Massachusetts residents who experience a layoff or see a substantial reduction in hours are eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). Claimants typically receive 26 weeks of benefits, but may be able to claim up to 30 weeks of UI benefits. After an individual’s UI claim amount is exhausted, they can claim up to 53 weeks of the federal government's Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), until September 4, 2021.
When their PEUC is exhausted, they are eligible for up to 79 weeks of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), until September 4, 2021. Self-employed people and independent contractors are eligible for PUA. Massachusetts has waived the waiting week for UI benefits.
Weekly Benefit Amount
The minimum weekly benefit amount (WBA) for Massachusetts is $65, and the maximum WBA is $855. A claimant will be notified of the outcome as to their eligibility and benefit determination between three and four weeks after they file their initial claim.
Massachusetts provides a dependency allowance of $25 per dependent child if an individual is the whole or main support of a child. The total dependency allowance cannot be over 50 percent of an individual’s weekly benefits. A child counts for a dependency allowance if they are under 18, under 24 and a full-time student at an educational institution, or over 18 and incapacitated due to a mental or physical disability.
Who Is Eligible for UI?
An individual is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in Massachusetts when they earned at least $5,400 in their primary or alternate base period. The primary base period is the last four calendar quarters prior to the effective date of the individual’s claim. This is usually the Sunday of the week that the claimant filed. The alternate base period is the last three completed calendar quarters and the period of time between the last completed quarter and the effective date of the individual’s claim. A quarter is three months.
Travel and UI Benefits
An individual is eligible for UI benefits if they are traveling outside their commuting area for a work-related reason. For example, a Massachusetts resident traveling to New York for a job interview could claim UI benefits for the week they traveled, but a claimant who is traveling for a reason that is not related to work is not eligible for benefits. A claimant cannot request benefits if they are outside the U.S., U.S. territories or Canada.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
A claimant can establish eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) by providing documentation of their proof of income within 90 days of filing their unemployment claim. They can request additional time to provide documentation before the 90th day by doing so on an E-Services application with the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). Acceptable documents that prove employment include affidavits, bank statements, contracts, invoices, letters or emails offering employment, paycheck stubs, tax returns and DD-214 forms (military service records).
Acceptable documents to prove self-employment include state or federal employer identification numbers, business licenses, state or federal tax returns with supporting income documentation, business receipts, and signed affidavits from persons verifying the claimant’s self-employment. An individual who was about to start a job, but lost their opportunity due to COVID-19 should provide proof of the planned commencement of employment. Acceptable documents include letters offering employment and statements or affidavits by individuals with their name and contact information that verify an offer of employment. Proof of the planned start of self-employment includes business licenses, state or federal employer identification numbers, written business plans and lease agreements.
Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation
A claimant who is receiving UI or PEUC is eligible for Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) under certain conditions. A person receiving PUA is not eligible for MEUC. MEUC offers an additional $100 weekly benefit to certain claimants. In order to be eligible for MEUC, the claimant must submit supporting documentation.
The claimant must show they earned at least $5,000 in net self-employment income in the most recent taxable year prior to their application for regular UI. If the date of the current claim is between January 5, 2020 and December 27, 2020, the claimant should submit documents for tax year 2019. If the date of the current claim is between January 3, 2021 to the present, the claimant should submit documents for tax year 2020. Acceptable documents include bank receipts that provide business income, business records, including ledgers, invoices and other billing notices or statements, contracts, K-1s relating to partnership income, invoices, self-employment paycheck stubs and tax returns.
How to Receive Benefits
A claimant can certify weekly with UI Online every day between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Massachusetts claimants can receive payment through direct deposit or a debit card. Bank of America offers the Massachusetts DUA Debit Card. Direct deposit can take on average nine days from the date of setup to process payments. DUA usually sends a claimant their first debit card with a $0 balance and typically deposits funds within two business days to the debit card.
Work Search Requirement Reinstated
Massachusetts has reinstated the work search requirement. An applicant must make three work search attempts per week. They should track their search activity using a log and retain records of past work searches for one year after they stop requesting benefits. Activities that count as work searches include: registering for work and reemployment services with a MassHire Career Center; completing a job application in person or online with employers who could reasonably be expected to have openings for suitable work; making in-person visits with employers who may reasonably be expected to have openings; and sending job applications to employers who may reasonably be expected to have openings for suitable work.
Other actions that count as work searches are: registering for work with private employment agencies; using the employment resources available at One-Stop Career Centers; attending job search seminars and career networking meetings; attending job fairs; and using online job matching systems such as the Massachusetts One-Stop Employment System (MOSES).
Going to School Full Time
A claimant who wants to attend school full time and receive UI benefits must go through DUA’s Training Opportunities Program (TOP). To participate in TOP, a claimant must submit a completed application to DUA. TOP allows a claimant to receive up to 26 weeks of additional benefits if the training extends beyond the duration of the individual’s initial unemployment claim. DUA does not fund the training costs of an individual’s program. MassHire JobQuest has a list of approved training opportunities.
