ST. LOUIS ( -- Missouri's multi-million dollar mistake with unemployment benefits has some people scrambling to figure out how to settle a debt that they thought was help.

News 4 Investigates has been tracking how Missouri overpaid Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and learned tens of thousands of people applied for waivers, but the majority were denied.

Dorothy Wilson thought her case would be resolved. She said she was shocked when she got a letter in the mail saying her payment waiver was denied.

"Close to $3,000 they want me to pay back," Wilson said. "I feel like it's not my fault. I wasn't trying to cheat nobody. I wasn't trying to get no money that I wasn't supposed to get."

When COVID hit, Wilson couldn't keep her job at a nursing home. She applied for unemployment and got accepted. She said the money is long gone and was used to pay for bills, food and medication. 

"I can't go to the people I paid my bills to and say, 'hey, can I get that money back.' I don't have the money to pay this," Wilson said. 

A year ago, News 4 Investigates started looking into the Missouri Department of Labor's expensive mistake and learned 46,000 people were impacted and $150 million were mistakenly paid.

Over the summer lawmakers held hearings with the Department of Labor. There was also a proposed bill that could have forgiven those payments but it fell short during the legislative session.

That meant for many like Wilson, the only hope left was a waiver. Wilson filled out the waiver application and explained her situation.

"Then I also put on here, I don't have any money to give to pay back," Wilson said as she looked over her application.

Wilson recently got a letter back from the Department of Labor saying her request was denied because she provided "inaccurate details." Wilson said everything she provided was accurate.

"I was honest in what I was doing," she said.

More than 35,000 people who were overpaid asked for waivers, according to the Department of Labor. The majority of those were denied. The state is still trying to recover nearly $113 million of the $150 million in overpaid relief. 

"I won't say it surprises me, but it's very concerning," said State Senator Brian Williams (D) of the 14th District. "We should be figuring out how to right this wrong and moving forward."

Williams said he wants the state to pull from CARES Act funding or the state's surplus to pay people like Wilson back.

"This is the holidays right now and we should be trying to figure out how to make things easier for folks," Williams said. "This is a mistake that the state made and earlier this year we addressed it and to think that it's coming back up is concerning."

Without a firm resolution, Wilson said she's stuck and doesn't know where to turn to next.

"I pay my bills and the debts and whatever that I owe," Wilson said. "I don't have that kind of money to pay back. I'm already now living paycheck to paycheck."

If people are denied a waiver, there is a hearing process they can start.

The state said people deemed responsible for paying back the money they got could face liens on their homes, have their wages garnished or have money taken from their state and federal income taxes.

The Department of Labor declined an interview for this story. The Labor Director has said that overpayments are a typical part of the process and Missouri is only seeing so many more because of the pandemic.

News 4 Investigates asked the Department of Labor how many people have paid back their benefits and the dollar amount that adds up to. They have not yet responded.

Copyright 2021 KMOV. All rights reserved.

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