COVID-19 News and Updates

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COVID-19 News and Updates

Economy Health Care Costs HR & Employment Law News | March 13, 2020
By: Chris Geehern

State and federal governments continue to pass measures and issue orders to address the medical and economic fallout from the COVID-19 issue.

Here is a summary for employers. If you have questions regarding these or other public policy issues, please contact a member of the AIM Government Affairs Team.

August 11, 2020

State Mulls Response to Trump Executive Orders

President Donald Trump issued executive orders Saturday to defer payroll taxes and replace an expired unemployment benefit with a lower amount. Separate orders addressed student federal loan payment and evictions.

“The (Baker) administration is reviewing the Executive Order related to unemployment benefits,” a spokesman for Massachusetts Labor Secretary Rosalin Acosta told State House News Service Monday. The administration said the Department of Unemployment Assistance had received a memo outlining the program.

If Massachusetts were to participate, it’s unclear how much it would cost. Massachusetts has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and as of the last week of July had 502,471 continuing claims for unemployment assistance and 19,179 initial claims for regular UI benefits for the week.

Given the complexities of these new orders, employers should await further guidance.  It is important to note that legal challenges against the Executive Order are likely, there are statutory and programmatical issues with the use of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money for unemployment insurance and it is possible that states will not administer this program given that funding is not authorized from Congress.

AIM will continue to monitor developments, including how the Baker Administration will react to this new order and Congressional negotiations regarding a stimulus deal.

Unemployment:  The Executive Order provides for a supplemental federal unemployment benefit of up to $400 each week, not the $600 Congressionally approved amount.  The Executive order would require states to pay for 25 percent of the $400 weekly benefit, while the federal government would pick up 75 percent.  The Administration would utilize $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to cover the unemployment program. This extra unemployment help would last until Dec. 6 or until the Disaster Relief Fund balance drops to $25 billion, “whichever occurs first.” The program could begin the week ending August 1, 2020.

Payroll Tax: The Executive Order would defer the employee portion of the payroll tax from Aug. 1 through the end of the year. The move would not directly aid unemployed workers, who do not pay the tax when they are jobless, and employees would need to repay the federal government eventually without an act of Congress.

Evictions:  The evictions executive order directs the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments to identify funds to provide financial assistance to those struggling to pay their monthly rent.

Student Loans: The Executive Order would defer interest-free loans that would have to be repaid.

The executive order does not address several areas that have been part of the congressional negotiations, including funding for schools and state and local governments.  AIM has urged the Massachusetts federal delegation to provide relief on a variety of issues including unemployment insurance, childcare and other relief for state and municipal budgets.

Federal Eviction Ban Would Leave Most Tenants in Peril

POLITICO – President Donald Trump’s vow to protect millions of Americans from the threat of eviction has one serious shortcoming: It would do nothing to help the vast majority of the country’s tenants.

Lawmakers have been unable to agree on extending a federal moratorium on evictions as part of their negotiations over the next economic relief package. But the ban itself shields barely a quarter of the nation’s 44 million rental units — only residents of buildings that have federally guaranteed mortgages.

The rest live in rentals with private mortgages, and millions of them could face eviction even if the federal government extends the ban because dozens of states have either offered tenants no protection or have let their own moratoriums expire.

That’s why housing advocates say the only way to ensure people can stay in their homes is to provide rental assistance payments — an idea that’s gaining traction even with some Republicans. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday told reporters that the White House negotiating team would “consider some payments on rental assistance.”

Baker Orders New Enforcement, Gathering Size Limit to Fight Virus Spread

Gov. Charlie Baker is indefinitely postponing the next step of the state’s reopening in response to the uptick in COVID-19 cases that Massachusetts has seen in recent weeks.

AIM Blog | Governor Reduces Gathering Limits; Steps Up Enforcement

The governor said the second step of Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan will be put on hold and the outdoor gathering limit will decrease from 100 to 50, effective today. He said he was authorizing all state and local police to enforce the orders, and that people who host events – even on private property – that exceed gathering limits will be subject to fines.

Amid reports of large parties and unauthorized gatherings, Baker said “some residents feel a bit too relaxed about the seriousness of this virus.”

He also announced the creation of a COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team that will ramp up enforcement efforts and coordinate intervention efforts in yet-to-be-named high-risk communities.

“We have to work hard, always, harder in some respects than ever, to contain COVID-19 and keep our economy open for business,” Baker said.

“We also want to keep this virus out of our communities as we head into the fall so we can give our kids a chance to get back to school.”

Movie theaters, gyms, casinos, museums and more were allowed to reopen in early July as part of Phase 3. The Baker administration referred to it as “Step One of Phase III” but did not fully detail what would be included in the second step of Phase 3.

On the state’s reopening website, it lists indoor theater or concert hall performances, and laser tag, roller skating, trampolines and obstacle courses as the activities that would be allowed to reopen in step two of Phase 3.

Baker said the gathering limit on indoor gatherings will remain at 25. He said the limits apply to all types of locations on public or private property. He also said he was updating restaurant guidance to make clear that alcohol may only be served for on-site consumption if it is accompanied by food prepared on-site.

Public Hearing for Proposed Massachusetts Tax Rules for Telecommuters

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue recently issued two guidance documents and will be hosting a public hearing on August 27 regarding the taxation of telecommuters.  The Boston Globe also had a featured article regarding the impact.  This topic was discussed at last weeks’ AIM Taxation Committee meeting.

The issue is important because the proposed regulation 830 CMR 62.5A.3 sets forth the sourcing rules that apply to income earned by a non-resident employee who telecommutes on behalf of an in-state business from a location outside the state due to the COVID-19 state of emergency in Massachusetts.

It explains the parallel treatment that will be accorded to resident employees with income tax liabilities in other states that have adopted similar sourcing rules. The regulation is effective through the earlier of December 31, 2020 or 90 days after the Governor gives notice that the state of emergency declared in Executive Order 591 is no longer in effect.  The proposed regulation is identical to Emergency regulation 830 CMR 62.5A.3 promulgated July 21, 2020.

Please see RSM analysis here and additional tax analysis and reporting here.

Please contact Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180 with any questions as AIM continues to work with the Department of Revenue regarding issues and clarification with this new guidance and as AIM prepare formal comments for the public hearing.

Massachusetts Wants to Keep Taxing Telecommuters from New Hampshire

Boston Globe – Before the coronavirus kept us all housebound, thousands of New Hampshire commuters streamed south each morning to work at Massachusetts businesses — and paid the income tax to prove it.

But now a border war is brewing over that lucrative prize.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has made it clear it will continue to tax out-of-state residents who normally go to work in Massachusetts each morning, even if they’re stuck at home.

That didn’t cause much of a stir back in the spring, when it seemed like the coronavirus would be gone by Labor Day. But it is causing a stir now.

Baker’s Department of Revenue said on July 21 that it wants to keep collecting these income taxes, probably until the end of the year. Before COVID hit, New Hampshire residents who worked for a Massachusetts employer could adjust their income tax liability downward to reflect any days they spent working from home (and perhaps avoid the state tax entirely). The Baker administration’s approach essentially treats these new at-home days as in-office days, if people are home specifically because of the pandemic.

That isn’t sitting well with politicians in New Hampshire. They argue these constituents should benefit from their state’s longstanding tradition of not imposing a broad-based income tax, now that they are not schlepping into Massachusetts every weekday.

Governor Chris Sununu this week directed the New Hampshire attorney general to review the taxation rules issued by neighboring states to ensure New Hampshire residents aren’t being improperly taxed, and to determine the legality of these border-state rules. The Republican governor’s brief statement on the matter didn’t mention Massachusetts by name. But it didn’t need to: An estimated 84,000 New Hampshire residents regularly commuted to Massachusetts in normal times, roughly four times the total of commuters to all other states.

Sununu’s action followed a story last weekend in the Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, about the Baker administration’s approach to collecting income taxes from New Hampshire residents.

Meanwhile, the two top Democrats on the New Hampshire Senate’s ways and means and finance committees fired off a brief letter to Geoffrey Snyder, Baker’s revenue commissioner, on Wednesday. The letter slammed the Baker administration’s plans to collect income taxes from New Hampshire residents who are working remotely because of the pandemic through the end of the year, or 90 days after Baker ends the state of emergency, whichever comes first. Snyder’s agency plans to hold a virtual public hearing to discuss the issue on Aug. 27.

Andrew Botti, a litigation attorney with the McLane Middleton law firm, said these workers are often logging into computer servers in Massachusetts, one of several factors that give the state enough jurisdiction to impose the tax. Besides, he said, it’s not as if New Hampshire is losing income tax revenue to its neighbor.

But the border fight underscores a bigger question that state bean counters may need to confront. Once the pandemic finally ends, many employers say they’ll be more lenient about telecommuting. That trend could take a bite out of Massachusetts finances, if many New Hampshire residents never resume their daily commutes south across state lines, or drive into Massachusetts infrequently.

“I’m sure there are economists right now thinking about if telecommuting becomes the norm in the future, what does that mean for economies of high-cost states?” Pitter said.

School Re-Openings Generate Anxiety

State House News – If Worcester Public Schools brings students back into buildings in any capacity during the upcoming academic year, registered nurse Tami Hale would be among the first people responsible for responding to the threat of a potential COVID-19 case.

But Hale, a school nurse at Gates Lane Elementary School, said that no one in leadership has solicited her input on how to keep the building safe from the highly infectious virus, even as city officials discuss a reopening plan.

Hale joined with several other school staff, educators and parents on a labor-backed virtual panel where they aired concerns about the viability of returning to in-person K-12 instruction while the pandemic rages on and criticized district and state officials for how preparations have unfolded.

“If we don’t listen and involve the school nurses in this process, we are going to put lives at risk,” Hale said. “At this point, it feels very much like we have been left out of it. These are our buildings, our students. We are the experts in this, and no one’s asking.”

Almost five months after schools abruptly sent students home and shifted on the fly to remote learning, COVID-19 remains a threat even if the outbreak has slowed considerably in Massachusetts.

Education leaders are now grappling with how to balance the value of sending students back into schools, the shortcomings and benefits associated with learning from home, and the safety risks inherent in bringing crowds of people into a closed location.

Gap Grows Between Boston Mayor and Teachers Union

WGBH – With the official start of the school year just weeks away, and in the midst of a pandemic crisis whose continued magnitude and duration are unknown, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has found himself caught between a rock and a hard place.

Walsh is engaged in an increasingly public and at times acrimonious tug of war with one of the city’s most influential employee unions — the Boston Teachers Union, which represents not only BPS teachers, but also school nurses and other professionals, and whose more than 10,000 members comprise the largest single public sector union in the city.

The gap between Walsh and the influential teachers union was not always so wide.

In the city’s 2013 mayoral election, then-candidate Walsh received a boost from union teachers in the form of an unsolicited, nearly half-million dollar TV ad blitz supporting Walsh over opponent John R. Connolly — paid for by the American Federation of Teachers, with which the BTU is affiliated.

While it’s by no means clear the ad buy affected the race, it marked the ascendance of the Boston Teachers Union as a rising political force in a city that had just held its first open mayoral election in more than two decades, and a force few politicians would care to run afoul of.

Now, Walsh (who has not yet said he’s running for re-election next year but has more than strongly hinted he intends to) finds himself at something of a political crossroads. A proud union advocate whose political career is rooted in the city’s trade unions, he is facing off with an increasingly frustrated BTU over a draft school reopening plan released by the Boston Public Schools this week.

UMass Amherst Tells Most Students Not to Return to Campus

State House News – Officials at the flagship University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst said they would no longer repopulate their residence halls with students taking online classes.

In late June, the school announced a reopening plan under which most classes would be held remotely except for labs, studios and other courses that require hands-on work. Students were nonetheless invited to return to the large campus, where dorms and dining halls would operate under new health and safety precautions.

At the time, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said school officials had heard “loud and clear” from students that they wanted to be in and around campus.

Citing worsening conditions around COVID-19 nationally and the risk of having to close campus mid-semester, Subbaswamy sent a message to students and their families informing them the school will not offer housing to students whose courses are entirely remote.

Only students who are taking “essential face-to-face classes” will be granted access to dorms and other campus facilities, Subbaswamy wrote. He said school officials “strongly urge” students taking remote courses not to return to the Amherst area. Classes begin on Aug. 24.

“I realize that today’s announcement will cause disruption for many of you and is a major departure from the plan we released in June,” Subbaswamy wrote. “Our intention at that time, with our plans to conduct most classes remotely while inviting all students back to campus, was to strike a balance between the immersive residential experience so important to our students’ development and the health and safety of the entire community in the Amherst area. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and detailed planning, the proliferation of the pandemic has left us with no choice but to pursue this more stringent approach.”

The chancellor said situations involving students who are dependent on campus housing and dining, those in health care fields, and international students with specific visa requirements “will be handled on a case-by case basis, and in most instances will be accommodated.”

Pressley Calls for Schools to Go Fully Remote

WWLP – As more school districts in Massachusetts announce that they will begin the new academic year online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Representative Ayanna Pressley is calling for all schools to go remote this fall.

In a statement, the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ 7th, Congressional District said in part:

“Schools throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in communities hardest hit by COVID-19 like so many across the Massachusetts 7th, are not equipped with the resources, equipment, classroom facilities and staff necessary to safely reopen for in person courses.”

According to a recent study by the Boston Teachers Union, 87 percent of members do not feel safe returning to in-person teaching. Of those surveyed, 64 percent are at high-risk for COVID-19 or living with someone who is high-risk.

National Job Growth Continues at Slower Pace

State House News – American employers added nearly 1.8 million jobs in July while the unemployment rate declined to 10.2 percent, restoring another chunk of the jobs lost during the pandemic but at a slower pace than in recent months.

The 1.76 million positions added are more than three times the gains as any pre-pandemic month since 2000, but the boost also lags behind the 2.7 million jobs added in May and the 4.8 million added in June, according to federal data.

Altogether, the three continuous months of rising employment have clawed back less than half of the historic 21.3 million jobs cut in April, when many businesses were ordered to close physical operations to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“The economy fell off a cliff at the end of the first quarter of 2020 and we have been slowly climbing back ever since, thanks in large part to government support,” Citizens Bank Head of Global Markets Tony Bedikian said in a statement. “We have seen a very troubling increase in COVID-19 cases in many states that had reopened for business, but we continue to be cautiously optimistic that the overall U.S. economy has turned a corner, and that the solid job gains announced today will be sustained.”

Job gains came in most industries tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with leisure and hospitality and food services and drinking places — two of the categories most sharply affected by mandatory shutdowns — together accounting for nearly 1.1 million of the new positions.

MBTA Buses Tell Different Stories

Boston Globe – For months, the bus system has been the MBTA’s workhorse, shuttling essential workers around the region while many commuter rail and subway trains rumble nearly empty down the tracks.

But within the bus network, the primary transit option in many neighborhoods, different lines tell very different stories.

Some, like the normally popular routes through South Boston, are still drawing only small fractions of their pre-pandemic ridership. The 7 bus, which connects the neighborhood to the financial district, for example, reflects the kind of ghost town that Boston’s central business district has been since spring — fewer than 300 people ride each day, compared to nearly 5,000 earlier this year.

But just a few miles away, the 109, from Sullivan Square through Everett to Malden, has regained more than 60 percent of its ridership. It’s one of about 20 bus lines that transports more than half the riders it did before the virus struck, according to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority data. And in recent weeks, its passengers have been substantially more likely to ride in what the MBTA now considers a crowded vehicle.

“It’s pretty packed,” said Doma Sherpa, who takes the 109 to the Orange Line on her way to a baby-sitting job in Boston. “If there’s too many people, there’s a chance to get infected . . . [But] I have to go to work to survive.”

Governor Signs IT Bond Bill

Mass Insider – Governor Charlie Baker signed An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth, which authorizes up to $1.8 billion in capital funding for key investments in public safety, food security, and information technology. This includes programs to enhance the security of the Commonwealth’s IT assets, improve the delivery of state and local services, and continue responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are pleased to have worked closely with the Legislature to sign this bill into law and continue investing in information technology improvements, public safety upgrades and food security across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Baker. “We are continuing to support critical capital investments that modernize our technology infrastructure and allow us to deliver effective and reliable government services for the people of Massachusetts during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Our Administration is proud to collaborate with our legislative colleagues and continue making important technology infrastructure investments throughout our local communities,” said Lieutenant Governor Polito. “This legislation will allow us to work closely with our municipal partners to make upgrades that improve the delivery of government services and benefit Massachusetts residents.”

“As we adjust to a world transformed by a global pandemic, I am thrilled to see these critical investments in our Commonwealth clear the final hurdle and become law,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “The Senate stands committed to supporting existing programs as well as  investing in underserved and underrepresented populations, and this bond authorization includes many of the priorities championed by my colleagues. I am particularly proud to see this legislation includes much-needed supports for our childcare providers and directs funding to bolster economic empowerment in communities of color across our state.”

“Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more than ever, everyone realizes the importance of our information technology infrastructure,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “These investments will strengthen the resilience of our state and help provide more equitable access to key services for our residents. I thank Governor Baker, Senate President Spilka, and my colleagues in the Legislature for their work on this important bill.”

$660 million in authorizations in the legislation will support IT infrastructure needs throughout the Commonwealth, strengthening cybersecurity and improving how state agencies serve their constituents. The bill authorizes $90 million for public safety including $10 million to establish a new fire training facility in southeastern Massachusetts.

$346.5 million is authorized for municipal grant programs including $25 million for firefighter safety grants, $10 million for a municipal ADA-accessibility grant program, and $5 million for the Community Compact program.

The legislation also authorizes $37.3 million in capital funding to ensure food security for residents across the Commonwealth.

Other notable authorizations in the General Governmental Bond Bill include:

$115 million for library construction grants

$20 million for a program to enhance fiber-optic connectivity in key municipal buildings

$375 million for repairs and improvements for facilities across the Commonwealth

State Issues HR policy Regarding Employees Traveling Out of State

Mass Insider – The Baker administration has promulgated its human resources policy regarding state employees who travel to non-low-risk states under the COVID-19 travel order.

The policy is explained in a memo dated Aug. 4 from the Human Resources Division to state agency heads and managers.

Under the policy, those employees who travel out of state and are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine may be eligible for COVID-19 emergency paid leave under the federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, which requires employers to provide up to 10 days of additional paid sick leave if an employee must quarantine as a result of a federal, state or local government order.

The policy requires managers to inquire as to whether employees intend to travel to restricted states before granting vacation leave and requires employees to provide notice if they intend to travel to non-low-risk states.

The policy states that vacation leave can be denied if an extended absence from the workplace is not consistent with the agency’s operational needs, or the vacation leave may be granted contingent on having the employee pre-schedule an appropriate COVID-19 test to take place within 72 house of the employee’s scheduled return to the workplace.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association is advising municipal officials to confer with labor counsel regarding this issue.

August 6, 2020

Notice Regarding Updated Workplace Safety Protocols

On July 6, the Baker Administration updated the Sector Specific Workplace Specific Safety Standards, which for most industries imposed a new protocol to establish a screening process for all workers.

Facilities must screen workers at each shift by ensuring the following:

  • Worker is not experiencing any symptoms such as fever (100.0 and above) or chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, fatigue, headache, muscle/body aches, runny nose/congestion, new loss of taste or smell, or nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Worker has not had “close contact” with an individual diagnosed with COVID-19. “Close contact” means living in the same household as a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, caring for a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, being within 6 feet of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more, or coming in direct contact with secretions (e.g., sharing utensils, being coughed on) from a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, while that person was symptomatic.
  • Worker has not been asked to self-isolate or quarantine by their doctor or a local public health official.
  • Workers who fail to meet the above criteria must be sent home.

AIM has researched the guidance and discussed alternative language with AIM members.  AIM has provided alternative language to the administration regarding this new protocol and we continue to work to have these new requirements relaxed.

Please see the Phase 3 Step 1 Sector Specific Workplace rules to determine if this impacts your organization.

Should you have any questions or have concerns with this new requirement please contact Brad MacDougall bmacdougall@aimnet.org or Beth Yohai at byohai@aimhrsolutions.com. You can also call the AIM hotline at 800.470.6277.

Rhode Island Removed from Massachusetts Safe List

Effective August 7, Rhode Island has been removed from the Mass Department of Public Health lower-risk state list.  All travelers arriving in Massachusetts from Rhode Island must fill out a form, quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID test.  Exemptions apply for regular commuters.  For more information go to www.mass.gov/MATraveler.

Since the travel order was implemented on July 24, AIM has gathered several questions from AIM member companies and have shared those observations and questions with the administration.  Should you have any additional questions or feedback regarding the travel order let us know. We will share any feedback that we get from the administration.

Court System Eyes Gradual Resumption of Jury Trials

The Jury Management Advisory Committee, a group of justices from several levels of Massachusetts courts, has suggested a phased-in resumption of jury trials, acknowledging that the already-sizable backlog of cases will continue to expand even as the process resumes.

In a July 31 report to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) , the committee said the judicial system should embrace a clear and transparent risk-reduction plan to help jurors perform their duties with minimal concerns about health risks and without impacts on the fairness of the trial process.

