ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The State of Missouri claims an 80-year-old woman owes more than $5,000 in unemployment pandemic funds.

Lucy Sanchez, who lives in Affton, has worked 60 years without collecting unemployment funds. However, that changed for her when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the restaurant she works for to shut down. When it partially reopened, her hours were reduced as a waitress.

Sanchez became one of many people to receive pandemic unemployment funds to help them through the crisis. Now the state is demanding she repay $5,500. She said that’s money she just doesn’t have.

“You know how many cups of coffee I have to pour to make $5,500? Another 20 or 30 years, I might be able to pay it back,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said she appealed several times and lost. She said she tried to reach out to government officials for help but didn’t have any luck. Finally, she and her daughter contacted FOX 2 for assistance.

”We love you and you help everybody. We watch you every day, you get it done. Get it done! Anyway, I just felt like I earned it, just like everybody else,” Sanchez said. “And this is the first time I’d ever drawn unemployment, I feel like if nothing else, I was entitled to it. I don’t see why I should have to pay it back.”

FOX 2 reached out to Missouri State Representative Peter Merideth from south St. Louis for assistance. Merideth has been actively involved in fighting this problem for more than a year.

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said around 11,000 people were overpaid about $44 million.

The federal government made arrangements to give people a pass, so they wouldn’t have to repay the funds. Missouri Governor Mike Parson and his administration insisted on getting the state’s money back.

Merideth was one of the leaders in the Missouri House to pass a bill in 2021 to give residents a break on repaying the state money. However, the legislation is stalled in the Senate.

”Nothing surprises me anymore, it makes me furious, it’s not right, and I’m sick of it,” Merideth said.

He talked about his fight for another elderly St. Louis area resident.

“They were actually going after $10,000 for her. I was able to talk to the governor’s office Department of Labor, we actually got it fixed,” Merideth said. “She was right, she did not owe this money back. The problem is for most folks, they don’t have a lawyer. They don’t have a state rep. that they know to call or that’s willing to help them necessarily, and they probably did it right.”

FOX 2 reported numerous stories like Sanchez’s, from the City of St. Louis to St. Charles. In each case, they were struggling families who couldn’t afford to repay the funds that helped them through one of the worst times in American history.