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Metro Detroit man 'shocked' by $21k unemployment bill

Posted at 5:27 AM, Dec 24, 2021

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Ben Lauter, 20, says a mix up must have taken place with his unemployment file after receiving a letter that states he owes more than $21,000 back to the state.

"You know, that was a big shock to me," Lauter told 7 Action News.

The Farmington Hills resident says received the letter in August of this year and says he collected twice in 2020. Lauter explained that the first time he filed and collected was after a museum he worked at shut down from COVID-19 and again after working at a restaurant when he got sick.

"I had never had any indication that anything I had done was in error or anything," he said. "I had been approved multiple times. I had been told by multiple employees at the unemployment office that I did, in fact, qualify for pandemic unemployment assistance."

The college student says he had a virtual meeting with the unemployment agency in September and was told to file a protest. Lauter says he did.

However, online the protest shows it's still in progress. Despite that, he says on Dec. 17, he received another notice telling him repayments are due starting in January.

“We are seeing a lot of similar things,” Tony Paris, lead attorney at the Sugar Law Center in Detroit, said.

Paris represents people in the same boat as Lauter, and 7 Action News sent him Lauter's documentation for a quick review and his opinion.

He says either it is the outcome of the protest or the protest is truly still in progress. Whatever the result, Paris says claimants should read their notice carefully and file a protest as soon as possible.

"I didn't try to fraudulently file this claim or anything. I was told that I qualified for it by multiple employees at the state when I put it in," Lauter said.

In July, the state granted waivers and announced 350,000 people would not have to repay money because of an error at the state level. It's unclear if Lauter falls under that.

7 Action News reached out to the unemployment agency. A spokesman says he cannot speak to specific cases but advised anyone who receives a notice they have a right to protest.

You can find the link on how to protest by visiting the state's website.

"This could have been a bill, a remnant of a previous determination that the system hasn't caught up while the state of Michigan is actually fixing it or adjudicating in the claimant's favor, or this bill could have been determined in a redetermination," Paris explained.