SJC justices will accept public comment on the committee’s recommendations through Aug. 14 before they decide how to act.

FAQs On Paycheck Protection Loan Forgiveness

On August 4, 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) issued the long-awaited frequently asked questions document on loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program. The complete Frequently Asked Questions on Loan Forgiveness is available on the US Treasury website. For an overview of the 11 key takeaways, click here.

Massachusetts Not Tracking Coronavirus Outbreaks in Schools

Boston Herald – The state said it has no formal reporting process for tracking coronavirus outbreaks that have already cropped up in summer-school programs, leaving teachers unions wondering how health officials plan to prevent outbreaks considered “inevitable” in the fall.

“We are not formally tracking them, but we are trying to notice them as they pop up,” said Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis. “There is no formal reporting process for schools.”

Reis said DESE is still finalizing its guidance as schools shore up their plans for remote, in-person or hybrid learning once classes resume in September.

“It’s absurd and it’s stunning but it’s also not a surprise,” said Merrie Najimy, who leads the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Najimy accused DESE Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley of “choosing to ignore the data” and rush students and teachers back into classrooms even though it may not be safe to do so.

“The commissioner’s plan at this point is putting the lives of 1 million students and 120,000 educators at risk,” Najimy said.

Cases have popped up this summer in three separate school districts. Last month, a Westwood school staff member reportedly returned to work after receiving a false-negative for coronavirus after being sick with the highly infectious virus for several weeks. In Melrose, a high school student tested positive last month, according to district communications.

In Quincy, three staff members tested positive across three schools, prompting 11 students to quarantine, according to Quincy Public Health Commissioner Ruth Jones.

“COVID is not gone and not going to be gone until we have a vaccine. It’s almost inevitable — as we saw in summer school — that we’ll see cases pop up here and there,” Jones said.

The state Department of Public Health said it relies on local health commissions to identify coronavirus clusters and then provides guidance in how to manage the outbreaks. Questions about tracking cases in school were referred to the DESE.

The lack of planning to prevent illness has left teachers wary of returning to in-person instruction. Jessica Tang of the Boston Teachers Union said she has “no confidence” in Boston’s so-called “hybrid hopscotch plan” to return to some in-person schooling.

“They should be tracking these clusters and incidents because health and safety is a priority,” Tang said, noting community transmission of COVID-19 has been on the rise in Massachusetts in recent weeks.

The state’s two largest teachers unions — the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Teacher Federation, which includes Boston’s teachers — are calling for a continuation of remote learning until the safety of students, staff and teachers can be guaranteed.

“If the state is not tracking data and not paying attention to possible impacts, then they are not doing their due diligence to protect health and safety,” Tang said.

Najimy said both unions have agreed not to allow teachers to return until every school building is inspected to ensure proper air quality and ventilation, rapid testing and contact tracing are available, and the state keeps up with public health benchmarks.

August 4, 2020

Partiers Prompt Baker to Revisit Gathering Limits

State House News – Citing upticks in positive COVID-19 testing rates linked to larger social events, Gov. Charlie Baker said that his administration is reviewing the state’s guidance on gathering sizes. He blamed the behavior of people choosing to party without precaution for the clusters of infections that have sprung up.

A large party in Chatham has been linked to a cluster of new infections there, while a number of lifeguards who attended a party in Falmouth walked away infected by COVID-19. And on Nantucket, officials are considering scaling back restaurant hours as infection numbers on the island have ticked up and people have been observed gathering on beaches close to one another without masks.

“I think that’s one of the things we’re talking about,” Baker said at a press conference when asked about the state’s gathering size limits. “But the bigger issue is not so much the nature of the size of some of these gatherings, especially the private ones that are going on in backyards and places like that. The bigger issue is honestly the behavior generally at those, which is not socially distant, no masks and in some respects a lack of respect for how this virus works and how it moves from person to person.”

Baker’s assessment of the situation echoed that of frustrated Cape Cod officials, who pointed to house parties and other private gatherings as a driver of new COVID-19 infections in the region. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo also told her constituents to tone down the summer partying as she took action to reduce permissible gathering sizes in the Ocean State.

“To all our residents I can’t express this enough. Don’t be careless or complacent,” Baker said.

State Launches #MaskUpMA

The Baker Administration has launched #MaskUpMA, an effort to remind residents to wear masks and face-coverings in public to stop the spread of COVID-19. The effort will underscore the importance of wearing masks across multiple channels including video testimonials on social media, a new PSA, and a website, Mass.Gov/MaskUp.

Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito helped launch #MaskUpMA with video testimonials where they urge residents to wear masks to protect themselves and others. Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster also joined the effort today, and in the coming weeks, additional local public figures will remind everyone in Massachusetts to “mask up.”

In addition, the Department of Public Health today also launched an updated public service announcement video, which is available here. Residents can also visit Mass.Gov/MaskUp to learn more about wearing face-coverings, including best practices and multilingual resources.

In May, Governor Baker issued an order requiring residents to wear face-coverings in public where social distancing is not possible. This applies to both indoor and outdoor spaces. Exceptions include children under the age of 2 and those unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition. Read the full DPH Guidance and find more detailed information in Frequently Asked Questions – Face Covering.

State Commits to Hold Local Aid Level Amid Pandemic

State House News – The Baker administration and the Legislature are committing to maintain fiscal 2021 local aid and school aid at last year’s levels, and to provide an additional $107 million in school aid to cover inflation and enrollment factors.

Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan notified local officials of the commitment in an email from the Department of Revenue and emphasized that the money is separate from $450 million in new federal supports for K-12 schools to assist with educating students during the pandemic.

The Division of Local Services released a list of aid amounts for all cities and towns in connection with Heffernan’s announcement.

The commitment mirrors the aid levels that the News Service reported on Tuesday, when Revenue Committee Co-chairman Sen. Adams Hinds posted the pledge on Twitter and then deleted it, asserting afterwards that the agreement had not been finalized.

In his announcement, Heffernan said the commitment was being made even though “critical information from the federal government is still needed in order to finalize a full fiscal year budget.”

Baker Directs $50M from Feds to Reopening Schools, Colleges

State House News – Gov. Charlie Baker is allocating $50 million federal funds to schools and colleges to help with costs associated with re-opening, remote learning, early literacy and financial aid for low-income college students, his office announced.

The bulk of the money – up to $25 million – will go toward “COVID-related expenses associated with re-opening colleges and universities, as well as certain non-public elementary and secondary schools,” according to a press release. That money will be distributed based on the number and percentage of enrolled low-income students.

Up to $10 million will be dedicated to early literacy programs for students through third grade, with the goal of remediating learning loss experienced since the closure of school buildings in March and accelerating skills for kids from high-need communities.

As much as $5 million will be set aside in an emergency reserve; as much as $7.5 million will be used to expand access to online courses including advanced placement, early college and dual enrollment programs; and up to $2.5 million will go to financial aid for low-income students of public colleges.

“We know districts will need more funding this year than in a typical school year, and I am pleased to see this money added to the financial support that is already on its way to districts,” Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said in a statement.

US Chamber Compares Relief Proposals

Earlier this week, the Senate introduced its Phase 4 legislative package to provide financial relief to families, businesses, and communities across the country enduring the economic destruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Chamber has prepared an initial side-by-side summary for the business community of the House and Senate Phase 4 proposals specifically as they each pertain to the five priority areas—Liability Protection Against Unwarranted Lawsuits, Support for Small and Midsize Employers, Support for Childcare and K-12 Schools, Unemployment and Job Training, and State and Local Assistance— which were identified by the U.S. Chamber in its recommendations earlier this month.

The side-by-side summary also includes initial draft recommendations from the U.S. Chamber for improving the package. Click here to view the side-by-side summary.

Massachusetts Economy Shrinks 44 Percent in Q2

The Massachusetts economy shrank at a staggering pace in the second quarter, plummeting by an annual rate of nearly 44 percent, the biggest decline on record, according to an estimate from MassBenchmarks economists.

The Bay State’s real gross domestic product declined significantly more than the country’s as a whole, as U.S. GDP dropped by an annual rate of almost 33 percent during the same time period, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Massachusetts was hit harder by COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic than many parts of the country, with cases peaking in April. The Baker administration was also slower to allow businesses to reopen than many other states.

The state is now faring better with the pandemic than large swaths of the country, but the GDP figure suggests just how much economic pain it has required to reach that place.

MassBenchmarks, a journal published by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, cautioned that the rate is “based on the best information available today.” It is subject to revision.

Growth in the third quarter “should be sharply higher,” Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University professor and MassBenchmarks senior contributing editor, said in a statement, adding that “there is the very real possibility that state performance in the third quarter will outpace that of the nation.”

More recent data signals economic improvement. Massachusetts added an estimated 138,700 jobs in May and June, after losing nearly 700,000 in March and April, according to MassBenchmarks. As of July 19, consumer spending in Massachusetts was just 2% below what it was in January, according to data tracked by Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights initiative.

Still, even with a sharp third-quarter uptick, the state economy could still be in historically rough shape given the depths to which it sunk.

As of mid-July, there were almost 1 million Massachusetts residents continuing to receive unemployment benefits, between those receiving traditional unemployment and those using a special pandemic-specific program for gig workers, the self-employed and others, according to federal data.

In June, the state had an unemployment rate of 17.4 percent, the highest in the country.

Paid Sick Time Proposal Advances

A redrafted legislative proposal was approved by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development Committee to provide emergency paid sick time.

As a summary, the proposed legislation would do the following:

  • Adds new Section 148E to GL Chapter 149 that entitles all employees in the commonwealth that work 40 hours a week to up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick time if they are not otherwise entitled to leave under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201, P.L. No. 116-127; entitles employees that work under 40 hours a week to their average hourly schedule in a 14 day period or the amount of hours they are otherwise scheduled to work; allows employees to carry over such emergency paid sick time to the next year; requires the emergency paid sick time to remain available until the end of the end of the state of emergency or disaster.
  • Conditions use of such time on an employee’s need to comply with the listed circumstances related to self-isolating, including caring for oneself or a family member due to any diagnosis, display of symptoms or treatment related to a communicable public health emergency, or determination by a public health official or authority that the employees presence on the job poses a risk to the health of others due to their or a family member’s exposure to a contagious disease, or display of symptoms; limits benefits to those unable to work and who are unable to telework; requires payment of an employees regular hourly rate; establishes a maximum weekly payment of $850; adjusts the maximum weekly payment to be 64 percent of the state average weekly wage rate by October 1 of each year.
  • Entitles employers who pay their employees for emergency paid sick time to reimbursement from the Commonwealth, unless they are receiving a federal payroll tax credit for an employee’s use of paid sick time under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act; requires use of the Commonwealth stabilization fund for reimbursement costs.
  • Requires employers to provide emergency paid sick time in addition to any existing job protected time off, paid and unpaid, the employer must provide to employees, resulting from employer policy, negotiated collective bargaining agreements, or state or federal law, including the Massachusetts Family and Medical Leave Act (GL Chapter 175M); allows employees to use emergency paid sick time on an intermittent basis and in smaller hourly increments; regulates employee notice of a need to use such time and recordkeeping by employers; makes it illegal to restrain or deny exercise of the right to such sick time, and to take adverse actions against employee for exercising such rights; directs the attorney general to enforce compliance and to establish regulations related to such emergency paid sick time.

Historic Legislative Session to Continue Beyond Traditional Deadline

State House News – Both branches of the Massachusetts Legislature have agreed to scrap the end-of-July deadline that the House and Senate for decades have imposed on themselves to complete formal business in the second year of their two-year sessions.

Virtually every legislative session ends after a rush to wrap up work on complex – and, often, procrastinated – bills, and after experiencing an unprecedented disruption due to the COVID-19 outbreak that hit Massachusetts in March, legislative leaders opted to give themselves more time and flexibility to complete critical work.

Now, they will have about five more months in which they can call the full House and Senate rosters into session for roll call votes on pandemic-related bills, a spending plan and other business that may arise.

Formal sessions can now run effectively until the next makeup of the Legislature is inaugurated. On paper, the order amending the rules pushes back the deadline but does not set explicit parameters on what actions may be taken.

Senate President Karen Spilka said, however, that she intends to keep a narrow focus.

“There may be some COVID-related emergency unforeseen,” she told the News Service shortly after the Senate approved the extension. “We’re hoping that’s not the case, but as we know, the numbers are upticking a little bit. Across the country, it has been a resurgence. We’re hoping not, but one thing we have learned from COVID is you can’t foresee everything that may need to take place and everything we may need to act on, so it’s important to give ourselves a little leeway.”

Unemployment Claims On the Upswing in Massachusetts

State House News – The number of first-time unemployment aid claims crept up last week in both Massachusetts and nationwide compared to the prior week, hinting at ongoing volatility in the job market and continuing economic uncertainty more than four months into the pandemic.

State labor officials reported receiving 19,179 new filings for jobless benefits between July 19 and July 25, an increase of 1,025 over the previous week. While the weekly sum was one of the lowest since the start of the crisis, it also marked only the second time since April in which total weekly applications were greater than the week before.

Applications for the expanded eligibility Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program also increased from 12,402 in the week that ended July 18 to 14,850 in the week that ended July 25.

The slight uptick in Massachusetts residents seeking unemployment aid comes with the state well into its third phase of a phased plan to revive business activity after months of forced shutdowns. While many establishments have reopened to some degree, the lingering damage is profound.

Massachusetts has the highest unemployment rate in the nation in June at 17.4 percent, and additional cuts to the public sector could be on the horizon if the federal government does not provide aid to close massive state and local budget gaps.

Federal figures showed a similar trend of rising unemployment applications. Americans filed 1.43 million initial claims for standard unemployment insurance last week, compared to 1.42 million one week earlier and 1.3 million two weeks earlier.

Judge Plans Eviction Moratorium Ruling “As Soon As I Can”

State House News – Landlords who are unable to remove non-paying tenants due to a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures face “potentially devastating” economic harm, an attorney argued in Suffolk Superior Court.

A lawyer representing landlords squared off with attorneys for Massachusetts and a range of housing justice groups over whether a judge should step in and lift the temporary ban on removals, which supporters say protects thousands of renters from losing their homes during a global pandemic.

Attorney Richard Vetstein argued that scrapping the moratorium would not lead to a tsunami of evictions and that the policy violates landlords’ constitutional property and court access rights.

“This is literally state reps trying to be housing court judges, and it’s gone too far,” Vetstein, who is representing landlords that claimed they have lost thousands of dollars in unpaid rent from tenants during the state of emergency and have no recourse to reclaim it, said.

State attorney Jennifer Greaney said the Legislature is well within its rights to order stays in court action, stressing that landlords will still have the right to pursue action against tenants once the public health crisis ends. The moratorium was scheduled to end on Aug. 18, but Gov. Charlie Baker used an option available to him under the new law to trigger an extension until Oct. 17.

Through more than two hours of oral arguments, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson did not indicate how he plans to rule on the case in which plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction. At the end he said he would “issue a decision as soon as I can.”

July 30

Stimulus Talks Stall

Talks between US House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the White House stalled with not much reported movement. Trump and Mnuchin are talking about a piecemeal approach to UI benefits and the eviction moratorium.  However, Democrats say this is a non-starter. Both sides seem to be far apart and Senate Republicans are split and confused on their own proposal.

Senate Relief Plan Includes Stimulus Checks, School Aid

State House News – Saying the nation “has one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery,” U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled a long-awaited relief package Monday that proposes another round of stimulus checks, a scaled-back extension of unemployment benefits, and more than $100 billion aimed at bringing students back to school in the fall.

The roughly $1 trillion Republican proposal leaves untouched a range of elements Democrats included in a $3 trillion bill that cleared the House, foreshadowing a challenging negotiation process to decide what a final package will ultimately comprise.

One House-approved piece critical to the next few months on Beacon Hill is altogether absent from the Republican bill: more aid for state and local governments struggling with a collapse in tax collections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell outlined his party’s proposal, dubbed the HEALS Act, on the Senate floor Monday, saying it targets four areas: health, economic assistance, liability protection, and schools.

“We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crises facing our country – getting kids back in school, getting workers back to work, and winning the healthcare fight against the virus,” he said.

The package is built on individual bills filed by various Republican committee leaders.

The legislation would extend the timeframe for governments to use $150 billion in the CARES Act and allows some of it to cover revenue shortfalls, but its approach is far more limited than the $500 billion additional support for states and $375 billion for cities and towns included in the HEROES Act the House approved in May.

House Adopts Orders Enabling Formal Sessions Throughout 2020

State House News – Massachusetts House lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday in favor of a rule suspension that would allow them to continue meeting in formal sessions past the Legislature’s traditional July 31 deadline and throughout and beyond the 2020 election season.

The early afternoon vote was on an order that would suspend Joint Rule 12A in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order (H 4910) said it is “critical for the House of Representatives and the Senate to continue to convene in formal sessions to take additional steps to respond to, and mitigate the spread of, COVID-19 to protect the health, security, safety, economic well-being and convenience of the people of the commonwealth.”

“There are a number of pending matters across areas of policy, major policy issues, that require our attention, and we will certainly endeavor to deal with as much of that as we can prior to the current deadline of July 31,” Rep. Joseph Wagner said as he introduced the order on the House floor. Wagner said it is hard to come up with words that adequately “capture the changed world in which we live.”

The rule establishing July 31 as the last day of formal sessions for the two-year term is a joint House-Senate rule, so suspending it would require buy-in from the Senate.

“There’s no reason why we can’t get most of this done by July 31, but if we need to work through these extraordinary circumstances and work past July 31, we will,” Senate President Karen Spilka said last week.

On a 33-126 vote, the House defeated a Minority Leader Brad Jones amendment that would have required 14 calendar days’ notice for a formal session held after July 31. Another Jones amendment dealing with the time period for committee polls was also defeated.

The Legislature usually meets in informal sessions between August and December in election years. During such sessions, which do not feature a quorum, any lawmakers can halt the progress of any bill, a situation that can force the ruling Democrats to address concerns raised by Republicans.

Senate Passes Economic Development Bill

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed its version of a major economic development bill (S 2842) Wednesday night after adding measures dealing with housing reform, offshore wind development, nondisclosure agreements, and other topics over the course of more than nine hours. Among the rejected amendments was an effort by Sen. Bruce Tarr to include legalization of sports wagering, something the House folded into its version of the bill earlier this week. A formal session is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday.

Legislature Accelerates Interim Approach to Budgeting

State House News – The Massachusetts House and Senate on Tuesday quickly passed a $16.53 billion interim budget to keep the government funded through October, a plan that would give the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker more time to understand the state’s fuzzy but dire financial picture in the middle of the ongoing pandemic.

The House and Senate are in the final scheduled days of their formal legislative calendar for the two-year session, but as a result of COVID-19 neither the House nor Senate have produced a full-year spending plan and will have to take the rare step of holding a special session later this year to take up a budget.

The Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker agreed on a $5.25 billion one-month budget in June to keep state services funded through July, and Baker filed another $5.51 billion budget bill last week to cover spending through August.

The Legislature, however, responded Tuesday with an appropriations bill that would give them more time and remove the need to figure out immediately how and when to return for a special post-July 31 session to deal with a spending plan for the rest of fiscal 2021.

“Today, the Senate and House Committees on Ways and Means have agreed to a three-month interim budget that will provide near-term fiscal stability for our Commonwealth,” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz and Senate Ways and Meas Chairman Michael Rodrigues said in a joint statement.

$2M Awarded to Train Unemployed or Underemployed Workers

Mass Insider – Two million dollars in grant awards will fund training to assist 445 unemployed or underemployed people to fill in-demand jobs in construction, finance and insurance, information technology, social assistance, and transportation, the Baker Administration announced.

Nine public-private partnerships between local businesses, unions, education and training providers, and MassHire Workforce Boards and Career Centers will run two-year programs across Massachusetts with their awarded Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly Workforce Success Grants and matching contributions of at least 30 percent.

Each program aims to train and place unemployed or underemployed Massachusetts residents into in-demand regional occupations with a starting wage of at least $14.25 per hour.

