Substitute teachers say they're being asked to pay back unemployment benefits
Substitute teachers are being asked to pay thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits back to the state.
Many are fighting those claims and hoping to fix the situation without teachers having to give back money.
Wendy Hayden is a substitute teacher in Manhattan. She is one of hundreds of subs who recently received letters in the mail from the state's Department of Labor requiring her to pay back thousands of dollars received in unemployment insurance during the summer.
In a statement, a spokesperson with the Department of Labor says, "Each claim is unique and there are a number of reasons why a claimant might be required to repay benefits, especially for a brand-new program like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which was launched in the middle of a global pandemic."
Hayden says the reason she was given was that she received a "reasonable assurance" letter in June saying she would have a job in September.
However, Hayden says with the ups and downs of the pandemic and no plan at that time for school to reopen, she does not believe that disqualifies her from benefits, especially during the summer when teachers could not find other work.
"A lot of people tutor, do other jobs. All those got shut down," Hayden explains.
She says substitute teachers can't afford to pay this money back.
"There are people who are at home with babies, there are people who live paycheck to paycheck. Substitute teachers, a lot of them are in graduate school. It's just unjust - it's unjust and unfair," says Hayden.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes says he believes the teachers are not at fault.
"It's really kind of crazy in the fact that in the time right now and people are desperate for work, and especially substitute teachers who had a regular work schedule and not a full-time job that they're being asked to give back money that they were given in good faith," he says.
Gounardes says he is working with the Department of Labor to come up with an administrative remedy. He says if things don't move fast enough or he does not see a resolution favorable for these essential workers, he will turn to a legislative solution.
A spokesperson with the city's Department of Education says the state's Department of Labor determines these teachers' eligibility for benefits and the state makes decisions about benefits on its own.
A United Federation of Teachers spokesperson says they are working with the state DOE to resolve the issue.