Tuesday, March 4, 2014

New Jersey Man Ordered to Reimburse State $15,000 in Unemployment Benefits He Never Received

I am always fascinated and appalled by Kafke-esque bureaucratic nightmares that governments always seem so creative at dreaming up.
Bill Woodward was told by N.J. he had to pay back
$15,000 in unemployment benefits he never received.
Photo by Russ DeSantis, N.J. Star-Ledger.  

The latest case centers around a guy named Billy Woodward of New Jersey. The State of New Jersey was demanding he repay to the government $15,000 in unemployment benefits he incorrectly received.

The only problem? He never received $15,000 in unemployment benefits or any other kind of government assistance and he could prove it, according to the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. 

Woodward did collect $642 in unemployment benefits in August, 2013, but that was legit, since his employer laid him off briefly because of slow business.

Woodward apparently tried repeatedly to straighten the whole thing out only to be repeatedly rebuffed. The state even took away a $3,793 tax refund because the state said he owed the money, wrote Karen Price Mueller, who writes the Bamboozled consumer column for the Star Ledger.

Of course this all got fixed when Price Mueller, that pesky reporter, started poking around and asking questions about the case at the New Jersey tax offices. Nothing like bad press to make a government stop torturing people.

The Star Ledger reported that Department of Labor spokesman Brian Murray said the problem stemmed from a data entry error, which snowballed when nobody corrected it and Woodward couldn't get through to anybody to get them to correct the issue.

OK, data entry mistakes happen, that's perfectly understandable. But my cynical self can't believe for a minute in all the paperwork and calls that went back and forth between the state and Woodward, somebody didn't discover the problem and fix it.

No, I think some loser in the government made a mistake, and rather than get in trouble, decided on an elaborate stonewall effort, hoping Woodward would just go away and shut up already.

This seems especially likely since Price Mueller has reported on similar problems in the New Jersey tax and labor departments before.

The scary thing is I wonder how many people do give up and pay, rather than keep fighting for money that is legitimately theirs and not the government's.
I know most state government workers are dedicated, honest and hard working, (really!) but there's GOT to be a better way to weed out the horrible ones, no?

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