Spring 2020: Looking for information about unemployment and COVID-19?
This article is helpful, but it's not specific to the current situation. For information about unemployment during this crisis, please see our updated unemployment information: Unemployed Worker Benefits (now with info about unemployment and COVID-19)
Some workers have to pay back unemployment benefits. If you are paid benefits, but then lose benefits when your employer appeals, you can be asked to repay the benefits you got earlier. Also, if you are overpaid because of some other mistake or you or the Department of Labor made, you may have to repay those benefits. You may also have to pay interest. Or you may qualify for a "waiver of repayment" so that you do not have to repay. Read more below on waivers.
NOTE: If you lose benefits because you made a false statement or held back important information, you will have to repay the benefits you received and pay penalties that could double the amount you owe. You could also be charged with a crime. You cannot apply for a waiver. Read more below under: What if I accept benefits I know I should not get?
What should I do first?
If you stop getting unemployment benefits because your employer wins an appeal to the Division of Administrative Hearings, the first step is to file another appeal. If you win your appeal, you will keep getting benefits and you will not have to repay anything.
Make sure you appeal before the deadline. You have 15 days to appeal a decision of the Administrative Hearing Officer. You must appeal in writing. Fill out the form that came with your decision. Then fax, mail, or hand-deliver it to the Unemployment Insurance Commission before the deadline.
If you left your job voluntarily for a good reason, like mistreatment or discrimination by your employer, you should especially consider appealing a decision denying you unemployment. Contact a lawyer who specializes in discrimination cases.
What if I get a Notice of Overpayment?
When you are getting benefits, you may receive a notice that the Maine Department of Labor is looking into your benefits. The notice may say that you were overpaid or that you will get lower benefits or no benefits. The Department of Labor can change you benefits based on new information about your work search or any other important information.
You have a right to a fact-finding interview if the Department of Labor thinks you were overpaid or if your benefits will change. If you disagree with the notice, ask for a fact-finding interview. At the interview, give the Deputy all the information that supports your claim. The Deputy will send you a written decision. If the decision says you were overpaid, or lowers or stops your benefits and you disagree, you should appeal right away. You only have 15 days from the day the decision was mailed to you.
NOTE: If the Notice accusses you of making "a false statement of representations" or "knowingly failed to disclose a material fact" your situation is more serious. Read "What if I accept beneifts I know I should not get?" at page 4.
What is a waiver and when should I consider asking for a waiver?
If you get a decision that asks you to repay unemployment benefits, you may be able to ask for a "waiver." A waiver is different than an appeal. You can only ask for a waiver if you have lost all appeals or the time for appealing is over. A waiver forgives all or part of the benefits you are asked to repay. In other words, you might have to repay a smaller amount, or nothing at all.
Can anyone ask for a waiver?
No. If you got benefits because of a mistake, you can ask for a waiver. But if you got benefits because you gave false information to the Department of Labor, or held back important information, you cannot apply for a waiver.
When should I apply for a waiver?
You should ask for a waiver as soon as you get a notice that you must repay the benefits you received. You must ask for a waiver within one year of the decision that caused your benefits to stop.
How do I apply for a waiver?
You apply for a waiver by sending a letter to:
Unemployment Insurance Commission
57 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0057
The Commission will not accept phone calls requesting a waiver.
Your letter to the Commission should include all the reasons why you are unable to repay the overpayment. It should also include your name and mailing address. List the date of each decision that you want waived and each overpayment amount you want waived. The Commission will then send you a form to fill out describing your financial situation within 14 days. Your request for a waiver will be denied if you do not return the form. You can also request a hearing, although the Commission is not required to give you one.
Here are the things the Commission looks at before making a decision:
- Your health and ability to work
- Whether you support family members or others
- Whether you have a job
- Your family income and expenses
- Whether you own property, other than a home, car, and basic household goods
- Debts you and your family owe
- Medical or other expenses you or family members have
- Whether you got similar benefits from another source
- Whether the Commission gave you clear notice that you may have to repay benefits
- Would making you repay defeat the purpose of the unemployment benefits program?
- Is waiver of repayment the fair and right thing to do?
When the Commission gets your letter, they will send you a form to fill out about your financial situation. You must fill out this form and return it within 14 days after it was mailed to you.
You can also ask for a hearing on your waiver request. But the Commission may not give you a hearing; it may just decide your case based on the written information it has.
What happens if I get a waiver?
Some or all of the repayment may be waived. If you still have to pay back some of the benefits, this may be done by deductions from future unemployment benefits.
What happens if I do not get a waiver?
You will have to repay the entire amount of the overpayment. You can pay the amount in full or make a payment plan with the Department of Labor. Sometimes the Commission will agree to deduct the amount out of any future unemployment benefits. If the overpayment was a mistake, you will have to pay interest at 1% per month, starting one year after the overpayment is established. If you do not repay in one lump sum or make a payment plan, the Department of Labor can issue a civil warrant to collect the debt. Your state income tax refund or lottery winnings can be taken to repay the debt.
If I do not get a waiver, can I appeal?
If you do not get a waiver, you can file an appeal in Superior Court. You must file your appeal within 10 days. Your appeal is called an 80C appeal.
The Superior Court has to accept the facts found by the Commission. The court can only change the Commission’s decision if it is unconstitutional, is based on an error of law, or is not supported by facts in the record taken as a whole. For most people, this may be difficult to do without the help of a lawyer.
What if I accept benefits I know I should not get?
You will get a notice that says you received overpayment because of "a false statement or representation" or "knowingly failed to disclose a material fact." If you know that you are not eligible for the benefits you are getting because you have false claim information or held back important information, you may refuse to do the fac-finding interview. Statements you make could be used to charge you with a crime. Even if you refuse the interview, you can still appeal any decision that lowers or stops your benefits. But you have to meet the appeal deadlines in the notices you receive and go to the hearings.
If the Department of Labor decides you received an overpayment because of "a false statement or representation" or "knowingly failed to disclose a material fact," you will have to repay up to double the benefits you received, plus interest. And you cannot receive unemployment benefits for up to one year, even if your new claim is totally different. You could go to jail and be fined up to $2,000.
You can appeal overpayment decisions. But if you lose all your appeals because of false statements or holding back important information, you have to repay the benefits, plus penatlies and interest. You cannot ask for a waiver.
You may have to pay in one lump sum. Or the money can be withheld from your paycheck, lottery winnings, and tax refunds due to you or your spouse. And 100% of any unemployment benefits you get after the 1 year ineligibility ends can be withheld until the amount you owe is paid in full.
Updated September 2017