‘My heart sank:’ self-employed worker gets unwelcome news from state

Updated: Apr. 20, 2021 at 3:52 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Some people are finding a shock in the mailbox. They’re being told they owe the state money they received in unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic; it’s extra money the state accidentally sent.

“My heart sank. We open up and it says, you owe us $1,200. Here’s the address to mail that check to.”

Last week Lisa Wickline, a self-employed massage therapist stationed at Alice Andrew Salon, opened the letter from the state, telling her she owed money it accidentally sent her.

She noticed the hairdressers she worked alongside got them too.

“They’re trying to come after us for more money in a time where we’re still hurting,” said Wickline.

In the letter, the state says, “Through no fault of your own, you received a duplicate payment of Federal Unemployment Compensation to which you were not entitled.”

But Wickline says it was hard to track how much she was getting. She received lump sum payments that were inconsistent.

“For all of us, that was our income due to us. That was to pay our bills were behind on. I had no idea that was money that wasn’t supposed to come to me,” she said.

State Senator Patty Ritchie’s office is aware of the issue. She said, “It is important that people who received notices understand their options, including filing a waiver to request the overpayment be forgiven due to financial hardship, or requesting an appeal if you disagree with the overpayment determination.”

The issue seems to have hit those who are self-employed the hardest, including massage therapists and hair dressers who rent their spaces.

“All of us that are self-employed still are not making the income that we made prior to the pandemic hitting. We still are struggling. We still aren’t paying our bills on time, and there’s nothing extra. So now you want me to give you $1,200 extra when it wasn’t our fault,” said Wickline.

She says she hopes for her sake, and for those she works next to, the state will wait to charge them when they are no longer collecting unemployment.

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