Pa. opens amnesty plan to reclaim incorrect jobless benefits

Posted: June 08, 2013

HARRISBURG - To those who mistakenly - or not so mistakenly - received unemployment compensation benefits to which they weren't entitled, Pennsylvania wants its money back.

In an effort to reclaim $613 million due to the fund, the state Department of Labor and Industry is rolling out what it says is the nation's first unemployment compensation amnesty program.

"We need to secure this trust fund so it's there when people need it," Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway said at a news conference in the Capitol on Thursday.

The amnesty program runs through Aug. 31.

State officials said 130,000 people owe a total of $356 million in unemployment compensation. Almost 20,000 of them are Philadelphians, the highest number in the state, with Montgomery and Delaware Counties being second and third. Philadelphia, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties also topped the list of employers who did not contribute enough to the fund, with almost 12,000 of them in Philadelphia.

Under the amnesty program, those who mistakenly collected more benefits than they were owed - as the administration calls them, "non-fault individuals" - would have to repay half the amount for which they were overcompensated.

All told, that group owes about $81 million. It includes people who continued to collect unemployment benefits until receiving a first paycheck from a job without realizing that unemployment benefits end on the first day of a new job, Labor and Industry spokeswoman Sara Goulet said.

Those who purposely gave false information to collect jobless benefits, or "at-fault claimants," will have to pay back the full amount they wrongfully received, as well as half of the interest and penalties. They make up 71 percent of claimants and owe $274 million.

John Dodds, executive director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, said the department's instructions are not totally clear and cautioned that some non-fault claimants could end up paying more than they have to.

"People with non-fault overpayments should think twice about making a lump-sum payment," Dodds said.

Employers who take advantage of the amnesty program will need to pay their missed payments as well as half of the interest and penalties they owe.

Individuals who want to take advantage of the program can call 1-855-284-8545; employers can call 855-832-1169. Overcompensation can also be repaid at makeitright.pa.gov.

Generally, the department will seek prosecution in large-fault cases, but that is costly, Goulet said. The state hopes to save money by offering the amnesty program. Once the amnesty period ends, the state will be more adamant in pursing prosecution, said Hearthway.


Contact Megan Rogers at 717-787-5990 or mrogers5200@gmail.com, or follow on Twitter @MegRog.

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