VEC asks teacher laid off during pandemic to repay $7,000


CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — As the Virginia Employment Commission tries to resolve tens of thousands of fraud cases, a Chesterfield teacher says she just billed her for $7,000.

Michelle Duggan was laid off for five months at the height of the pandemic in 2020, actually got benefits, then returned to work when school resumed.

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

“I received a letter about a month ago stating that I owed them almost $7,000, that I had been overpaid,” Michelle Duggan said.

It’s been nearly two years since the pandemic led to her layoff when the private school where she teaches closed. But she says it remains impossible to clear up what seems almost a distant memory by going through the VEC.

“We were laid off from mid-March to August [2020] when I got back to work,” Duggan said. “During this five-month period, I had no problem cashing each week, as the checks were automatically deposited into my bank account.”

Then, last month, letters started coming in from the VEC saying that Chester’s wife must repay most of the benefits that had been her lifeline during the pandemic. But why she had to do it was not at all clear.

“I got a total of four different letters right now,” Duggan said. “And on the letters, they give you a code that tells you what the MP said is wrong. Some codes indicate that I was not available for work. And some of them say other things about them, that they just overpaid me. And so, I’m a bit confused about that as well as to the real valid reason.

Duggan says that when she recently logged into her VEC account, much of her personal information was changed, including her work dates, the city she lives in, her email address and phone numbers. . But the inability to get in touch with a real person at the VEC to explain how everything happened drives Duggan frantic.

She is now worried about fraud or identity theft.

“I haven’t heard from them yet,” she said. “I wrote a motivation letter, it was an appeal letter. It had to be appealed by a certain date, which I did. I understood that and also filed a fraud report next to them.

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

“I was furloughed, along with about 20 other employees,” Duggan said. “We were all fired at the same time. And so far I’ve asked my colleagues and none of them had this problem with the VEC.

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

Duggan told CBS6 on Friday night that someone from the VEC contacted her and told her that she had mistakenly marked “not available for work” when COVID-19 took her job away from her, which triggered a flag. red and triggered the refund request.

As for resolving his case, Duggan was told a deputy needed to sign on, which he was told could take up to a year.

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