It all started with a case that raised eyebrows out of the Town of Lynnfield, a retired police officer collecting both a pension and unemployment from the town. It was perfectly legal. So Lynnfield and about two dozen other municipalities took their complaints to the statehouse and Governor Patrick.
The pension loophole is just the tip of the iceberg. FOX 25 received documents from municipal leaders detailing dozens and dozens of examples from across the state of city and town employees taking advantage of loopholes in the laws at taxpayer expense.
In Marshfield, bus drivers admit they collect unemployment during school vacation weeks and in the summer, though some say they don't get a pension or benefits, and they have to be able to make a decent wage.
"I understand bus drivers aren't the highest compensated individuals, it's probably tough to fill those jobs, but I can tell you, from the eyes of the taxpayer, it's probably not fair," says Marshfield's Town Manager Rocco Longo.
Longo says towns are getting killed by part-time employees, like call firefighters, in the event they get laid off from their full time job the town, who is still employing them, gets stuck paying some of their unemployment.
"The town, who is paying very individual rates on a very sporadic basis for being a call firefighter, could be paying unemployment if they get laid off from their regular job," Longo says.
In East Bridgewater, Town Treasurer Marilyn Thompson says they've dealt with the same scenario with substitute teachers. When someone else lays them off, East Bridgewater gets stuck paying for a chunk of their unemployment check, even if they only work as a sub sporadically.
In several instances, Thompson says East Bridgewater has been forced to pay unemployment to former employees who haven't worked for the town in years.
"We've replaced you so we're paying to have replaced you and paying to be on unemployment at the same time," Thompson.
Cities and towns may come off as cold-hearted for complaining about all of this, but they say the burden shouldn't be on municipalities, who are already under distress. East Bridgewater also says, a few years ago, they were budgeting about $50,000 in unemployment costs a year. Today, that has tripled for them to $150,000 a year. That's money, they say, otherwise could go towards public schools.
A few more examples of unemployment loopholes from cities and towns FOX 25 spoke with:
-Seasonal employees, like summer parks and rec counselors, can apply for unemployment in the fall
-Teachers who have been told they might not be re-hired in the fall may collect all summer, even though they're still being paid through August
-Town employees who are fired for things like stealing or lewd behavior have been able to collect
But the Governor's reform bill addresses none of these examples except the pension loophole. Labor Secretary Joanne Goldstein says that's because some of the other issues, might not need to be solved legislatively.
"The governor's committed to a resolution of all the issues involving retirees, school department employees, and other categories that have been raised by municipalities. What he filed was a first step, not a final step," Goldstein says.
Secretary Goldstein says the municipalities may be a fault here too, for lack of documentation, or for failing to show up to the appeal board hearings. Goldstein says the Governor's newly-formed unemployment commission will work to determine how to best address these problems through education and enforcement. But House Minority Leader, Rep. Brad Jones is skeptical.
"The whole issue of, uh, unemployment benefits tends to get to be a very partisan issue and quite frankly one the Governor has been very reluctant to want to fool around with because it runs the risk of offending a great many of his constituents," Jones says.
"The task force will not fail, it is a cross section of stake holders, both inside government and outside government and we are confident the task force will out with meaningful recommendations," Goldstein says.
The task force has met only once since it was formed in March. It has not yet begun working on its recommendations for the Governor. Until then, cities and towns say they're worried that, now that these loopholes have been exposed, it will only give others the information on how they can take advantage of the system.
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