MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- The U.S. Department of Labor has agreed not to make workers repay benefits they received by mistake during the pandemic, as long as they were not obtained by fraud.
However, the Employment Development Department still must verify that everyone was eligible -- about a million Californians are required to submit extra proof -- or pay it back.
Many say the EDD isn't making it easy.
This rule affects non-traditional employees -- gig workers, contractors -- and part-timers. They received special pandemic benefits.
Now they must show they really were working, and weren't imposters filing phony claims.
But many say the EDD is once again putting up barriers.
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Colette Bowen of Morgan Hill has been trying for weeks to show the EDD proof that she really was working at a Kendra Scott Jewelry Store when the pandemic hit.
"I do have evidence, I just cannot get it to them," she said.
"And then everything shut down, and then they let us all go," Bowen explained.
Bowen was a college student working part time at the mall when stores shut and she got laid off.
VIDEO: Nearly 1M self-employed suddenly required to prove they deserved EDD benefits or pay it all back
The EDD granted her pandemic unemployment benefits -- but now, nearly two years later, she must prove she deserved them.
"I was pretty annoyed just because I knew this would be another thing I had to deal with," Bowen said.
Bowen is among the nearly 1 million workers who received an alarming email from the EDD before the holidays. All of them must show they were really working before the pandemic hit, or return the money.
Bowen only recently found the email in her junk folder.
"When I got these emails that went to my junk folder it just became very stressful," she said. "At first, I thought it was just kind of a scammer trying to get me to give my Social Security number or something."
The email said she must upload proof to her EDD account -- or pay back her benefits. That's about $6,000. As Bowen tells us, she's not in the kind of position to pay back such a huge sum.
"Um, that is definitely a big amount. I mean, I'm a young person, I work an hourly wage job," she said.
VIDEO: Unemployment in California: EDD still won't pay benefits long after man verifies ID, wins appeal
She dug up her W-2 and earnings summary. But when she tried to upload them, she could not.
"I get the error code every time," she said.
As it turns out, the EDD locked her out of her account, with no way to upload documents, and a deadline of this Friday to submit her proof.
Bowen is frustrated with EDD's refusal to budge their deadline.
"It's not like I just decided to ignore their requests. I just sincerely cannot get into my account," she said.
VIDEO: EDD admits to waiting on man's unemployment claim so long, it was rejected
She's tried calling the EDD many times. No one picks up. She mailed paper copies to the EDD - no response.
Finally, she contacted 7 On Your Side.
We asked the EDD how she is supposed to comply if they locked her out of her account.
The EDD said it will be offering a way to mail in documents for those with technical problems, but would not say why she was locked out.
A spokesperson said the EDD won't demand money back for the time being, even if a deadline has passed.
RELATED: Bay Area mom waits 6 months to get EDD benefits, thousands more in same situation
Right now, about 900,000 cases are still under review.
But Bowen is still locked out, and is still worried.
"I'm not in a position where I could pay back that sort of money, and I know that I'm not at fault, and I shouldn't have to be. It's definitely been stressful," she said.
The EDD says many folks may have been overpaid by mistake as rules kept changing during the pandemic -- the Labor Department said today it will forgive many of those undue payments.
However, folks like Bowen must still show they were really eligible at all.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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