Consumer advocates, lawyers, and a candidate for attorney general are all demanding that Massachusetts stop its use of robocalls to collect overpayments of unemployment benefits. Critics of the automated telephone messages have called the state’s efforts -- which target debts of as little as $100 dating back as far as 1985 -- both unfair and harsh.
The controversial collection campaign follows last summer's faulty rollout of a new online unemployment benefits system. Some Massachusetts residents had benefits delayed for months, while others have received erroneous letters saying they owe money. Employment lawyer Margaret Monsell said there are still problems with the system and many claimants have received contradicting letters about whether or not they owe the state repayment.
"I am deeply concerned that the state is using anonymous robocalls to collect alleged debts going back to 1985. It's a solution right out of 1984," said state Attorney General Martha Coakley. "Those of us who've worked to stop predatory debt collectors have fought similar scare tactics for years and it's troubling if the same abusive approaches are given a government stamp of approval."
Peter Benjamin, litigation director for Community Legal Aid, supports shutting down the collections effort, saying that claimants often receive overpayments through no fault of their own. He points out that, under state law, claimants have the right to request a waiver forgiving repayment, but the robocalls do not specifically mention this option.