Thursday, March 15, 2012

Local Officials Meet with Senate Republicans to Discuss Closing Loopholes in State's Unemployment Benefits System

Yesterday representatives of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and local officials from several municipalities across the Commonwealth joined with the members of the Senate Republican Caucus to discuss serious problems with the state's system of unemployment claims and benefits. In a productive meeting at the State House that lasted more than an hour, participants discussed numerous problems with the system, and began the process of developing solutions to those problems.

Some of the loopholes in the unemployment benefits system discussed include teachers who have filed unemployment claims during school summer vacations while still receiving health insurance and have already collected a paycheck, and public safety officers who have reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 who are collecting a pension and applying for unemployment benefits.

The meeting was triggered by repeated published reports of abuses of the unemployment benefit system by some public sector employees, and a letter to Governor Deval Patrick authored by Lynnfield Town Administrator William Gustus. In the letter Gustus documented numerous examples of abuses through which municipal budgets were being burdened with inappropriate payments. Gustus was an active participant in yesterday's meeting.

Following the meeting Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) said, "Senate Republicans are firmly committed to exploring these issues fully, and taking every available action to end the abuses that are diverting precious municipal resources away from priorities like education and police and fire protection." Tarr said that the local officials and Senators will be working in the next few weeks to fully develop a legislative package for "meaningful reform on as many fronts as possible."

“Addressing the abuses within the state’s system of unemployment claims and benefits will be a critical reform measure,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert L. Hedlund (R-Weymouth). “With cities and towns still recovering from the state’s financial crisis, any additional resources to provide essential services such as public safety and education should be explored. I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate to develop a plan to end the abuses affecting our municipal governments.”

“I commend Mr. Gustus and the MMA for bringing these abuses to our attention,” added Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield), the Ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “The municipalities we met with are surely not the only ones experiencing these issues. The Senate Republicans are ready to take aim at the state’s system for handling unemployment claims to ease the tremendous burden placed on all of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns.”

“At a time when we are doing our best to manage a difficult economy, it is crucial that state funds are employed solely for appropriate uses,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Ross (R-Wrentham). “My colleagues and I pledge to work with municipalities and the legislature to address these very serious problems and ensure that this situation does not arise again.”