(BOSTON) – On Thursday, April 14, expanded relief to unemployment claimants with overpayment obligations was announced. These changes are in large part due to the efforts of Representative Meschino, who filed An Act relative to waivers for non-fault overpayments (H4202) in the fall of 2021. The legislation, which recently received an extension order from the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, aims to streamline and enhance the standards that determine whether the collection of overpaid state and federal unemployment benefits accrued in 2020 and 2021 will be waived.
After the legislation was filed in September, the bill received substantial support during an October hearing. In December, the legislature passed the ARPA spending bill (H4269), which called for an overpayment waiver public awareness campaign. A few months later, in February of 2022, a supplementary budget (H4430) was passed that contained language funding the public awareness campaign and further requiring a report of current overpayment statistics.
Also in February, Massachusetts requested that the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) provide relief to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants who were impacted by a new employment substantiation requirement that took effect after PUA was already underway. The USDOL response was to grant relief for overpayments made from the week ending January 2, 2021 until the date of the Commonwealth’s notice of the rule change on March 23, 2021. The Baker Administration shared last week that over 53,000 claimants will receive partial relief as a result of USDOL’s decision.
Following USDOL’s decision, the DUA committed to three important measures:
- Writing off $475 million in state and federal benefits on overpaid claims with identity verification issues;
- Filing emergency regulations to expand criteria for waivers to cover as much as $782 million in overpayments that were not eligible under USDOL’s decision; and
- Enacting operational changes that will make it smoother and quicker to move through the waiver process. These changes will include a pre-qualification step that will generate a “one-click” option to be granted a waiver. Claimants who are eligible for this opportunity will be contacted directly by DUA beginning this week, and they should look out for communication from DUA.
DUA has already filed the emergency regulations to expand criteria for waivers, and they are in full effect. The regulations can be viewed with a subscription to Mass Register beginning on May 13, 2022.
“These commitments by DUA are substantial steps toward meaningful relief for the hardworking people of the Commonwealth, said Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull). “However, alongside our legal advocates, I am committed to continued advocacy for H4202 to ensure that the waiver process is marked by plain language, accessibility, and inclusivity. I am eager to keep working with DUA to drive positive change that supports our residents in emerging from this pandemic on solid economic footing.”
“We are grateful for Rep. Meschino’s ongoing advocacy on the important issue of waiver reform in the wake of the pandemic,” said Cory Mescon, Employment Law Attorney for the Central West Justice Center. “ DUA’s emergency regulations and streamlined waiver application are positive and welcome first steps. However, they also demonstrate the need to provide further relief for additional categories of claimants still struggling with cumbersome waiver procedures, as Representative Meschino’s bill proposes.”
Constituent services and assistance with unemployment remain top priorities for Representative Meschino’s office. Please do not hesitate to contact the office at the State House or at www.JoanMeschino.com with any questions or to seek assistance with overpayment issues and waivers.