The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed legislation that will provide additional Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief to low-income families, non-profit institutions and employers.
An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System builds on UI legislation passed by the Senate and signed into law waiving the one-week waiting period to receive benefits. It also follows the passage last week of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which significantly increases UI benefits and expands eligibility during the coronavirus pandemic.
Building off the Senate’s ongoing efforts to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its impacts on workers, the bill includes four components to enhance the state’s UI system:
• Uncapping the UI dependency allotment;
• Extending the grace period for non-profit contributions;
• Protecting employers from increased UI costs due to coronavirus; and
• Ensuring 30 weeks of unemployment compensation during unemployment spikes.
“The economic strain that is being put on both the Commonwealth and the country as a whole due to the novel coronavirus cannot be understated,” said Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury). “These are unfortunate steps that we have to take but that does not downplay the importance of providing the proper unemployment insurance benefits at a time when many residents and families in the state need them”
The components of the bill are as follows:
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.
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.
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.
An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.