Hank Investigates: Judge rules Mass. needs to resolve unemployment claims faster

BOSTON (WHDH) - If you’re one of the many viewers who told 7 Investigates you applied for unemployment, but your claim is stalled, you’re broke, and you can’t get answers from the state, then you’ll want to hear what Hank Phillippi Ryan found. Help may be on the way.

Beth has been waiting four months for her unemployment money.

“I am pretty panicked at this point,” Beth says.

Addiel waited eight months for his unemployment benefits. With no income, he has been living in an office storage room.

“That’s where I sleep,” Addiel says.

John’s benefits were cut off after the state demanded proof of his identity.

“This is me, valid passport and W2 with social, address and name, and it wasn’t good enough,” John says.

Greg got a bill from the unemployment department wrongly claiming he owed them $16,000!

“I’ve wasted probably 100 hours of time where I’m just standing there on hold or getting hung up on,” Greg says.

Stories like these have been repeated thousands of times in what many believe is the greatest failure of the Massachusetts unemployment system.

But finally – some hope.

A judge is ordering the state Department of Unemployment Assistance, the DUA, to do much better.

“How big a step is this for people waiting for unemployment?” Hank asked.

“It should be a huge step,” Leigh Woodruff the Litigation Director for Community Legal Aid says.

7 Investigates told you exclusively last month that the advocacy group Community Legal Aid filed a lawsuit against the DUA. The suit claims the agency was breaking the law by making people wait too long for their benefits.

Now a judge is ordering the agency to make every reasonable effort to rule on individual claims within 30 days.

The judge also says the DUA can’t cut off someone’s payments without notice or demand someone pay back money without an opportunity to appeal.

“How devastating has this been for people waiting for money?” Hank asked.

“Incredibly devastating. We get calls from folks in tears. I had a total loss, so frustrated with the system, losing their housing, losing their cars, unable to pay for food, lining up at food banks,” Leigh says.

The DUA says it has been struggling with the record number of people out of work in the pandemic. And has taken longer to verify identities because of widespread scam attempts.

But legal advocates say with this ruling the state can no longer leave people in the lurch.

“This should really help many, many families throughout Massachusetts to have some income each week that they can use to pay their bills,” Leigh says.

John, Greg, and Addiel’s cases were resolved after we contacted the state for them.

But there are so many like Beth who are still waiting for their benefits.

“I am very hopeful this will help. Anything will help at this point,” Beth says.

The ruling was just handed down so there’s still a lot of details to work out as far as how and when everyone who has been waiting for unemployment benefits will get paid.

For the latest information and updates on this court ruling and what it could mean if you’re waiting for unemployment benefits, go to Community Legal Aid’s website.

If you have a tip or story idea for Hank, email Tell7@whdh.com

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