Governor Charlie Baker says he’s optimistic the US Labor Department will look favorably on his administration’s request to end efforts to recover overpayments of federal pandemic jobless benefits.
“It is our hope and our expectation that we will be able to reach some sort of settlement with the feds,” Baker said Thursday during an appearance on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
Baker said he’d spoken recently with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, the former Boston mayor, about the overpayment mess.
“He understands the seriousness of it,” Baker said, and Walsh promised that his people would work quickly to respond.
The Labor Department declined to comment.
The state last week asked the Labor Department for the OK to issue blanket waivers for Massachusetts workers who collected Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and other federal benefits but were subsequently deemed ineligible or to have received too much money. The blanket waivers would eliminate the need for the state Department of Unemployment Assistance to review each case individually.
Some 352,000 individuals have received $2.33 billion in overpayment notices, the DUA said in a report to the Legislature this week. More than three-quarters of that amount is tied to federal benefits, including PUA for the self-employed and gig workers. The state has 29,000 pending waiver requests, including 13,700 tied to federal benefits.
While the DUA administered the federal programs, which ended in September, the money was provided by Congress and the Labor Department sets the rules based on provisions in federal legislation. Overpayments on state-funded unemployment claims are being handled separately by the state.
The DUA has said it has largely stopped collecting overpayments, except when a claimant voluntarily enters into a repayment plan or agrees to repay the state in full.
According to its report, about 55,400 people with overpayments of state benefits and 7,800 PUA claimants have either fully or partially repaid the DUA, or are on a repayment plan. Recoveries total $183 million on federal benefits and $39 million in state unemployment.