Brief Overview

The unemployment insurance (UI) system was the brainchild of Frances Perkins, the Secretary of Labor of President Franklin Roosevelt. The system was passed as a law by the Congress in 1935 incorporated in the Social Security Ac. 42 U.S. Code 501. The underlying goal of the UI system was to offer provisional relief to unemployed workers and thus stabilize the economy. UI achieves this by providing interim cash benefits to employees who had recently joined the workforce and became unemployed without their fault, and are fully capable of, available, and looking for employment.

Each state has an individual agency that administers the unemployment system. While the basic structure of the UI system is analogous between states, the federal government has established state-wise rules and guidelines for eligibility, filing procedure, benefit amounts and other aspects. In Massachusetts, the UI system is governed by the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA).

The UI System in Massachusetts

The MA Department of Unemployment Insurance adjusts the maximum benefit amount on the 1st of October annually. As of 1st October 2014, the maximum benefit amount received by unemployment workforce was $698 per week, while an additional allowance of $25 was paid for every dependent.

The criteria for determining the benefit rate is to assess the claimant’s maximum mean weekly wage, in addition to the monthly allowance, and calculate one-half of that weekly wage. The MA Department of Unemployment Insurance covers eligible claimants for up to 30 weeks (or 26 weeks in case there is a federal extension in place). Those unemployed workers who are taking a DUA-approved training program, who have lost their jobs due to a plant shut down, NAFTA or any other foreign competition may also qualify to receive additional federal or state benefits.

The UI benefits come under taxable income for federal and Massachusetts. Claimants can choose to have state and/or federal taxes deducted automatically from weekly benefits through an online option or on phone.

The Need for Unemployment Insurance Advocates

In recent years, fewer employees have job security guaranteed by statutory protections or bargaining agreements such as antidiscrimination law, thus increasing the need for Unemployment Insurance advocates. Due to this lack of job security laws, workers have become more vulnerable to job loss and might be entirely dependent on Unemployment Insurance benefits for support.

As unemployment levels continues to rise and employers keep challenging their ex-employees’ benefit claims, accompanied by the new UI Online System, there is a heightened need for UI advocates to represent claimants. Furthermore, the availability of extended benefits by the federal government increases the complexity of determining Unemployment Insurance.

Advocates who represent a claimant should be well-versed with the laws and benefits surrounding Unemployment Insurance. They must understand that UI not only provides the claimants with vital income support, but that the extended federal benefits can help them acquire vocational education or pursue other training opportunities for up to 26 weeks.

Other aspects of a an Unemployment Insurance claim that advocates should have in-depth knowledge of are being denied services due to disability, having Limited English Proficiency, birth/adoption of a child, health reasons, domestic violence, and plant closing.