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Bus Drivers Seek Waiver From Repaying Unemployment Benefits

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Indiana school bus drivers are asking legislators to excuse them from repaying thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits.

Indiana changed the law on unemployment four years ago to make planned seasonal shutdowns ineligible for benefits. Hundreds of school bus drivers applied for benefits anyway while school was out the next summer.

They received them but were subsequently told to give the money back. Those drivers now owe an average of $2,000 to $4,000, according to the AFSCME union.

“A Head Start teacher in Gary had heard about the law change. She called the Department of Workforce Development. She asked them ‘What’s going on with this?’” says AFSCME spokeswoman Carli Stevenson. “She was told by the DWD, ‘Well we heard something about it but we haven’t gotten any training so just go ahead and apply.’”

DWD spokesman Joe Frank says the agency sent and posted notices of the change in the law.

“If you apply for unemployment insurance benefits and your employer does not protest those benefits, we’re required by the federal government to pay them and then do facts-finding afterward,” Frank says.

Drivers unsuccessfully sued trying to reclaim their eligibility. The repayment letters went out after the Indiana Supreme Court rejected that argument.

Drivers have asked DWD to grant them a waiver, but Frank says the law reserves waivers for cases of extreme hardship and the sheer size of the bills isn‘t enough to qualify. 

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, has filed two bills to grant a blanket exception. 

The bills have not received a hearing.

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