Senate Bill Lengthens Unemployment Benefits, Shields Employers

BOSTON (State House News Service) — The Massachusetts Senate is preparing to advance a bill that would expand unemployment insurance benefits for workers beginning next year, and shield employers from being penalized for their workers taking advantage of the unemployment insurance system as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee polled its members Monday on a bill that would expand the unemployment benefit period from 26 weeks to 30 weeks beginning in 2021 following any week in which more than 100,000 claims have been filed.

It would also lift the limit on unemployment benefits for a worker's dependent children. Currently, a worker can only receive 50 percent of their own weekly benefit to support a dependent child. That limit would be suspended for the next year, or six months after the end of the state of emergency.

The poll of Ways and Means members opened at 11:30 a.m. on Monday and closed at 12:30 p.m.

The bill would also exempt employers from the rating impacts of unemployment claims being filed by their former employees as a result of COVID-19 or Gov. Charlie Baker's public health emergency, which he declared on March 10. Employers that pay into unemployment insurance often have to pay higher rates if a large number of their workers tap into the UI system.

The bill further states UI benefits paid to an employee who loses their job as a result of the coronavirus or the state of emergency declaration shall not have those benefits charged to their accounts if they are paid for with federal funding.

Finally, the bill would give non-profits a 120-day extension on their next payment in the unemployment insurance system.

A $2 trillion federal stimulus/relief bill signed by President Trump Friday included an an expansion of unemployment insurance benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19, and the Senate Ways and Means Committee said the bill they drafted would have no cost to Massachusetts.

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service

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