DiDomenico and McGonagle Announce Bill to Provide Relief and Improve Access to Unemployment Benefits

Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Joseph McGonagle joined their colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass a bill that will provide additional Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief to low-income families, non-profit institutions and employers. The legislation now moves on to the governor.

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 waiving the one-week waiting period to receive benefits. 

“From the outset of this crisis, our number one priority has been addressing the immediate needs that the people of Massachusetts face, and that includes protecting our residents’ economic stability,” said Senator DiDomenico. “I am pleased that we have once again taken action to strengthen our unemployment system to meet the unprecedented nature of this emergency, and ensure that workers and employers can access the new protections available to them through both state and federal action. Thank you to my colleagues in the House and Senate for their bipartisan collaboration on this critical bill.”

“The passing of this legislation shows great partnership and leadership between the branches of the legislature,” said Representative McGonagle. “We have all seen the worry with unemployment from both sides, so this legislation allows us to address those concerns more thoroughly. I think Speaker DeLeo and President Spilka did a fantastic job coordinating this effort.”

The legislation builds off the legislature’s ongoing efforts to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its impact on workers and follows the 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.

The components of the bill are as follows: 

•Protection for Employers. Employers who 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 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 ensures that the 30-week benefit period is triggered by a significant uptick in weekly unemployment claims. 

•Lifting the Cap on Dependency Allotment. This bill eliminates the 50% 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% 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 non-profits to make these contributions. This delay will allow the state to review additional changes that are warranted to mitigate the impact on non-profits. The CARES Act provides 50% reimbursement for self-insured benefit payments during the Coronavirus crisis.  An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System now moves to the governor for consideration. 

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