OESC Attempts To Recover Funds The State Agency May Have Overpaid To Unemployed Oklahomans

Wednesday, September 8th 2021, 7:36 pm
By: Erika Lee

Correction & Clarification: An earlier version of this story suggests that Oklahoma City resident Dee Ann Russell lost her case. This is not true. According to Russell's attorney, the case is being appealed and is not decided.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said in the past 18 months, unemployment claims have skyrocketed due to the pandemic.

However, overpayment claims have increased dramatically as well.

OESC claims this is because many Oklahomans applying for unemployment didn't provide sufficient evidence or information about their situation.

“We went from paying out an average of $23 million a month to $230 million at the height of the pandemic in just a week,” said Shelley Zumwalt, Executive Director of the OESC. 

Many Oklahomans have accused the OESC of asking for large sums of money back, claiming to have overpaid.

Zumwalt said the term overpayment isn't that simple, and that there are many factors to consider.

“We don’t track it as a single category of overpayment,” Zumwalt said. “There are claims that they didn’t provide the proper documentation so that’s a different bucket, but yes we are seeing an increase in overpayment letters.”

Oklahoma City resident Dee Ann Russell said she was paid more than $27,000 in unemployment benefits.

She said OESC determined that was too much--and that Russell now owes money.

She is fighting the decision, a case that is currently in the appeal process, according to Russell's attorney.

Russell said it's because she didn't fill out any information incorrectly. 

However, the OESC said they would not go after an applicant for money the applicant was eligible for.

"We're not trying to recover money that people are entitled to,” Zumwalt said. “We are trying to recover money that was collected to people who were not eligible.”

Zumwalt said many instances of miscommunication can be fixed with documentation.