Thousands in unemployment benefits demanded back from school bus drivers, teachers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 9, 2015) - Hundreds of Indiana school bus drivers and head start teachers are being asked to pay back thousands of dollars they thought they had earned.

For years, every summer, drivers and teachers from across the state filed for unemployment benefits. But in 2011, there was a change in the law that made doing that illegal. Only, the State continued to pay them, and now years later, are demanding bus drivers pay that money back.

“It means something to us because there’s a lot of other jobs we can actually do,” said school bus driver Terri Wells.

Since 1998 Wells collected unemployment benefits during the summer because her company could not guarantee her steady work.

“I don’t have this laying around nowhere, not my mistake; I did what I was told I can do,” said Wells.

She’s being asked to pay back $2,700 from unemployment benefits, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development says, she didn’t deserve. It is money collected over years of workless summers and money the mother of four says she doesn’t have at the ready.

“This is unspeakable. So once again, when we go and apply, we put all of our information down, been doing it for years,” she said.

“They’re not unemployed. They have reasonable assurance they’re going back to work,” said Joe Frank, communications director for the Department of Workforce Development.

The law was changed in 2011 though, making drivers and head start employees no longer eligible for unemployment benefits.

“What we did was we sent out a postcard to all Indiana employers that have anyone employed in the state of Indiana,” said Frank.

DWD officials say they made it crystal clear that the unemployment benefits were no longer valid.  They were issued anyway however, and now, years later, drivers have received invoices demanding that money back.

“The reason why there’s a lot of overpayment notices going out now is because the supreme court ruled that not only is the law correct, these folks are to repay these overpayments,” said Frank.

“They’re the ones that have to hit the button, yes you’re eligible, no you’re not eligible, enter, done, boom, there’s your money,” said Wells.

Wells and other drivers are asking the DWD Commissioner to waive the repayment fees that total into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.  Additionally, lawmakers this session are looking to change the current law back to the way it was prior to the 2011 changes.