The grant awards are as follows:

  • Apprenti — $225,000:Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare approximately 40 un/underemployed participants for software developer positions. Partners include: Wayfair, Liberty Mutual, Harvard University Information Technology, Boston Private Industry Council, MassHire Downtown Boston Career Center, and Launch Academy.
  • Asian American Civic Association — $245,000:  Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare 48 un/underemployed participants for banking and finance positions. Partners include: Bank of America, East Boston Savings Bank, Citizens Bank, MassHire Metro North Workforce Board, and Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.
  • Building Pathways — $240,000: Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare 90 un/underemployed participants for construction trades positions. Partners include: American Plumbing & Heating, Boston Housing Authority, Building Trade Training Directors Association, Consigli, Dimeo, East Coast Slurry, EM Duggan, JC Cannistraro, Marr, McDonald Electrical, McCusker- Gill, Metro South/West Employment and Training Administration Inc., North Atlantic States Carpenters Training Fund, Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, Suffolk Construction, Sullivan McLaughlin, TG Gallagher, TJ McCartney, TREVIICOS Corporation, and 16 union partners. MassHire partners include the MassHire Boston Workforce Board, MassHire Metro South/West Workforce Board, MassHire South Shore Workforce Board, Metro North MassHire Workforce Board, MassHire Downtown Boston, MassHire Metro North Career Center, and MassHire South Shore Career Center.
  • CompTIA — $180,000:Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare 30 un/underemployed participants for IT Support Specialist positions. Partners include: Welsh Consulting, Apogee IT Services, Cengage, Apprenti, MassHire Boston Workforce Board, MassHire Downtown Boston, and Creating IT Futures Foundation, Inc.
  • CyberWarrior Academy Foundation — $160,000:Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare 27 un/underemployed participants for software developer positions. Partners include Rapid7, Steward Health Care, Abacus Insights, Mass General Brigham, Advoqt Cybersecurity, MassHire Merrimack Valley, MassHire Boston (Boston PIC), MassHire Hampden County, MassHire Merrimack Valley, MassHire Downtown Boston, Riff Analytics, Lawrence Partnership, Tech Talent Exchange, Roxbury Community College, Northern Essex Community College, Holyoke Community College, and Worcester Community Action Council.
  • MassHire Central Region Workforce Board — $225,000: Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare 45 un/underemployed participants for CDL driver positions. Partners include: City of Worcester Human Resources Department, Polar Beverages, Schneider Trucking, Advantage Truck Group (ATG), Highway Driver Leasing (Woman-Owned Business), Atlas Distributing, Inc., The Guild of St. Agnes, Trucking Association of Massachusetts (TAM), MassHire Central Region Workforce Board, MassHire North Central Workforce Board, MassHire Metro South/West Workforce Board, MassHire Career Center Worcester, MassHire North Central Career Center, New England Tractor Trailer Training School, Inc. (NETTTS), JobGet, Worcester Jobs Fund, Worcester Community Action Council (WCAC), United Way of Central MA, United Way of North Central MA, Community Health Network (CHNA9), DTA Worcester Transitional Assistance Office, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.
  • MassHire Greater Brockton Workforce Board — $225,000:Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare approximately 25 un/underemployed participants for CDL driver positions. Partners include: Sid Wainer & Son, Brockton Area Transit Authority, MassHire Greater Brockton Workforce Board, MassHire Greater Brockton Career Center, MassHire Greater New Bedford Workforce Board, MassHire Greater New Bedford Career Center, MassHire Bristol County Workforce Board, MassHire Bristol County Career Center, MassHire South Shore Workforce Board, MassHire South Shore Career Center, and Parker Professional Driving School.
  • MassHire Metro North Workforce Board — $250,000:Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare 40 un/underemployed participants for construction/facilities maintenance positions. Partners include: Winn Companies, Accutemp Engineering, Central Cooling and Heating, Electrical Dynamics, Inc., Nardone Electrical Corporation, WS Aiken LLC, MassHire Metro North Workforce Board, MassHire Metro North Career Center, Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts, YouthBuild Boston, International Institute of New England (IINE), CONNECT, Medford Vocational Technical High School.
  • Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries — $250,000:Partnership proposes to provide training and placement services to prepare 100 un/underemployed participants for social assistance/human services positions. Partners include: Arbor Associates, Bay Cove Human Services, Children’s Services of Roxbury, Communities for People, Pine Street Inn, The Home for Little Wanderers, Vinfen, Whittier Street Health Center, Massachusetts Council of Human Services Providers, MassHire Boston Workforce Board, MassHire Boston Career Center, Roxbury Community College, and the City of Boston Office of Workforce Development.

Teacher Union Backs Strikes Over Re-Opening Plans

The Boston Globe – One of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions is authorizing its members to strike if their schools plan to re-open without proper safety measures in the middle of the global pandemic.

The American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million school employees, issued a resolution on Tuesday saying it will support any local chapter that decides to strike over reopening plans.

In providing its blessing, the union is also offering local chapters access to its financial and legal resources as they navigate a return to the classroom. Union officials said they will provide legal support, communications support and staffing to local chapters that vote to strike.

Although the measure says strikes should be considered only as a “last resort,” it lists conditions the organization wants met for schools to reopen. It says buildings should reopen only in areas with lower virus rates, and only if schools require masks, update ventilation systems and make changes to space students apart.

Poll Samples Attitudes on Transportation, Working at Home

State House News – Two-thirds of people surveyed in a new poll believe the state’s transportation system will need “big changes” coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, and most respondents who are employed full- or part-time indicated they’d like to keep working from home at least partially once the state reopens.

Thirty-nine percent of employed respondents in a MassINC Polling Group survey released Wednesday said they’d prefer to work from home every day after re-opening, while 29 percent said a few times a week, 9 percent said a few times a month, and 5 percent said never.

Fifteen percent said it wasn’t an option for their work.

The poll of 797 registered voters was conducted from July 17 to July 20, and it was sponsored by the Barr Foundation.

Respondents were split on whether transportation taxes and fees should be on the table as possible solutions “if Massachusetts ends up with a state budget deficit as a result of the COVID-19.”

Thirty-seven percent said yes, 30 percent said no, and 33 percent were unsure. Tax collections last fiscal year missed benchmarks by about $3 billion and analysts say initial fiscal 2021 collections forecasts are overly optimistic by several billion dollars, leaving the state with a budget crisis that officials hope will be softened by an infusion of federal relief funds.

Asked if they’d support or oppose cities and towns redesigning their streets during the gradual economic reopening to create more space for social distance, 66 percent said they’d either strongly or somewhat back the idea. A similar amount – 68 percent – said they’d strongly or somewhat support street redesigns for activities like walking and biking. – Katie Lannan/SHNS

Blue Cross Offers Dental Members Access to Teledentistry During Pandemic

MassInsiders – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has introduced several programs to support Dental Blue members’ oral health-care needs, as Massachusetts dental practices begin to reopen after a temporary closure for non-emergency services during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dental Blue members now have access to:

  • Three months of free use of the Toothpicteledentistry app
  • Special access to select Philips Sonicareoral health products for use at home
  • In-person preventive services such as cleanings and exams twice in a calendar year instead of once every six months

In late March, Blue Cross began covering dental consultations via phone or video with in-network providers for dental members with non-emergency dental concerns to ensure members had access to necessary care during the pandemic.

Toothpic’s online teledentistry platform provides members with a convenient way to get clinical recommendations from a licensed dentist. After registering and downloading the Toothpic app, members are asked to provide a written description of their dental issue along with photos of the problem area. Members will receive a personalized report with treatment options and estimated costs, in as little as six hours. In-person services, such as cleanings and exams, are not supported by the Toothpic platform.

In partnership with Philips Sonicare, Blue Cross is offering Dental Blue members special access to select oral care products, including power toothbrushes, replacement brush heads and subscription packages. Philips Sonicare power toothbrushes are designed to decrease plaque and gingivitis more effectively than manual toothbrushes in everyday use

July 28

New Massachusetts Travel Order Takes Effect August 1

Governor Charlie Baker announced that, effective August 1,  all travelers entering the Commonwealth, including both out of state residents and Massachusetts residents returning home, will be required to comply with a new travel order. The travel order and other information is available at www.mass.gov/MAtraveler.

Travel Order: Starting August 1, all visitors and Massachusetts residents returning home, including students returning to campuses for the fall semester, must fill out a “Massachusetts Travel Form” and quarantine for 14 days unless they are coming from a COVID-19 lower risk state or they can produce a negative COVID-19 test result administered no more than 72 hours prior to arriving in Massachusetts, or they are included in one of the other, limited exemptions.

Individuals who get a test must remain in quarantine until they receive their negative test results. Failure to comply may result in a $500 fine per day.

Travelers are exempt from this requirement if they are coming from a state that has been designated by the Department of Public Health as a lower risk COVID-19 state or fall into another narrow exemption category.

Based on current public health data, those lower risk states will include: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Hawaii.

Traveler exemptions include people passing through the state, people commuting across state lines for work, people traveling to Massachusetts for medical treatment, people complying with military orders, or people traveling to work in federally designated critical infrastructure sectors (essential services).

Prior to travel, people should visit www.mass.gov/MAtraveler to fill out the “Massachusetts Travel Form” or text “MATraveler” to 888-777.

The list of lower risk states is subject to change based on public health data, and states may be added or taken off the list at any time.

Read the order here.

The administration also announced updates to the commonwealth’s COVID-19 Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces to incorporate the requirements of the travel order. This included sector-specific updates for lodging, offices, manufacturing, construction, labs, performance venues and indoor and outdoor events relative to the travel order. In addition, lodging operators are required to notify guests about this new travel order

Employers are strongly discouraged from allowing business-related travel to destinations other than those appearing on the list of COVID-19 lower risk states. Employers that permit employer-paid or -reimbursed travel to those states should take measures to ensure employees comply with this order. Employers are also urged to strongly discourage their employees from taking leisure travel to destinations not included on the list of COVID-19 lower-risk states.

To read the updated guidance, click here.

All travelers and residents are required to continue to follow the Administration’s order that requires face coverings, and practice good hygiene, social distancing and regular hand washing. People should not travel to Massachusetts if they have symptoms of COVID-19. Travelers will be informed of this order and new travel guidance by airlines, passenger rail corporations, bus companies and some major travel agents when booking trips and before arrival in Massachusetts.

For more information, please visit mass.gov/MATraveler or text “MATraveler” to 888-777.

State Expands Targeted Testing

State House News – With cases of COVID-19 on a slight upswing across Massachusetts and state officials trying to get a clearer picture of coronavirus activity in the state, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Monday that his administration is making free, widespread testing available in eight more communities showing concerning signs.

Free testing will be made available to anyone in Agawam, Brockton, Methuen, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, Taunton and Worcester regardless of symptoms, the governor said.

The eight communities were selected because cases and positive test rates far exceed the statewide average there, and the volume of testing being conducted has declined significantly over recent months, he said.

“Together, these eight new communities make up approximately 10 percent of the Massachusetts population but constitute about 15 percent of the commonwealth’s positive tests in the past week,” Baker said during his Monday press conference.

“The statewide positive test rate over the past week, as I said before, is about 1.9 percent for the past seven days, but in these eight towns the positive test rate was 2.3 percent. The number of tests conducted in these communities has also declined by over 20 percent since the end of April.”

At the beginning of the month, Baker rolled out a testing initiative that runs through mid-August in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford — eight communities where the prevalence of COVID-19 exceeded what was occurring elsewhere in the state.

US Senate Republicans Begin to Release Stimulus Proposal

Politico.com Senate Republicans began to release their coronavirus relief proposal Monday afternoon, setting off what could be weeks of political battles with Democrats over unemployment insurance, state and local aid and liability protection for businesses and schools as the pandemic continues to batter the U.S. economy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) outlined the pillars of the proposal, which will include another round of $1,200 in direct payments, more money for the Paycheck Protection Program, a reduction in boosted federal unemployment benefits, liability protection and more than $100 billion for reopening schools and colleges.

With the introduction of the GOP proposal, talks with Democrats will begin in earnest.

“Which version of our distinguished Democratic colleagues are the American people about to get?” McConnell asked on the Senate floor. “Are they going to get the Democratic party we got in March when our colleagues met in good faith negotiations and worked with us to turn our framework into a bipartisan product?”

The Senate GOP proposal calls for the reduction in increased federal unemployment benefits from $600 to $200 per week for a 60-day period, or until states are able to provide a 70 percent wage replacement, according to sources on a call with GOP staff Monday. This prospective change had been floated by the White House last week, although there have been concerns whether state unemployment agencies could handle the revisions.

The enhanced jobless benefits from the March CARES package began to expire over the weekend. Democrats are pushing to extend those benefits into next year.

Massachusetts COVID-19 Case Counts on the Rise

State House News – There were nearly 500 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Massachusetts over the weekend and the percentage of tests that come back positive for the coronavirus is rising.

The Department of Public Health confirmed 210 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and 273 more cases on Sunday. It also announced 31 recent COVID-19 deaths over the two days. The number of daily new cases, which had generally settled at fewer than 200 a day earlier in the month, has been above 200 each of the last four days.

“Last four days in #Massachusetts had #COVID19 new positive tests over 200. Last time that happened? Mid-June – on the way down,” Dr. David Rosman, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, tweeted Sunday night. “The data is early, but it looks like we are on the way back up. We should consider backing down a phase. #wearamask.”

Sunday’s report from DPH also showed that the seven-day average of the positive test rate as of July 25 had climbed to 1.9 percent from 1.8 percent after holding steady at 1.7 percent for more than a week. One month ago, the positive test rate was 2.0 percent.

Data reported Sunday would suggest the average will continue to climb – the 273 new cases reported Sunday were the results of 9,780 tests, meaning that 2.79 percent of all tests came back positive for the virus.

Last week, the governor pointed out that the state’s average positive test rate has dropped in the months since many aspects of the state’s economy began to reopen. When the earliest steps of the administration’s reopening plan began May 18, the seven-day average positive test rate was 9.6 percent.

Think Tank Slams Governor’s ‘Hands-Off’ Approach to Re-Opening Schools

Boston Herald – A new report slams Gov. Charlie Baker’s “hands-off” approach to reopening schools and recommends the state to give more direct and concrete guidance to local districts.

“The state’s approach to reopening the schools too closely resembles President Trump’s often too hands-off COVID-19 response,” Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios said in a statement.

“State guidelines can’t just be lists of options. If school districts are to effectively serve Massachusetts’ families, they must also provide direction and express preferences.”

The report highlights Baker’s decision to implement a “much-needed return to school” for teachers and students this fall but says the governor’s plan fails to inform districts how to do so.

Districts are tasked with determining whether to adopt in-person, remote or hybrid schooling options for the fall semester and must submit preliminary reopening plans to state education officials by Friday.

“The present challenge is how to implement this much-needed return to school, optimally balancing the importance of in-person schooling with the countervailing importance against the virus,” the group says in the foreword to the report.

Universities, Hotels Team Up to Create Socially Distanced Housing for Students

The Boston Globe – When students return to Northeastern University this fall, some will move into campus dorms. Others will call the Copley Place Westin home. Suffolk University students will spread out among four downtown hotels. And a few dozen up-and-coming musicians at the New England Conservatory of Music will settle in at the South End’s hip Revolution Hotel.

As Boston’s universities and hotels both find themselves wrestling with the realities of life with coronavirus, some of them are teaming up to house students in a socially distanced fashion.

Three schools — Northeastern, Suffolk, and the New England Conservatory — have asked the Walsh administration for approval to lease floors of hotels and ― in some cases ― entire hotels for use as dorms. And Boston University wants to take over a Commonwealth Avenue apartment building that has been used as temporary student housing for several years to supplement its dorm space.

What Remote Learning Will Look Like this Fall

MassLive – Remote learning for school-aged children this fall will look significantly different from remote learning offered by Massachusetts school districts this past spring.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released guidance regarding remote learning.

Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley emphasized that while top education officials want as many students as possible returning to classrooms, remote learning must be offered to all.

“The Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance requires districts and schools to prepare a plan that includes three learning models: in-person learning with safety requirements, a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, and a plan for full-time remote learning,” the guidance states.

“Remote learning will be necessary for students who will not be attending school in-person, as part of a hybrid learning model, and in case changing COVID-19 conditions require a shift to full remote learning as determined by local and state leaders.”

Massachusetts school districts pivoted to remote learning in mid-March amid a growing number of coronavirus cases, leaving educators scrambling to teach their students. Some offered remote classes over Zoom while other districts relied on take-home work packets for students.

Neal Announces $8.7 Million in COVID-19 Relief Funds for Holyoke Medical Center

Gazette Net – Standing outside of Holyoke Medical Center on Saturday morning, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal announced $8.7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to the hospital that officials say will help secure valuable resources to continue fighting the pandemic.

“That $8.7 million will bring back people that we still have out furloughed, it will buy us additional PPE (and) it will get us ready should there be some additional outbreak in the fall,” said Spiros Hatiras, president & CEO of Holyoke Medical Center & Valley Health Systems as he stood next to Neal. “I know that Chairman Neal will advocate for us, for any more additional funding as this pandemic unfolds.”

The money is part of $10 billion that is being distributed from the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Provider Relief Fund in a second round of funding specifically aimed at assisting “high impact” hospitals that are designated as such by meeting a certain threshold of COVID-19 inpatient admissions. The CARES Act, Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act allocated $175 billion in relief funds to health care providers, according to HHS. Holyoke Medical Center  received $2.9 million in CARES Act funding in April.

After briefly speaking to a crowd of health care workers outside of the hospital’s main entrance, Neal told reporters and others that Holyoke Medical Center didn’t qualify for an earlier round of “high impact” relief funding because it did not meet the “technical threshold” of 100 or more COVID-19 inpatient admissions between January 1 and April 10.

Boston Issues Order to Cruise Operator Following Photos of Crowded Ship

Boston Herald – The Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards issued a cease and desist order to a cruise-boat operator after photos of a crowded party boat setting sail from Boston Harbor on Saturday night circulated on social media.

A photo of a Bay State Cruise Company vessel called the Provincetown II showed passengers tightly packed on the boat’s upper deck with few wearing masks as it prepared to set sail from Pier 4 for a 7-9:30 p.m. cruise. The photo taken by former State Rep. Marty Walz has been shared hundreds of times on Twitter.

Mayor Martin Walsh said “it is very concerning to see crowds of people gathering in large groups, putting themselves, everyone around them, and every person they come into contact with at risk.”

“We know all too well the serious health consequences of the coronavirus,” Walsh said. “It is incumbent upon every person and every business to take this seriously and follow the public health guidance that has been issued for everyone’s safety.”

Cultural Institutions Scramble for Money

Boston Globe – One by one, many of Boston’s cultural institutions are reopening this month after a painful four-month shutdown.

They’re happy to see visitors again. But these institutions have plenty of lost ground to make up after seeing at least one-third of their annual revenues wiped from the books, their major spring fund-raisers canceled or moved online.

Compounding their fiscal woes: attendance limits for safety reasons, which will result in further declines in revenue going forward.

Some started fund drives to plug the budget gaps, or turned to the federal Paycheck Protection Program for temporary help. Others reoriented their pitches for money as donors shifted priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. Some, such as the Museum of Fine Arts, haven’t even reopened yet. The one common theme: the coronavirus has altered fund-raising efforts among the city’s cultural institutions significantly, if not permanently.

Officials Worry about Mask Use as People Crowd Beaches

Boston Globe – As people throughout the region flocked to beaches, parks, and other outdoor areas over the hot weekend, a health expert said the state’s warnings about the coronavirus may not be doing enough to convince the public about the grave risks it poses.

Samuel Scarpino, an epidemiologist at Northeastern University, said more people must understand the danger and the importance of wearing masks and practicing social distancing in public. It’s particularly critical advice as officials hope to reopen K-12 schools and some college students return to the region in the fall, he said.

Many summer gatherings have been marked by a lack of masks and social distancing in crowds of largely young people — practices critical to stopping the pandemic.

“We need to stress that this is deadlier than influenza for everyone [and] that individuals who don’t die are often faced with a very long and painful or frustrating recovery process,” Scarpino said. “It’s not just about mortality, it’s about quality of life going forward.”

Vaccine Makers Tell Congress They are Optimistic

Associated Press – Executives from four companies in the race to produce a coronavirus vaccine — AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Therapeutics, and Pfizer — told lawmakers they are optimistic their products could be ready by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. All four companies are testing vaccines in human clinical trials.

Three of the firms — AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna — are getting federal funds for their vaccine development efforts. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson pledged to the lawmakers that they would produce hundreds of millions of doses of their vaccines at no profit to themselves.

Cambridge-based Moderna, however, which has been granted $483 million from the government to develop its product, made no such promise.

“We will not sell it at cost,’’ said Dr. Stephen Hoge, the president of Moderna.

Many Democratic lawmakers have argued that federal funding for vaccine development should include provisions to guarantee affordability and guard against profiteering.

Some House members raised concerns about Pfizer’s decision to reject federal funds, suggesting it could lead to price-gouging and a lack of transparency.

“We didn’t accept the federal government funding solely for the reason that we wanted to be able to move as quickly as possible with our vaccine candidate into the clinic,’’ said John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer.

“We’ll price our potential vaccine consistent with the urgent global health emergency that we’re facing,’’ Young said, adding that “a vaccine is meaningless if people are unable to afford it.’’

Representative Raul Ruiz, Democrat of California, also questioned whether failing to address the financial stakes of vaccine development early on could keep these products out of “the hands of the people that need this most.’’

“I don’t want to look back, and then have health equity be an afterthought,’’ said Ruiz, who is a physician. “It has to be prioritized.’’

CDC Eases Recommendations on How Long to Self-Isolate

New York Times – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledging expanded understanding about the infectiousness of the novel coronavirus, has changed some of its recommendations on self-isolation.

It now advises most people with active cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, to isolate for 10 days after symptoms begin and 24 hours after their fever has broken. For those who have a positive test but are asymptomatic, the public health agency as of Friday recommended isolating 10 days from the testing date. The CDC had previously recommended people isolate until two negative swabs for the coronavirus — but that turned out to be impractical given the shortage of tests.

