Baker takes issue with Globe ‘clawback’ columns
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.
State House reopening: Senate President Karen Spilka says the State House is likely to open to the public in February for the first time since it closed in March 2020. Many details need to be worked out, but vaccination proof will be required to gain entry. Read more.
House-Senate split on voting reform: Same-day voter registration could become a sticking point between the two legislative branches as they try to pass voting reform legislation. The Senate supports allowing people to register to vote and to vote at the same time, but the House, which is unveiling its voting reform bill this week, is wary. Speaker Ron Mariano said he voted against same-day voter registration the last time it came up for a vote. Read more.
Health care alert: The health care industry, which helps patients deal with the fallout of fossil fuel use, plays an outsized role in causing these problems. Health care is the second most energy-intensive industry in the US. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The state is preparing to host 2,000 Afghan refugees, double the amount originally forecast. (Associated Press)
Municipal leaders are frustrated that the state is taking 85 percent of the money from an opioid-related settlement, leaving only a small portion for cities and towns. (Patriot Ledger)
Ninety-four percent of Boston city workers are now in compliance with the municipality vaccine mandate, according to Mayor Michelle Wu. (GBH)
An investigation of the Williamstown Police Department finds a former chief and a former sergeant “initiated, participated, and tolerated” a sexually and racially charged environment. (Berkshire Eagle)
The US Supreme Court will revisit the issue of affirmative action in higher education admissions, agreeing to hear cases challenging the use of race in admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. (NPR)
Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan launches a campaign for attorney general, days after Attorney General Maura Healey announced her run for governor. Quentin Palfrey, a former lieutenant governor candidate, is also expected to run. (State House News Service)
The state is considering whether to scrap two MCAS subject tests, in chemistry and technology/engineering. (Salem News)
Unvaccinated students in some schools can now go maskless under new state education department guidelines. (State House News Service)
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has agreed to return a 17th century Dutch painting to the heirs of a Hungarian Jewish collector who had put it in a bank vault before fleeing Hungary during World War II. (Boston Globe)
A commuter rail signal worker who apparently failed to reset a crossing signal less than an hour before a Wilmington woman was fatally struck by a commuter rail train while crossing the tracks in her car has been put on administrative leave. (Boston Globe)
Four North Atlantic right whale calves that researchers thought had died actually survived. (Boston Herald)
The Swampscott Police Department releases a report analyzing its actions during 2021, including seven instances where force was used. (Daily Item)
Evan Smith, who helped chart a new course for the country’s beleaguered newspaper sector through nonprofit digital newsrooms, is stepping down as leader of the Texas Tribune, which he founded in 2009 and which now boasts a staff of more than 50 journalists. (Washington Post)
Lee Enterprises, the publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Buffalo News, sends a mailing to shareholders trying to rally their support in fending off a takeover by Alden Global Capital, which the mailing describes as a “vulture hedge fund.”
“What a stupid son of a bitch,” President Biden said under his breath – but on a hot mic – about Fox News reporter Peter Doocy after the network’s White House correspondent asked him whether inflation would be a political liability in the midterm elections. Biden later called Doocy about an hour later and, in the reporter’s words, “cleared the air.” (New York Times)PASSINGS
Bill Owens, a trailblazing political figure who became the first Black member of the Massachusetts state Senate in 1975, died at age 84. (Boston Globe)