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VEC demands teacher laid off during pandemic repay $7,000

VEC demands teacher laid off during pandemic repay $7,000
Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-16 21:07:25-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- As the Virginia Employment Commission tries to resolve tens of thousands of fraud cases, a teacher in Chesterfield says they just sent her a bill for $7,000.

Michelle Duggan was furloughed for five months at the height of the pandemic in 2020, actually got benefits and then went back to work when school resumed.

Because everything went so smoothly, she has no idea why the VEC says she owes the money. Until she contacted CBS6, she said no one there appeared to be listening.

"I got a letter recently about a month ago, stating that I owed almost $7,000 back to them, that I was overpaid,” said Michelle Duggan.

It has been nearly two years since the pandemic led to her layoff when the private school where she teaches shut down. But she says clearing up what seems almost a distant memory by getting through to the VEC remains impossible.

"We were furloughed from mid-March until August [2020] when I returned back to work,” Duggan said. “In that five-month period, I had no problems collecting every week, as the checks were automatically put into my bank account."

Then, last month, letters started coming from the VEC saying the Chester woman must pay back most of the benefits that had been her lifeline during the pandemic. But why she must do so was not made clear at all.

“I have received a total right now of four different letters,” said Duggan. “And on the letters, they give you a code that tells you what the deputy has said is wrong. Some of the codes say I was unavailable to work. And some of them say other things on them, that they just overpaid me. And so, I’m kind of confused about that too as to what is the true, valid reason.”

Duggan says when she logged on to her VEC account recently, much of her personal information had been altered, including her work dates, the city where she lives, her email and phone numbers. But the impossibility of getting in touch with an actual person at the VEC to explain to her how all that happened has Duggan feeling frantic.

She’s now worried about fraud or identity theft.

“I have yet to hear back from them at all,” she said. “I wrote a cover letter, it was an appeal letter. You had to file an appeal before a certain date, which I did. Got that straight and then I also filed a fraud report with them.”

Why Duggan is being asked to repay half of the unemployment funds that kept her family afloat, and not her colleagues, is a mystery to her.

“I was furloughed, along with like 20-something other employees,” Duggan said. “We were all furloughed at the same time. And to this day, I've asked my co-workers and none of them have had this issue with the VEC.”

CBS6 reached out to the VEC about Duggan’s case this week.

Duggan told CBS6 late Friday that someone from the VEC contacted her and said because she mistakenly marked "not available for work" when COVID-19 took her job away, that raised a red flag and triggered the request for repayment.

As for resolving her case, Duggan was told a deputy must sign off on it, which she was told could take up to a year.