A major error by the state of Michigan may lead to panic for nearly 650,000 residents who could be forced to pay back unemployment benefits they've received during the pandemic.

The Detroit News and Mlive report that 648,100 people will be asked to resubmit paperwork and could be forced to repay some of their unemployment benefits because of "unapproved qualification criteria" which have been developed by a state agency.

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Unemployment recipients were asked to check one of four boxes indicating why they have been qualified for benefits. Workers who are part-time, self-employed, or considered "gig workers" may have been erroneously told that they qualify for benefits.

However, the US Department of Labor has indicated that those four guidelines set forth by the state may not comply with federal guidelines.

Lynda Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Unemployment Insurance Agency tells Mlive that the federal guidelines were not clear at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

"At the onset of COVID, there was ambiguity in the federal guidelines and more latitude in the interpretation of those guidelines by the states, including Michigan," Robinson said. "As a result, Michigan included four reasons that were ultimately not approved by US Department of Labor."

Michigan Representative Steve Johnson expressed his frustration with Michigan's unemployment system to the Detroit News. 

"The Unemployment Insurance Agency is a mess," Johnson said. "If the state made the mistake, the people shouldn’t have to pay for it. The state should have to pay for it.”

Rachael Kohl, director of the Workers’ Rights Legal Clinic at Michigan United tells Mlive that this gaffe has put many residents in a panic.

“At this point, these people don’t have the money anymore,” Kohl said. “They’ve spent it – because that’s literally the point of unemployment benefits, to put money into our economy and keep people in their homes and put food on the table.”

Kohl goes on to say that although it's technically illegal for the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency to retroactively ask for the money back, she suspects they will attempt to do it anyway.

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