SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Baker-Polito Administration announced Thursday plans to help provide relief to unemployment claimants that were overpaid during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and are now being asked to pay it back.
The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) has approved a request from the Commonwealth to provide certain residents that received overpayment from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) with relief. However, not all overpayments will be forgiven. The relief only applies to overpayments beginning the week of January 2, 2021 and the week ending on March 20, 2021.
A “one-click” option for people to easily request a state-issued waiver that will relieve residents of some overpayments will be available in the near future. Claimants that qualify should expect to hear from the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) beginning next week regarding the claims.
At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the Federal government launched the PUA program to help workers that lost their jobs due to COVID-19. In early 2021, after thousands of residents had already been qualified and receiving benefits, the federal rules changed to require residents to provide “documented substantiation of prior employment or be ruled retroactively ineligible for benefits.”
This change was to help reduce fraud that had developed in the PUA program, but legitimate residents were determined to be overpaid if they failed to update their documentation. This resulted in some Massachusetts residents owing anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars in overpayments to the program.
Massachusetts filed a request to the USDOL to issue blank waivers to overpaid residents due to the federal changes. The USDOL decided that the Commonwealth provided enough time to provide documentation before being asked to repay overpayments.
The blanket waiver will cover approximately $349 million in overpayments and provide partial relief to 53,487 unemployment claimants. The state expects this relief to help roughly 84% of residents that were overpaid.