Despite suit, Georgia Governor says Masks are Key 

Washington Post – Georgia Governor Brian Kemp reiterated a recommendation that residents “commit to wearing a mask,’’ even as he sues Atlanta officials for mandating them.

“Today, I am encouraging all Georgians — from every corner of our great state — to do four things for four weeks to stop the spread of COVID-19,’’ Kemp said in a news release. “If Georgians commit to wearing a mask, socially distancing, washing their hands regularly, and following the guidance in our Executive Order and from public health officials, we can make incredible progress in the fight against COVID-19.’’

A staunch conservative who ran on shredding regulations, the governor has set himself apart even from other Republicans in his campaign against mask mandates.

More than half of all states, including conservative-led Alabama and Arkansas, have adopted them.

Kemp’s lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and city council members, filed July 16 in Fulton County Superior Court, seeks to undo the city’s mask ordinance and other coronavirus measures that go beyond his executive orders.

Kemp’s suit bewildered public health officials and some business leaders, who see masks as crucial to keeping the virus under control and restoring consumer confidence.

Visitors from 31 States Must Quarantine in New York 

Washington Post – Residents from 31 states must now quarantine for 14 days when arriving in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, as dozens of states experience rising positive COVID-19 rates.

Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that the quarantine is “imperfect,’’ but said could help protect against the risk of increased spread.

The list of states no longer includes Minnesota, but now includes Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington.

‘‘The infection rate across the country is getting worse, not better,’’ Cuomo said in a conference call with reporters.

Cuomo has tried to get more travelers to comply with the order by instituting a $2,000 fine for impacted individuals who leave the airport without filling out a form that state officials plan to use to randomly track travelers and ensure they’re following quarantine restrictions.

Airport travelers who fail to fill out the form face a hearing and an order requiring mandatory quarantine.

Cuomo, who’s voiced concern about young people congregating in bars, said New York’s liquor authority has suspended the licenses of four bars and restaurants in Queens and Suffolk County.

And since March, the state’s suspended 27 licenses and brought 410 charges against establishments, who must follow social distancing and face covering rules on top of Cuomo’s requirement — announced last Thursday — to only serve alcohol to people who order and eat food.

Cuomo said his administration will close restaurants and bars with three violations, while “egregious’’ violations can result in the immediate loss of a liquor license or closure.

“That is a very serious situation, that means they can’t operate,’’ Cuomo said. “I’m sorry it’s come to this. But it’s a dangerous situation.’’

Cuomo claimed Tuesday that New York never “opened outside drinking.’’

Still, the state’s previous guidance allowed consumption of “food and/or beverage’’ on a licensee’s premises in outdoors, open-air areas while seated at tables 6 feet apart.

Moderna Launches COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

Boston Business Journal – Moderna Inc. officially launched the final stage of testing on its COVID-19 vaccine Monday with close to a half billion dollars in new funding in its pocket.

The first group of participants in Moderna’s 30,000-person trial received their first injections of the Cambridge biotech’s vaccine candidate this week.

Moderna declined to say how many subjects received the drug Monday, nor how many people have been enrolled in the trial thus far. The company told the Business Journal that study conductors have identified “tens of thousands” of potential participants during pre-screening and expect to enroll subjects into September. The trial is centered on people “most at-risk” for the infectious disease, the company said.

Experts estimate that Moderna will likely release initial data on how the vaccine performed this fall.

Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital will serve as the clinical research site for the Moderna vaccine.

Nitric Oxide Could Treat, Prevent Novel Coronavirus

Boston Herald – Nitric oxide, a so-called “miracle molecule” already used to help newborn babies and adults with acute respiratory illnesses, could be used to treat, or even prevent coronavirus infections, says the Nobel prize-winning scientist who helped discovered its health effects.

The treatment potential for the safe, and widely used gas, not to be confused with its cousin, nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is being tested at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“I have every reason to believe that the inhaled nitric oxide will be quite effective in relieving all of that inflammation and the destruction in the lungs which is how the SARS-CoV-2 virus kills humans,” said Dr. Louis Ignarro, who won a Nobel Prize in 1998 for his breakthrough discovery of the molecule and its positive health impacts.

Nitric oxide, a colorless gas that is naturally created in the body dilates blood vessels to speed up blood and oxygen flow. Inhaled nitric oxide is widely known for saving many oxygen-starved newborn babies with heart defects.

House Bill Addresses Telehealth

State House News – The Massachusetts House of Representatives gave initial approval Monday to its version of a Senate-approved health-care reform bill, one of seven pieces of legislation its Ways and Means Committee advanced to kick off the final week of formal lawmaking business.

Under the legislation (H 4888), insurers would be required to cover telehealth services, and any deductible, copayment or co-insurance requirements could not exceed in-person rates. It also includes language designed to protect patients from out-of-network surprise bills.

The Senate approved its own version of a telehealth-focused bill last month incorporating responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, at the time triggering an intraparty feud with House Democratic leaders over the legislative process.

The House version, which could emerge for a vote today, is based on the Health Care Financing Committee’s redraft of the Senate bill.

Telehealth is Burgeoning – But How to Pay for It?

Commonwealth Magazine – As telehealth explodes in popularity – and has the potential to become a much larger part of the future health-care landscape –– a major question that is emerging is how to pay for it. Is telehealth a way to save money, or will it provide convenience at additional expense?

Telehealth raises other questions as well, including how to ensure high-quality care and how to safeguard patient privacy.

The Massachusetts House and Senate have laid out different approaches to paying for telehealth for the next couple of years, and it remains to be seen whether they will agree on a bill before the session ends July 31. At the same time, lawmakers and experts acknowledge that more work must be done by health care experts as the field stabilizes, learning from the quick shift prompted by the coronavirus.

Don Berwick, a former administrator of the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said medicine has been gradually “easing towards” the use of telehealth for years and “now it suddenly has taken off in a way that I think is very, very promising.”

But Berwick, who sit on the state’s Health Policy Commission, cautioned that crafting policies to govern telehealth will take study. “This is new enough that we need to be charting lots of data about quality, cost, outcomes, patient satisfaction, productivity,” Berwick said. “Policies that develop should be based in that kind of evidence, not just intuition.”

Lawmakers May Extend Beacon Hill Calendar

Salem News – The state Legislature is entering the final days of its two-year session with a mountain of unfinished business and a growing number of calls to extend its schedule.

While the session ends Dec. 31, the state House and Senate traditionally wrap up formal sessions by July 31, giving lawmakers a break to run for reelection.

But with the state budget nearly a month late, and a host of other major pieces of legislation hung up in deliberations, some are suggesting lawmakers should stay put.

“I don’t think they have any option but to keep going,” said David Tuerck, president of the Beacon Hill Institute. “Politically it would be disastrous to recess without approving a budget.”

Few lawmakers have challengers in the fall primary or general election, and the coronavirus outbreak has severely limited traditional press-the-flesh campaigning.

As such, arguments for a month-long recess are pretty weak, Tuerck said.

To be sure, a number of lawmakers say they would support staying in session to approve the budget and other bills, if legislative leaders make the call.

State Tax Revenue Falls $3 Billion Short of Forecast

Boston Globe – Massachusetts brought in tax revenue of $27.3 billion in the just-ended fiscal year, $3 billion, or 10 percent, less than the Baker administration had forecasted, largely because the state delayed income-tax payment deadlines to provide relief during the coronavirus shutdown.

The Department of Revenue said Friday the tax tally was preliminary and would be updated in September.

Following the lead of the federal government, Massachusetts in late March extended the April 15 deadline for filing and paying personal income taxes to July 15. Deadlines for April and June estimated tax payments were similarly pushed back.

Department of Revenue commissioner Geoffrey Snyder said some 80 percent of the revenue shortfall for the year that ended June 30 resulted from payment deferrals. June is typically the second-biggest month for incoming revenue, after April, because it includes quarterly estimated tax payments from businesses and individuals.

The state received $2.5 billion in tax revenue for June, down 22 percent from a year earlier and 23 percent below forecast. The month and year-end numbers reflect collections through July 24.

MBTA Uses Shutdowns to Accelerate Infrastructure Projects

Boston Herald – The MBTA has used the coronavirus shutdowns to end up ahead of schedule and spending expectations for its infrastructure projects, General Manager Steve Poftak said as he left the door open to more.

“We’ve been able to take advantage of this period of lower ridership,” Poftak told the Herald in an interview this week. “We’re been able to do a lot more accelerated work.”

Poftak said the goal for the fiscal year that ended in June was to spend $1.4 billion on capital projects — and preliminary accounting says the T actually ended up spending $1.65 billion.

The T over the past few years has had issues getting money spent. As the state pours in billions more — Gov. Charlie Baker authorized $8 billion over five years — administrative and staffing issues have held the T back in using the money to deal with its longstanding issues. The system has built up a huge backlog of work that needs to be done — last year officials estimated a $10.1 billion backlog — and the crumbling infrastructure has led to frequent delays and other issues, including derailments.

July 23

Administration Extends Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures to October 17

Governor Charlie Baker extended the pause on evictions and foreclosures for 60 days, until October 17, 2020, through the authority granted to the governor by Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020, which was signed into law on April 20, 2020.

The law’s limitations on evictions and foreclosures have allowed many tenants and homeowners impacted by COVID-19 to remain in their homes during the state of emergency, and the extension provides residents of the commonwealth with continued housing security as businesses cautiously re-open, more people return to work, and the state collectively moves toward a “new normal.” The moratorium was set to expire on August 18.

Click here to read the extension letter.

Tenants are strongly encouraged to continue to pay rent, and homeowners to make their mortgage payments, to the extent they are able. To assist low-income households in making rent and mortgage payments, as well as support landlords needing these rent payments to pay expenses, the Baker Administration launched a new $20 million, statewide fund, the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) program, on July 1.

The funding complements the $18 million currently available through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) homeless prevention program, which can also be used for rent or mortgage payments. In each program, landlords or mortgage lenders receive payments directly from the RAFT administering agencies.

During the 60-day extension, the Administration will consult with court administrators and other officials regarding programs and policies to help tenants avoid eviction when proceedings resume.

The law suspends most residential and small business commercial evictions, as well as residential foreclosures. It does not relieve tenants or homeowners of their obligation to pay rent or make mortgage payments. The law also:

  • prevents landlords from sending notifications to residential tenants that threaten eviction or terminating of a lease;
  • limits court actions on non-essential evictions;
  • relieves tenants, both residents and small commercial, from late fees and negative credit reporting;
  • allows landlords to use “last month’s rent” to pay for certain expenses, though not as a replacement rent payment, and only with proper notification of tenant;
  • requires lenders to grant a forbearance for up to 180 days if a homeowner experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 submits such a request; and
  • allows for alternative payment agreements between lenders and borrowers regarding forbearance payments.

The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED) has drafted emergency regulations to implement the notice provisions of the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) supported state-aided public housing and affordable housing operators with guidance and worked with stakeholders across the state to coordinate resources. Additional resources and information can be found on DHCD’s COVID-19 Resource Page.

Meanwhile, supporters of legislation that would keep a temporary ban on evictions and foreclosures in place for at least another year indicated Tuesday that they have no plans to slow down their campaign even after Gov. Charlie Baker extended the moratorium another two months.

Member Highlight| Eversource Restarts In-Person Energy Efficiency Services

Eversource is implementing new health and safety guidelines for the restart of energy efficiency services in customer homes and businesses.

Eversource worked with Environmental Health & Engineering, a health and safety consulting firm, to develop guidelines specific to energy efficiency work. These guidelines include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing and enhanced sanitizing requirements in line with the latest recommendations and industry best practices for reducing the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve taken proactive steps since the pandemic began to safeguard health while providing safe, reliable service, including offering virtual energy efficiency services for our customers,” said Eversource Vice President of Energy Efficiency Tilak Subrahmanian.

“With many contractors who depend on income from energy efficiency work and customers facing financial hardship, these new guidelines will help allow contractors to safely get back to work providing the deeper energy efficiency improvements that help customers save more on their energy costs.”

Eversource is also increasing incentives for energy efficiency projects with a range of offerings for residential, small business, municipal and commercial & industrial customers. These incentives lower, and in many cases completely cover, the up-front costs of energy efficiency improvements that can help customers save now and in the future.

Virus Spread Depresses Economic Outlook at S&P

The United States economy lost three times as much growth in the first half of 2020 as in the entirety of the Great Recession and in about one-third of the time, a major credit rating agency said in a new report that warns of a deepening recession fueled by a national surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“While it may be premature to sound the alarm for an even worse outcome, the recovery is facing increased challenges with the spread of COVID-19. This is all while government stimulus measures are set to expire,” S&P Global Ratings said in an economic update published Wednesday.

“S&P Global Economics now thinks the probability of an even worse economic outcome is 30-35 percent, up from 25-30 percent. Although our base case is for a gradual recovery through next year, the surge in COVID-19 and hospitalizations has raised concerns that a more likely scenario is that the COVID-19 recession has not bottomed out.”

The agency said the reclosures of business in states like California, Florida and Texas – which together account for almost 28 percent of the national economy – change the economic outlook and threaten the projection for a third-quarter bounce back of 22.2 percent annualized GDP growth. How much that projection changes will depend on how many states reimpose social distancing measures and whether consumers are comfortable returning to businesses.

S&P said the U.S. economy “faces a fiscal cliff” at the end of July, when many CARES Act stimulus programs and extended unemployment benefits are set to expire. As federal lawmakers and the Trump administration resume talks over the next found of federal relief, the rating agency pointed out that there is a lot on the line.

“This is happening while state and local government budgets are severely depleted, leaving their own policy hands tied in the midst of the new COVID-19 assault. Federal government actions to both contain the virus and extend stimulus programs until private demand has sufficiently recovered are key in avoiding another downturn,” the analysts said. “But the clock is ticking.”

DOR Rule Aims to Maintain Taxes from Out-of-State Telecommuters

A Rhode Island resident who commutes to work at a Massachusetts company sees her or his income from that job taxed by the Bay State. But what if that employee is no longer commuting and is working for a Massachusetts company without ever leaving home in Rhode Island?

In an emergency regulation put on file Tuesday, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue made it clear: Massachusetts still gets its cut of that income.

“All compensation received for services performed by a non-resident who, immediately prior to the Massachusetts COVID-19 state of emergency was an employee engaged in performing such services in Massachusetts, and who is performing services from a location outside Massachusetts due to a Pandemic-Related Circumstance will continue to be treated as Massachusetts source income subject to personal income tax,” the regulation says.

As telecommuting was widely adopted as a safer alternative to the real thing during the pandemic, work has been separated from the workplace for many people. But with Massachusetts and other states adopting similar “sourcing rules,” there won’t be a corresponding separation of income taxes.

DOR’s emergency regulation explains that any Massachusetts resident who was working in another state immediately before the COVID-19 state of emergency and is now working from their Massachusetts home “will be eligible for a credit for income taxes paid to the state where the employee was previously providing services.”

The rule took effect Tuesday and will remain in place until Dec. 31 or 90 days after the governor lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency, whichever is earliest.  DOR plans a virtual public hearing on the regulation on Aug. 27, and people interested in speaking at the hearing are encouraged to notify DOR by emailing their full name, mailing address and organization or affiliation to RulesandRegs@dor.state.ma.us by Aug. 26.

Understanding Home Lives Seen As Critical in Altered School Landscape

State House News – With schools preparing to return in the fall and many public officials assuming that remote learning will remain a part of that classroom experience, some educators and researchers are suggesting it will become more important to understand what’s going on in students’ lives to reengage them in their education.

“There are a lot of life hacks that families and communities are having to come up with now and can the education system actually understand those life hacks and partner with them?” said Julia Freeland, education research director at the Clayton Christensen Institute.

The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy hosted a webinar on Wednesday focused on how educators, schools and community partners can put in place the supports that will be needed to reengage students in learning come September.

Virtual learning creates challenges for many students distanced from the classroom since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the technological challenges it presented for some families, others struggled with access to food or other essential needs, while other students simply lost their motivation and disengaged.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has asked districts to present preliminary plans by the end of the month for how they would fully return to the classroom, remain remote, or try to blend virtual and in-person instruction in the fall.

Breakthroughs Reported in Vaccine Development, Inhaler Therapy

The Boston Herald – Coronavirus breakthroughs in vaccine development and an inhaler therapy were separately reported Monday as the United States continues to see record-breaking spikes in cases of the deadly disease.

A coronavirus vaccine created by scientists at the University of Oxford in England triggered strong immune responses and neutralizing antibodies, according to a study published Monday.

“It’s a really important milestone to put into the public domain our findings on the safety and immune responses to this vaccine in the first group of people that we vaccinated,” said Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford professor and project lead on the study.

The vaccine provoked an immune response within 14 days of vaccination and an antibody response within 28 days, according to the study.

The participants had levels of neutralizing antibodies, which have been suggested by researchers as important for protection against the virus.

Those responses were strongest after a booster shot, with 100% of participants’ blood having neutralizing activity against the coronavirus.

“Vaccines are absolutely the way out of the pandemic and this is a really important moment because it shows that we can make the robust immune responses which we hope will relate to protection in the future, ” said Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the University of Oxford study.

US signs $1.95 billion contract with AIM Member Pfizer for Vaccine

The Trump administration has signed a $1.95 billion contract with Pfizer for 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine the company is developing. The country could buy an additional 500 million doses under the contract. The goal is to deliver 300 million doses by January 2021.

Massachusetts Lab to Use New Testing Method

WCVB – By the end of the week, one of Massachusetts’ most prolific COVID-19 testing labs will deploy a newly approved method designed to allow them to test more samples.

The announcement from New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics comes about a week after the company announced “soaring demand” for COVID-19 molecular testing was slowing turnaround time to a week or more for most patients.

Quest Diagnostics announced Friday that the company’s lab in Marlborough will be one of two facilities to begin pooling specimens for testing in a procedure approved by under an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In this procedure, samples are collected individually but combined into a small batch for testing.

“A negative result for a batch means that all patients in that pool are considered negative (If a positive result occurs for the batch, each specimen is retested individually). The technique is an efficient way to evaluate patients in regions or populations with low rates of disease,” company officials explained in a statement.

Investments Build Out Local Food Security Network

State House News – Twenty-six organizations, including farms, school meal programs and food pantries, will receive $3 million in grants through a new food security infrastructure program launched in June, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.

Visiting the Lynn outpost of the Salvation Army, Baker said the funding is the first round to be distributed through the grant program, and applications will continue to be evaluated on a rolling basis.

Baker’s press conference highlighted issues around food security during the COVID-19 crisis, and Salvation Army officials said it marked a milestone for their organization, which has now distributed eight million meals in Massachusetts since March.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said the pandemic has “highlighted how important it is to invest in our local food system and ensure that the food grown right here in the commonwealth especially can be distributed to our residents, to vulnerable populations and to underserved communities.”

Food banks and pantries have faced unprecedented demand, Theoharides said. She said the state’s agricultural and fishing industries have encountered “significant difficulties” but many have responded to increased interest in fresh, local food by expanding their direct sale capabilities. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said 39 additional vendors are joining the Healthy Incentive Program, which helps families receiving food assistance buy locally grown produce by matching each dollar of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits spent.

Community Colleges Say Resources are Needed

State House News – Making sure community colleges have enough resources to avoid deep budget cuts will be crucial to ensuring that Massachusetts can recover from the economic damage of the pandemic, campus leaders said Wednesday.

Virtually the entire higher education landscape faces financial strain for the upcoming academic year as a result of new safety spending to limit COVID-19 risks, shifts in enrollment, and shortfalls in state budgets.

During a virtual panel discussion Wednesday, Bunker Hill Community College President Pam Eddinger and Roxbury Community College President Valerie Roberson warned that the significant populations of low-income students and students of color on their campuses will face even greater strain if the colleges are forced to shift more costs onto them because of budget cuts.

“If we’re going to look for economic development for the state — and everybody tells me the community colleges are the backbone of workforce development, which we are — if we’re relying on our very poor students who are in the lowest two quintiles of income to pay for their education, the state is not going to get a workforce,” Eddinger said during the Boston Globe’s Op-Talks panel.

A late June analysis presented to the state Board of Higher Education estimated that community colleges could face a shortfall ranging from $27 million to $118 million in fiscal year 2021 based on changes in enrollment and state appropriations.

Airlines Fear Business Travel Bonanza is Gone for Good

The Boston Globe – US airlines hammered by the catastrophic loss of passengers during the pandemic are confronting a once-unthinkable scenario: that this crisis will obliterate much of the corporate flying they’ve relied on for decades to prop up profits.

“It is likely that business travel will never return to pre-COVID levels,” said Adam Pilarski, senior vice president at Avitas, an aviation consultant. “It is one of those unfortunate cases where the industry will be permanently impaired and what we lost now is gone, never to come back.”

At stake is the most lucrative part of the airline industry, driven by businesses that accepted — however grudgingly — the need to plop down a few thousand dollars for a last-minute ticket across the United States or over an ocean.

While millions of customers fly rarely, road warriors are constantly in the air to close a deal, depose a witness, or impress a client. Business travel makes up 60 percent to 70 percent of industry sales, according to estimates by the trade group Airlines for America.

