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State-owned debt

When Wilson went to collect her winnings on Jan. 3, 2024, she was handed a ‘Special Circumstances ticket’ stating she may owe “state-owned debt.”

The ticket stated Florida Lottery had to contact the Department of Economic Opportunity (now called the Department of Commerce) to “establish if any indebtedness is owed” regarding unemployment compensation Wilson had received in the past.

“This can’t be right,” said Wilson, who won $1,000 from a scratch off card in 2023 and had no issues collecting that money.

Wilson claims she never received a letter, email or call from the state telling her she owed them money. She told ABC she called the Florida Unemployment Assistance Program “almost every day” and reported “waiting two hours, at the max three, just to speak to someone” and sort the mess out.

“If you guys [the state] can find out if I’m working or if I’m not working to verify if I qualify for unemployment, you should be able to find some way to reach me. My email on that site is still the same,” she said, flagging the miscommunication at the heart of the issue.

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Hundreds are contesting

In its report, ABC revealed thousands of Floridians like Wilson have received such a ticket and had their winnings withheld by the state for overpaid unemployment compensation — and while some have contested this and won, it appears the problem just won’t go away.

ABC investigative reporter Kylie McGivern sent the names and information of more than 530 people, all in the same boat, to the state — most of whom were unaware they were supposedly overpaid in unemployment until they went to collect and were denied their lottery prizes.

“Something has to be done,” said Wilson. “This cannot keep happening — with the times now, where [the price of] everything’s going up: rent’s going up, food’s going up. Let me have this money.”

She has a valid point that every little helps in the current economy.

Housing continues to be a significant driver of inflation in the U.S. According to the latest Consumer Price Index data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, rents climbed 0.4% in April 2024 compared to March. Meanwhile the food index jumped 0.3% in April after a 0.4% increase in March.

Two weeks after ABC’s intervention, Wilson was finally able to collect her lottery winnings — with her supposed debt wiped from the system. Others are still fighting for their prize.

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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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