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What to know about the second round of $500 checks for low-income workers in Massachusetts

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Roughly 300,000 Massachusetts residents are about to get a $500 check in the mail.

Gov. Charlie Baker's administration said last week that it would begin mailing the second, larger round of $500 automatic, direct payments to low-income workers on Monday. This comes as part of a $4 billion COVID relief bill passed last December.

A spokesperson for the state's Executive Office for Administration & Finance said Monday that all eligible residents will likely receive their check over the next couple weeks.

The eligibility parameters are basically the same as the first round of payments, which were sent out to about 240,000 residents in March and were based on 2020 tax returns.

However, this round of checks is based on 2021 tax returns, and will only go to eligible individuals who did not get a check during the first round of payments. The income criteria has also been slightly tinkered to adjust for this year's increases in the Massachusetts minimum wage and federal poverty level calculations.

Under the updated guidelines, residents are eligible for the second of payments if they made at least $13,500 (the equivalent of working a minimum-wage job for 20 hours a week for 50 weeks) but no more than 300% of the federal poverty level.

In other words, the income limit is $38,640 for individual filers, while a household of four could earn up to $79,500 and be eligible. State officials also said married filers could each be eligible for a check, as long as they independently qualify.

Household/Family Size — 2021 Total Income:

  • 1 — $38,640
  • 2 — $52,260
  • 3 —$65,880
  • 4 — $79,500
  • 5 — $93,120
  • 6 — $106,740
  • 7 — $120,360
  • 8 — $133,980

Individuals are also ineligible for this round of check if they received any unemployment benefits in 2021, though it's OK if they received such compensation during a previous year.

They're also ineligible if they received a different COVID-19 hazard payment from the state (some state government employees who had to work in person during the pandemic received one-time bonuses of up to $2,000). However, receiving any of the previous federal COVID-19 relief payments has no impact on one's eligibility.

For anyone with additional questions about their eligibility, Baker's administration has set up an online FAQ webpage and a dedicated call center available at (866) 750-9803 on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Officially called the COVID-19 Essential Employee Premium Pay program, lawmakers originally intended the bonuses for in-person workers who were on the frontlines of the pandemic, from grocery stores to nursing homes to public transit systems.

However, Baker vetoed the in-person work requirement, and said the verification process would have delayed the distribution of the payments. His office said the income limits and criteria excluding people who received unemployment benefits are meant to serve as a proxy for in-person work.

A total of $500 million was allocated for the program — $460 million for the $500 checks, as well as $40 million for bonuses that were negotiated for certain state government employees who worked in person.

Baker's administration said "over $400 million" will have been distributed to residents through this round of checks, leaving around $60 million in the program. Officials said they will announce plans to disburse the remaining funds "in the future."

Related:

Nik DeCosta-Klipa Twitter Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.

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