Beacon Hill Examines Municipal Unemployment System

By Sarah Birnbaum

April 19, 2012

BOSTON — At a public hearing on April 19, city and town leaders pleaded with state lawmakers to fix the municipal unemployment system, saying that questionable unemployment claims are draining town budgets — and that Gov. Deval Patrick's plan to close loopholes doesn't go far enough.
They repeated a story, first published in the Boston Herald, of a retired police officer from Lynnfield who was collecting a state pension, then went back to work part-time at the department and got paid thousands of dollars for extra detail work. When he left again, he collected unemployment benefits too.
Jeff Beckwith of the Massachusetts Municipal Association said that taxpayers are being forced to pay twice: “Local officials, cities and towns, the people here strongly support having an unemployment system that fairly pays benefits to people who lose their jobs at the municipal level. But we also have to safeguard the taxpayer.”
Patrick has filed a bill that would prevent public employees from receiving both a pension check and unemployment benefits. Unions that represent municipal workers have raised no formal opposition to the bill. But municipal officials said the legislation needs to be broadened, pointing to abuses in the municipal compensation system. For instance, bus drivers can collect unemployment during school vacation weeks or during the summer. And people hired to serve on a local board or commission can get unemployment benefits when the commission's work is finished.
"Public policy should not actually be discouraging communities from ending panels when their work is completed," Beckwith said.
The Patrick administration has convened a task force to look into the unemployment compensation system. State officials said cities and towns can also appeal requests they find questionable. But oftentimes, they just don't.

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