Indiana Law Penalizes Hoosiers Who Make Unemployment Mistakes

Medical assistant Carmen Wands wants someone from the state to alert her to her mistakes during her first apply for unemployment at the start of the pandemic.

She said she didn’t report her income because she missed a question. Wands, 28, of Indianapolis, said the information should always have been obvious, as she reported both her hours and her hourly rate.

Rather than simply seeking to correct the error, the Department of Workforce Development fined him. Wands is contesting the decision.

Unemployment in Indiana: How to apply online, step by step

The experience has been so bitter and difficult that she will probably never ask for unemployment assistance again.

“I’m not going to lie. After that I’m so hurt to say I don’t want to ask for help anymore,” she said. “This is my lesson. I’ll find another way to support myself.”

Her story is familiar to so many who navigate a delicate benefits system with new rules and requirements. What a claimant would say is an honest error in navigating a complicated system, the state agency might view as an attempt to distort a claim.

And this is a cause for concern as the state clamps down even more on those who make mistakes by filling unemployment. Starting in July, there will be a new penalty in the state’s unemployment system, the only major legislative change after a historic year of unprecedented unemployment claims and problems.

Carmen Wands stands with two of her three sons, Khaidyn Greer, left, and Anthony Greer, on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 at their home in Indianapolis.

Hoosiers who do not accurately report their wages or other critical information, even if they have never received compensation, would not be eligible for unemployment even after one year of work.

Applying for unemployment can be a tedious and confusing process, especially in this pandemic year with a slew of new rules and a state agency overwhelmed with processing record numbers of claims. The process is further complicated by crooks and hackers who siphon billions across the country, prompting the agency to crack down on suspicious apps with blunt tools that have legitimate complaints slowed down and thwarted.

People who make mistakes or have their identities stolen have had their apps flagged, as have crooks and those who have intentionally misrepresented their information.

While worker advocates say the state needs to devote more resources to helping people navigate the system, state officials have focused on eradicating fraud. Lawmakers have said the additional fraud penalty, taking effect July 1, will eliminate bad actors clogging the system. But worker advocates say the sanction is more likely to hurt people who make honest mistakes and deter people from seeking unemployment.

Unemployment penalties vary by state

Statistics already show that people are discouraged from applying for unemployment. Before the pandemic, more than 80% of unemployed Hoosiers were not receiving benefits, compared to about 70% nationally, according to federal labor data.

The US Department of Labor requires states to impose penalties on those who receive fraudulent payments, but these vary from state to state.

Indiana will apply a new penalty for unemployment errors in July.

The change is yet another policy that is exacerbating tensions between state officials who focus on eliminating fraud and scams and Hoosiers who are frustrated with an increasingly complicated application process filled with pitfalls.

Jenny Terry, a lawyer at Indiana Legal Services who helps Wands, is skeptical that the new law will have a significant impact on the fraud problem, but fears it instead creates another barrier for people to collect allowances. unemployment.

Rather than adding another penalty, she wants to see more resources to help people navigate the tricky system plagued by crooks.

“Having resources up front so that people don’t find themselves in these situations would be very beneficial,” she said.

Lawmakers who supported the bill stressed that the change would only affect people who knowingly misinformed the ministry, not those who made mistakes. However, disputes like the one between Wands and the department are not uncommon. During the pandemic, many Hoosiers say they were reported fraud for legitimate claims.

During the pandemic, Indiana reported three-quarters of applicants for fraud

At one point in the pandemic, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne said three of four requests for federal pandemic assistance are being flagged for fraud, which can range from identity theft to people knowingly misrepresenting or accidentally their information.

For Wands, it’s not just the financial stress of repaying benefits that weighs heavily on her mind, it’s the accusation that she lied to get benefits. She is about to repay approximately $ 5,000, which includes what she was paid as well as an additional 25% fine.

Carmen Wands stands outside her home on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 in Indianapolis.

More than a year after her first claim for unemployment, she is back to work as a medical assistant.

“It strikes you how much it hurts,” she said. “It really is.”

Contact IndyStar reporter Binghui Huang at 317-385-1595 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Binghuihuang

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