PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregonians have filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Employment Department after it sent nearly 30,000 people letters saying they owe them money after receiving unemployment benefits during the beginning of the pandemic. 

KOIN 6 News first found out in February that Oregonians, like Greg Marston, were receiving letters saying they owed the Oregon Employment Department (OED) money after receiving unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

“I’m just greatly disappointed with the way things have run,” Marston said.

Initially, Marston said they told him he owed around $1,200.  

“October of 2021, I got the $300 bill, so it took them a year to decide how much to bill, or how much the overpayment was rather,” Marston explained.

He paid OED the $300 only to find out his overpayment was waived, meaning they owe him the $300 back.

Marston says it’s been extremely frustrating and is worried about others who were told they owe even more money.

“You know and that’s what really angers me cause there’s people that don’t have options that maybe the majority of us do,” Marston said.

Now three Oregonians have filed a lawsuit against the acting director of the Oregon Employment Department over this issue.

The lawsuit details the department’s overpayment system — claiming it is misleading, confusing and unfair.

As a result, claimants found out about the alleged overpayment, many months or even over a year after they received the benefits.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Kelsey Heilman, said in a statement “our clients don’t understand why they are being told, a year or more later, that they have to repay money they already spent on rent, food and medicine. The written notices they get about the overpayment are so confusing and contradictory even lawyers can’t decipher them.”        

The attorneys said this has led to a flood of low-income Oregonians who have been told they have to repay thousands of dollars in benefits.

“The goal of this lawsuit is a system that clearly explains why the agency believes the person was overpaid benefits, and gives them a fair chance to explain why the agency is wrong or ask to have the overpayment waived, before the debt is collected, Heilman said.

Heilman added “OED’s records say the majority of pandemic-era overpayments are not the claimant’s fault. About half the overpayments were caused by the agency’s error, and another quarter are in cases where the agency made no winding of intent to deceive the agency—cases where the claimant tried to follow the rules but made an innocent mistake.”

KOIN 6 News reached out to the Oregon Employment Department, which said they received the complaint of the lawsuit on Thursday, and are reviewing it.

However, the department wanted to remind Oregonians if they have received a notice of overpayment, that they should go online to apply for a waiver.

According to the department, federal rules allow the department to waive many of the overpayments after a waiver application is submitted.

The waiver application can be found online on OED’s website under “After Applying” on the left-hand menu. Waivers can be found under the “Federal Program Overpayment Waiver” and “State UI Overpayment Waiver” links.