The Louisiana Workforce Commission sent out about 7,600 notices to recently unemployed people demanding they pony up sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in overpaid benefits.

But it was a big mistake.

Incorrectly programed computers had miscalculated benefits for about 3,000 people and the demands were automatically sent out, commission director Ava Dejoie said Thursday.

“I apologize,” she added.

Workforce Commissions computer technicians spent Thursday reworking the programs in order to properly calculate the amounts paid in unemployment benefits and the amount, if any, needing to be repaid the state. Most of the individuals notified they had been overpaid, will be informed by Friday that they actually owe nothing.

The work should be done by Thursday night, Dejoie said.

Those impacted by the mistake filed for unemployment benefits on March 29 and 30, she said. The notices were automatically generated on Sept. 9 and 10.

“It was not a normal week at LWC,” Dejoie said.

The week before, Gov. John Bel Edwards had issued his March 22 “stay at home” directive aimed at curbing the fast spread of the COVID-19. The order also closed nonessential businesses, restaurants and bars. Thousands were thrown out of work – more than ever before.

About 97,000 people filed for unemployment benefits, she said. Before COVID-19, 2,000 new claims would be a busy, busy week.

The Workforce Commission was trying to get the unemployment benefits out to the unemployed as fast as possible, she said, and didn’t notice the glitch in the vendor’s programming.

The vendor is Geographic Solutions is a Palm Harbor, Fla. software company specializing in workforce software. Dejoie said the commission should have noted the anomaly.

Determining benefits is somewhat complex under the best of circumstances.

Generally, benefits are calculated on wages employers report taxes were paid.

Minimum wages of $1,200, on which employers paid taxes, is sent to the state every quarter. For an applicant to qualify for unemployment, employers need to report pay for two quarters – a three-month period – during the previous five quarters, a year and three months.

For those filing on March 29 and 30, which is the end of the first quarter, the programming mistake added another quarter, shifting the eligibility period and opening the applicants to benefits for which they were not qualified.

But, they were eligible once the flaw was corrected.

Dejoie said most of those effected won’t have to pay anything.

A few, however, may still owe the state money. Overpayments are fairly common.

It is important to note that this is standard operating procedure for unemployment insurance divisions across the country, and not just limited to claim assistance during this pandemic, she said.

State law, for instance, requires deduction from unemployment payments additional income, such as severance and holiday pay.

Dejoie said she found a lot of confusion over the Paycheck Protection Program, which gave loans to businesses that retained employees under the 2020 US Federal government Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“If they received PPP that week, then that was a week they should not have drawn unemployment,” Dejoie said.

She understands how confusing the rules are – a lot of people drew unemployment for the first time and unaware of all the rules. State law allows leniency in the return of the overpaid benefits.

“We have very flexible payment plans,” Dejoie said.

The LWC also has established an email inbox exclusively for these overpayment related issues. Additional questions about an Adjustment Notice is available by contacting Workforce Commission via email, Septovrpymtissue@lwc.la.gov.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.