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Man applies for jobless benefits, gets $45,339 bill

Imagine Dennis Cutrona’s surprise when instead of receiving his first unemployment check this month, he got a bill from the state for $45,339.

The Lawrence man is one of as many as 300 out-of-work Massachusetts residents who are erroneously being told they owe thousands of dollars in overpayments because of what the state Department of Unemployment Assistance calls “data conversion issues” with its new computer system.

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Cutrona, 56, who was laid off last month from his electronics assembly job, applied for unemployment benefits July 25 and expected to start receiving $258 a week. But his weekly payments were cut in half, to $129, with the rest withheld by the state to repay tens of thousands of dollars Cutrona says he did not receive.

“I can’t even make my rent,’’ he said. “I had to go down and get food stamps. I’m just not getting anywhere” with state unemployment officials.

It is the latest in a flood of complaints the Department of Unemployment Assistance has received about the agency’s new $46 million computer system, the second phase of which was launched July 1. Last week, the Globe reported that many people were still struggling to file claims online and were frustrated by long waits on phone lines when they sought assistance.

State labor officials said at the time that they had added 80 workers, some of them temporary, to a staff of 150 to handle the high call volume. And Deloitte, the major accounting and consulting firm that created the system, had deployed 80 employees to help out.

But a week later, Cutrona and others say, some of the money they are entitled to is still being withheld. Cutrona said he has spent hours on the phone in a fruitless effort to sort out his claim.

‘I can’t even make my rent. I had to go down and get food stamps.’

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Lauren Jones, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, declined to comment specifically on his case, citing confidentiality requirements. “But when issues are brought to our attention, we address them and rectify them,’’ she said in a statement.

After the Globe’s inquiries on Friday, Cutrona said he received a call from a senior labor official who apologized for the error and promised to rectify it.

Last week, the Boston Herald reported on a man with a story similar to Cutrona’s — he was told he owed nearly $17,000 in overpaid unemployment benefits.

Jones said a claimant may receive an overpayment notice because of fraud, a staff error, or a technological issue. She said the department is reviewing between 100 and 300 notices to determine how many were sent in error. She said Deloitte would be accountable for any data problems.

Deloitte officials could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

The state said about 115,000 ongoing jobless claims and 5,000 new applications are successfully processed each week.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.
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