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A panel from Massachusetts in the dark on the main measures of the unemployment insurance system

The Baker administration still doesn’t know when it will announce how much money it will borrow to bolster the state’s unemployment insurance fund or provide an updated estimate of the account’s current balance, an uncertain prospect that has left companies eager. information and could further delay recommendations. for the overhaul of the unemployment assistance system.

In a virtual meeting on Monday, members of a panel studying the unemployment system said they wanted to better understand the fund’s financial outlook before ironing out a report on improving its long-term stability.

The group’s work was marked recently by co-chair Senator Patricia Jehlen, who questioned whether the state still needs to borrow money to prop up the unemployment insurance fund now that rates employment rebounded.

“In terms of the chamber vote, that would be really important information to have, and I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable voting without a little more information than we have at this point. topic,” said Carolyn Ryan, commissioner and vice president for policy and research at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Facing inquiries from the panel about the current balance of the trust fund and the administration’s plans for bail, Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said Monday that she hopes ” have a more concrete timetable in the near future”.

When asked if she would have an estimate of the trust fund balance by January, Acosta replied, “I hope so, Mr. President. As soon as I hear from the team, I will confirm.

Baker signed legislation in April authorizing up to $7 billion in bail to stabilize the unemployment insurance fund after a wave of claims during the pandemic depleted the account, which Massachusetts businesses fund through taxes , and forced the state to borrow money from the federal government.

Officials have yet to trigger any of those links, and Jehlen raised her eyebrows this month when she suggested during the Senate debate that this may no longer be necessary with federal reports indicating the account has approximately $2.9 billion.

The Baker administration typically releases a summary of the state of the unemployment fund each month, but has not released an update since June, when it reported the account had a balance of $1.77 billion. in the red.

Richard Marlin, legislative director of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, said at Monday’s meeting that his group also wanted to know the administration’s plan for the borrowing.

“Quite frankly, I think $7 billion, if they backed it up, they could make us whole,” Marlin said. “Having an idea of ​​where they want the trust fund balance to start and whether anything we’re going to do is going to add to that could be somewhat helpful.

The House and Senate both agreed to pump $500 million in federal relief and tax surpluses into the unemployment system to reduce the burden on businesses, half of what Baker sought, but that proposal remains. stalled in conference committee discussions on the broader spending bill.

Administration officials have argued that most of the existing unemployment fund balance is money owed to the federal government, warning that the state cannot repay those advances and maintain benefits without additional borrowing.

The commission studying the unemployment trust fund, created in the same spring law that authorized the $7 billion bond, will miss its Dec. 15 deadline to file a report and recommendations to keep the system solvent. unemployment.

Instead, members unanimously approved a new plan on Monday. Jehlen and his co-chair, Rep. Josh Cutler, will file an update Dec. 15 summarizing the committee’s meetings so far, then write a “skeleton report” including their personal recommendations. Panelists will have two weeks to review the draft before deliberating and voting at their next meeting, the date of which is uncertain.

Justifying the delay, Jehlen pointed to Republican Rep. David Vieira’s quote in a Boston Globe article published Sunday about a commission studying the state seal.

“I just read in the paper today that Rep. Vieira said he’s never been on a commission that met his deadline, so I don’t think we’re off the mark,” he said. Jehlen said.

The commission’s scope includes potential changes to the experience-based pricing system, the taxable salary base and the use of federal credits, but the members — who range from union representatives to company group leaders — so far seem far from consensus.

After agreeing that the trust fund should maintain a sufficient reserve, members on Monday spent much of the meeting unsuccessfully deliberating whether the panel should declare that improving “fairness for small businesses” is the one of its guiding principles.

Jehlen and Cutler proposed this wording, but it did not gain sufficient support with seven of the 21 members voting in opposition and three abstaining.

Several panelists who voted against the motion said they felt the language was too “subjective” and that decisions on how to prioritize small business fairness should rest with lawmakers weighing in on specific legislation, not to the commission studying the system.