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Senate bill would let Employment Department waive or reduce excess amounts paid to unemployed workers.

The Employment Department would gain more flexibility to recoup overpayment of benefits to unemployed workers under a bill that is halfway through the Oregon Legislature.

The Senate voted 28-0 on Thursday, April 22, to send Senate Bill 172 to the House. It would take effect once Gov. Kate Brown signs it, but it is not retroactive.

ocb"It makes a few modest policy changes to ease the harm caused by collection of overpayments from people who cannot afford to pay it back in one lump sum," said Sen. Bill Hansell, a Republican from Athena and the bill's floor manager.

Acting Director David Gerstenfeld said the bill makes technical changes, which will make things easier for the Employment Department and for unemployed workers who have been overpaid in benefits.

"Probably the most significant is clarifying that when we do offset overpayments to collect them, we can offset in any amount," Gerstenfeld told reporters in a weekly conference call. "It doesn't have to be all of the overpayment or none. We can do a partial amount.

"That may be a challenge for us to implement in our system. But we think having clear legal authority to have that flexibility is helpful."

The agency normally recoups overpayments to unemployed workers by deducting the amounts from their future benefits, although workers can choose to repay the full amounts at once.

The period that the agency can attempt to recoup overpayments is limited to five years, unless fraud is involved. Notices of overpayments must include an explanation of how someone can appeal the determination of an overpayment and what the agency is able to waive.

The bill also would give the Employment Department more leeway to determine whether to waive or reduce overpayments to be recouped from unemployed workers. An exception is made for fraud.

"Right now, we do not have the legal authority to waive overpayments if it was due to a mistake that the claimant made, but that was not intentional," Gerstenfeld said.

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