May 26 2020

Mass House and Senate Pass Bill Increasing Unemployment Insurance Benefits


Burlington’s two representatives in the State House joined their colleagues to pass a bill aimed at offering further relief for those collecting unemployment insurance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Representative Ken Gordon and Senator Cindy Friedman recently voted to pass a bill that will provide additional Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to low-income families and relief to non-profit institutions and employers, a joint release from their offices says. The bill is a part of the legislature’s ongoing efforts to support residents during the COVID-19 public health crisis.


The bill, An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System, builds on UI legislation already signed into law that waived the one-week waiting period for residents to start receiving unemployment benefits, the release states. It also follows the recent passage of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which significantly increased UI benefits and expands eligibility during the coronavirus pandemic.


“This bi-partisan legislation builds on our continued dedication to helping our workers and employers as they face financial hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Friedman. “This bill will provide much-needed economic relief to residents across the Commonwealth who have lost their jobs in the wake of the pandemic.”


“Access to meaningful unemployment insurance provides the safety net our workers need during this difficult time,” said Rep. Gordon. “This bill takes away the one-week waiting period, increases the maximum benefit period to 30 weeks and meaningfully adjusts the dependent allotment, while protecting employers from increased premiums.  It’s a win-win situation that we all need.”


The components of the bill include: 


Protection for Employers: Employers participate in UI pay contributions based on their layoff experience. Like other forms of insurance, employers that are more likely to have workers use unemployment compensation are asked to pay more in the system. The system, however, does not anticipate a situation where employers across a number of sectors have been forced to significantly reduce their workforces due to situations outside of their control. This bill prevents layoffs related to coronavirus from negatively impacting employer’s future UI contributions.


Extending Unemployment Benefit Period: The number of weeks of unemployment compensation available in Massachusetts is tied to unemployment rates around the state. This trigger did not anticipate a situation, however, in which unemployment grows rapidly in a very short period of time. This bill increases the unemployment from 26 weeks to 30 weeks when there is a significant uptick in weekly unemployment claims.


Lifting the Cap on Dependency Allotment: This bill eliminates the 50 percent cap for the dependency allotment providing additional benefits to low-income families. This increase will be in addition to the $600 per week benefit add-on provided for in the CARES Act for all workers eligible for state or federal benefits. This provision is effective for 18 months after the end of COVID-19 emergency and the end of enhanced federal benefits.


Currently, UI recipients are entitled to an additional $25 per week for each child in the family, capped at 50 percent of a recipient’s base allotment. The result is that workers with particularly low allotments, such as low wage workers, can easily be capped out of receiving these additional amounts.


Non-Profit Contribution Grace Period: Presently, many non-profits self-insure for unemployment claims. This means that when layoffs in the sector occur, non-profits pay the cost of those benefits dollar for dollar at the next billing period. This bill provides a 120-day grace period for nonprofits to make these contributions. This delay will allow the state to review additional changes that are warranted to mitigate the impact on nonprofits. The CARES Act provides 50% reimbursement for self-insured benefit payments during the Coronavirus crisis.


The legislation is now before the Governor for consideration.


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