GUIDANCE // Unemployment Insurance for Graduate Assistants

After research and consultation with legal, we’ve come to the conclusion that it is likely graduate assistants will be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance over summer. To that end, we’ve prepared the following guidelines, catch-alls and warnings that follow to make sure folks know about what pitfalls they may run into and what benefits they can get. This is the best information we have at the moment; the exact numbers here are likely to change over time as we get better information.

EDIT on 5.19: information on when to apply (day after employment ends), if you’re eligible if you’re graduating (yes, if you had a job lined up that fell through due to COVID), and what to do if you’re denied PUA (tell us ASAP).

EDIT on 6.11:

Note: Massachusetts has been having a lot of fraudulent claims for unemployment, which has led to some accounts being locked over time. If this happens, call the DUA directly and be patient. They may ask for verification that you are who you are, which is inconvenient, but is how they’re getting through dealing with the fraud.

Note: Apply, apply, apply! The best thing you can do if you are uncertain for whatever reason is apply and be truthful as you can–if you are denied, please let us know ASAP.

Note: UMass Boston has been incorrectly reporting wages to the Department of Unemployment Assistance, which has led to an irregularity in the records for the DUA. Be sure to have your W2 files on hand when you begin to apply, as you may realize that you have to send them in; double check and see that your reported wages from UMass Boston are correct when the DUA sends you their reports and numbers.

  • How much do I get?
    • In MA, you get half of the average weekly benefit, which has a minimum of $267 per week. That’s likely what you will be getting on that end, but:
    • We’re also all eligible for Pandemic Financial Unemployment Compensation, which is another $600 per week (until the end of June), for a total of $867 until the end of June.
  • How do I apply?
    • Apply when your employment with the university ends.
    • The process starts with normal Unemployment Insurance; normal applying for unemployment.
    • Normal UI will turn you down. But with their denial, you can then go to the office of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which will ask you if you have received a denial from the normal Unemployment office, to which you will be able to say yes.
    • Unfortunately this is a hoop in place that we need to jump through.
  • When do I apply?
    • The day after your job ends. For most of us, that will be the 24th.
  • What if I’m graduating?
    • If you were supposed to be employed but your employment has been delayed or retracted due to COVID, you’ll still be eligible.
  • What about partial work loss?
    • The way the benefit works is that if there is any week in which your income exceeds your base unemployment benefit ($267), you will not receive unemployment for that week.
    • Unfortunately that means a minor reduction in total hours may not be covered.
  • Week-to-Week
    • UI and PUA eligibility is checked week-to-week, and benefits are paid on a weekly basis.
    • If you make more than the base unemployment benefit (of $267) in one week, you won’t be eligible for that amount, nor for the $600 from Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (FPUC). That said, you would be eligible the next week, depending on earnings.
    • The rough math is: 
      • the Department of Unemployment Assistance counts one third of how much you make against your base unemployment benefit before the $600 FPUC funds.
      • So 1/3rd of your total weekly earnings is greater than $287, you won’t receive FPUC, or UI, for that week.
      • You should be back on for the next week–as UI calculates week-to-week–unless 1/3rd of your total pay from all jobs is, again, above $287.
  • For international/out of country:
    • While you can receive the unemployment benefit while out of the state, you may not receive unemployment from Mass while out of the country.
    • For PUA, you are eligible if you have a valid SSN, and a USCIS issued document. Basically, UI is looking for the A# — the alien registration number. 
    • You must still be in country to receive the benefit in this case or any. 
  • Some miscellaneous things:
    • Having to jump through the hoop of being denied for Unemployment Insurance before applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is painful, but required to earn the benefit from the research we’ve done.
    • Overpayment is something to monitor. The system is new, and if they make an error, you may be responsible for it. Double check the math using the benefits calculator linked here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/how-your-unemployment-benefits-are-determined#unemployment-benefits-determination-calculator-
    • Benefits are contingent based on you not having a reasonable assurance of returning to work. Because the university budget is delayed, we do not have that assurance. You only have reasonable assurance of continuing to work if you have a signed contract for the Fall semester.
  • What if I’m denied both regular unemployment and PUA?
    • Let us know. It’s our understanding that you will not be denied PUA… if that happens, we need to know to figure out what happened on the back-end.

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