Florida woman's $2900 lottery win taken by state because it overpaid her unemployment during pandemic

A woman in Kissimmee won nearly $3,000 on a Florida lottery ticket only to learn the state would not pay her. She was told it was because she was overpaid in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Thornton told FOX 35 she was laid off from her job at Disney in 2020 and struggled with the unemployment process before eventually getting benefits. Years later, she thought she had caught a big break.

"When I won I said I could get caught up on my car note, my insurance, pay some bills, help my family out a little bit, my daughters, my grandkids, give them a little something," Thornton said.

Thornton won $2,900 on a Pick Four ticket. Her joy quickly turned to confusion when she showed up at the lottery office. Thornton was told she was overpaid by $8,000 when she received her unemployment benefits. She tells FOX 35 she was told the overpayment was waived by the state, and she didn't have to pay it back.

"This situation is as unique as winning the lottery," said Art Schofield, an employment attorney. "It’s not going to happen to many people at all."

Schofield says most overpayments were waived by the state since it was the state's mistake, but that doesn't mean it won't try to get that money back somehow.

"The overpayments, while they’re not clawing the money back, it doesn’t mean that it might not come up at some point in time like when you have a lottery winning," Schofield said. "And now you’re pulling from the same entity so to speak."

The state agency in charge of unemployment benefits told FOX 35 they've tried reaching out to Thornton, and that they do withhold lottery payments when someone was overpaid. Thornton says she'll keep fighting to get her check.

"You need to send me the money," Thornton said. "You took the money out that don’t belong to you. You told me I didn’t owe anything, you waived it."

Schofield says while the situation is rare, it will likely happen again. He says the same thing happens if someone wins the lottery and has unpaid child support.