Unemployment Insurance Overpayment Awareness Campaign

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BOSTON, Mass. (State House News Service) – As the state struggles to claw back hundreds of millions of dollars in excess unemployment benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, House Democrats have slipped a provision in their federal relief spending bill that would require the Baker administration to inform and make recipients understand that they may qualify for a reimbursement waiver.

The public awareness campaign set out in the House’s plan to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds falls short of the expanded waivers requested by Representative Joan Meschino and other advocates, but the Democrat of Hull saw progress in this. “I just saw the inclusion of the workforce as a real recognition that this is a problem and we need to think about how we approach the waiver process, so I was really very happy, ”said Meschino.

Meschino, who tabled the amendment to the ARPA bill, also tabled legislation that would expand the availability of waivers to clearly include anyone who has received unemployment assistance in the event of a pandemic and through no fault of their own accepted excess benefits. and spent to cover ordinary living expenses.

These waivers, under the lawmaker’s proposal, would not apply to fraud cases, and supporters say it would ease the anxiety some families feel as they struggle to figure out how to repay the benefits they have. already spent on food, rent and other necessities.

Meschino introduced the bill in late September based on constituent cases handled by his office and attempted to squeeze the policy change into the ARPA bill that the House passed last week. Having just had a hearing in October, Meschino said she would continue to work with the Chairs of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee to try and push the extra pieces forward. “The public awareness campaign was a very important and great element to include,” Meschino said.

The House bill directs the Ministry of Unemployment Assistance to notify and publicize the availability of overpayment exemptions related to benefits received in 2020 and 2021. The ministry would be required to notify all benefit recipients as part of the expansion of state and federal unemployment insurance. programs put in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and must include information on eligibility and how to apply.

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Unemployment Assistance Ministry provided no information on the extent of the overpayments or its efforts to collect the money. The administration also did not comment when asked about its position on Meschino’s bill or the amendment added to the House’s ARPA plan.

Greater Boston Legal Services, using data from the Department of Labor, estimated that the total value of overpayments could be between $ 1.58 billion and $ 1.92 billion, of which $ 531 million came from overpayments. the state and the rest of the federal benefit programs that would return to the federal government when clawed back.

Lawyers this week said their attention will now turn to the Senate where they will try to include the full waiver proposal in this branch’s version of ARPA and the overspending bill, which is expected to be released. Wednesday and debated next week.

While not included in the original Senate Ways and Means Bill, Meschino said she has yet to identify a Senate partner to work with to table an amendment, but at least hopes include the same language so that it is not part of the Chamber. -Negotiations in Senate conference.

The House and Senate have already agreed as part of the process to allocate the state’s ARPA money to spend $ 500 million to reimburse long-term unemployment insurance liability of businesses, which has reached up to ‘to $ 7 billion during the pandemic as businesses have been shut down and people kicked out of work.

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed using $ 1 billion of the state’s fiscal year 2021 surplus for the same purpose, and business groups have criticized the House and Senate’s smaller allocation as potentially insufficient to cover even the cost of overpayments.

Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said the House bill provides “only a fraction of what is needed to help pay off the $ 7 billion debt of the unemployment insurance that was the direct result of state-ordered closures and restrictions ”.

To make matters worse, lawmakers have further strained the fund by allowing waivers for UI overpayments. This will be an additional expense paid by employers and the unknown price could end up canceling out the $ 500 million in unemployment insurance relief provided for in this package, ”Carlozzi said.

Greater Boston Legal Services estimates that about 72% of overpayments would be federal dollars that did not go to the state’s Unemployment Insurance trust fund. The organization also said that “non-refundable employers” are not held responsible for overpayments, while “refundable” employers are not required to collect federal benefits and have received relief from contributions from the government. ‘State up to 50 percent through the CARES Act and 75 percent. by ARPA.

Reimbursable employers are mostly non-profit organizations that only pay into the system on a monthly basis when an employee accesses benefits. Even without expanded waiver eligibility, Jason Salgado, of GBLS, said the agency believed that many claimants, especially those who worked for non-profit organizations, would be eligible for a waiver under the law in force and should be informed of their rights.


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