Washington (June 7, 2023) - Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (MA-5) joined Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Jim McGovern (MA-2), Stephen Lynch (MA-8), Bill Keating (MA-9), Seth Moulton (MA-6), Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), and Lori Trahan (MA-3) in sending a letter to Brent Parton, Acting Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), urging DOL to work with Massachusetts to find a solution to the over withdrawal of federal unemployment insurance (UI) funds that occurred during the Baker administration. The letter calls on DOL to support the Healey administration in addressing the problem while minimizing the impact on families and businesses in the Commonwealth.
“Congress enacted new and supplemental federal UI programs to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for millions of families in Massachusetts and across the country. However, as a result of prioritizing disbursements to claimants due to heightened need as well as outdated infrastructure, many states have encountered issues in administering federal pandemic UI funds. This includes Massachusetts, where under Governor Baker’s administration, an accounting error resulted in roughly $2.5 billion being over withdrawn from federal UI funds instead of the state UI trust fund. While UI claimants will not be affected by this issue, we urge you to work with the state government to find a solution that will allow Massachusetts to address the problem while minimizing the impact on hardworking people and small businesses in the Commonwealth,” wrote the lawmakers.
Federal emergency unemployment programs passed during the COVID-19 pandemic have been vital lifelines to diminishing hardships for families and stabilizing the economy – keeping millions of Americans from falling into poverty.
“Over the new UI programs’ 18-month duration, Massachusetts disbursed an unprecedented roughly $33 billion in benefits to more than 4 million claimants. This funding came at a critical time – in June and July 2020, Massachusetts had the highest state unemployment rate in the nation at 17.7 percent. The boost in UI helped Bay Staters experiencing pandemic-induced or -exacerbated hardship: during a time when a quarter of adults had difficulty covering basic household expenses, UI benefits helped them make ends meet. This injection of funds into the economy also helped businesses keep their doors open, sustaining demand for consumer goods and services even as people were forced out of work. Thanks to this emergency funding, unemployment in Massachusetts has fallen nearly to pre-pandemic lows of just over 3 percent, and as businesses bounce back, job growth continues to rise,” continued the lawmakers.
The lawmakers note that states have faced significant obstacles in administering federal pandemic UI funds due to the unprecedented volume of the programs and speed of disbursement, but also the federal government’s underinvestment in federal and state UI infrastructure. They note that in Massachusetts, the Healey administration’s Employment Modernization and Transformation Project will directly address these issues by modernizing and transforming the state UI program’s operations and underlying systems, but that the federal government must make long-term investments in strengthening UI benefits and administration – making it easier for states to correct mistakes as they arise.
“We understand the need to ensure accountability for federal dollars, while also ensuring that any resolution does not unnecessarily and negatively impact Massachusetts families and businesses. Governor Maura Healey’s staff assumed office earlier this year and, since being notified of this issue, has been working diligently with the state comptroller and DOL to discern the scope of this discrepancy and determine how to respond appropriately while minimizing the impact on the Commonwealth. Critically, Governor Healey’s office has assured us that repayment of these dollars will not affect claimants who received benefits using the over withdrawn funds,” concluded the lawmakers.