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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Ron DeSantis called Friday for indefinitely keeping debt collectors away from Floridians facing “overpayment” notices on unemployment aid received during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeSantis directed Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle to ask state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis to defer referrals to collection agencies of all non-fraudulent debts owed on unemployment benefits from March 1, 2020, to Sept. 4, 2021.

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“To be clear, this request must not apply to overpayments related to fraud, and DEO (the Department of Economic Opportunity) must continue to vigorously investigate fraudulent overpayments and ensure individuals be held accountable for their fraudulent actions,” DeSantis wrote to Eagle.

Since March 15, 2020, the state has distributed nearly $31.77 billion to more than 2.4 million claimants. While most of the money came from the federal government, more than $7.3 billion was state money.

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“During the height of the pandemic, our number one priority was to ensure Floridians received their benefits on a timely basis, and we focused on reducing red tape to speed up that process,” DeSantis wrote to Eagle.

“As result of providing this swift response, many claimants, believing they were fully and accurately applying for reemployment assistance within the bounds of the law, received overpayments from the state.”

The state hasn’t put an overall total on the overpayments issued.

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