Judge rules state cannot suspend unemployment benefits without proper review
The state’s Unemployment Assistance Department cannot suspend unemployment insurance payments or demand repayment of benefits that have already been paid without giving claimants a chance to present their case, a judge said. the Worcester Superior Court in a preliminary injunction last week.
The DUA must grant each applicant an interview within 14 days of notifying the applicant of an error or the discovery of new information, and the ministry cannot request reimbursement until the applicant has had the opportunity to to appeal.
The DUA must also “make all reasonable efforts” to determine the validity of a claim and inform the claimant of the amount of the benefit within 30 days of filing, the judge ordered.
The judge ordered the preliminary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed late last year by five workers who saw their unemployment benefits suddenly cut, several of whom were ordered to pay back thousands of dollars, so which state grappling with a series of fraudulent unemployment claims during the pandemic. All five complainants have since had their benefits reinstated, but many other unemployed who are still looking to have their payments reinstated – often after months of no income – will also benefit from the decision.
More than 2.7 million jobless claims have been filed in the state since mid-March last year, and about 600,000 people still have pending jobless claims in the state.
The order does not force the state to comply with the new regulations, but simply orders the DUA to follow its own rules, said Leigh Woodruff, director of litigation at Community Legal Aid in Worcester, who represents the plaintiffs.
“They [DUA] I kind of did this with impunity, and obviously it hurts a lot of people, ”she said. “You see it more and more now because so many people are unemployed because of the pandemic. “
Plaintiffs in the case include a nurse, the single mother of an 8-year-old disabled girl, who had received more than $ 13,000 in unemployment insurance between May and August when she received a questionnaire from DUA asking her his separation from his employer, according to the complaint. His payments were abruptly stopped, without notice or possibility of maintenance. As a result, the woman was unable to pay her rent or car loan or purchase disability aids for her daughter. She even suffered from a stress-induced shingles outbreak.
Another complainant, who worked as an employee for a roofing company, was ordered to reimburse more than $ 6,000 in benefits she had already received, also without notice or the opportunity to present evidence.
In the past, there has been a cultural stigma against people who perceive unemployment, Woodruff noted. But as the pandemic threw hundreds of thousands of people out of Massachusetts, the perception that the unemployed were “out of work” faded – and gave legal aid lawyers more compelling stories to tell. as they seek to hold DUA to account.
Community Legal Aid will work with the state to implement the injunction, Woodruff said.
The Unemployment Aid Ministry said it was reviewing the decision and “would respond directly to the court.”
“This injunction will put an end to the devastating practices of the DUA,” said Woodruff. “The court order is clear: It is illegal for the DUA to suddenly say, ‘Oops, we made a mistake when we approved your claim. “. . . Under the ordinance, the DUA can no longer suspend claims and leave families in limbo with no income or means to appeal – for months on end. “