For nearly two years, Kevin Gompers has heavily relied on weekly unemployment benefits of $269 while searching for work.
He's still jobless beyond a part-time gig. So he was alarmed when the state recently told him he had been overpaid a total of $807 in benefits due to an accounting error.
"YOU ARE REQUIRED TO REPAY THE OVERPAYMENT," said a stern notice he received earlier this month from the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. The letter warned that failure to repay could result in a civil court judgment and could adversely affect his credit rating.
Gompers, 56, who lives in Citrus County, wasn't amused.
"Obviously, we're not in the money if we're collecting unemployment," he said.
His frustration was compounded, he said, when he called the toll-free number listed on the notice. An electronic recording told him to call a different number, but he couldn't get through. "It's kind of funky that you can't get through to them at all," he said.
Robby Cunningham, a spokesman for the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, said Gompers apparently was part of a relatively small number of jobless who were overpaid last year when they switched from one tier of federally funded unemployment benefits to another. "We didn't want them to have any lapse in benefits," Cunningham explained, so the state paid for their benefits for a few weeks until the federal funds arrived.
Only 5 percent, or about 375 people, were either underpaid or overpaid.
From the onset of the recession, the Agency for Workforce Innovation has combated consumer problems, struggling to keep up with the surge of unemployment claims. The agency added hundreds of call center workers and opened an overflow call center in Orlando last year but still faced complaints of telephone logjams and long delays. Last summer, the state's unemployment insurance trust fund ran out of money, forcing Florida to borrow more than $1.6 billion from the federal government so far to prop it up.
After being contacted by the St. Petersburg Times, Cunningham said overpaid recipients such as Gompers have the option of paying back the funds gradually or, if eligible for additional payments, having 50 percent of their weekly payout withheld until the debt is paid in full.
The terse notice sent to Gompers, however, gave no such option. It only directed him to repay by check or money order. It added that future benefits could be applied to the overpayment, the notice said, without giving further explanation.
Gompers used to be director of marketing and golf services at the Preserve Golf Course in Marion County. He was laid off in October 2008 along with other employees deemed not necessary to run the golf course itself.
Gompers said he never realized he had received extra weeks of benefits. Once, he said, he received a weekly check for a higher amount. But there had been occasional lapses in payments before and, "I figured they were making up for that," he said.
Recently, Gompers received his last unemployment payment. But after the Times put him in touch with an Agency for Workforce Innovation troubleshooter on Thursday, Gompers discovered another twist to his tale.
Turns out the state actually owes him for an additional nine weeks of benefits. He'll get his money in weekly payments.
But only after the state takes its $807.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jeffmharrington.