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Employment Security goes after income-tax refunds to resolve debts

When is an income-tax refund not a refund? When it’s intercepted by the Employment Security Department to repay wrongly claimed unemployment benefits.

This week, Employment Security is notifying more than 25,000 people that their 2012 income-tax refunds may be intercepted to repay benefits they shouldn’t have received.

The department was recently approved to participate in the federal Treasury Offset Program (TOP), which allows Employment Security to cross-match its computer files with the Internal Revenue Service and flag individuals who are delinquent in paying back benefit overpayments. Generally, Employment Security will have first claim on any refunds they have coming.

“We place a high priority on protecting the unemployment trust fund for those who are eligible for unemployment benefits,” said Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause. “We also want to protect employers from potential rate increases caused by inappropriate benefit claims.”

Many people being targeted for TOP review claimed unemployment benefits fraudulently. Federal law also allows states to use TOP to recover benefits from people who didn’t disclose earnings they received while claiming benefits.

Employment Security will intercept refunds only for individuals who are past due in repaying what they owe. Together, the 25,000 people receiving notices this week owe $61.7 million in delinquent debt to the department.

A year from now, employers with delinquent taxes will be added to Washington’s TOP review, in time for filing 2013 tax returns.

Washington is one of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, currently approved to participate in TOP.

Treasury Offset Program - http://fms.treas.gov/debt/top.html

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