An individual must submit new identity verification documents with ID.me to prove they are the person claiming benefits. It may take two weeks from the day that the documents are submitted for DUA to issue a verification. A claimant can access further instructions on a download from Mass.gov or ID.me that shows they need to verify their Social Security number, identity, address and submit a clear photo of themselves, such as a driver’s license photo.
Schools Are Reopening
Massachusetts school districts are on different schedules for reopening. Some schools are offering full-time, in-person learning, while others are offering hybrid learning. Still others provide only remote learning. When a school is open for full-time, in-person instruction, a parent or guardian of a child cannot claim unemployment benefits if they choose to stay at home to supervise their child engaged in distance learning.
Return to Work
An individual who is earning wages greater than one-third of their weekly benefit amount will see the overage amount deducted from their weekly benefit payment. DUA will reduce their unemployment benefits on a dollar-for-dollar basis. DUA offers claimants access to MassHire Job Quest, the state’s free online job bank.
An individual should check that website for their local MassHire Career Center to see how the center is providing services. For example, MassHire Downtown Boston Career Center is offering digital networking events and career fairs. MassHire Worcester-Southbridge Career Centers has canceled onsite seminars and workshops due to concerns related to the coronavirus. It is offering a number of online tools, including continuing education and an online resume builder.
Reopening a Claim
An individual who filed a UI claim within the past 52 weeks does not have to file a new claim. They can simply reopen their prior claim. They need to validate their contact and payment information and provide employment information for their employment obtained since filing their prior claim. It is usually quicker to process a Reopen Claim because the UI claim is already established.
File an Appeal
A claimant can file an appeal of a UI decision within 10 days. An individual should continue to claim benefits while the appeal is pending. A hearing may be held in person or by phone. The DUA will make an effort to send the written decision of the review examiner within two to four weeks after the hearing is held. If the claimant disagrees with the review examiner’s decision, they can appeal to the Board of Review.
Overpayments, Repayments & Waiver
When a UI claimant is overpaid unemployment benefits in Massachusetts, the full balance is due immediately. The annual interest rate is 12 percent of the unpaid principal per year and begins accruing 30 days after DUA issues the Notice of Determination.
An individual can request a repayment plan or complete a request for waiver of overpayment by logging in to their UI Online account or calling the DUA Benefits Collection Department at 617-626-6300. If an individual fails to repay their overpayment, DUA may intercept their federal and state income tax refunds. DUA may also reduce the claimant’s weekly unemployment benefits.
An overpayment determined to be a result of the claimant's fault may be assessed a one-time 15 percent penalty. An individual may also have to serve penalty weeks for each week they were at fault for being overpaid. During penalty weeks, the claimant will be disqualified from receiving benefit payments and will not receive any future benefits until they have served all penalty weeks.
Massachusetts’ WorkShare Program
The WorkShare Program allows an employer to reduce the hours of a group of employees and retain all the employees. WorkShare charges employers UI benefits the same way as regular unemployment benefits.
At least two employees must be listed on a WorkShare plan. An employer can reduce the hours and pay of employees between 10 percent and 60 percent. When an employee who is part of a WorkShare plan works a second job, DUA will deduct any wages in excess of $246 dollar-for-dollar from the claimant’s WorkShare benefit payment. A WorkShare plan lasts 52 weeks.
Requesting Proof of UI Income
An individual may need to verify their unemployment benefits income to apply for housing or a mortgage, or to receive reduced rates for utilities. A claimant can obtain the necessary documents by printing records from their UI Online or PUA account. If they need a more formal document, they must complete a Release of Information From Claimant form and submit this to DUA. Due to the pandemic, DUA is temporarily suspending the requirement to have the form notarized.
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: COVID-19 and Unemployment, What you need to know
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Work Search Examples
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Appeal Your Unemployment Benefits Decision
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Repay Unemployment Benefit Debt
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: How Your Unemployment Benefits Are Determined
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Learn About Unemployment Insurance
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC)
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance - Substantiation/Proof of Employment
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: WorkShare Program
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: MassHire Career Centers
- Bank of America: Massachusetts DUA Card
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Set up direct deposit for your unemployment benefits
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Claimant
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Apply for Unemployment Benefits
- Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: COVID-19 Information and Resources
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: PUA Identity Verification Instructions
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: PUA Identification Verification Fact-Finding Instructions
- ID.me: Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, Verify Your Identity With ID.me
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Workshare Information for Employers
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: MassHire Downtown Boston Career Center
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: MassHire Worcester-Southbridge Career Centers
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Request a Letter Verifying Your Unemployment Benefits Income
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Find a Job with MassHire JobQuest
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Receiving Your Unemployment Benefits by Direct Deposit or DUA Debit Card
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: Training Opportunities Program (TOP)
- MassHire JobQuest: Locate Training
- Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance: What Affects Your Weekly Unemployment Benefits
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.