Recovery Worker Gets Hefty Bill From The State

After working for more than six months, being laid off, then filing for unemployment, a Biloxi woman says her nightmare is only getting worse. Now, she has a big fat fine from the state and doesn't understand why.

Diana Walls says she worked for the city of D'Iberville for nearly six months.

"I never missed any work, I never called in sick. I was there all the time, because if you didn't want the money, somebody else would come in and work for you," says Walls.

Walls took on the temporary recovery job after Hurricane Katrina. Once the assignment ended, she filed unemployment and received benefits. However last week, she got a bill she wasn't expecting.

"When I got the document, I opened it up and, first of all, I could not believe what I saw. So I read it again to make sure I was reading it correctly," Walls said.

The letter from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security says Walls owes the state more than $5,000 for money she received in unemployment benefits. But it's money she says she's entitled to.

"I know what's going on. FEMA is starting to put the pressure back on the coast because all the grants were given out left and right and now they are putting a squeeze on us to get their money back," Walls said.

However state officials say that's not the case. They say Walls received, what they consider, an overpayment. And according to Title 71 under the Mississippi Employment Law, an employee serving on a temporary basis due to a natural disaster is not eligible for unemployment wages. It's a scenario D'Iberville City Manager Richard Rose says he's heard before.

"We've had other employees that have filed for unemployment compensation and were denied based on this same rule. But this former recovery worker says it's not her fault someone dropped the ball and she shouldn't be held responsible," says Rose.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security did work out payment arrangements for Diana Walls, but she's still not happy. She says her next stop is Congressman Gene Taylor's office.