CHICAGO (CBS) — Their refunds from the State of Illinois are approved, but for nearly a year, some unemployment claimants have been waiting on the money they are owed.

It is an issue that CBS 2’s Tara Molina has been tracking nonstop. On Wednesday night, she was asking the state – where’s the refund?

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Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimant Bobbie Taylor received a letter that meant everything to her. It read, “You have met the requirements for waiver of your overpayment recovery.”

“There’s so much we’ve gone without,” Taylor said.

She was out thousands of dollars, and she thought the letter meant she would see that money back in her account soon. But it didn’t.

“I’m told now I have to wait,” Taylor said.

And she has been waiting for months on money she needs to catch up.

“I’m behind on everything,” Taylor said.

Taylor is one of thousands approved for an overpayment waiver, and a refund, by the state. The waivers were made possible through federal relief, in cases where it was not a person’s fault they were overpaid benefits.

If a waiver is approved, a person can be refunded on payments made back to the state or money docked from existing benefits. In Taylor’s case, it was docked benefits – the state took thousands away from her.

But according to that letter, “Any money you have repaid or has been recouped, or that may continue to be recouped, will be paid back to you in full when a refund is issued.”

Taylor said she was told she can’t make an appointment at an Illinois Department of Employment Security office for help with her issue – the only way anyone can visit an office right now – and she’s not getting help on the phone.

“Since July?” Taylor said. “I’ve literally had 28 callbacks with no answers.”

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So we worked for answers. A spokesperson for IDES didn’t address my questions about the waiting game – how long it’s taking on average to process the refunds. But the spokesperson did say 26,268 waiver requests have been granted, and 44,497 have been denied. So far, more than $18 million has been refunded.

But get ready – this is a big number – the state was granted more than $91 million total.

So what’s the hold up with distributing the rest?
We asked. But it’s safe to say Taylor isn’t the only one waiting…

“Get your act together – there’s people suffering,” Taylor said. “I’m hurting.”

The spokesperson for IDES told me the refund process involves extensive testing, to ensure accuracy, but offered no other details on that testing.

This is the full statement:

“Per federal guidance, a request for waive of a PUA overpayment would be denied if the claimant did not provide evidence to demonstrate:

▪ The overpayment was not created through no fault of their own
▪ Recovery of the overpayment would not be against equity and good conscience

“Federal guidance requires each request to waive recovery of a PUA overpayment to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

“Effectively, what this means is each claimant fills out the survey on the correspondence sent to them, and the survey is then reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the Department.

“Hypothetically, a waiver would be denied if a claimant indicated the overpayment was created through no fault of their own, but during the review process, it is discovered the claimant was working while collecting without reporting those wages to the Department. That would result in a denial of a waiver because the overpayment was created as a result of their collecting benefits for which they were not eligible not through no fault of their own.

“In general, claimants who are denied an overpayment waiver request still have access to the traditional appeals process. Determination notices received by claimants indicate the steps claimants should take if they wish to appeal the Department’s decision.

“Refunds of overpayments are in the process of being issued following the completion of extensive testing to ensure refunds are processed accurately.”

It is also important to note, as we’ve reported in the past, that in guidance from Department of Labor, the feds acknowledged it may take states up to a year to process these refunds.

Meanwhile, here is the full breakdown of the data on overpayment waivers and denials from the IDES:

Info (as of October 18) below.

  •  Overpayment letters sent out:
    177,843
  • Total dollar amount representative of those letters:
    $1,008,796,796.00
  • Waiver requests received by IDES:
    73,239
  • Waiver requests granted:
    26,268
  • Waiver requests denied:
    44,497
  • Total dollar amount representative of waiver requests granted:
    $91,324,314.00
  • Completed cancelled overpayments:
    11,242
  • Total dollar amount representative of cancelled overpayments:
    $31,818,427
  • Total amount refunded
    $18,824,879

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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Tara Molina