Friday, March 16, 2012

Local Officials, Caucus Working to Close Unemployment Benefits System Loopholes

Earlier this week, 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 my State House office that lasted more than an hour, we 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 our meeting.

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. The Caucus will be working closely with local officials over the next few weeks to fully develop a legislative package for meaningful reform on as many fronts as possible.

Here's what my Senate colleagues had to say about the meeting and the need to close these loopholes:

“Addressing the abuses within the state’s system of unemployment claims and benefits will be a critical reform measure. 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.” -- Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert L. Hedlund (R-Weymouth)

“I commend Mr. Gustus and the MMA for bringing these abuses to our attention. 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.” --Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield), the Ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee

“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. 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.” -- Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Ross (R-Wrentham)