That’s under threat in the wake of an unprecedented collapse in passengers that started four months ago. Half the respondents in a survey of Fortune 500 CEOs said trips at their companies would never return to what they were before COVID-19, according to Fortune magazine.

Lawmakers May Break for Elections without Annual Budget

State House News – In one of the clearest signs yet that Beacon Hill may fade into a summer recess without even debating the overdue annual state budget, Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday filed another one-month spending bill to keep state government funded through August with an additional $5.51 billion.

Baker in January filed a $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget that soon thereafter became obsolete due to a tax revenue collapse sparked by government-forced shutdowns of businesses and commerce during and after the peak COVID-19 surge.

The Baker administration and Democratic legislative leaders since then have not announced any steps to address fiscal 2020 budget woes and the House blew by April and July deadlines without producing an annual spending plan for fiscal 2021 or outlining a new budget timeline.

Budget writers have been waiting to see what the state’s finances look like after state officials delayed the April 15 tax filing deadline to July 15, which jumbled the ordinary flow of revenues and made tricky forecasting even more dicey. The federal government has delivered large amounts of aid to the states, but with many states still facing unprecedented budget holes talks remain active in Washington about additional aid to individuals, businesses and states.

Without any full-year, post-pandemic budgets on the table, it appears certain that this year’s budget deliberations will extend beyond the July 31 end of formal sessions, although legislative leaders refuse to give voice to plans for a fall budget debate, which would blend into the election season.

Walsh Favors “Blended” Approach To Reopening Schools

State House News – Starting school in Boston in the fall with all students physically returning to the classrooms would “probably be a stretch,” Mayor Marty Walsh said Tuesday, indicating a preference for a blend of in-person and remote instruction.

Like other school districts across Massachusetts, Boston has until July 31 to submit a preliminary reopening plan to state education officials, with comprehensive plans due by Aug. 10. Districts have been advised to develop plans for three models of instruction – entirely in-person, entirely remote and a hybrid of the two.

Walsh said city officials have “done some analysis” of what parents would like to see happen.

“Many parents want their kids back in school, but we want to make sure if and when kids go back to the school they go into a safe environment,” he said.

“We want to take into account our teachers, our custodians, our food service folks, so I think over the course of the next few weeks we’re gonna have many conversations to talk about how we would reopen school, potentially in a blended model, safely.”

Walsh said it’s important to “continue to do that work” of complying with public health guidance around wearing masks, physical distancing and other precautions. Not doing so, he said, could have ramifications for a variety of sectors including, schools.

“I think that if there’s a way for us to open in a blended way safely, I think that that’s the preferred route where we go,” he said. “I think that as we look at the trends here in Boston over the last three weeks we’re trending in the right direction, if you will. But again, we have to continue that trend.

Governor Signs To-Go Cocktail Bill

Governor Baker recently signed a bill that will allow restaurants to sell sealed containers of mixed drinks with delivery or takeout food orders. This law follows a law signed in April which allows restaurants to sell beer and wine with takeout or delivery. Mixed drinks must be sold in sealed containers and customers will be limited to 64 ounces of mixed drinks per transaction. Read the law here.

House Bill Would Commit Massachusetts to Telehealth

State House News – New House telehealth legislation aims to incorporate lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic into the state’s health care system, according to Majority Leader Ron Mariano, who said he expects representatives to vote on the bill this week.

The bill is a Health Care Financing Committee redraft of legislation the Senate passed in late June, which sought to expand access to telehealth and protect patients from surprise costs arising from seeing out-of-network providers. Mariano said the new bill’s development stemmed from conversations had during an earlier meeting of the Special Committee on Commonwealth Resilience and Recovery that he leads.

“It has two basic goals: To apply the lessons we’ve learned from this pandemic to make longer term changes to our health care system and also to provide the system with some flexibility during this pandemic,” said the Quincy Democrat.

Mariano said that the bill makes a commitment to telehealth, beginning with primary care, behavioral health and chronic disease management. He said the bill does not attempt to tackle some of the issues surrounding privacy in telemedicine.

“There are some ancillary issues around privacy and data information protection that we don’t solve for here and we need to address and be aware of,” Mariano said.

The bill includes language allowing insurers to include a deductible, copayment or co-insurance requirement for telehealth so long as the charges do not exceed those for in-person services. For behavioral health services, the bill says insurers are to ensure that the rate of payment for in-network providers of audio-only or video telehealth is “no less than the rate of payment for the same behavioral health service delivered via in-person methods.”

A March order from Baker required insurance coverage for all medically-necessary telehealth services and to reimburse providers at the same rate as in-person care during the COVID-19 emergency. Mariano said the bill would make pay parity for behavioral health services permanent, while otherwise expanding telehealth pay parity for a year.

The bill, Mariano said, looks to extend other emergency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, touching on topics including testing and treatment for the coronavirus, out-of-network rates and temporary licenses for certain health care workers. It would also direct “enhanced” Medicaid payments to independent community hospitals that have “operated for years on razor thin margins,” he said.

Sen. Cindy Friedman, who co-chairs the Health Care Financing Committee and was a main architect of the Senate’s telehealth bill, said she was “pretty surprised” by the emergence of the House bill from committee on Monday and “glad to see it.”

“I’m glad that the House has decided to take up health care,” she told the News Service. “I mean, we only have 11 days left of the session so I was starting to say, ‘Hmm, is this going to happen?'”

Joint House-Senate rules set July 31 as the last day for formal lawmaking sessions, leaving a tight clock for the House to pass a bill and the two branches to reconcile the differences between their approaches to send a final bill to Gov. Charlie Baker.

“I’m very comfortable with the Senate’s position on telehealth, scope of practice and out-of-network,” Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, said. “We have done an incredible amount of work and investigation, and I think our pieces are on very solid ground, so I hope when I delve into the pieces that the House has presented that we’re going to see similarities.”

In 2018, legislative negotiators could not reach agreement on competing House and Senate health care bills, leaving the two branches to start their efforts over again this session.

The Senate this session approached health care legislation with a series of different bills, passing one last November that targeted drug pricing and another in February addressing barriers to behavioral health care.

Mental health and pharmaceutical prices are important issues, Friedman said, adding that she’ll be “disappointed” if those aren’t addressed this session.

“We’ll see, and I don’t turn away from anybody or any effort to fix the health care system in any of its pieces,” she said.

Mariano did not say anything about how the House might approach other health care bills passed by the Senate. He said he expected the House to take up the telehealth bill before the end of the week.

The House has scheduled a formal session for Wednesday, when it plans to take up police reform legislation, and representatives have also been advised to prepare for formal sessions on Thursday and Friday.

July 21

President, Congressional Republicans Discuss Next Round of Aid

NBC News – President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leaders met on Monday to plot their priorities for another round of federal coronavirus aid, which will decide the future of boosted unemployment payments and assistance to schools reopening in the fall.

The spread of coronavirus continues to worsen across the country as Congress returns to work in Washington this week to begin negotiations on another round of aid, which is expected to top $1 trillion.

Congress faces a rapidly approaching deadline at the end of the week when boosted unemployment payments are set to expire. Negotiations between congressional Republicans and the White House hit snags over the weekend and talks between the GOP and Democrats have been nearly non-existent.

The focus of the legislation should be on “kids and jobs and vaccines,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters in the Oval Office where the meeting occurred.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who attended the meeting along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is expected to unveil a proposal later this week and has left open the possibility of continuing boosted unemployment payments, which are set to expire at the end of the month.

Republicans, Mnuchin said, are committed to passing legislation by the end of the month to protect unemployed Americans who have been receiving enhanced benefits, though he suggested it won’t be as much as the current level of $600 extra in unemployment insurance per week.

Healey Backs Extension of Moratorium on Evictions

The pressure from Democrats on Gov. Charlie Baker to extend a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures into November intensified last week with Attorney General Maura Healey calling such a step “critical,” and a majority of the Committee on Housing urging the governor to keep the protections in place.

The protections under a law signed by Baker in April to prevent landlords from evicting tenants or banks foreclosing on homeowners during the pandemic are set to expire on Aug. 18, but Baker has the authority to extend those measures in 90-day increments.

Baker has said he is talking with local officials and people in the housing industry as he weighs a decision but acknowledged this week that he must make one “soon.”

Healey on Friday said that allowing the eviction and foreclosure moratorium to expire would risk more people becoming homeless at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause economic hardships for families.

Since the law went into effect, Healey said her office had received more than 130 complaints of violations, including illegal evictions and cases of landlords threatening to change locks on units, sending notices to vacate that are not labeled as such and using minor lease violations to claim a health and safety risk to remove tenants.

“It’s critical that Governor Baker extend this moratorium to ensure our residents have the resources and assistance they need to stay safe. My office has already stopped more than 70 illegal evictions and will continue to monitor this issue,” Healey said in a statement.

Bishops Press Lawmakers to Extend Eviction Moratorium

Cardinal Sean O’Malley and the bishops of the Catholic dioceses of Worcester, Fall River and Springfield are speaking up in support of the legislation that would extend tenant protections into 2021 and potentially longer.

O’Malley and Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha of Fall River and Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield wrote a letter last week to the chairs of the House and Senate Rules Committees, Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem and Rep. William Galvin of Canton.

The bishops are supporting bills filed by Reps. Mike Connolly and Kevin Honan and Sen. Patricia Jehlen that would extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for one year after the governor lifts the current state of emergency. The bills would also freeze rents over the same time period and allow small landlords owning up to 15 units to defer mortgage payments until the end of the mortgage if they lose income due to COVID-19.

The current moratorium expires Aug. 18.

“Our most vulnerable residents would suffer physical, economic and emotional hardships that would have immeasurable effects on their quality of life. Homelessness would spike to unprecedented levels. Our poorest communities would disproportionately suffer the most if the legislature does not act before the end of the formal session,” wrote James Driscoll, the head of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which speaks for the four bishops.

Housing advocates have estimated that as many as 20,000 eviction notices could be served in August if the moratorium is allowed to expire.

Enhanced Unemployment Benefit Set to Expire

WBUR – Gus Tarazona has been getting by on savings and $1,300 per week in unemployment payments since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the Westin Boston Waterfront, where he works.

Now, the father of three is on the verge of losing much of his jobless benefit. Unless Congress acts, this is the last week for laid-off workers in Massachusetts to collect an extra $600 under the federal CARES Act. Without that additional amount, they’ll receive only the standard unemployment payment, which is about half of their regular earnings.

Tarazona may be brought to his knees — literally. “What am I looking to do? I don’t know,” he said. “Probably get a friend of mine to help him put in floors, doing some hard work or something. I mean, there’s no way I can look for something in my industry.”

At 53, after more than two decades in hospitality, Tarazona said starting a new career would be difficult.

Many of his colleagues are in similar positions. Hotel workers in Massachusetts are among the hardest hit by coronavirus containment measures because their industry was almost entirely shut down for three months. Even now, their job prospects remain limited.

While some hotels around Boston are reopening, many are operating with skeleton crews because occupancy rates are so low. The Boston Harbor Hotel, for example, would normally be 80% to 90% booked at this time of year; instead, it’s 10% to 20% full, according to General Manager Stephen Johnston.

Harvard Will Allow International Students to Study in Home Countries

The Harvard Crimson – Harvard College will allow returning international students to transfer credits from an accredited university in their home country to Harvard this fall, director of the Office of International Education Camila L. Nardozzi wrote in an email to undergraduates living outside the United States Wednesday.

Just hours following Harvard’s announcement that it would conduct all courses remotely for the fall semester, international students reeled after United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a new rule requiring them to attend in-person classes if they wished to remain in or return to the United States.

Though the federal government has since rescinded the rule, not all international students plan to set up camp in Cambridge or take Harvard classes from afar. Some, instead, are considering the prospect of enrolling in institutions closer to home for the fall, citing the appeal of synced time zones, in-person classes, and faculty interaction.

Nardozzi wrote that while the College is planning a broader timetable of courses — spanning from 7:15 a.m. to 10 p.m. — administrators recognized that attending class synchronously will still be “untenable” for many students.

“Given the remote nature of the spring term, finishing your courses in EDT provided additional challenges that some of your US-based peers did not face,” Nardozzi wrote. “For some, that meant engaging in your courses and other academic obligations in the middle of the night, forcing you to find time to sleep, study, complete homework assignments, and participate in your home life whenever possible.”

 

Pandemic Carves Hole in State’s Cultural Sector

State House News – Cultural nonprofits in Massachusetts have lost $425 million in revenue from COVID-19 cancellations and closures, and face another $117 million in costs associated with reopening, representatives of the Massachusetts Cultural Council told lawmakers.

“We know it’s staggering. We know it’s dire,” the council’s Bethann Steiner told senators during a listening session focused on the pandemic’s impacts on arts, tourism and small businesses. Steiner said cultural nonprofits are estimating it will take an average of two years and in some cases up to five years to bring their programs and finances back to pre-COVID levels.

David Slatery, the council’s acting director, said that in addition to his organization’s efforts to support artists and organizations, it is “clear that a more robust public investment will also be necessary.

“Without immediate action, organizations will shutter and artists who are at the heart of our sector will leave Massachusetts,” said MassCreative director Emily Ruddock.

US Chamber Calls on Congress to Provide Additional Support

U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas J. Donohue sent a letter to congressional leaders urging swift action to combat the coronavirus pandemic and provide economic relief to families, businesses, and communities across the country.

“We have not yet beaten the coronavirus or achieved the economic recovery that we all desire,” Donohue wrote. “With the benefit of our experience to date and fresh data, Congress should enact proposals that are timely, temporary, and targeted to current needs.”

The Chamber urged Congress to enact targeted and temporary measures that address the following five key areas:

  • Liability Protection Against Unwarranted Lawsuits. Timely, temporary, and targeted liability relief will provide employers who follow public safety guidelines a safe harbor from unwarranted lawsuits and will hold bad actors accountable. These provisions will allow businesses of all sizes to operate and aid our nation’s economic recovery. Specifically, the safe harbor should apply to businesses; health care providers on the front lines; and manufacturers making PPE, hand sanitizer, and other needed materials.
  • Support for Small and Mid-Size Employers. While the CARES Act provided broad support to all industries Congress should now provide more targeted relief for industries, as well as small- and medium-sized businesses who remain fully or partially shuttered because of social distancing requirements. Assistance should include an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit, locally administered aid, and targeted tax provisions.
  • Financial Assistance for Childcare and K-12 Schools. Reopening of the economy and schools must be safe and guided by public health officials. Childcare providers and schools are confronted with increased fixed costs to implement public health guidance and declining revenue., Congress should provide targeted funding to meet these temporary demands and ensure that schools and childcare providers have the resources necessary to safely reopen.
  • Unemployment Benefits and Funding for Job Training. With more than 17 million unemployed, Congress needs to support the unemployed while aiding in the return to work. The current additional $600 weekly benefit must be revised as many workers presently earn more on unemployment benefits. The Chamber suggests a middle ground of 80% to 90% of a worker’s prior wages (and a maximum of an additional $400 a week) or $200 additional a week for states unable to adjust their computer systems, and a gradual phase down of these benefits tied to the unemployment rate. Congress also should provide funding for states to implement rapid reskilling and job connection programs to assist those least likely to return to their old jobs find new employment.
  • Assistance for State and Local Governments. State and local government are experiencing sharp reductions in revenue at the same time as they face increased costs to respond to the coronavirus. Steep budget cuts at the state and local level threaten to deepen the economic downturn.  Congress should aid states and local government with these temporary expenses and temporary reductions in revenue. It is critical, however, that the approach be targeted and fiscally responsible.

Pandemic Spending Bill Reaches Gov. Baker

State House News – The approximately $1.1 billion COVID-19 spending bill sent to Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday directs money toward a wide slate of programs and organizations, including the health-care system, homelessness prevention, child-care providers, elections, food banks and addiction treatment services.

The bill (H 4808) includes hundreds of millions of dollars for some of the more obvious COVID-19 costs, like $350 million for personal protective equipment, $85 million for field hospitals and shelters, $44 million for the state’s contact-tracing collaborative, and more than $111 million in supplemental payments to hospitals and providers.

It also contains funding meant to help companies affected by the pandemic and the state’s orders to close all non-essential businesses. The bill calls for $10 million to go to the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation to provide grants to businesses with 50 or fewer employees to help cover payroll and benefits, mortgage interest, rent and utilities.

The MGCC is directed in the bill to prioritize grant funding for companies that focus on reaching underserved markets, are women-, minority- or veteran-owned, and have not received aid from federal COVID-19 relief programs.

The Baker administration has said that many of the pandemic-related appropriations will be reimbursed by the federal government, and the governor has warned that Massachusetts is in a race with other states to access a limited pool of resources available for reimbursement.

He said his administration could not pursue funding until the Legislature finished the bill, which the governor initially filed back on May 12.

If Baker signs the bill as expected, the state would direct $3 million to summer camps and youth programs that are operating this summer “to provide adequate and appropriate accommodations in a manner that is consistent with the safety protocols necessary to mitigate the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic.”

The legislation grants the Department of Early Education and Care $500,000 “to leverage state funding by working with philanthropic and private partners in order to assist the business and technical needs of early education and care providers in the commonwealth during the reopening and recovery process.”

That Early Education and Care Public-Private Trust Fund would include money directly appropriated by the Legislature and gifts, grants and donations, and would provide statewide and regional training and make available opportunities for providers and stakeholders to assess and share best business practices relative to early education and care reopening efforts.

The bill also includes $5 million for COVID-related elections costs, which Secretary of State William Galvin said “would probably get us going” towards his office’s new requirement to send out applications for mail-in ballots for the 2020 primaries and general election.

Administration Announces $20 Million to Support Vital Social Services, Small Businesses

The Baker Administration announced $19.6 million for municipalities to address emergency needs in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. This funding will support 181 communities in their work to provide vital services to low-income residents and small businesses affected by the recent outbreak.

Local governments and regional consortiums will fund social services, including homelessness prevention, food pantries and assistance, and job training for in-demand health care workers and technicians. Many communities will also make grants available for local small businesses with five or fewer employees. Thirty six lead awardees will organize within their respective municipality or region to deliver services.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) made this $19.6 million award through the federally-funded Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Congress allocated new emergency funding for the program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – the CARES Act – to address substantial needs in low and moderate-income communities affected by the pandemic. DHCD has received $46 million in special CDBG funds so far, and is distributing funding across municipalities and stakeholders to meet increased needs, with a focus on helping households maintain housing stability.

In June, the administration announced a $20 million Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance program, which is also funded in part through this federal allocation. This new fund will help more low-income households who have lost employment or income due to the pandemic maintain stable housing, and builds on DHCD’s existing homelessness prevention program, RAFT. In March, Governor Baker announced a $5 million infusion for the fund to address increased need.

Teacher Unions Call for Phased Re-Opening of Schools
 

MassLive – Teachers unions in Massachusetts are calling for a phased reopening of schools, suggesting a plan that mirrors the four-phased reopening of the state’s economy, as the calendar ticks closer to the start of the school year.

Last month, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary education released guidelines asking districts to prepare three plans for the fall that include in-person classes, a hybrid of in-person and online classes, and complete online learning amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The push has been for students to return to the classroom with precautions like keeping desks at least 3 feet apart and wearing face masks.

US Companies Lose Hope for Quick Rebound

Wall Street Journal – Big U.S. companies are deciding March and April moves won’t cut it.

The fierce resurgence of Covid-19 cases and related business shutdowns are dashing hopes of a quick recovery, prompting businesses from airlines to restaurant chains to again shift their strategies and staffing or ramp up previous plans to do so. They are turning furloughs into permanent layoffs, de-emphasizing their core businesses and downsizing production indefinitely.

Delta Air Lines Inc. curtailed plans to add more summer flights and said it doesn’t expect business flying to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is adding staff and changing operations to accommodate more to-go business. Vox Media, the publisher of New York magazine and several news websites, said it would lay off 6 percent of its workforce as the company confronts a prolonged drought for its lucrative events business.

“We cannot defy gravity and continue with the business model we had before the pandemic,” Pret A Manger Chief Executive Pano Christou said on Friday as the sandwich chain reported an 87 percent drop in U.S. sales and announced plans to close nearly 20 stores.

Executives who were bracing for a months-long disruption are now thinking in terms of years. Their job has changed from riding it out to reinventing. Roles once thought core are now an extravagance. Strategies set in the spring are obsolete.

Massachusetts Unemployment System Faces Financial Squeeze

 

Boston Globe – It’s hard to find a silver lining when assessing the storm clouds looming over an already-battered Massachusetts job market.

 

More than 527,000 people collected state jobless checks last week, the Baker administration said Thursday, nearly 10 times the number a year earlier. Add in 400,000-plus residents covered by the feds under a new program for gig workers and others, and there are probably more than 900,000 people receiving jobless benefits, or 14 percent of the state’s labor force before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy.

 

Now comes news that the Baker administration has borrowed $455 million from the federal government to pay state unemployment claims, after the account used for the payouts was all but drained.

