07/10/2012 01:48 pm ET

Unemployment Benefits Mistakes Mean Americans Owe Government $14 Billion

Due to government mistakes, unemployed Americans now owe the government billions of dollars.

The federal government and individual states overpaid unemployment benefits by about $14 billion last year, according to Labor Department data cited by CNN Money. Those overpayments constitute 11 percent of all unemployment benefits paid last year.

Overpayment of benefits is not a new phenomenon. The federal government and states paid $20 billion in unemployment benefits in error between the middle of 2008 and the middle of 2011, according to the Labor Department.

The government doled out too much largely because of clerical errors and because of payments made to jobless benefits applicants who did not qualify. People that received unemployment benefits by mistake include those who kept applying for benefits even after returning to work, people that had been fired or had quit their jobs voluntarily and people that were not actively looking for work, according to the Labor Department.

Now, officials are billing the recipients to get the money back. But federal and state governments typically recover only one-quarter of accidental unemployment benefit payments, said Gary Gilbert, an administrator at the Labor Department, in an interview with CNN Money.

Recipients of bills for accidental payments can appeal to get those bills waived if they can prove that they did not deceive the government on purpose, according to the Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Center.

Every state in the country is guilty of giving out unemployment benefits by mistake, according to the Labor Department. In 27 states, between the middle of 2008 and the middle of 2011, more than 10 percent of unemployment benefits were paid by mistake. Indiana and Louisiana had the worst improper payment rate, at 44 percent.

Colorado, for one, accidentally overpaid $128 million in jobless benefits last year and now is asking those recipients to pay the money back, the Denver Post and Associated Press reported last month. Last year, Colorado recovered $73 million in jobless benefits that it had accidentally overpaid, according to the AP.