A recent letter in the mail to St. Louis salesman Mike Conners demanding he pay back the state of Missouri more than $7,500 in unemployment benefits caught him by surprise. But as FOX 2 reports, his letter was no anomaly: The state now says it paid out $150 million too much in such benefits in 2020, and it wants its money back. NPR reports that more than 46,000 people in Missouri have received notification on overpayments—97% of them not due to fraud—and the state's Labor Department says they can pay it in full, take advantage of a zero-interest repayment program, or risk getting their wages garnished. State lawmakers are now trying to push legislation that would forgive part or all of the overpayments, as Missouri is one of 10 states that doesn't offer such forgiveness. KCTV5 spoke to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, noting that many of the people simply don't have the means to pay back the money right now.
Parson mentioned the state's offer of a payment plan, but added that "you got to ask for the money back. I mean, that's taxpayer money." When asked if the state bears any responsibility for the snafu—for example, in cases such as Conners' when it approved people who provided correct info—Parson doubled down, said the state had to take a "balanced approach," and reiterated, "At the end of the day ... you have to be a good steward of taxpayer money." Those affected are balking at the news. "I couldn't even think about how to start to pay it back," Conners, who's still out of work, tells FOX 2. Jenna Rieker, a single mom in Bridgeton, has another solution, per KCTV5. She invites state officials to "come take the dirty diapers out of the trash can, because I had to buy diapers and wipes; I used the money for that." (Read more Missouri stories.)