(BOSTON) – Last week, State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) filed An Act relative to waivers for non-fault overpayments (HD4461) to streamline the standards that determine whether the collection of overpaid state and federal unemployment benefits accrued in 2020 and 2021 will be waived.  The bill supports the Commonwealth’s workers and eases the strain placed on the Department of Unemployment Assistance by an unprecedented number of waiver applications. 

Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits provided, and continue to provide, critical support for workers and their families throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  Millions turned to UI to pay for basic living expenses, which in turn sustained the Massachusetts economy as the money claimants received flowed back into their communities.  

However, many workers are now being asked to repay tens of thousands of dollars in “overpaid” benefits, nearly all of which were made through no fault of the worker.  Overpayments were in fact often caused or worsened by the delays and errors made as the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) had to quickly enact new federally funded benefit programs, respond to rapidly evolving federal guidance, and process an unprecedented influx of UI claims throughout the pandemic.  As a result, claimants collected higher benefit amounts for longer than they would have because DUA was not able to meet ordinary timeliness standards, which resulted in overpayments.  

Current standards for waiving overpayments are insufficient to meet the unprecedented scale of the current number and size of overpayments.  These standards do not account for inflation of overpayments caused by errors and delays in adjudication and fail to recognize the inequity of requiring workers to repay tens of thousands of dollars in benefits they relied on to meet basic living expenses, and which were overpaid through no fault of their own.  As most of the funds in question are federal dollars, recoupment harms working families while doing nothing to contribute to trust fund solvency or to support the state’s economy.

In response to these problems, this bill clarifies existing standards for waivers for the collection of overpaid state and federal unemployment benefits accrued in 2020 and 2021 by: 

  • Providing easily ascertainable scenarios where recovery of overpayments made through no fault of the worker would be against equity and good conscience;
  • Requiring DUA to provide adequate notice of the waiver application process to claimants;
  • Ensuring that DUA assist claimants—including those with limited English proficiency and those who face barriers accessing technology—with the waiver application process;
  • Requiring DUA to reconsider previously denied waiver applications under the new standards of this Act; and 
  • Prohibiting DUA from improperly establishing overpayments based on redeterminations made beyond the one-year deadline provided in state law. 

“The hardworking people of the Commonwealth who filed for unemployment benefits in good faith during the pandemic deserve an accessible path to keep the money that DUA awarded, which served as a lifeline,” said Representative Meschino (D-Hull).  “Overpayment collections place an immense strain on workers and their families, and we must do all we can to make the waiver process transparent and as fair as possible.”

The bill, House Docket 4461, was filed last week and now waits to be assigned to a legislative committee.  To check for updates on this and to follow other legislation, simply create an account on malegislature.gov.