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State Task Force Issues Recommendations On Unemployment Issues

Last spring, a state task force convened to examine problems with municipal workers filing for unemployment benefits. They've released some proposals.

State officials are apparently moving closer to resolving some of the issues in the unemployment system that had Lynnfield in the news earlier this year.

The task force was convened by Governor Patrick back in March after Lynnfield Town Administrator Bill Gustus made news with a letter he and other local officials sent to the state seeking relief from certain unemployment claims involving municipal workers.

A number of stories back then on this website and other state and local media outlets talked about some of these costs, from claims filed by school bus drivers in summer to the matter of a retired officer on a pension who collected unemployment when his allotted work hours ran out for the year. Back in March, Gustus reported that the town had spent $120,000 on such claims over three years.

In Thursday’s edition, Gustus was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying he was “very pleased” with the task force report, which offers some fairly specific recommendations for dealing with some of the issues that were raised by the town officials.

The entire report can be viewed online at this link on the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development website. The task force, which met five times, was chaired by state Labor Secretary Joanne Goldstein.

On page 21 of its 44-page report, the task force suggests reducing a municipal retiree’s unemployment benefits to an amount equal to 65% of their weekly pension payment.

“Under the proposed offset ratio, only those retirees with smaller pensions are potentially able to receive UI benefits. Individuals whose annual pension allowance is $53,920 or higher would not receive any UI benefits, even though technically eligible, because their pension offset would be the same or greater as their UI benefit amount,” states the report.

Town officials in Lynnfield and elsewhere have also expressed concern about bus drivers filing for unemployment benefits during summer and other non-school times. On page 25, the report notes that under state law, educators are typically eligible for unemployment if they are informed by June 15th that they will not be renewed for coming school year. However, the report also notes that “the failure to give a non-renewal notice constitutes a “reasonable assurance” that makes the teacher ineligible for UI benefits over the summer break.

The task force proposed a specific amendment to state law aimed at addressing this issue – here is the expected outcome, it envisions:

“The proposed amendment solves the current problem by extending the reasonable assurance prohibitions of § 28A to all public employees who provide services to public schools, such as crossing guards, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers, regardless of whether they are on the direct payroll of the school department or on another municipal payroll. As a result, all public employees providing services to a public school who have a reasonable assurance of continued employment would be ineligible for UI benefits when there is no work available because school is not in session, whether over the summer or during breaks throughout the school year. This ensures consistency and uniformity for all school employees within and among all municipalities in the Commonwealth.”

The text of the February letter that Gustus and other local officials sent the Governor can be viewed at this link.

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