BOSTON – A federal law allowed parents who could not work during the pandemic, because they had to stay at home with distance learning children, to receive unemployment assistance benefits in the event of a pandemic.
But with most of Massachusetts school districts reopening this week for full-time, in-person education, those claiming these benefits may soon lose them.
The state’s Executive Office of Labor and Manpower Development said in a statement that under the rules of the federal unemployment program, people whose children can return to school “should choose another reason for eligibility in the weekly certification of PUA services to continue to be eligible “.
The federal CARES Act has provided PUA benefits to a person who is considered a “primary caregiver” of a child who is at home due to a forced school closure that is a direct result of the health emergency. public COVID-19.
In order for parents to claim unemployment benefits as caregivers, their children “must demand such constant and constant attention that it is not possible for you to perform your usual work duties at home”, according to the guidelines. published by the US Department of Labor.
The State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is requiring districts to resume full face-to-face learning from Kindergarten to Grade 8 starting this month. Elementary schools reopened the week of April 5. College students return to classes by Wednesday. No date has yet been set for the full reopening of secondary schools.
A majority of districts have already reopened, and the state has granted waivers to just a handful of districts, including Gloucester, Beverly and Methuen, to delay the return to full-time classroom education for middle school students. Students also have the option of taking distance learning courses for the remainder of the school year.
Gloucester’s waiver concerned O’Maley Innovation Middle School, which students are expected to return to on Wednesday April 28. The city’s elementary school students returned to full days of in-person learning on April 5.
It is not known how many people receiving unemployment benefits could be affected by the reopening. The state did not say how many people have claimed PUA benefits as caregivers.
The PUA program provides unemployment benefits to the self-employed and workers in the odd-job economy, as well as others who are not eligible for traditional state unemployment benefits.
There were at least 261,195 pending claims for pandemic unemployment assistance benefits in Massachusetts during the week ending April 3, a drop of more than 13,000 from the week before, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Weekly Unemployment Claims Report.
Advocates say the state has not done a good job of informing people that their unemployment benefits could expire following the reopening of schools. They fear that some may be excluded or accused of fraud by claiming benefits for which they are no longer qualified.
Monica Halas, senior counsel at Greater Boston Legal Services, said there were many nuances in the pandemic unemployment assistance rules that would allow people at risk of losing benefits to continue to receive them. She said that even with schools reopening, some people could still claim unemployment benefits
“If they have a child who cannot wear a mask, or if their immune system is compromised, or for some other reason they cannot go to school, they can still benefit from it,” he said. she declared.
Caregivers are also entitled to PUA benefits if there is someone in their household who could be exposed to COVID-19 by allowing a child to return to school.
“If your kid’s going to school puts you or a member of your immediate family at risk, that’s another reason to pick up,” said Halas. “The important thing people need to know is if they have any options.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the North of Boston Media Group websites. Email him at [email protected]