‘Something is wrong’: Tennessee woman ordered to pay back $10K in unemployment benefits

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — What hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans viewed as a lifeline during the pandemic may have come with an unexpected price tag as many people are now being told they received too much in unemployment benefits and need to pay them back.

Corrine Byrd told News 2 she filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, which she said she qualified for, after being temporarily laid off from her full-time barista job, and then having her hours drastically cut when she returned to work.

Around three years later, she received an email from the TN Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) informing her she was overpaid and had to return the $10,308 she was given.

“I just assumed it was a scam at first until I logged into my Tennessee account and found out this was actually coming from them,” Byrd said.

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Byrd said that’s when the panic set in. The $10,308 the state said she owed was even more money than the down payment she recently spent to buy her first home, which took her two years to save up for.

Byrd reached out to News 2 for help after discovering a WKRN story from April 2023 about woman who was told she had to return the $10,000 she received in pandemic-era benefits, in addition to learning several of her close family members and friends were experiencing a similar issue with their unemployment benefits.

“The fact that there are so many going through the same thing just shows me something is wrong,” Byrd said. “It’s not like certifying for your benefits is something that multiple people are going to mess up to the tune of $10,000, $11,000. I have had to become like a detective to try to figure out what the cause is that is making them audit me all of a sudden and say that I [was] overpaid.”

The state of Tennessee issued billions of dollars in unemployment benefits to hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans during the pandemic, according to a TDLWD spokesperson. The federal government requires each state to audit every claim to ensure their accuracy. Due to the sheer volume of claims during that time, Tennessee continues to crosscheck wage data filed during that time, according to the TDLWD.

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A spokesperson for the TDLWD told News 2 Byrd received an overpayment notification because she didn’t respond to an adjudicator’s request for critical information regarding her claim in 2021. Byrd’s appeal, which every claimant has a right to file, was denied because she failed to show up for her appeals hearing where the critical information could have been obtained, according to the TDLWD.

However, Byrd argued after her second appeal, the state requested medical information, including a doctor’s note, to prove the claim was valid, even though she filed for benefits due to reduced work hours, not a medical condition. She said she has been jumping through hoops with the TDLWD ever since while trying to decipher their emails filled with complicated legal jargon.

“It’s super confusing and super convoluted, and it just feels like they’re trying and hoping that you’ll just give up,” Byrd said. “At the very least, I want to know what’s going on. If they made some sort of accounting error and I was given more money than I should have [received] I want to at least know that, but right now they’re not even willing to tell me why or give me any kind of evidence.”

Byrd feels confident she doesn’t owe any money to Tennessee and will continue to fight until the state proves otherwise with evidence, while looking for a lawyer who can help.

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“If we owe that money then obviously we’re going to pay it back as slowly as possible because it’s a huge amount of money, but I don’t want to just start paying back,” Byrd said. “I want to fight it, and the reason why is it’s affecting a bunch of people out there, and if one of us doesn’t stop and fight it, they’re going to just keep doing it.”

According to the TDLWD, there are a variety of explanations for an overpayment, including the claimant failing to provide the requested information, failure to report earnings, and failure to report separations but the claimant continued to draw benefits. A spokesperson for the department told News 2 the critical information missing from Byrd’s claim could impact her overpayment status.

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