The loans will almost certainly be the first of a massive pile of IOUs. The most recent state report on the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund estimated the gap between employer contributions and benefit payments at $3.2 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30.

Employers, who fund most of the benefits paid by the state, are rightly concerned that they will have to plug the hole. In its trust fund report for June, the state said employer contributions were slated to increase from $1.6 billion in the fiscal year just ended to $2.2 billion in fiscal 2021 due to automatic increases tied to the account’s financial condition. Additional tax hikes may also be needed to close the $6.2 billion deficit estimated for the year that just finished and future shortfalls.

“Putting an extra $6.2 billion burden on Massachusetts employers as they struggle to survive the recession is like throwing an anchor to a drowning person,’’ said Greg Sullivan, director of research at the Pioneer Institute in Boston, referring to the estimated deficit for unemployment fund deficit for the current year.

But there are other options the state can pursue.

The administration could forgo the automatic hikes, as it has done before, and sell bonds to pay the feds back, said John Regan, chief executive of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, one of the state’s largest business groups. Or it could lobby Congress for some sort of bailout, such as debt forgiveness.

And Massachusetts would have allies in any push for federal help. California ($5.4 billion), New York ($4.2 billion), and Texas ($1.8 billion) are among the 12 states and the Virgin Islands that have taken loans or have signaled they will. The loans are interest-free until the end of the year, then borrowers will pay 2.41 percent.

“Everyone knows that this tide of red ink is coming at us,’’ Regan said.

No one, he said, is sure how it will all play out.

That’s especially true because the state must also confront a sharp drop in tax revenue — $6 billion below its January forecast, according to an estimate by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation — as the pandemic takes a bite out of employer payrolls, retail sales, and corporate profits.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the state should take this opportunity to overhaul what he called its “simply bad’’ unemployment insurance system.

“We have the easiest qualification standards’’ for applicants and “the most generous benefits,’’ he said. “We can’t be both . . . It’s going to come back to haunt us.’’

For its part, the state isn’t saying much.

“The Administration is committed to making sure workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to receive the benefits they deserve and will continue to take any steps necessary to ensure the solvency of the [unemployment insurance] trust fund,’’ the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said in a statement.

In other words, the unemployment checks will not stop. The state will continue to borrow from Uncle Sam. And everyone will worry about the bill later.

Does that add up to a silver lining?

Massachusetts Lawmakers Seek to Mandate Masks, Quarantine for Out-of-State Visitors

Associated Press – Face masks and two-week quarantines for travelers entering Massachusetts from COVID-19 hot spots would be required under a bill filed at the Statehouse on Tuesday.

The bill would also prioritize COVID-19 testing for vulnerable populations and mandate enforcement of workplace safety requirements designed to protect both workers and the public.

Both the face mask and quarantine requirements would be enforced with fines under the bill.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has already ordered the wearing of masks and has advised visitors to Massachusetts to quarantine for two weeks — except for a handful of nearby states.

One of the sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Harriet Chandler, D-Worcester, said with no vaccine yet available, the state needs to write the public health protocols into law.

“We have proven practices to curb the spread of viral infection: wearing face masks, ensuring widely available testing, finalizing formal workplace safety standards, and quarantining tourists coming from hotbed states,” Chandler said in a press release. “But they only work if we all participate.”

She urged lawmakers to pass the measure before the return of college students in the fall.

The Legislature’s formal session ends July 31.

July 9

Eight Communities Targeted for COVID-19 Testing Blitz

State House News – New testing sites will be opened and mobile testing vans will be deployed in eight cities across Massachusetts where positive test rates for COVID-19 are elevated and testing volume has declined since late April, Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Wednesday.

The new testing initiative dubbed “Stop the Spread” will launch on Friday and run through Aug. 14 to make testing available for people with or without symptoms in hotspots where the prevalence of COVID-19 appears to exceed what is occurring elsewhere in the state.

The increased testing will be available in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford.

Baker said the eight communities were selected based on elevated cases in those cities, higher rates of spread over the past two weeks, high positive test rates over the past two weeks and declining test volume since the end of April.

Residents of the eight communities represent 9 percent of the state’s population, but account for 27 percent of the positive cases detected over the past two weeks, and the positive test rate of 8 percent in those cities far exceeds the statewide rate of 1.9 percent. Baker also said that testing is down 40 percent in these communities since the end of April.

Harvard, MIT Sue ICE Over Foreign Student Rule

State House News – Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are seeking immediate judicial relief from a controversial new federal policy that would bar all international students from remaining in the United States if they take only online classes this fall.

The two schools, both of which are planning to bring some students back to campus but shift many or all courses to a remote platform in the upcoming semester, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Wednesday asking for a temporary restraining order against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s rule change.

ICE had permitted international students to stay in the country and take all-online courses in the spring and summer amid the coronavirus outbreak, but it said Monday those exemptions would not be in place for the fall.

In their suit, Harvard and MIT argued that the guidance creates “immediate and severe” impacts on both universities and students without any regard for the challenging circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The order came down without notice – its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Harvard President Larry Bacow wrote in an open letter alongside the lawsuit.

“It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others.”

Attorney General Maura Healey is also weighing her own lawsuit aimed at stopping the policy.

Revenue Officials to Testify Before House Recovery Panel

A special committee of House members met Wednesday to begin poring over some of the bills that lawmakers filed to help workers through the pandemic and as the economy reopens, but many members of the committee cautioned that it would be foolish to embrace new programs or benefits before they have a better idea of just how ugly the state budget picture is.

The Commonwealth Resilience and Recovery Special Committee, led by House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, heard from House Revenue Committee Chairman Mark Cusack and House Labor and Workforce Development Committee Acting Chairman Stephan Hay about some of the pandemic-inspired bills their committees have been reviewing, including proposals to provide extra sick time, providing COVID-19 worker compensation protection to emergency response and medical personnel, and more.

Mariano said he hoped the special committee could compare the proposals “to where we actually are financially in the commonwealth today as we speak,” but noted that “there are certainly a bunch of unknowns that we can’t put numbers to and certainly the amount of federal help is one of those numbers.”

“Probably even the amount of revenue that we’re going to have is very, very uncertain,” he added.

Department of Revenue Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder backed that point up, telling the committee that in fiscal year 2021, which began July 1 with a temporary budget in place, “we are confronted with a sea of unknowns.”

“As is the case with fiscal 2020, tax collections in 2021 will vary depending on the status of public health measures enacted by the state, municipalities in the commonwealth, as well as the United States to mitigate the impact and breadth of COVID-19,” Snyder said. “The full impact COVID-19 has on consumer and corporate behavior, the economy, and the stock market is not yet fully clear.”

With so much uncertainty around the revenues that would form the foundation of the eventual fiscal year 2021 state budget, Cusack said it seems unwise to push ahead with proposals for relief that he said “range in cost anywhere from $50 million to $3.2 billion.”

Business Confidence Nearly in Optimistic Territory

Business confidence continued to rebound during June as Massachusetts methodically re-opened its economy and COVID-19 cases surged elsewhere in the country.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index surged 6.9 points to 49.0, just a point shy of the level that denotes an optimistic outlook among employers.

The increase, which came three months after the index suffered the largest one-time decline in its history, reflected the relatively smooth rollout of the state’s four-step re-opening plan and progress in containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Forcing Innovation at Child-Care Centers

State House News – At the family child-care center she runs out of her Dorchester home, Dottie Williams has started asking parents to send teddy bears along with their kids.

Ms. Dottie’s NeighborSchool serves children between five months and four years old, an age range for which Williams said touch is an important way of bonding. To translate the ritual of a hug to the COVID-19 era, she now asks the kids to hug their own teddy bear while she hugs hers.

“Children are very, very creative, and when you’re creative with them, they can adjust,” Williams told lawmakers Tuesday.

As advocates and child care providers continue to call for an infusion of public funds to help the industry cope with added costs and lost revenue associated with providing care during a pandemic, stuffed animal-facilitated hugs are among several short-term adjustments speakers highlighted during the Education Committee’s virtual oversight hearing.

Williams said shared activities like sand play and a water table for children in her care are now out of the question, so her school is doing more arts and crafts. The artistic expression, she said, can also help the kids work through stresses they’ve experienced over the past few months, like social isolation and disruption of familiar routines.

State Sees Continued Positive Trends on Pandemic

State House News – Almost four months since declaring a state of emergency around the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that public health data “continues to show us positive trends on many of the key metrics.”

The governor’s comments came on the second day of Phase 3 of the state’s economic re-opening, and he reiterated that the plodding return to more normal business and social activities is only made possible by people who have adhered to mitigation strategies like wearing a mask and maintaining six feet or more of distance from others.

“It’s now more important than ever, especially as we get into Phase 3, that everybody continue to do the things that have made such a difference here in Massachusetts over the course of the past 120 days. That means continuing to wear masks if you can’t socially distance, to socially distance whenever possible, to practice good hygiene and to stay home if you feel sick,” he said during a press conference in Plymouth.

Though gyms, movie theaters, museums and more are re-opening this week as part of Phase 3, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said Tuesday that he asked Baker and Lt. Gov. Polito to give Boston one extra week to prepare for Phase 3 because of Boston’s size, density and its “unique needs.” In Boston, Phase 3 kicks off July 13.

Restaurants, which are trying to stay afloat while serving fewer customers and tending to temporary outdoor dining rooms, are hopeful that the eventual return of televised professional sports will entice even more people to return to a restaurant for a meal.

Ongoing Investigation Has So Far Found 58,000 Fraudulent Claims

State House News – Investigators have so far detected more than 58,000 fraudulent unemployment claims in Massachusetts amid an alleged national criminal scheme, but state officials still have not disclosed how much money has been paid out in error.

The state Department of Unemployment Assistance announced Monday that it verified 58,616 fraudulent claims through June 20, the first insight into the scale of the false applications since officials announced the problem in May. Through the same span, the department recovered $158 million in fraudulent claims, it announced Monday.

However, the press release did not indicate how much it paid overall to applications submitted as part of the scheme. Officials have been hesitant to discuss the impact publicly.

When asked about the topic last week, Gov. Charlie Baker cited ongoing federal investigations.

“Protecting the integrity of the unemployment system and ensuring benefits are only going to valid claimants is the top priority of the Department of Unemployment Assistance,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said Monday.

“It is unfortunate that because of this criminal activity, people who really need our support may face delays in receiving the benefits they need. We will continue to work with our state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as our dedicated constituent service personnel, to ensure that those with valid unemployment claims receive financial assistance during these difficult times.”

Between March 8 and June 30, the department received 976,123 initial claims for standard unemployment insurance, 183,144 of which were denied. It also received another 649,764 for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program making aid available to previously ineligible individuals such as gig workers and denied 282,440 of them.

Ernst & Young has been hired by the state to conduct a forensic accounting as part of the fraud investigation. Department officials said they would provide further updates “as soon as they are available” while continuing to implement additional identity verification measures that may temporarily delay the payment timeframe for some unemployment claims.

Galvin Waiting for Funding to Mail Ballot Applications

The state’s top election official said Tuesday he can’t mail ballot applications to voters, as required under a time-sensitive new law, until the Legislature approves funding for the bill that Gov. Charlie Baker signed on Monday.

The law requires Secretary of State William Galvin to send mail-in voting applications by July 15 in order to give voters time to request a ballot for the Sept. 1 primary elections, fill it out, and mail it back in.

“We had hoped to do it by that date. The legislation calls for it. But the Legislature has not sent the money. We can’t pay for the postage. We can’t pay for the printing until we have the postal permit. We can’t buy the permit until we get the money,” he told reporters outside the State House.

Galvin said a $5 million appropriation included in a more than $1 billion Senate spending bill that largely deals with COVID-19 appropriations “would probably get us going.” The House and Senate spending bills differ, and it’s unclear when legislative leaders will agree on a single bill.

July 7

Paycheck Protection Program Deadline Extended

President Donald Trump on July 4 signed an extension of the small business loan Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) into law. The law extends the deadline to apply for a PPP Loan from June 30, 2020 to August 8, 2020. There is still approximately $130 billion available.

Report says MBTA Approach to COVID-19 May Worsen Traffic

State House News – The MBTA lags behind several peer agencies in its preparedness to minimize COVID-19 risks as public activity resumes, falling short in both long-term planning and mandating safe rider practices despite success in cleaning and workforce management, according to an analysis by a business-backed group.

Authors at A Better City compared the T to public transit systems in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. on a range of safety protocols. After assigning point values to represent how each agency fares on about two dozen different actions, they ranked the MBTA second-last among the group, topping only Washington’s WMATA.

The group warned in a report last week that the gaps could exacerbate a trend of former public transit commuters turning to single-occupancy cars as they resume traveling for work.

“This anticipated mode shift to single occupancy vehicles will lead to crippling roadway congestion, as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions that will disproportionately impact underserved communities and communities of color,” the report read.

The report gave the MBTA a score of 14.5, which trailed New York City’s MTA with 21, Chicago’s CTA with 20, and both San Francisco’s BART and Philadelphia’a SEPTA with 15 points each.

Researchers based scores for transit systems on steps that transit leaders had taken as of June 23, when Massachusetts was still in Phase 2, Step 2 of its reopening plan and the T had just days earlier expanded service beyond the low levels offered during the COVID outbreak’s peak.

A Better City rated the MBTA’s service restoration at that time as needing improvement compared to the five peer agencies, knocking the T for still not running a top-to-bottom full schedule and for not offering more express routes.

Ridership cratered on the T during the pandemic, dropping as low as 10 percent of standard crowds on subways and 20 percent on buses. Gov. Charlie Baker has urged people who can still work from home to continue to do so.

The T has seen more riders come back since late May. With Massachusetts now in the third phase of its plan, even more businesses once again are able to open their doors to customers and crowds could continue to grow.

US Labor Secretary Rolling Out Employment Grants in Boston

State House News – U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, a figure in ongoing discussions about another round of federal coronavirus aid, will announce “major federal grants” to expand employment opportunities during a Tuesday visit to Boston.

Before unveiling the grant news, Scalia plans to meet with Volunteers of America Massachusetts and other community groups that will discuss reentry into civilian life for individuals exiting the criminal justice system.

Scalia will address the media at a 2:30 p.m. press conference from the Department of Labor’s regional office in the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, according to an advisory from his office.

His visit comes as unemployment edges down from record levels caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic shutdowns. Some jobs have returned, but strain remains widespread as states less affected in the spring experience potent outbreaks.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Scalia said the Trump administration will push for tax relief in the next stimulus package and opposed calls to extend the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits offered during the crisis, according to a Bloomberg News report.

Massachusetts Begins Phase 3

Massachusetts moved into the third phase of its gradual plan to revive public activity in most of the state yesterday, allowing gyms, museums, movie theaters and more to resume some operations even as COVID cases surge in other parts of the country.

The transition shifts Massachusetts toward the leading edge of states on the path to reopening, pushing forward despite peers pumping the brakes on their own progress due to concerns about massive outbreaks in the south and west.

Citing positive trends in public health data, Gov. Charlie Baker said he is confident the state can loosen restrictions without prompting an infection rebound because bars and nightclubs will remain closed and because residents and businesses continue to abide by safety precautions.

“The success is due in no small part to the vigilance and dedication that has been shown by the people of Massachusetts, but we should not and cannot slow down or step back now,” Baker said. “We know that COVID-19 won’t be taking any time off this summer, and we need to maintain vigilance if we wish to continue to move forward.”

Phase 3 will consist of two smaller steps, though administration officials have not yet announced when the second portion will start. The loosened restrictions in the first step will take effect in Boston on July 13, one week after every other community in Massachusetts.

Under the first step, movie theaters, museums, fitness centers and some indoor recreation facilities that have all been closed since mid-March will be allowed to reopen so long as they follow industry-specific protocols.

Markey: U.S. Senate Should Return, Pass Massive Aid Package

State House News – The U.S. Senate should cancel its recess and immediately return to Washington D.C. to pass a massive economic stimulus package featuring aid to state and local governments, according to Sen. Edward Markey.

While it joined the House in passing major aid packages earlier in the coronavirus crisis, the Senate has not acted on a $3 trillion aid bill approved by the U.S. House on May 15. That bill includes $875 billion in aid to states and municipalities that are facing unprecedented budget problems.

Infections initially hammered U.S. states run by Democrats but the virus has since exploded to the south and west. During a Sunday morning Zoom call, Markey said the soaring COVID-19 infection rates in states run by Republicans gives him hope that Democrats will get help from elected officials in red states.

“We are now seeing just incredible spikes in coronavirus and obviously an impact on their economies as state after state in the south and in the west are forced to do the things which we had to do in Massachusetts,” Markey said. “I think that our alliance going forward to get this money is going to be with red state mayors, red state governors, red state senators.”

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee Jr. joined Markey on the call.

LaChapelle said Easthampton has frozen its hiring, and faces “radical reductions in services.” She said, “We’re heading towards a financial cliff. And we don’t know what will help us. We don’t know where the resources or support are coming from.”

McGee said Lynn has the third highest rate in the state for COVID-19 infections. The city faces close to a $3 million deficit, he said, complaining of a “lack of understanding” from Republican senators to impacts nationwide.

Lynn had been looking at a $30 million increase in education funding from the state under a new state funding reform law.

“That money is not coming obviously,” he said, adding that he’s now hoping for, but not sure about, level funding of Chapter 70 state education aid.

“The budget impacts are really slamming into us,” he said. “We’re trying to hold it together on a wing and a prayer.”

Read the Latest State House News on COVID-19

Mail-In Voting Bill Goes to Governor

State House News – There wouldn’t be a need to flock to the polls on Sept. 1 or Nov. 3 under a mail-in and early voting bill the Legislature sent last week to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Instead, residents of the state could take advantage of early voting periods and mail-in ballots, or go to the polls on election day if they wish. The governor now has 10 days to act on the bill. He can sign it, return it with an amendment or veto it.

Travel Guidance Syncs with Cape Visitor Profile

State House News – Updated travel guidance in Massachusetts bodes well for business this summer on Cape Cod, where officials are observing pent-up demand for getaways.

During a conference call on reopening efforts, Cape officials said the peninsula draws the bulk of its summer visitors from Massachusetts, the five other New England states and New York and New Jersey. Visitors from those states are no longer required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival here.

“It is good news that we are able to welcome people, that we are able to do so safely,” said Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro, noting the seven states share the trend of declining COVID-19 cases that Massachusetts has been experiencing.

Visitors from Florida and California, two states experiencing surges in COVID-19, account for about 2.9 percent of domestic visitors to the Cape, Cyr said. Cape Cod residents and visitors, broadly speaking, are complying with COVID-19 guidance on face coverings, distancing and hygiene, with some exceptions, said Cyr.

“We’re reminding the public that they need to take personal responsibility,” Cyr said. Not following recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is “profoundly disrespectful to the working people of Cape Cod,” he said.

Transportation officials also said traffic volume continues to pick up on the two bridges people use to access the Cape. In June, volume was down about 15 percent compared to last year, compared to a 31 percent decline in May and a 47 percent reduction in volume in April on the Bourne and Sagamore bridges.

U.S. Jobs Rebound, Unemployment Down to 11.1 Percent

State House News – American employers returned 4.8 million jobs in June, as economies reopened from coronavirus closings, but two straight months of record gains have brought back only about a third of the positions lost during the pandemic.

Federal labor officials announced Thursday that total nonfarm employment in the U.S. rose to about 137.8 million in June, while a separate survey showed a 2.2 percentage point drop in the national unemployment rate to 11.1 percent.

The data reflect a rebound in the labor market but may not capture the emerging effects of backtracking on re-openings in large states in the south and west due to rising COVID-19 case counts.

The nearly 2.7 million jobs added in May represented the largest one-month increase since World War II, and June’s figures far surpassed that to set a new record. The hard-hit leisure and hospitality industry added 2.1 million jobs in June, accounting for a large chunk of the month’s overall progress.

While federal officials said the data “reflected the continued resumption of economic activity,” they also noted that progress so far has not made up for the losses that have occurred due to economic shutdowns. Individuals who want a job but have not actively searched for one in the past four weeks – a distinction that puts them outside of the labor force and therefore not counted in the unemployment rate – totaled 8.2 million in June, about 3.2 million more than in February, according to federal estimates.

Eviction Moratorium Backers See Short Window for Passage

State House News – With the clock ticking for potential legislative action to extend housing relief measures, sponsors of a new bill aimed at preserving a mandatory pause on housing removals highlighted support and strategies.

An eviction and foreclosure moratorium required under a state law approved in April expires on Aug. 18. Reps. Mike Connolly and Kevin Honan and Sen. Patricia Jehlen filed bills that would impose a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for failure to pay until one year after Gov. Charlie Baker lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency, freeze rent for the same duration and create a fund to aid those unable to pay housing costs due to the pandemic.

In a videoconference joined by at least 18 other lawmakers and several aides, Honan said the success of the initial moratorium law was “because we internally built a strong coalition of legislators” and called it “heartening to see so many representatives joining us today.

