How to avoid owing the state money for unemployment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Deirdra Steward says the state of North Carolina wants her to pay back more than $3,000 she received in unemployment money.

Steward lost her job and about a month later, her long-time boyfriend died. They had three children together.

“I never thought this is where I’d be. Never. But all I can do is keep striving for my children,” she told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke.

A few months after receiving unemployment, the state asked her to pay some of it back.

“I would love to have it, but I do not,” she said.

Steward says she feels like she did everything right when she applied, and she’s appealing the decision.

Channel 9 has reported in the past that in North Carolina from January to September 2020, people owed the state $70 million. Over the same nine-month period, in South Carolina, people owed $27 million.

Stoogenke asked officials in both states what people are doing wrong when they apply for unemployment that they end up owing money back. Here’s what we found out so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

In North Carolina:

  • People are not following the rules about looking for new jobs.
  • People keep accepting unemployment money after they go back to work.
  • People claim they were laid off or couldn’t work because of COVID-19 and that turns out to be false.

In South Carolina:

  • People report that they left work for a good reason, but they really quit or were fired.
  • People report making more money than what they are actually paid.


For Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a person must be separated from employment due to one of the COVID-19 related reasons in the CARES Act. See the chart here.

The Division of Employment Security will consider that a person may have good cause to refuse to return to work for the COVID-19 related reasons listed on this page.