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Oregon Employment Department overpaid furloughed school staff; now wants money back
by The Associated Press
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SALEM, Oregon - AP - The Oregon Employment Department erroneously paid about $100,000 in unemployment benefits to 155 eastern Oregon school district staff who were furloughed last spring, according to the Baker School District.

The state wants the money back.

The district learned about the problem last week, said Michelle Glover, the schools’ business manager. She said the overpayments amounted to between $630 and $730 per employee, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

The state isn’t demanding that workers repay it now, according to Glover. But if they don’t, the state will deduct the funds from any future unemployment claims those staffers make.

“This is going to be a hardship on our staff,” Glover wrote in an email Thursday.

The employment department has struggled to administer its benefits program during the pandemic. It declined to address this problem, saying state law prevents it from discussing unemployment claims at any organization – even school districts and other public entities that are generally subject to public records disclosure.

More: Employment department failure 'one of the largest disasters in state government history'

The Baker City schools, like other districts, furloughed employees for one day a week when the pandemic began to save money in anticipation of a fall budget crunch. The Baker School District tapped into the state’s Work Share program to compensate employees for the lost wages.

Work Share requires that participating employers furlough their employees for at least 20% of their work week, with a 40-hour limit on the work week. The Baker School District, though, usually operates on a four-day-a-week schedule.

Because of a quirk of the calendar, the district didn’t meet that 20% threshold for the week in May that included Memorial Day.