Hank Investigates: Mass. Department of Unemployment Assistance lawsuit

BOSTON (WHDH) - Viewers tell 7 Investigates they lost their jobs and are desperate for a financial lifeline. They applied for unemployment for help– but instead, they’re suffering, broke, and can’t get answers from the state. Hank Phillippi Ryan Investigates.

“I’m Kathleen and I’m from Quincy.”

Kathleen is a single mom. She has been waiting for more than three months for her unemployment benefits.

“I had to downsize to a one-bedroom apartment. This is our bedroom, that’s her bed. I started selling my clothes. I cry. It’s really, really hard.

“I’m Kerri from Dracut.”

Kerri waited three months for her unemployment.

“I didn’t know how I was going to eat. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to even pay for electricity or heat my home.”

“I’m John from Mission Hill.”

John got benefits, but the state suddenly cut off his money and demanded proof of his identity.

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

These are the painful stories behind what many believe is the greatest failure of the Massachusetts unemployment system.

People in dire need waiting helplessly for months even though the state is required to begin paying most claims in 21 days.

“They’re causing people to basically lose everything and that’s exactly the harm that unemployment compensation is designed to prevent,” Leigh Woodruff the Litigation Director for Community Legal Aid says.

The state’s Department of Unemployment Assistance is struggling with the record number of people out of work in the pandemic. And widespread attempts by scammers to use other people’s identities forced the system to be slowed even more – so ID checks could be more thorough.

Now legal advocates have filed suit saying the DUA is violating state and federal laws.

Hank “So, the DUA breaking the law every day?”

Leigh “Yes, thousands of times every day.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order DUA to address every person’s unemployment claim within 30 days.

“You cannot just leave people sitting without compensation for months and months,” Leigh says.

But that’s exactly what’s happening to so many.

“I’m Addiel from North Attleboro.”

Addiel’s been waiting almost eight months for his unemployment.

“I stayed in a car for like a couple of weeks.

Now he lives in an office storage room.

“That’s where I sleep. My little fridge. That’s the food that people donate. Please help us.”

“I feel helpless,” Kathleen says.

“I’m really getting scared now,” John says.

After our inquiries, the DUA is now helping many of the people who shared their stories with us. The state also says it’s working to speed up the ID verification process and hired more people to work in its call center. The lawsuit is still pending in Worcester Superior Court.

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