PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Warrenton school bus driver who waited months to get her unemployment benefits is panicking after she recently learned she needs to pay back thousands of dollars.  

Ashley Sterling was laid off in May when it became clear schools were going to stay closed due to the pandemic. So, she filed for regular unemployment benefits. 

After waiting several months, she finally received her unemployment payments all at once in September. 

She thought everything was fine, until she received a call in early November from an adjudicator who said her claim was still being reviewed. Then, on Saturday, she got a letter in the mail saying her claim was denied and she now has to pay back those benefits.  

“I am at this level of stress that it’s almost like hard to contain myself the last few days and to not break down and cry,” Sterling said. “How am I going to pay back thousands of dollars?” 

Sterling doesn’t know how she’ll pay the employment department back because she used the money to pay bills. She now plans to file an appeal. 

KOIN 6 News contacted the Oregon Employment Department, but they said they can’t speak to individual cases. 

However, they said it’s possible Sterling could be someone who received money through the “Benefits While You Wait” program, which they use for people they’re confident will end up being eligible for benefits after the adjudication process. 

With no clear answer on what happened, Sterling is left worried and upset.

“For Oregon to do that, in my opinion, I feel like they’ve failed a lot of us families. There’s still people struggling and you can’t just go back and say, ‘Oh, here’s your money,’ two months later, ‘I’m just kidding now you have to pay it back,’” Sterling said.

She fears she isn’t the only one this happened to. KOIN 6 News plans to follow up with the acting director of the Oregon Employment Department for more information on how many people are in the same situation as Sterling.