(AMESBURY, Mass.) — Back in 1976, when Alice Mainville received an unemployment check from the state of New Jersey, she remembers feeling elated.
In 1976, Mainville was 17 and had been working in Paterson, N.J., in a union job at Lazzara bakery. When another union, the Teamsters, which also had members employed at the bakery, went on strike, Mainville said she and her fellow union members were told not to cross the picket line.
Out of work for a time, she was eligible to claim unemployment. It was then that the state allegedly overpaid her, but Mainville said she never had any idea there was a problem until the recent notices started coming.
Never did she think that 35 years later, long after she had moved to Massachusetts to start a new life, that New Jersey would track her down for a $73 debt, the result of a miscalculation in her unemployment check.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mainville said in an interview. “They’re coming after me for $73, after 36 years, for a debt I incurred at 17?”
She first received the notice from the New Jersey Department of Labor last fall telling her that she owes the state $73 due to the state’s miscalculation.
The notice was addressed to her using her maiden name, Alice Scheller, a last name she had not used in 12 years.
Mainville initially thought that the letter was for her mother, who had passed away five years ago and had lived her life in New Jersey, as there was no social security number listed on the notice.
She replied with her mother’s death certificate. Then in March, she received another notice that included her Social Security number, ostensibly proving that the debt was indeed in her name.
Back in the 1970s, Mainville recalls, she could fill up her car’s entire gas tank for just $5. She was earning about $80 a week.
According to Brian Murray, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Labor, Mainville’s case is hardly unprecedented. The state of New Jersey is owed $376 million in debts from people who were overpaid unemployment insurance benefits and now owe repayments and penalties.
There is no expiration date for debts like this. The department is “obligated, under the law, to follow up on these matters, regardless of the amount of the debt or the age of the case,” Murray said.
Ultimately, Mainville, single mother of three and school secretary in Amesbury, Mass., says she’ll pay back the $73, but only after checking to ensure that the notice is legitimate and factual. Only the balance of the over-payment was provided; no additional information was given. She said that she would love to contact the Department of Labor and get more information, but that there was no email address or phone number listed on the notice.
Murray says that if she gives him a call, he’ll be happy to help out.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio