Mass. Gave Unemployment To Gig Workers. Now, It Wants Some Money Back.

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Massachusetts is asking for repayment from some freelancers in the state that received pandemic unemployment money, unless they can prove they were entitled to it — months after they got the checks.

The federal government passed the CARES Act last spring, which gave emergency Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to a huge swath of the American public, including gig workers like rideshare drivers who wouldn't normally get unemployment.

The state now wants some of that money back. WBZ's Karyn Regal spoke to nearly 20 workers who had received notices from the state's Office of Labor and Workforce Development. Some had been asked to pay back up to $30,000 in PUA funds, even though the state approved the money to begin with. Other workers faced repeated demands to prove that they lived in the state, even though they had already done so. A union representing rideshare drivers said some of their members are being asked to provide proof that a company they did freelance work for had closed — records that are tough to get.

The workers spanned the freelance market, from dog walkers, to rideshare drivers, to writers.

Many of the workers did not want to go on the record because they were afraid that speaking out would hurt their chances of appeal. Beth Griffith, the head of the Boston Independent Driver's Guild, said the state was asking many of her members to give in information that they already submitted.

"I don't think they knew that they would have to hold on to that email," she said.

Some freelancers said they resorted to self-medicating to deal with the stress of unexpectedly owing thousands, or had even become suicidal.

The Office of Labor and Workforce Development responded on Tuesday, and said the problem came from a change in requirements between the CARES Act, passed in March 2020, and the stimulus package passed in December 2020. Requirements for the December bill were stricter, requiring those on unemployment to prove their employment status or pay back the government — the response didn't touch allegations that the Office wasn't recognizing some gig workers as valid residents of the state.

WBZ's Karyn Regal (@Karynregal) has more:

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Written by Chaiel Schaffel.

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