’s being asked to pay back benefits he qualified for."

Rustad’s husband was one of more than a million people in Washington State who lost their job or applied for pandemic related unemployment benefits back in 2020.

She said her family needed that money to survive during those uncertain days and never imagined ESD would later ask for a big chunk of it back.

"Fast forward to a year and a half later, in December 2021, he received an overpayment notice letter from ESD stating that he owes ESD $7,904 in overpayment."

Now Rustad and others are advocating for a blanket waiver of overpayments during this current pandemic. Several people plan on testifying at ESD’s Public Rulemaking Hearing on Thursday. 

"They were saying I owe $39,000, then it went down to $38,000 and then $35,000 now," said Rosa.

Rosa is a mom of three from Seattle who said she faced issues with ESD from the very beginning when filing for unemployment benefits.

Rosa said she had to wait nine months before receiving any unemployment benefits after losing her job at the start of the pandemic. She was notified of overpayment back in September and submitted an appeal, but now six months later she’s still waiting on a hearing date.

"It’s been, like really, for lack of a better word a nightmare," said Rosa. "It’s definitely going to be a stressful situation because I don’t have the money to pay that back. That’s not something I thought I would have to do."

In an email, a spokesperson for ESD told FOX 13 News:

The smaller group are claimants who ultimately received benefits they are not entitled to and now need to pay those back or apply for a waiver. Those claimants also have appeal rights they should exhaust if they disagree with the decision. 

The majority of claimants who received overpayment notices did so because they failed to respond to multiple requests for information we are required by law to collect. Once they provide that information, assuming they are eligible, the overpayment can often be cleared.  

"They just have so many errors. It doesn’t make any sense why all these people, like I’m not the only one, all these people are getting all these over payments that doesn’t make any sense," said Rosa.

According to ESD, there are thousands of people who currently have ongoing overpayment cases. 

Stay connected with FOX 13 News on all platforms:
DOWNLOAD: FOX 13 News and Weather Apps
WATCH: FOX 13 News Live
SUBSCRIBE: FOX 13 on YouTube
DAILY BRIEF: Sign Up For Our Newsletter
FOLLOW: Facebook Twitter Instagram