Baker takes issue with Globe ‘clawback’ columns
‘There has been no clawback and there won’t be a clawback,’ he says
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER appears to have a problem with the way his administration is being portrayed by a couple of Boston Globe business columnists.
It started with a column last Monday by Larry Edelman, who wrote that the Baker administration was trying to claw back $2.7 billion in unemployment insurance benefits paid to claimants who were either paid too much or weren’t eligible for any money in the first place. The $2.7 billion figure, Edelman said, was based on an analysis of state filings with the US Labor Department by Rory MacAneney, an attorney with Community Legal Aid, which provides free legal services in western Massachusetts.
Edelman followed up a few days later suggesting federal pandemic relief money or a portion of the state’s budget surplus should be used to cover what is owed, in part so Massachusetts businesses wouldn’t have to pay for the state’s mistakes in doling out unemployment insurance benefits.
“The state has the authority to claw back overpayments. And we can’t let people who lied on their claim forms off the hook. But these aren’t normal times. There needs to be some accommodation for honest folks caught in the quagmire that is the overwhelmed and overly bureaucratic DUA,” Edelman said.
Baker was asked on Monday by a Boston Globe reporter at a State House press availability if he was going to use some of the state’s excess funds to help avoid the clawbacks.
“There has been no clawback, and there won’t be a clawback,” Baker said.
The governor said almost all of the overpayments involved federal funds, so Massachusetts businesses wouldn’t be on the hook whatever happened. Baker said the state has already written off $1.8 billion in alleged overpayments, either because the individual who received the money was able to provide information to clear up the eligibility issue or because the state waived repayments because of the individual’s inability to pay the money back.Baker indicated more waivers are likely. According to an administration spokesperson, the state would normally go after an overpayment by intercepting a tax refund or filing a legal claim to recover money owed for non-fraudulent unemployment insurance overpayments. Neither approach is being used now, the spokesperson said. Instead, the state is asking those who received money improperly to voluntarily enter into an installment payment plan to return the money or agree to benefit offsets should they re-enter the unemployment insurance system in the future.
“Neither of those other two options involve DUA ‘clawing back’ funds from anyone,” the spokesperson said.