The Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee held a hearing to learn more on the performance of the Commonwealth’s unemployment insurance system, as well as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. This is part of the committee’s review of these systems as they work to identify any necessary legislative, regulatory and budgetary changes.
“Just how devastating the pandemic has been on people throughout the Commonwealth is hard to put into words,” said Senator Moore. “Because of this devastating impact, there was an incredibly high volume of people who were seeking unemployment benefits, many of whom faced difficulties throughout the process. The goal of our hearing today was to better understand our unemployment systems so that we are prepared should we ever be faced with such a difficult scenario again. I thank everyone who testified today as their information is valuable to us as we continue our review.”
“We heard from so many of our constituents about how crucial unemployment benefits were during the pandemic. We also heard from too many who faced barriers and delays in getting those benefits. It’s important to learn from both the successes and problems so we can be prepared for the future.” said Senator Jehlen.
At the hearing, the Committee heard from Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta, as well as First Assistant Inspector General Natalie Monroe from Office of the Massachusetts Inspector General, Division Chief Geoffrey Wood from the Insurance and Unemployment Fraud Unit at the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, Employment Rights Coalition, National Federation of Independent Business of Massachusetts, and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
During her testimony Secretary Acosta stated that a new report detailing the current state of the unemployment insurance trust fund would be made available at the end of the month, and that the Baker administration plans to borrow some of the $7 billion authorized by the legislature to keep the fund stable. Secretary Acosta also told the committee the current balance of the trust fund is expected to be lower than the $2.9 billion it is currently estimated to contain by the U.S. Treasury. Secretary Acosta also made clear that $2.3 billion of the fund must be paid back to the federal government by next November, and that the state also owes $400 million in credits to employers. Secretary Acosta also reported that there have been roughly 100,000 cases of overpayment in both the unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program.
First Assistant Inspector General Natalie Wood told the committee that from March to November 2020, there were 2,020 complaints on the unemployment insurance system. Division Chief Geoffrey Wood reported to the committee that there have been 13 fraud referrals from the DUA in 2021, but there have been no convictions related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
The hearing was Chaired by Senator Michael Moore, who was joined by Vice Chair Senator Jamie Eldridge, as well as committee members Senator Patricia Jehlen and Senator Harriette Chandler.
Oral testimony was only provided by those who were invited to speak, however, the committee is still accepting written public testimony. Written testimony can be submitted by webform, which can be accessed here: https://forms.gle/vreMEkYq4sRLdcRP7. The livestream of the hearing was also recorded, and this can be watched here: https://malegislature.gov/Events/Hearings/Detail/4114.
The Senator Post Audit and Oversight Committee is thankful for the testimony delivered by all the invited speakers, as they continue to review the Commonwealth’s unemployment insurance system and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. Further information on the committee can be found here: https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Detail/S48.