The bills (HD 5166, SD 2992) were filed June 30. Formal sessions end for the year on July 31, a timeline Rep. Nika Elugardo broke down in the call’s chat. Elugardo wrote that the bill should pass by July 20 to allow time to override a potential veto, leaving “roughly a week and change to get this through committee and to the House floor and another week and change for the Senate to do the same, provided there are no changes requiring a conference committee.”

MA Health and Hospital Association (MHA) Update: Unsustainable Financial Losses

The American Hospital Association (AHA) has determined that U.S. hospitals will suffer $120.5 billion in financial losses from July 2020 through December 2020 due to the pandemic.

These estimated losses are in addition to the $202.6 billion in losses the AHA estimated between March 2020 and June 2020. The $323.1 billion in losses that hospitals will experience in 2020 are “potentially catastrophic,” AHA says, but the situation may be worse since none of the loss estimates account for currently increasing case rates in certain states, or potential surges of the pandemic occurring later this year.

The Massachusetts Hospital Association, using similar but not identical metrics, estimates that Massachusetts hospitals will lose at least $6 billion by Labor Day.

Last week, US Rep. and senatorial candidate Joseph Kennedy III (D) joined the Congressional chorus from both sides of the aisle asking the Trump Administration to release the remaining $70-plus billion in CARES Act funding.

“The COVID-19 crisis has devastated the financial stability of the Massachusetts healthcare system, and we cannot get fully back on track without additional federal relief. We are grateful for Congressman Kennedy’s urgency on this critical issue and his advocacy to secure timely funding for our providers,” said Steve Walsh, president & CEO of MHA.

July 2

Bill Extends Eviction Moratorium for One Year After Emergency Lifts

State House News – A group of lawmakers, including one of the leaders of the Housing Committee, will push to keep a mandatory pause on evictions and foreclosures in place for more than a year.

The bill, filed Tuesday (HD 5166) by Rep. Mike Connolly and Rep. Kevin Honan, aims to prevent what they say could be tens of thousands of housing removals if an existing moratorium expires on Aug. 18. It would also make support available for tenants and homeowners most impacted by the economic downturn.

Their legislation would impose a moratorium on evictions and moratoriums for failure to pay until one year after Gov. Charlie Baker lifts the public health emergency he declared amid the pandemic. The bill would freeze rents for the same duration at their pre-outbreak levels.

To help property owners and landlords with 15 or fewer units, the bill would create a state fund that would offer aid to those who were unable to pay housing costs due to the pandemic. The proposal does not define the size of the fund, and it allows it to be funded from multiple sources.

In a blog post explaining the bill, Connolly said the state Housing Court estimates 20,000 eviction cases will be filed as soon as the existing moratorium ends, which could prompt new infections and higher rates of homelessness.

“While we don’t yet know the full scale of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we know it will be immense,” Connolly wrote. “This crisis has already taken a disproportionate toll on the most vulnerable among us including low-income tenants, elders, immigrants, front line workers, and Black and Latinx renters and homeowners.”

Connolly and Honan, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Housing Committee, plan to discuss their bill today alongside Senate author Patricia Jehlen, co-sponsor Rep. Nika Elugardo, and community and housing justice advocates.

With New Law, Plainridge, Simulcast Centers Looking to Phase 3

State House News – By the end of today, the harness horse races at Plainridge Park Racecourse and the state’s other simulcasting operations figure to be cleared to resume as soon as the governor gives the go-ahead for Phase 3.

Gov. Charlie Baker late Tuesday afternoon signed a racing and simulcasting extension bill that the Legislature had sent him on Monday, his office said. That bill will keep racing and simulcast wagering legal in Massachusetts until the end of July 2021.

The Gaming Commission is planning to meet today and is expected to approve the re-opening operations plans for Plainridge Park Racecourse, and the simulcast centers at Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park. Like the state’s casinos, horse racing and simulcast wagering are part of Phase 3 of the reopening, which could begin as soon as Monday. The Gaming Commission is also planning a discussion on the state of simulcasting and account wagering, led by the commission’s director of racing and a financial analyst.

Advance deposit wagering, in which bets are placed over the phone or online from pre-funded accounts, has been allowed to continue through the pandemic through the two sites that offer it, Plainridge and Suffolk Downs.

Administration Announces $20 Million in Rental and Mortgage Assistance

The Baker Administration announced a new $20 million, statewide fund to assist low-income households facing difficulty making rent and mortgage payments. The Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) program will provide direct funding to eligible households who have suffered financial hardship during the State of Emergency put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

ERMA will expand eligibility for rental and mortgage assistance to more low-income households who have been impacted by the crisis by adjusting the income threshold beyond the state’s traditional Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. This includes households within the 50-80 percent range of Area Median Income (AMI). Like the RAFT program, ERMA will provide up to $4,000 for eligible households to pay rent or mortgage payments in arrears going back to payments due April 1, 2020.

Beginning July 1, applicants can reach out to the eleven agencies that administer RAFT on the state’s behalf, this includes the nine Housing Consumer Education Centers, as well as LHAND and the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance.

Funding for the new program includes $10 million from the supplemental CDBG Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) fund, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), in addition to other federal resources. This new funding will serve twice as many households as the traditional RAFT program by greatly expanding eligibility to families who would otherwise not qualify for RAFT. This new emergency program builds on the Administration’s work to stabilize families during this uncertain time. In March, Governor Baker announced a $5 million expansion of RAFT.

Since the beginning of the State of Emergency, the administration has supported housing stability for households across the commonwealth. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has drafted emergency regulations to protect tenants under the eviction and foreclosure moratorium, supported state-aided public housing and affordable housing operators with guidance, and worked with stakeholders across the state to coordinate resources. Additional resources and information can be found on the department’s COVID-19 Resource Page.

DHCD has received more than $160 million in federal funding through the CARES Act, including more than $20 million which has been distributed to Community Action Agencies for anti-poverty work, and is preparing to allocate additional funding for shelter providers and municipalities. DHCD is also working with CHAPA and Mass Housing Partnership to track local emergency rental assistance programs and other resources available to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the Baker-Polito Administration unveiled a COVID-19 economic recovery package to respond to challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The $275 million package, designed to promote equity across the Commonwealth, proposes $40 million for neighborhood stabilization to bring safe, affordable housing units back on the market, $10 million for sustainable, climate resilient affordable housing, and includes the language of An Act to Promote Housing Choices, the Administration’s bill to advance new housing production in Massachusetts by reforming zoning laws.

Grants Available to Help Collaborative Workspaces Re-Open and Operate Safely

The Baker Administration and MassDevelopment announced funding for the fifth round of the Collaborative Workspace Program, a MassDevelopment program that accelerates business formation, job creation, and entrepreneurial activity in communities by supporting infrastructure that fuels locally based innovation. Established co-working spaces may apply for grants of up to $100,000 for new equipment or building improvements, including adjustments to help spaces adhere to the social distancing and health and safety standards outlined in the commonwealth’s sector-specific COVID-19 Workplace Safety Standards.

Companies Want Insurers to Pay for COVID Shutdowns

Wall Street Journal – One of the biggest legal fights in the history of insurance has begun.

A cavalcade of restaurateurs, retailers and others hurt by pandemic shutdowns have sued to force their insurers to cover billions in business losses. A video berating the industry ran for most of June on a giant screen in New York’s Times Square, four times each hour around the clock.

“Insurance companies: Do the right thing,” was the chorus at the end of the video. Repeating the words were a musician, a dancer, a chef, a rabbi, comedian Whoopi Goldberg—and a New Orleans plaintiffs’ lawyer, John Houghtaling II, who paid for the video.

Millions of businesses across the U.S. have “business interruption” insurance. The pandemic, no question, interrupted their businesses.

But insurance companies have largely refused to pay claims under this coverage, citing a standard requirement for physical damage. That is a legacy of its origins in the early 1900s as part of property insurance protecting manufacturers from broken boilers or other failing equipment that closed factories. The insurance is also known as “business income” coverage.

More than half of property policies in force today specifically exclude viruses. The firms filing the lawsuits mostly hold policies without that exclusion. Their argument for getting around the physical-damage requirement is that the coronavirus sticks to surfaces and renders workplaces unsafe.

Lawyers have found past rulings that say events rendering a property unusable may constitute property damage. In one case, a New Jersey manufacturer prevailed with its argument that an ammonia leak made its property unfit for use.

 Group Insurance Commission Deferring $190 Million in Premium Payments

The Baker Administration announced that the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) will defer $190 million in premium payments during the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) from local cities and towns, regional school districts, and other entities that became members of the GIC through the Municipal Partnership Act.

This measure will provide important cash-flow relief to GIC municipal members across Massachusetts without compromising the GIC’s ability to pay member claims without any impact on total FY21 revenue.

“By deferring these monthly GIC premium payments, we are providing relief to local municipalities that are facing budget challenges and cash-flow constraints due to COVID-19,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We are pleased to implement this payment deferral and will continue working to support municipal budgets and government services that are important to the people of Massachusetts.”

All FY21 revenues will be billed and collected later during the fiscal year. The total cash-flow relief anticipated as a result of the FY21 first quarter deferral is approximately $63 million per month or approximately $190 million total.

The announcement builds upon additional measures put in place by the administration to provide cash-flow relief and budgetary support to municipalities. This includes making up to $502 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund available to cities and towns for COVID-19 response efforts, as well as making up to $200 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund available for costs related to reopening public schools, $194 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grants, and $25 million in matching funds for remote learning technology grants.

The Group Insurance Commission is a quasi-independent state agency governed by a seventeen-member Commission. It provides and administers health insurance and other benefits to 460,000 members including the Commonwealth’s employees and retirees, and their dependents and survivors, as well as participating municipalities, Housing and Redevelopment Authorities’ personnel, retired municipal employees, and teachers in certain governmental units.

State Announces Updated Travel Guidelines to Support COVID-19 Response

The Baker Administration announced new COVID-19 public health guidelines on travel and transportation.

Effective July 1, all travelers arriving to Massachusetts, including residents returning home, are instructed to self-quarantine for 14-days. This guidance does not apply to travelers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York or New Jersey. Additionally, workers designated by the federal government as essential critical infrastructure workers are also exempt from this directive.

Travelers who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 are instructed to not travel to Massachusetts.

All visitors and residents of Massachusetts are also reminded that the use of masks or face coverings in public places where individuals cannot socially distance from others remains required.

These new guidelines replace previously announced Massachusetts travel guidance. For national travel information, please visit www.travel.state.gov.

Senators Load Up Amendments to COVID-19, IT Bond Bills

State House News – Senators preparing to take up a $1.7 billion borrowing bill to finance the state’s information technology infrastructure and a $1.1 billion spending bill to cover coronavirus-related expenses have filed more than 100 amendments to each piece of legislation.

Senators filed at least 143 amendments to the COVID-19 supplemental budget, including $250,000 for “increased needs due to COVID-19” at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home; $500,000 toward Department of Public Health analysis of population health trends and inequities; $100,000 to cover additional costs addressing COVID-19 at the New England Center and Home for Veterans; and $80,000 for Food Link MA to address COVID-19 food insecurity in several Greater Boston communities.

A Sen. Michael Barrett amendment would temporarily expand a timeline for select boards to transfer appropriations to apply to the previous fiscal year. A Sen. Tran proposal would set aside a $10 million reserve account to reimburse local school districts for personal protective equipment purchased in response to the COVID-19, and a Sen. O’Connor amendment would direct $5 million to the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation for grants to small businesses hurt by the pandemic to assist with mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments.

Commissioner: Fed Aid Won’t Solve Child Care System Woes

State House News – Emergency federal funding will mitigate COVID-19’s impact on child care, but the amount available falls far short of existing deficits and Massachusetts leaders will need to deploy “creative” solutions toward an industry on which the statewide economy relies, Baker Administration officials said Wednesday.

Early Education Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy told the Education Committee that the child-care and early education system has lost about $250 million per month since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted widespread closures in mid-March. The federal CARES Act will direct about $45 million of stimulus funding to Massachusetts for child care, but that amount will only blunt the strain rather than close enormous gaps, Aigner-Treworgy said.

“The business model, which really is reliant on per-child, per-day funding at this point to sustain operations, will be a challenge for many child-care providers throughout the recovery,” she told lawmakers.

“While the investment in the Child Care Development Block Grant in the CARES Act will certainly help mitigate the impact on providers, we know that this critical infrastructure will actually require solutions that we have yet to come up with for the year ahead.”

Officials have warned for months that the child-care system faces significant pressure and that, because so many workers rely on ensuring their children have somewhere safe to go, the uncertainty sends ripples across the economy and industries.

About 95 percent of providers who responded to EEC inquiries intend to reopen this summer or fall now that they are allowed to do so under the Baker administration’s plan to revive public activity gradually. However, Aigner-Treworgy said the demand for child care remains unclear, which in turn creates further financial clouds for providers who rely on tuition. With many parents still working from home and uncomfortable returning their children to day care, other states have seen parental demand for care fall by 40 percent to 60 percent.

June 30

Pandemic Spending Bill Moves Through Senate Committee

State House News – Ahead of a planned vote Thursday, the state Senate Ways and Means Committee is preparing a $1.1 billion COVID-19 spending bill that mirrors almost exactly what the House approved last week.

The committee began polling members Sunday on its version of the supplemental budget (H 4808), which outlines pandemic-related appropriations for fiscal year 2020 that the Baker administration says will be mostly reimbursed by the federal government.

Gov. Charlie Baker has warned that Massachusetts is in a race with other states to access a limited pool of resources available for reimbursement and that his administration cannot pursue funding until the Legislature finishes the bill.

Nearly all of the major allocations in the Senate’s version match what the House approved on Wednesday, including $350 million for personal protective equipment, $139 million for rate add-ons for essential human-service providers, $93 million for human-service worker incentive pay, $85 million for field hospitals and shelters, and millions more for contact tracing, child care and elder services.

The version moving through the Senate Ways and Means Committee also calls for making $5 million available for election supports to grapple with the outbreak’s impact on voting processes, according to a bill summary. Several springtime special elections were disrupted, and the Legislature allowed for the greater use of vote-by-mail to limit transmission risks.

Another section would designate June 19 as a state holiday known as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The House included that language in its budget bill.

Experts: State COVID-19 Reporting Still Insufficient

State House News – Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill this month implementing new reporting requirements on his public health apparatus, but experts warn that the state is still not tracking enough information about COVID-19’s impact on communities of color to plan targeted responses.

Medical and public health experts told a Senate panel that the pandemic has already wrought disproportionate havoc on low-income areas and people of color, who are more likely to be essential workers or to live in crowded conditions with higher transmission risks.

The Senate launched a listening session to receive feedback on what the administration and lawmakers can do as Massachusetts continues to navigate the outbreak and chart a path toward a new normal.

During the first equity-themed portion of Monday’s hearing, experts urged lawmakers to take additional steps beyond the new data-reporting law to get a better understanding of how different populations are affected.

“We’re hamstrung,” said Frank Robinson, vice president of public health for Baystate Health in Springfield. “I have one hand tied behind my back as we try and think about ‘how do we intervene?’ It’s really about data, and to be able to disaggregate by race, ethnicity and by locality.”

All three experts at the first session – Robinson, Harvard School of Public Health professor Nancy Krieger, and Massachusetts Public Health Association Executive Director Carlene Pavlos – described racism as a public health crisis that directly led to more pronounced COVID impacts on Black and Latinx communities. They argued the administration needs to track and publish information on cases and deaths not just by race or ethnicity, but also by economic and occupation indicators so that officials can understand who is most at risk.

Baker Administration Unveils $275M COVID-19 Economic Relief Package to Promote Equity and Economic Growth

The Baker Administration unveiled a COVID-19 economic recovery package to generate economic growth amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The $275 million package is an update to the administration’s Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, the economic development legislation originally filed on March 4.

The proposal represents a targeted package of investments across three core areas: housing, community development, and business competitiveness. In response to the dramatically different economic landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration will ask the Legislature to consider an amended scope for several of the proposed programs, reallocate funding among proposed authorizations, and establish new tools to promote equity and drive economic growth.

“By funding more affordable housing, implementing critical zoning reform, stabilizing neighborhoods, and supporting minority-owned businesses with record levels of funding, these proposed changes will bring critical relief and promote equity across Massachusetts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature to advance this legislation and give communities, especially those most in need, the tools and support they require to move forward.”

The package would:

  • amend the scope of several proposed programs, to target funding towards specific communities, including those hit hardest by COVID-19;
  • reallocate funding among proposed authorizations to address the significant economic impacts of COVID-19 and help provide a path for recovery, particularly for those most devastated by the pandemic;
  • establish new tools to promote equity and drive economic growth in communities and among businesses facing barriers to entry in areas like state contracting.

The Administration is proposing to allocate an additional $15 million for neighborhood stabilization (for a total of $40 million) to invest in blighted and distressed homes. This funding, paired with collaboration and engagement with community organizations and municipalities, will bring safe, affordable housing units back on the market.

The administration is also recommending increasing funding for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) by $25 million (for a total of $35 million), a record increase in this program. These grants to small business lenders allow CDFIs to serve entrepreneurs in underserved populations with financial services, technical assistance, and credit building opportunities.

To help address the disproportionate challenges to accessing early stage business financing, the administration is asking the Legislature to triple funding for grants to support micro businesses from $5 million to $15 million. Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) recently launched a pilot program called Biz-M-Power, which offers matching grants and technical assistance to microbusinesses (fewer than 20 employees) that have successfully crowdsourced up to $10,000 in seed capital.

The legislation also includes the language of An Act to Promote Housing Choices, the administration’s bill to advance new housing production in Massachusetts, to promote equitable access to opportunity, and to support the administration’s goal to produce 135,000 new housing units by 2025. An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth includes these Housing Choice provisions to enable cities and towns to adopt certain zoning best practices through a simple majority vote rather than the current two-thirds supermajority.

An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth was originally filed in March of 2020. For more details, click here.

AG Healey Funds Summer Jobs for Young People

Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office is awarding nearly $300,000 in grant funding to 73 organizations across the state to fund summer jobs for young people that are focused on promoting health and wellness. Grantees have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways, including providing personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, and transitioning to virtual workspaces.

This is the sixth year that the AG’s Office is running the Healthy Summer Youth Jobs Grant Program, which enables teens to have a direct impact in their communities by working in jobs that promote good nutrition, physical fitness and healthy living. The grant program is funded with health-care and fair labor-related settlement money from the AG’s Office.

“Our summer jobs program provides teens across the state with an opportunity to challenge themselves, build new skills, and make a difference in their own communities by promoting healthy living,” Healey said. “We’re pleased to be continuing this program this summer and we are grateful to our grantees for making important adjustments to their programs during this unprecedented time to ensure employed teens are safe.”

Examples of jobs funded through this year’s grant program include:

  • Building and maintaining a community garden or urban farm;
  • Addressing food security and wellness needs of low-income communities;
  • Providing virtual educational content on the environment and local natural resources; and
  • Instructing youth virtually on at-home wellness activities.

Baker Urged to Probe Virus Outbreak at Chelsea Home

State House News – Citing the deaths of 31 veterans there, Senators. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley are calling for an independent investigation into the coronavirus outbreak at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, one of two long-term care homes that the state runs for veterans.

“Given that 31 veteran residents of the Home have died from COVID-19 and an independent investigation of the outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home (HSH) produced useful findings and recommendations, we believe a similar, independent and thorough inquiry at CSH would help save veterans’ lives, prevent further infections, and ensure a healthier and safer care environment for both residents and staff,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker.

The lawmakers said that federal VA medical centers in Boston and Bedford have accepted at least 40 Chelsea Soldiers’ Home veteran residents for care since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And they called for an investigation that’s as rigorous as the one Baker ordered into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

“Recent public reporting has cast doubt on whether the COVID-19 response at the Home adequately protected veterans, and we understand that at least 60 percent of all veteran residents at the Home have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Altogether, these facts and circumstances suggest that a serious outbreak occurred at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home.”

Group homes and long-term care residences, including nursing homes, have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

Attorney General Maura Healey, in addition to investigating the Holyoke home, is also investigating the spread of COVID-19 at a Littleton assisted living facility where at least a third of the residents at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley contracted the virus. The Baker administration was not immediately available to respond to the request for an inquiry.

Open Letter Calls for Nursing Home Reforms

State House News – A new state task force convened to address health-care disparities amid the pandemic should pursue new safety requirements in nursing homes to respond to thousands of deaths and prevent future crises, a think tank urged Sunday.

The Boston-based Pioneer Institute warned in an open letter that the outbreak’s deadliness in Massachusetts surpasses the national average, with about 63 percent of the state’s deaths occurring in the facilities compared to less than 40 percent across the country.

“COVID has wiped out 10 percent of Massachusetts’ nursing home population. Going forward, the state needs to take affirmative steps to control infection and prepare nursing homes for the duration of the pandemic and beyond,” said Pioneer Senior Healthcare Fellow Barbara Anthony, who co-authored the letter with Mary Connaughton, Pioneer’s director of government transparency, and research assistant Andrew Mikula.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation this month requiring the state Department of Public Health to collect and report detailed information about COVID-19’s impact on long-term care, and the bill also creates a task force to report on how lawmakers can address gaps in care that impact vulnerable or underserved populations.

