Nearly a month after they asked the Baker administration to explore the change, a group of lawmakers filed a bill that would temporarily increase the minimum unemployment benefits Massachusetts pays to help thousands of claimants retroactively access up to $1,800 in federal aid.
Sen. Pat Jehlen, who co-chairs the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, and Rep. Stephan Hay, the committee's House vice chair, unveiled legislation they say would help 17,000 people who narrowly missed qualifying for the federal Lost Wages Assistance program.
That federal program, which was available for six weeks in Massachusetts, supplemented unemployment benefits with an additional $300 per week for almost all recipients. However, only claimants receiving $100 per week in benefits qualified, leaving thousands in Massachusetts who qualify for smaller benefit amounts unable to tap into the extra federal resources.
The bill would retroactively and temporarily raise the state's unemployment benefit floor to $100, allowing everyone who qualified for any type of jobless aid between the weeks ending Aug. 1 and Sept. 5 to receive another $300 for each week.
"This legislation would provide critical dollars to families struggling to make ends meet," Jehlen said. "With the threat of eviction now back on the table for unemployed families, we should do everything we can to get families the assistance they need to stay in their homes and stay healthy during this pandemic."
Lawmakers did not say how much it would cost the state to raise the benefit floor, but argued that Massachusetts residents could collectively receive up to $31 million in federal dollars thanks to the change.
The Baker administration has been negotiating with FEMA about the benefit level since advocates asked Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta for her help in September, according to lawmakers.