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DWD discusses BAR penalties and unemployment payments

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A number of people have reached out to CBS 58 with questions about unemployment payments and BAR or Benefit Amount Reduction penalties. 

According to the Department of Workforce Development, a BAR, or benefit amount reduction, happens when someone in Wisconsin is found to have committed unemployment insurance fraud and are then ineligible for a specific dollar amount of future unemployment insurance benefits. It is not defined as a penalty to be repaid or a debt to be collected, but an amount of future ineligibility for benefits. 

"If the claimant later applies for regular unemployment insurance and is otherwise eligible for the week, the benefits that would have been paid for the week are applied to the BAR and the claimant is ineligible for benefits for the week.  The claimant is not paid any benefits and we do not offset benefits against overpayments for a week during which a BAR applies. The active weekly benefit amount for that week that they would have been paid is applied to their BAR," said Ben Jedd with the Department of Workforce Development. 

Because of that, DWD says, someone who is ineligible for regular unemployment insurance solely because of the existence of a BAR is also ineligible for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments of $600 a week. 

Josh Thornton is one of those people. He said he had his hours cut significantly at work because of COVID-19. 

"I've been given one stimulus check, from the federal government, and that was enough to pay my rent last month, other than that, I'm down to my last $350 in the bank," he said. 

Thornton said before working for his current employer, he was on unemployment for a couple weeks. 

"There was some crossover and a mistake where a week or two had gotten claimed and there was an over payment so I had gone through a process with them of basically, it's like their own trial process where they penalized me and fined me, what ended up being a
1:38 a garnishment of my paycheck of $2400 last year and also a judgement of benefit offsets of $2400 so I think for the $600 that was overpaid to me, I was penalized almost $5,000," he said. 

LaShandra Simmons says she was let go from her job as a bus driver. She also says she hasn't received any benefits because of a benefit amount reduction. 

"I had an over payment back in 2014, roughly $3,700. Unemployment was paid back in 2016, there's a penalty that comes with that and my penalty is over like $15,000," said Simmons. 

Money from any weekly claims she files go toward that payment. 

"I had an over payment from 2014 also, it was recently paid out through like wage garnishments and tax intercept and I also have a penalty," said Tiffany Carter Ivory. 

Many others in similar situations have reached out to CBS 58 with questions about why they weren't receiving the $600 weekly payments as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. They point to language like that in a letter sent from the Department of Labor sent to state workforce agencies that says, "Individuals whose underlying benefit payments are intercepted to pay debts (e.g., overpayments) are eligible for the $600 FPUC, even if 100% of their weekly benefit amount is intercepted. Benefits intercepted to pay debts are considered to be compensation for the week."

The Department of Workforce Development said they reached out to the Department of Labor for clarification. 

"We have received verification that if somebody has a BAR fine, which is a benefit amount reduction, they are not eligible to receive Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which is the acronym FPUC or the additional $600 a week, and basically it's because this person was found to have committed fraud against the system and therefore they would not be able to get those additional benefits due to that bar penalty as a result of committing fraud," said Emily Savard with the Department of Workforce Development. 

Savard says it gets into legalities and precise languages. 

"Where the Benefit Amount Reduction, it's not per say a penalty to be repaid or a debt to be collected, it's an amount of future ineligibility for benefits," she said. 

Thornton says he's reached out to DWD. 

"With the fact that my wife is out of work, I'm out of work, I just asked for some compassion," he said. 

Others say they've reached out to lawmakers to try to get the penalties waived at this time. 

"Even if they would just split the money up and give it to us, at least some income is better than no income, cause I haven't had any income since March 13," said Tiffany Carter Ivory. 

The DWD says those who don't qualify for unemployment, may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. 

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