7 Investigates: MA woman says state sent $11,000 in unemployment benefits to someone else

BOSTON (WHDH) - Shena Diaz can’t pay her rent.

“28 and you can’t afford to live,” says Shena.

The Hyde Park woman says she can hardly afford to put food on the table.

“Good thing I have a big family. They help me with that,” says Shena.

Like a lot of people, Shena lost work in the pandemic.

Last summer, she was approved for pandemic unemployment assistance. The state-run program pays out federal funds to people who are unable to work because of COVID but are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. For some reason, after a few payments, the money stopped.

Once the issue was sorted out, the state owed Shena $11,000 of unpaid benefits. But things for Shena got worse.

“I’m walking around here, day and night, depressed about it,” says Shena.

Shena says a representative told her someone changed her banking information and her money was rerouted to a pre-paid debit card.

“Furious. I was furious,” says Shena. “They watched it go from an actual credit union to a pre-paid card and that raised no red flags for them. That’s a problem for me.”

And a problem for State Senator Eric Lesser.

“There’s got to be better systems in place to flag that,” says Senator Lesser. “Why would somebody make a change like that, isn’t there a way to confirm or double-check a change like that?”

On the program’s website, there are security questions asked when you forget your password, but not when you want to change where the money should go.

Senator Lesser says that needs to be fixed.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the public and I’m certainly ready to continue to file legislation that might need to be filed to address this on a state level,” says Lesser.

7 investigates has also learned when changing banking information in the PUA system, there is no waiting period.

For the main unemployment system, there is a mandatory 9-day waiting period that could catch this type of mistake, a mistake that’s costing Shena money and peace of mind.

“It’s imperative that I get those funds. I need them to track down those funds and they need to get back to me. This is crazy, there is no way they can get away with this,” says Shena.

7 Investigates reached out to the people who administer the pandemic unemployment assistance program. They wouldn’t give us any specifics on Shena’s case, but said they are investigating where the money went.

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