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The state overpaid $2.7 billion on 719,000 jobless claims in 16 months. Now it wants its money back.

Those who collected the money in error, through no fault of their own, now have to repay the state.

Matt Goncalves of Taunton must repay the state $200 a month for the next five years because he was overpaid $10,000 for an unemployment claim, he told The Boston Globe.

The hard part is, it wasn’t his mistake it was the state’s — and he has to pay it all back anyway, according to the paper.

His claim was one of the 719,000 overpaid by the state between May 2020 and September 2021 by the Department of Unemployment Assistance, or DUA, according to the Globe. Now the state is trying to recoup nearly $2.7 billion from those it sent money to in error.

Goncalves told the paper he was furloughed in March 2020 from a part-time job at Best Buy, which the 30-year-old held while working full-time at a school.

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Best Buy urged him to apply for unemployment, according to the Globe. The state approved his claim and he collected money for nearly three months until he found a new position, he told the paper.

Nine months later, the DUA sent him a notice that he wasn’t eligible for the payments and needs to repay the money, according to the Globe.

He applied for a waiver, but was denied because his current income exceeds his expenses, according to the paper.

However, Goncalves said that he and his girlfriend are barely making ends meet for themselves and their children.

”How can I save money? How can I buy a house? How can I take my daughter to the movies?” Goncalves told the Globe. “Come see how I am really living. I am not trying to mess anyone over.”

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While the DUA routinely makes overpayments, according to the paper, the current sums are much larger than in the past. The reasons: it took the department several months to recognize the mistakes and the amounts were boosted by pandemic payments from Washington, according to the Globe.

Hannah Tanabe, a staff attorney in the employment unit of Greater Boston Legal Services, told the paper that many people facing overpayments have already spent the money on necessities like food, rent, and transportation.

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“We shouldn’t be driving workers who are getting back on their feet into more precarious financial situations when the overpayment resulted through no fault of their own,” she told the paper.

State lawmakers are looking into remedies for the situation.

Representative Joan Meschino, a Democrat from Hull, sponsored legislation that would help more of those who didn’t commit fraud to qualify for a waiver, according to the Globe.

Meschino told the paper that the department needs to find out what went wrong and correct the problems.

“The gut instinct is to slam them,” she told the Globe. “But under the circumstances, they did an amazing job.”

Those circumstances include navigating a deluge of claims, adapting quickly to new systems and benefits, and sorting through confusing rules for eligibility that changed over time, according to the paper.

Especially difficult was the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, an emergency program for workers who weren’t eligible for state unemployment, according to the Globe.

Massachusetts ranks fourth in PUA overpayments, behind Ohio, Maryland, and Texas, according to MacAneney of Community Legal Aid, the Globe said.

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