Senator Joan B. Lovely
State Senator
2nd Essex District


October 27, 2020

Legislature Passes Legislation to Extend Unemployment Benefits to 17,000 Low-Income Recipients

BOSTON – Yesterday the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives passed An Act relative to additional unemployment benefits for the neediest recipients currently excluded from the Lost Wages Assistance program, filed less than two weeks ago by Sens. Jehlen and Lesser. The bill would enhance unemployment benefits for 17,000 people in Massachusetts by as much as $1800 each. Thousands of people were left out of the Lost Wages Assistance Grant to extend $300 weekly payment boosts to people collecting unemployment benefits.

“The Senate is laser focused on assisting those most in need, especially as we continue to tackle the dueling challenges posed by the global pandemic and economic crisis,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This legislation speaks to that commitment and will help assist residents in obtaining lost wages as a result of the ongoing public health emergency. I would like to thank Senators Pat Jehlen, Eric Lesser and Michael Rodrigues, as well as Speaker Robert DeLeo and his colleagues for working to quickly usher this bill to the governor’s desk.”

“On September 24, many of my colleagues and I wrote a letter to the Baker Administration urging expanded access to the Lost Wages Assistance program,” stated Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “I am proud that the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill to effect this change to help many people receiving unemployment benefits to qualify for an enhanced payment that will allow them to continue to support their households in these uncertain times.”

 “This legislation will make the necessary changes to make sure people with less than $100 in weekly benefits receive that $1800 in added income,” said Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville). “Just last week I heard from a neighbor and constituent who was short $2 in his weekly benefit to receive the $1800 in Lost Wages Assistance. The state investment in raising the minimum benefit will bring $31 million to Massachusetts residents for rent, for food and other expenses.”

“This boost to unemployment compensation for those affected by the Trump Administration rule is a critical measure to alleviate unnecessary hardship for 17,000 of the most vulnerable people across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow). “I am proud of this bill’s swift passage and hope that Governor Baker quickly signs off to give people the ability to purchase food, pay their rent, and stay warm as we head into colder weather.”

“This bill reflects the legislature’s commitment to supporting those who are most acutely feeling the effects of the pandemic,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “These additional funds will make a significant difference for many people in the Commonwealth. I thank Senator Jehlen for her dedicated work on this legislation, and my colleagues in the House and Senate for moving expeditiously to pass it.”

In August, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began accepting applications for the Lost Wages Assistance program. The Trump White House included a restriction that prohibited people receiving less than $100 a week in benefits from receiving the LWA boost of $300 a week.

Massachusetts was approved for 6 weeks of LWA compensation for every eligible recipient, covering the weeks ending August 1 to September 5. Numerous states acted to increase weekly benefit amounts, including neighboring RI and NH, so that no recipient of unemployment would be left out of receiving the boost. Over 100 legislators wrote on September 24 to Secretary Rosalin Acosta to ask the state to implement a similar increase in weekly benefit amounts for Massachusetts recipients. 

In discussions with the legislature, the Baker-Polito administration has indicated that with a small investment of state dollars to increase base benefits retroactively, up to $31M could be returned to the state from the FEMA program. The Department of Unemployment Assistance has been negotiating with FEMA since the legislators issued their request. In an response legislators received, FEMA advised: “It is possible to make an individual an eligible claimant for LWA from the week ending August 1, 2020, if they are monetarily eligible for at least a $100 weekly benefit amount…”

The legislation will authorize the Baker-Polito Administration to implement an increase to unemployment compensation for every recipient in Massachusetts not receiving at least $100 in weekly benefits. This enhancement would be applied retroactively to roughly 17,000 recipients. Governor Baker signed this bill in to law on October 26, 2020.