State to refund jobless claim overpayments | News
BOSTON — Thousands of workers who repaid “overpayments” for unemployment benefits during the pandemic will soon be getting a refund from the state.
The refunds include more than $15.3 million paid back by 3,168 jobless claimants whose overpayment debts are being wiped away by a federal waiver, according to figures from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Another $4.9 million was repaid by 10,174 claimants who can request refunds under a separate waiver process for state and federal overpayments.
A notice sent by the state Department of Unemployment Assistance to eligible claimants explains they don’t need to make more payments and will get a refund or credit.
“If you have made a payment toward this debt, you will receive your refund via direct deposit if that was your payment method,” the notice stated. “If your payment method was debit card, please update your account’s payment method to direct deposit, or make sure your mailing address is accurate, because we will mail you a check if no direct deposit account is available.”
Massachusetts shelled out a record $33 billion in state and federal and unemployment benefits between 2020 and 2021 as government-imposed shutdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 sidelined hundreds of thousands of workers. The state was forced to borrow about $2.2 billion from the federal government to continue paying claims.
But in the crush to process an unprecedented number of claims, an estimated $2.7 billion in so-called overpayments were made to 719,000 laid-off workers who received benefits that they were later determined to be ineligible for.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor partially approved the state’s request for a blanket waiver for non-fraudulent overpayments through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and other federal unemployment programs.
But the waiver only covers overpayments received from the week ending Jan. 2, 2021, through the week ending March 20, 2021, according to the agency.
State labor officials argue that the biggest driver of overpayments among Massachusetts claimants were changes in federal guidance for the PUA program. Those changes resulted in overpayment determinations for more than $1 billion in already paid claims, according to state labor officials.
The federal waiver combined with additional state relief will resolve up to $1.6 billion in overpayments, or about 71% of all outstanding overpayments.
Of that, about $349 million will be wiped away by the federal waiver, while another $509 million in overpayments will be cleared by state waivers.
Another $748 million in overpayments — some that involve identity verification issues — will be dealt with through other waiver arrangements, the agency said.
Claimants can be charged overpayments for a litany of reasons. In some cases, those who applied for benefits believed they qualified, but did not. Others made good-faith mistakes by improperly filling out the required forms. In other cases, clerical errors were made by the state in the rush to approve a tidal wave of claims.
But state labor officials contend that the majority of those overpayments were related to the abrupt changes in federal guidance.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.