Lawmakers urge pause on pursuing collections

Seek time to untangle guidance on unemployment insurance overpayments


A PAIR OF TOP legislators on Friday urged the Baker administration to halt pursuing overpaid unemployment benefits for the next five-plus months, calling for more time to untangle a complicated financial situation.

Rep. Josh Cutler and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the co-chairs of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, said they believe the Bay State needs to work through new federal guidance outlining additional scenarios in which states should apply a “blanket waiver” to recovering overpayments where the recipient was not at fault.

Cutler and Jehlen also noted that a COVID-19 spending bill the Legislature approved — which Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday he plans to sign — requires the state Department of Unemployment Assistance to produce a comprehensive report by March 1 summarizing the scope of unemployment benefit overpayments in Massachusetts.

“In light of these new developments, we respectfully request that the Department of Unemployment Assistance pause collection for non-fault overpayments from residents until the end of July of 2022,” the two Democrats wrote in a letterto Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta. “This pause will ensure that we in the legislature and our partners in Washington have sufficient time to respond to the facts on the ground. We suggest the pause includes a direct notice to people in overpayment status stating that their account balance remains unchanged, but that they are currently under no obligation to pay until August.”

Pausing any efforts to reclaim mistakenly overpaid jobless aid could be akin to a nearly two-year pause on student loan payments the federal Department of Education instituted, Cutler and Jehlen suggested.

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Chris Lisinski

Reporter, State House News Service
While record amounts of unemployment benefits flowed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic crisis, states in some cases paid cash assistance to people who were ineligible or who should have received a smaller amount.

The Boston Globe reported in January that the Massachusetts DUA overpaid at least $2.7 billion on about 719,000 claims in 2020 and 2021. Baker later said $1.8 billion in overpayments had been waived for repayment and said “there won’t be a clawback.”