State House News – On the heels of House action last week, the Massachusetts Senate plans on Thursday to advance a bill laying out new unemployment system costs and tax breaks for businesses, a new emergency paid sick leave benefit, and new tax relief for low-income workers.

“We are aware of the timely and sensitive nature of this bill,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues said Monday. His panel was still “putting the final touches on the language” of the bill with the goal of opening a poll vote to committee members Monday evening.

The final text will become available to the full Senate on Tuesday morning, Rodrigues said, with amendments due by 5 p.m. ahead of debate during a formal session on Thursday. The committee’s rewrite will “stick to the broad outline” that House and Senate leaders announced last week, he said.

“Those parameters include unemployment insurance rate freeze and relief for businesses based upon the governor’s bill, (Paycheck Protection Program) tax treatment changes to create equity and mirror what is done at the federal level, unemployment insurance targeted tax relief for low-income workers making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and the creation of COVID-19 emergency paid sick time program for employees who need to be absent from work due to COVID.”

The House unanimously approved its version of the bill last week, a smaller-scope version of which Gov. Charlie Baker first proposed in December. It would reduce the scheduled increase in unemployment taxes that employers pay, impose a surcharge on businesses to pay back federal interest, and authorize borrowing to keep benefits flowing.

Businesses across Massachusetts face a nearly 60 percent increase in the taxes they pay to fund the state unemployment system without action from the Legislature after the unprecedented surge in joblessness during the pandemic depleted the fund.

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