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Some Seasonal Workers Being Forced to Pay Back Unemployment Funds

After receiving unemployment for six months, Tommy Pecoraro is being forced to pay it all back.

Posted: Feb 9, 2021 5:35 PM
Updated: Feb 10, 2021 8:43 AM

"I check the mail every day and my heart tends to skip a beat every time I make that stroll to the mailbox," said Pecoraro. "Waiting to see if that letter's arrived."

This is Tommy Pecoraro's life now.

A year ago, he was the voice of the Evansville Thunderbolts, the Tri-State's professional hockey team. Both he and the team were enjoying the finest season in the franchise's history. Then came the Coronavirus.

"Sports, really, was really the first thing that was impacted and got shut down," said Pecoraro. "And we were no exception. So, unfortunately, like everyone else, I ended up unemployed."

Tommy had spent the better part of a decade working on his career and making connections across the hockey world. However all those tributaries had dried up, thanks to COVID.

"Everything shut down," said Pecoraro. "Even side work, that I usually have during the summer, was completely shut down because of this as well."

With no opportunities in his field, Tommy was forced to move back to Florida with his parents, however that presented it's own set of challenges.

"Both my parents have serious medical conditions, my father especially," said Pecoraro. "I had to be very careful with what I could and couldn't do because of COVID. Obviously, I don't want to get myself, but also my parents, my father especially, would be high risk of getting serious ill or worse if he caught it."

Tommy eventually found work with a contactless food delivery service and ceased receiving unemployment. Three months later, the state of Indiana sent this letter, demanding 16 thousand dollars, the entire sum of unemployment he had received.

"Very much a shock, because throughout this whole process over the passed year there had been no issues with them," said Pecoraro. "They never reached out to me . Of course you have to be approved each week to get the unemployment benefits. I was approved each time."

The Indiana Department of Workforce development declined to speak with us about Tommy's situation, so we once again turned to veteran unemployment attorney Chad Sullivan for an explanation.

"Seasonal employers , when they lay off employees at the end of the season, don't have to pay unemployment," said Sullivan. "If they're laid off or terminated during the season, then those employees are eligible for unemployment."

Much like Bev Galloway, in our previous story, Sullivan believes Tommy may have better luck filing for a hardship waiver to avoid paying back the 16-thousand dollars the state of Indiana says he owes.

"With the additional funds provided through the CARES Act and the FSCRA, there was language in there guiding states to be lenient," said Sullivan. "Those would maybe have a little better chance, because of the federal legislation that passed than in ordinary times."

And if Tommy doesn't receive that hardship waiver?

"I'm not sure what I'll do," said Pecoraro. "The majority of the money was spent on bills, a little bit of debt I had, as well as living expenses. You need money to live.

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