State Seeks Federal Waiver for Unemployed Overpayments | News
BOSTON — The Baker administration is seeking a waiver from the federal government to reduce the amount of “overpayments” that unemployed Massachusetts workers owe under pandemic unemployment benefits.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, Secretary of the State Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Roslin Acosta called for a blanket waiver for all too- non-fraudulent unemployment benefits paid through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and two other federal authorities. pandemic-related unemployment programs.
Acosta wrote that the main driver of overpayments among Massachusetts claimants was changes in federal guidelines for the PUA program. These changes resulted in overpayment determinations for more than $1 billion in claims already paid.
“While this measure was intended to address fraud issues that had developed in the program, an unintended result was that legitimate applicants were automatically determined to be overpaid,” she wrote.
Acosta said those changes had a disproportionate impact on Massachusetts, as it was among the first states to roll out federal unemployment programs in response to a tidal wave of unemployment claims related to pandemic restrictions.
The state Department of Unemployment Assistance is currently processing more than 300,000 overpayment waiver claims.
“This process is laborious for the agency and can be frustrating for the applicant,” she wrote. “Additionally, requiring applicants to apply for waivers may present barriers for underserved communities that have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic.”
The Biden administration granted waivers for certain categories of no-fault overpayments, but that had little impact on Massachusetts, she added.
Two weeks ago, members of the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development called on the Baker administration to suspend overpayment collection “without fault.” of the workers until the end of July.
Lawmakers also urged the state agency to “make full use” of new U.S. Department of Labor guidelines to expand overpayment waivers and seek blanket waivers.
Acosta said the state has already requested a “narrower” waiver specifically for plaintiffs who currently owe no-fault overpayments.
Massachusetts has paid out an unprecedented $6 billion in unemployment benefits over the past two years as hundreds of thousands of workers have been sidelined by government-mandated shutdowns meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. The state has borrowed more than $2.2 billion from the federal government to continue paying claims.
Meanwhile, the state is also trying to recover about $2.6 billion in overpayments paid to laid-off workers who over the past two years received unemployment benefits for which they were later deemed ineligible.
In some cases, those who applied for unemployment benefits thought they were qualified, but were not. Others made honest mistakes by incorrectly completing the required forms. In other cases, clerical errors were made by the state DUA in the rush to approve a tidal wave of unemployment claims.
But as Acosta points out in its request, the majority of cases involve changes to Department of Labor guidelines that now require individual workers to repay thousands — in some cases tens of thousands — of dollars they thought they were entitled to.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]