PHOENIX - Thousands of Arizonans collecting unemployment have been sent letters by state officials, claiming they now owe money back to the state because of overpayments in their unemployment benefits.
Nowadays, every day is a battle for William Ramirez.
"I’m lucky if I can get out of bed," said Ramirez, who can't work anymore after a stroke, multiple brain surgeries, and a rare condition involving his spine.
"When the fluid doesn’t release, I get major headaches. I go into a seizure right away," said Ramirez. "Stress causes it, and I’m stressed all day."
Ramirez says the Arizona Department of Economic Security signed him up to extend his unemployment benefits, but they are now saying he owes it back.
"I owe $8,000 for your mistake," said Ramirez. "It wasn’t my mistake. I didn’t ask for it."
Ramirez is not alone. On Oct. 1, FOX 10 reported that in August, the state sent letters asking for money back from 3,741 Arizonans. Since then, FOX 10 has learned that another 2,486 letters were sent in September, totaling more than $4 million.
Some letters are because of fraud, others are due to a claimant's mistake.
Then, there's a mistake by DES, and that’s what Ramirez claims is the reason he’s getting an overpayment letter.
Worst of all, Ramirez says he now realizes he won’t be able to work again because of all his medical conditions, and wants to apply for Social Security disability insurance. He can't do so, however, due to the debt he owes to DES.
"So I’m stuck owing $8,000. I cannot get my Social Security. I can’t get help from DES because I owe, and I get $16 in food stamps," said Ramirez.
DES officials respond
In a statement, officials with DES say:
“We are sensitive to the impact overpayment situations can have on claimants, and we do all we can to assist in these situations while following federal and state laws."
DES officials say they offer payment plans, and their numbers show the largest amount of overpayments are because of fraud. Their numbers also show only a few dozen overpayments in September were the result of a DES mistake.
Ramirez, meanwhile, says he is appealing the overpayment.