Mass. AG: Time for government to ‘step up’ and fix the state’s problem-plagued unemployment assistance program

Mass AG: Time for government to 'step up' and fix the state's problem-plagued unemployment assistance program

BOSTON — Complaints about the Massachusetts unemployment assistance program have been pouring into the 25 Investigates tip line since March. Email after email and call after call, all asking for one thing: help with the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA).

Investigative reporters Ted Daniel and Kerry Kavanaugh have reported extensively on the problems viewers are having and have repeatedly asked DUA for answers.

Now, our reporting has caught the attention of state Attorney General Maura Healey.

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In a one-on-one interview, she was critical of the Baker administration’s handling of thousands of unemployment claims filed by individuals who are out of work due to COVID-19. Healy, whose office has also been fielding complaint, demanded quick action and called for more transparency and communication.

“From the beginning of March when there were so many claims and DUA just didn’t have the staffing and the resources,” Healy told 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel. “Now we have a problem with PUA and people not being able to get their benefits.”

PUA is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which extends benefits to individuals who would normally not qualify for traditional unemployment.

Last month, DUA froze thousands of PUA accounts after disclosing that Massachusetts was targeted in a massive nationwide unemployment fraud scheme.

“The department’s sat on its hands, waiting too long. It did not actually tell the public that this was an issue that there was this fraud out there until, you know, it was too late,” she said.

Mass AG: Time for government to 'step up' and fix the state's problem-plagued unemployment assistance program

Asked whether it was likely Governor Charlie Baker and his administration are simply not aware of the true scope of the problem, Healy said that would be unlikely.

“I don’t know how they can’t be aware, given the number of calls and emails that my office has received. You know this is a huge problem,” adding that the problems have been made worse by a lack of communication.

“We really need the Baker administration and DUA to step up and make this right, right now,” she said. “Communicate and be transparent with the public about what they need to do in order to be receiving these benefits. Government has failed them here. Somebody at DUA needs to be doing that and responding.”

25 Investigates has on numerous occasions asked DUA what it was doing to address the complaints and for a timeline on when they may be addressed. But, the agency often responded with a statement.

We asked Governor Baker to respond to the Healy during Tuesday’s COVID-19 press briefing. He addressed the ongoing fraud detection efforts but he didn’t specifically address customer service issues.

“The mechanisms we put in place are the ones that are being used in many other states,” said Baker. “We’ve had lots of back and forth almost every day with the Attorney General’s Office on people who come to their attention and people who come to our attention to make sure that that people who get the resources are in fact entitled to it.”

Healy urged the administration to implement some immediate fixes.

“They’ve got to get more staffing, more resources. At least start by putting clear instructions out on the website and have people available,” she said. “It’s one thing for me or my office to be taking calls and emails from people, somebody at DUA needs to be doing that and responding.”

Healy’s office recently posted the PUA account verification on its website, something that, she says, DUA should have done weeks ago.

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