Wisconsin couple wins appeal over $12K unemployment debt; judge overturns DWD’s overpayment decision

MADISON, Wis. — An administrative law judge has overturned a Department of Workforce Development decision to charge an Appleton man about $12,000 for overpaid unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

The news comes as a relief to Steve and Tammy Vignali, after a News 3 Investigation showing how some individuals could face hundreds in monthly payments for unemployment debt during the pandemic.

“It’s a big weight off my mind,” Steve said. A bus driver, he’d been laid off at first during the pandemic, then quit the company later when he says he would have risked his health to keep driving under their existing safety precautions.

“You have something like this where someone wants you to pay $12,000, that kind of weighs on your mind every day.”

A judge upheld his decision as being eligible for the unemployment benefits he was paid out, according to documentation reviewed by News 3 Investigates.

According to the latest state data for the week ending September 4, there are 13,679 people waiting for their appeals to have hearing scheduled. The Department of Workforce Development said individuals appealing unemployment overpayment decisions are included in that number, but could not provide a percentage breakdown.

Earlier this year, the state said more than 42,000 people in 2021 are facing about $85.5 million in debt due to unemployment benefit overpayments that the state says were because of errors in filing.

But in cases like the Vignalis, judges aren’t always upholding those decisions. Steve said the issue was an overcomplicated system; others have told News 3 Investigates that they were never given the chance or information to correct errors.

“They’ve got to put it back to a user-friendly thing, and not so complicated,” Tammy said. “We wish that the state, the governor, would actually recognize this problem.”