News Council, members comment on draft EMAC waiver

A number of human services executives, business group officials and membership association leaders told the Department of Unemployment Assistance on Monday that changes are needed to the recently released draft regulations creating an EMAC Supplement Hardship Waiver.

Providers’ Council President/CEO Michael Weekes, Road to Responsibility President/CEO Chris White and Bridgewell Interim CEO Chris Tuttle were among those providing comments during a listening session held by the Department of Unemployment Assistance on Monday in Boston to discuss the draft regulations. A second listening session is scheduled for Tuesday in Springfield, and more information is available at DUA’s website. All written comments are due by Friday to EMACQuestions@massmail.state.ma.us.

Nearly all who presented comments were critical of the DUA’s criteria for determining a “financial hardship” as the draft regulations state a hardship would only be granted if “failure to obtain a hardship waiver is likely to result in termination of the employer’s business or in loss of employment.” Individuals commented that organizations shouldn’t need to be on the brink of closure before DUA would issue a hardship waiver.

White and Tuttle both discussed a “significant” impact to their organizations over the first two quarters of 2018. Coupled with rising costs — including double-digit percentage increases in health insurance costs — both organizations noted it was incredibly difficult to absorb the hit from the EMAC Supplement. As no further funding has been added to human services contracts under Chapter 257, the unfunded mandate of the EMAC Supplement is a problem for community-based human services organizations throughout the state, they said. Many employees for whom organizations are paying a penalty are part-time or relief staff who do not qualify for their organizations’ health insurance plans, and they make so little wages that they qualify for MassHealth or a subsidized Connector plan.

Weekes added that one in eight individuals working in the human services sector is making less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, making them eligible for state-subsidized health insurance products. Because the state sets benchmark salaries for community-based human services workers and has not allocated any additional funding with which organizations can pay the EMAC Supplement, organizations and low-paid workers are hurting due to the new regulation. Nonprofits are being forced to send the state EMAC Supplement payments when the money could otherwise be spent on improving services to vulnerable individuals or giving modest salary increases to the lowest-paid workers in the field.

Representatives from DUA noted they would take into account the comments made at Monday’s listening session and re-review the draft regulations before issuing a final regulation.

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