Pioneer outlined steps for the task force to help protect nursing homes. Those include appointing an individual to coordinate the state’s public health emergency response in nursing homes, requiring facilities to maintain a baseline stock of personal protective equipment, and mandating that each home appoint an infection preventionist.

Pioneer also called for more dedicated state oversight of facilities, arguing that concerns about their preparedness “predate this pandemic.” More than one-third of homes did not comply with COVID-prevention methods as of May 21, authors said.

“The lack of testing and the serious lack of appropriate PPE due to supply chain factors, as well as shortages of staff with appropriate infection control training, created infectious conditions that spiraled out of control,” authors wrote in their letter. “While residents and staff at most homes have now been tested once, there is no publicly available plan for how to ensure sufficient testing and adequate PPE going forward.”

MassHealth Overseer Warns Against Telehealth Retreat

The state’s top MassHealth official argued Monday that with telemedicine’s explosion in popularity, some services should not return to traditional in-person visits even after the COVID emergency subsides, though he stopped short of endorsing a legislative extension that passed the Senate last week.

Dan Tsai, who serves as Gov. Charlie Baker’s assistant secretary for MassHealth and who is serving as acting Health and Human Services Secretary while HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders leads the state’s COVID response, named mandating telemedicine coverage as one of the top options the administration is eyeing as pandemic-era policies that should be extended.

“Allowing and expanding and covering full telehealth, not just for video capabilities, but also for telephonic capabilities, was absolutely, absolutely critical,” Tsai told a Senate panel when asked about what long-term changes to the health care landscape he would like to see.

“We do not want to see a reversion back to things that could be done well via telehealth to go back to in-person just because that’s the way it’s always been.”

Some providers, he said, are now performing up to 80 percent of their usual care through a range of telehealth channels. The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would mandate insurers cover the telehealth version of any in-person services they cover at the same rate for the next two years. House lawmakers have expressed support for telemedicine more broadly but flagged concerns about several details, such as credentialing providers and prescriptions.

Pandemic Brings Back Single-Use Plastics

According to the Wall Street Journal, COVID-19 has given a new foothold to single-use plastics previously criticized for the waste they generate. To stem transmission of the virus, bars are serving drinks in plastic cups, supermarkets are wrapping once loose fruits and baked goods in plastic and offices are adding plastic coverings to everything from doorknobs to elevator buttons.

Efforts to fight the virus are boosting sales for plastics makers who are citing the pandemic to lobby against bans, maintaining their products preserve hygiene. But there is a catch: Many of the plastics for which demand has jumped are also the hardest to recycle.

Plastic bags, wraps and pouches are typically difficult for recycling equipment to identify, separate and melt because they are made from multiple types of plastic, or plastic mixed with other materials. Most flexible packaging made from a single plastic—like polyethylene bags—also isn’t recycled because it needs to be collected separately to prevent machines from mistaking it for paper.

Baker Signs Budget to Fund Government in July

State House News – Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday morning signed an interim budget to keep state government running when the new fiscal year begins on July 1 since the Legislature has not yet developed a fiscal 2021 spending plan.

The governor filed the $5.25 billion interim budget a week ago and said Friday that the amount is sufficient to fund government operations through July and “will make it possible for the treasurer to deliver local aid payments to cities and towns.”

House and Senate leaders have not laid out a timeline yet for completion of a budget for the full fiscal year. With just a few days until the new budget year begins, the Baker administration this week told municipalities that upcoming monthly local aid payments will largely be based on fiscal year 2020 estimates.

The planned implementation of a new school funding law in the new fiscal year is on hold, at least for the time being.

“We obviously look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature during the month of July, as some of the issues associated with fiscal ’20 get a little clearer and fiscal ’21 get a little clearer, to finalize what I would call a budget for the go-forward on the rest of the year,” Baker said  after announcing he had signed the stopgap budget.

“But I want to thank the Legislature for acting quickly on this one and providing some security and certainty to people with respect to how the new year will start here for the commonwealth and for the commonwealth’s cities and towns.”

Issues to Watch in the Week Ahead

COVID, Phase 3 – Pressure will surely begin to mount on Gov. Baker to announce whether Phase 3 of the state’s economic re-opening plan will get underway on Monday, July 6.

That’s the earliest possible date for the third phase, which will include the return of gyms, sporting events, casinos, museums, and movie theaters, but Baker has said that his decisions will be driven by data and not arbitrary dates.

“We do need to recognize and understand that this is still very much with us and for anybody who thinks this is over, I would just ask them to take a look at the data coming out of a lot of the states in the south and the southwest, which had a very positive set of statistics week over week after week after week in the months of April and May and now they’re really starting to struggle,” the governor said Friday.

Though he has said decisions about additional reopening will take into consideration things like the positive test rate, number of patients hospitalized, the state’s testing capacity and more, the governor said he is particularly interested in seeing two week’s worth of public health data from days when indoor restaurant dining has been allowed.

Indoor dining resumed June 22. But the governor also acknowledged that, so far, the state’s phased reopening process has not led to concerning spikes in cases.

The State Budget – Massachusetts begins fiscal 2021 on Wednesday with a $5.25 billion interim budget in place, a COVID-19 spending bill up for consideration in the Senate on Thursday, and Gov. Charlie Baker’s $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget beginning its sixth month under review in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Before deciding on how to proceed, Baker and legislative leaders are waiting to see how tax collections perform in the wake of the decision to push the annual tax-filing deadline forward from April 15 to July 15. They are also waiting to see when and whether Congress will pass another major stimulus bill providing additional support to individuals, businesses, and state and local governments struggling due to the pandemic’s impacts.

The House, which usually holds its annual budget deliberations in April, set a July 1 deadline for its Ways and Means Committee to recommend a post-pandemic fiscal 2021 budget, but committee chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service this week that his panel’s General Appropriations Act recommendation won’t be ready by that deadline.

For the moment, state government appears set up to get through July on its interim budget. After that, it’s not clear whether the House and Senate will be able to quickly agree on a fiscal 2021 budget before the end of next month or whether they will need to suspend their rules to facilitate consideration of the budget, and perhaps other matters, sometime after July 31.

June 25

Poll: Many Not Eager to Engage in State’s Re-Opening

State House News – The gradual reopening of the economy in Massachusetts has led to employees feeling more stable in their jobs and financial situations over the past month, according to a new Suffolk University poll for WGBH News, the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and MassLive.

But residents continue to harbor anxiety over venturing back out to engage in what used to be mundane activities, like eating at a restaurant or taking the subway to see a baseball game. And parents are deeply divided over whether they think it’s safe to send their children back to daycare or school, according to the poll.

The pandemic has also hit communities of color particularly hard financially, according to the survey, with Hispanic residents far more likely than white, Black and Asian workers to report diminished income from the coronavirus outbreak, and workers with less education and lower incomes before the pandemic reporting a greater impact from COVID-19.

The WGBH News/SHNS/Suffolk survey of 500 Massachusetts residents was conducted June 18-21 with live callers on cellphones and landlines. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

State Sets Aug. 29-30 as Sales Tax Holiday Weekend

The state’s 6.25 percent sales tax will be waived on many purchases the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 29 and Sunday, Aug. 30, the Baker administration announced Tuesday.

This summer’s sales tax holiday weekend will take place as retailers regain their footing after weeks of government-forced shutdowns, and Gov. Charlie Baker said he hopes people will take advantage of the tax savings to support local businesses.

“The annual sales tax holiday is an opportunity for us to support small businesses and consumers, and this year, it’s a great way to support our economy that’s been impacted by COVID-19,” the governor said.

“This pandemic has created enormous challenges for the Commonwealth’s small businesses, and the sales tax-free weekend is one way that we can encourage more economic activity to help Main Street businesses and local economies.”

The annual tax holiday, made a permanent fixture as part of a 2018 “grand bargain” law addressing multiple topics, allows shoppers to avoid paying the tax on most retail items – excluding food and drink at restaurants – that cost less than $2,500. The state agrees to give up tens of millions of dollars in taxes in a bid to spur buying and consumer savings.

The law calls for the Legislature by June 15 to choose a weekend in August to designate as the holiday. If legislators miss that deadline or do not act, the Department of Revenue has until July 1 to announce dates for the holiday, as it did Tuesday.

Industry Exec Says Losses Stacking Up for Mass. Hospitals

State House News – Massachusetts hospital budgets have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the industry faces a $6 billion shortfall by the end of the summer, an industry representative told lawmakers Tuesday.

Steve Walsh, CEO of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, warned a special House panel that hospitals in the state will lose $6 billion by Labor Day – more revenue than Major League Baseball estimates it would miss if it failed to hold a 2020 season. The losses have been “catastrophic” for some community hospitals, Walsh said.

So far, Massachusetts providers have received about $1.4 billion in emergency funding from Washington, but Walsh said the state ranks 50th out of 51 states and the District of Columbia in relief dollars per COVID case.

“This is terrifying when you think we had the third-most cases in the country,” Walsh said.

Panel members are weighing an extension to Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency order increasing access to telehealth, and Walsh said the ability to provide remote services was a “game-changing tool” that helped keep hospitals afloat. Public health experts have warned about a potential second surge in cases this fall, and Walsh, a former House member, told lawmakers that making telemedicine accessible is “simply the most important thing we can do.”

House Majority Leader Ron Mariano is leading the Commonwealth Resilience and Recovery Special Committee for the House and has said that community hospitals and community health centers will require increased support and that those facilities “need some assurance that telemedicine will remain in some form after the state of emergency is lifted.”

Death Rates Rise as New Round of Re-Openings Begin

State House News – Restaurants resumed serving diners indoors, nail salons got back to filing and painting fingernails, and tattoo parlors fired up the ink guns Monday as the state’s re-opening plan took another step forward.

Most of the metrics used to determine the pace of re-opening continued to trend in the right direction with one major exception. The three-day average number of daily COVID-19 deaths is on the rise, climbing from 22 as of June 18 to 26 as of June 19, the Department of Public Health reported Monday.

Gov. Charlie Baker did not give an update Monday on the latest round of re-openings, the state’s progress in fighting the spread of the coronavirus or his thinking for later re-openings, the next wave of which could begin in two weeks. The governor has scaled back his public events – State House press conferences and tours of medical or manufacturing facilities – in recent weeks. After holding a press conference daily for weeks, Baker has settled into something close to an every-other-day schedule.

IRS Provides Updated FAQs on Employee-Retention Tax Credit

The IRS has issued updated FAQs for the employee retention tax credit, the temporary refundable payroll tax credit for eligible employers affected by COVID-19. The updated FAQs relate to the tax credit’s governmental order test and can be found here and here.

Courthouses Reopening for Limited Business July 13

Courthouses in Massachusetts will reopen to the public on July 13 for limited purposes, with the courts continuing to conduct most business virtually.

Under an updated order issued Wednesday by the Supreme Judicial Court, entry will be limited to people attending in-person proceedings; people conducting business with a clerk’s, register’s or recorder’s office; people meeting with probation; and people conducting business at other open offices in the courthouses.

The SJC said that people seeking to enter courthouses “will be screened to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The SJC plans additional re-opening phases, with the number of in-person proceedings expanding during a second phase beginning on Aug. 10. In advance of each phase, Trial Court departments will identify new matters they will be addressing in person on the court system’s COVID-19 webpage, according to the SJC.

“Jury trials in both criminal and civil cases in state courts continue to be postponed to a date no earlier than September 8, 2020,” the SJC said.

“Starting July 13, judges may begin to schedule civil and criminal bench trials. No new grand jury can be empaneled prior to September 8, unless the Supreme Judicial Court so orders. Existing grand juries are extended until the date of that new empanelment or the date of the October 2020 empanelment in the relevant judicial district, whichever occurs first.”

Interim State Budget Could Reach Baker Thursday

The House and Senate on Monday passed a $5.25 billion interim budget to keep state government running when the new fiscal year dawns next Wednesday. The legislation, filed by Gov. Charlie Baker last Friday, now needs only a final enactment vote in the Senate to return to Baker’s desk. The Senate meets next on Thursday in a formal session to take up health care legislation (S 2769) dealing with telehealth, scope of practice and out-of-network billing issues.

June 23

Virus Impacts on Public Higher Education

State House News – The COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on Massachusetts public colleges and universities will be the focus of a Board of Higher Education meeting today.

In May, board Chair Chris Gabrieli said that the Department of Higher Education and the 24 state university and community college campuses would work with EY-Parthenon consultants to develop a “system-wide view into the unique financial challenges posed by the current pandemic and all of its uncertainties.”

The team behind that assessment is scheduled to present its findings on Tuesday. Marty Meehan, the president of the University of Massachusetts, which has not announced its plans for the fall semester, is also scheduled to appear before the board.

Gabrieli said higher education faces unprecedented challenges, with significant uncertainty around major factors like enrollment, students’ ability to return to campus and state and federal funding, all of which “drive a significant part of any college’s budgeting.”

After transitioning to remote learning in the middle of the spring semester, state universities in Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Framingham, Salem, Westfield and Worcester plan in September to bring students back to campuses, where they are scheduled to return to dorms and attend on-campus classes.

Indoor Dining Resumes

Restaurants that have been serving patrons on patios and sidewalks for the past two weeks welcomed diners indoors yesterday after Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that he was triggering the next stage of his economic reopening plan.

Baker, at a State House press conference, also said offices would be able to bring back to work more employees and increase their capacity from one quarter to 50 percent of their workforce. And close-contact personal services offered at nail salons, massage and tattoo parlors and personal training also resumed yesterday.

The progress through the phases of the Baker’s administration’s reopening strategy comes as Massachusetts has continued to see downward trends in hospitalizations, which are now under 1,000, and positive test rates, which have fallen to 2.3 percent.

“Reopening Massachusetts is working,” Baker said. “Business is coming back, people are regaining that sense of purpose that was lost. I know it can’t happen fast enough, but people in Massachusetts are proving that we can reopen and continue to bring the fight to the virus when we all do our part.”

Insurers Hopeful About Telehealth Cost Savings Potential

State House News – Telehealth language in a new Senate bill teed up for debate next week has caught the eye of insurance carriers.

State senators last week introduced health care legislation that includes measures around telehealth, out-of-network billing, and providers’ scope of practice. The bill (S 2769) would require insurers to reimburse for telehealth at the same rate as in-person services over the next two years, and the Health Policy Commission, by the end of 2022, would have to issue recommendations on “the appropriate relationship” between telehealth and in-person reimbursement rates.

Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said telehealth has played a key role during the COVID-19 pandemic “but we must build on its promise of providing cost-savings for employers and consumers in the future.

“Moving forward, it is vital that the state thoughtfully monitor the provision of in-person care and telehealth coverage to determine when we can remove statutorily mandated payments in order to build on telehealth’s promise of providing cost-savings for employers and consumers, ensuring access to high-quality care for members that improves their patient experience and is appropriate for delivery via telehealth technologies,” she said in a statement.

The group Health Care for All, which backs the bill as a whole, said it is “particularly supportive of extending telehealth provisions that were included in the Governor’s Executive Order during the emergency.”

Jobless Claims Active Ahead of May Unemployment Rate Release

State house News – Massachusetts employers added a whopping 58,000 jobs in May, but the state unemployment rate remained one of the nation’s highest as most other states showed greater signs of economic recovery.

The month-over-month job gains more than doubled any previous record increase in Massachusetts dating back to at least 1990, according to federal data, but they still represent only a minor recovery from the historic 646,700 positions lost in April.

The latest batch of data shows that re-openings of some shuttered economic sectors in May brought scores of jobs back online, although the jobless rate is due to remain at elevated levels for an extended period due to COVID-19 and its myriad economic ramifications.

May’s unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 16.3 percent, the second month in a row that the state set a record. April’s original estimate of 15.1 percent was at the time the highest rate in the state since at least 1976, and federal labor officials revised the April figure to 16.2 percent in Friday’s release.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics deemed the one-tenth of a percentage point increase not statistically significant, Massachusetts was among a small group of states that did not show improvement in that metric.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia had lower unemployment rates in May than in April, eight others were stable, and just three states – Minnesota, Connecticut and Florida – had significant increases.

Only three states reported higher unemployment rates in May than Massachusetts: Nevada at 25.3 percent, Hawaii at 22.6 percent and Michigan at 21.2 percent. Rhode Island and California also reported rates of 16.3 percent, mirroring the Bay State.

Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped from 14.7 percent in April to 13.3 percent in May, according to a federal report earlier this month.

Michael Goodman, a MassBenchmarks co-editor and executive director of the UMass Dartmouth Public Policy Center, said Massachusetts may lag other states because of varying impacts of the COVID-19 outbreaks and a slower re-opening timeline.

“A number of other states have been much less careful in their re-opening plan, which may lead to rosier employment outcomes,” he said.

Raw jobs figures displayed a more positive change: total nonfarm payroll employment in Massachusetts increased to about 3.08 million in May, recovering 58,600 of the revised 646,700 jobs lost in April.

The largest gain was 17,400 new jobs in construction, which was one of the first industries given the green light to resume in May after most non-emergency operations were shut down for several months to limit spread of COVID-19.

Leisure and hospitality, which overall has been the hardest-hit field amid the mandatory closures, added 12,400 jobs in May but remains a quarter of a million positions below its employment total one year ago.

Most other industries other than information and government displayed slight gains in hiring last month, according to state data. Goodman said the Friday update included “some good news here that reflects the slow reopening of the state economy,” but cautioned that the long-term outlook remains unclear.

“I think in the coming months, we can expect additional sectors to participate in headcount reduction, particularly in state and local government if the fiscal picture doesn’t improve,” he said. “Another major concern for the private economy is what will happen to those employees currently being paid through the (federal) Payroll Protection Program when those funds expire.”

Neal, House Democrats Roll Out Infrastructure Bill

State House News – While their $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill remains before the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, House Democrats heralded a sweeping $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that authors say could fuel a long-term recovery from the recession.

The proposal would direct hundreds of billions of dollars to transportation priorities, including funding for a passenger rail expansion connecting Boston and western Massachusetts.

It also reaches beyond transit, roads and bridges to suggest significant federal investment in affordable housing, education, internet access, clean energy and wastewater systems.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the bill “the most transformative and consequential infrastructure bill” in the country’s history during a press conference with other House Democrats.

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering his own $1 trillion infrastructure proposal with the existing FAST Act set to expire at the end of September.

SBA Releases New PPP Loan Forgiveness Application

The Small Business Administration has released an updated application form for Paycheck Protection Program borrowers seeking loan forgiveness. Under the PPP Flexibility Act, borrowers receiving PPP loans prior to June 5 will have the option to choose either an eight-week or a 24-week “covered period” during which they can spend their loan proceeds. View the new form here, the form instructions here and the SBA’s rule implementing the changes here.

Teachers’ Union Lays Out Demands as Part of “Re-Opening Platform”

Funding levels called for under the new school finance reform law, additional staff and an elimination of MCAS tests are among the measures the Massachusetts Teachers Association says should be the foundation for re-opening schools.

The union published its re-opening platform Thursday, as educators, parents and students wait to see what the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s fall re-opening guidance will look like.

The platform calls for “progressive revenues” to be a part of a re-opening process, saying that “Student and staff needs will not be sacrificed due to artificial funding constraints

Logan Air Traffic May Not Fully Recover for Years

State House News – Passenger volume at Logan International Airport is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for at least another two years, and the recovery process could take six years under a worst-case scenario, Massachusetts Port Authority officials said Thursday.

Both air and maritime travel have dropped significantly amid the COVID-19 outbreak. While Massport leaders see rebounds on the horizon, they cautioned during a board meeting that outlooks remain uncertain and that the virus will cause lasting impacts — including budget pressure.

Logan only transported about one-tenth as many passengers in May 2020 as in May 2019, according to figures presented by Massport Aviation Director Ed Freni. Total trips in April and May, Freni said, were “dismal” with volumes at “rock bottom.”

There are signs of progress: the week ending June 8 saw 53 percent more passengers than the week before, and airlines have started to schedule more flights with a bigger uptick expected in mid-July, Freni said.

“We’re really encouraged by that, but we’re not sure how this is going to play out,” he said. “The airlines really can’t share information beyond July. Bookings have changed. People are booking on short notice. There’s still a tremendous no-show factor, so it’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen.”

The most likely outcome Massport projects for fiscal year 2021 is slightly more than half as many passengers as fiscal year 2019 and a full recovery that does not begin until the summer of 2022 at the earliest. A worst-case scenario Freni presented would see only 31 percent of fiscal 19 passenger volume in the upcoming fiscal year and a recovery period lasting three to six years.

Massport CEO Lisa Wieland said the airport typically hosts 600 departing flights per day this time of year, but that figure dropped to 100 at the depth of the pandemic.

Emergency Regulations Will Deliver More Small Biz Tax Relief

Beacon Hill leaders will further delay tax deadlines for small businesses around the state in another step aimed at lessening pressure on those hit hardest by the economic downturn that the pandemic prompted.

Sales, meals and room occupancy taxes for qualifying businesses for March through August will not be due to the state until September, and those that wait will not face any penalties or interest, Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders announced.

Under the administrative tax relief measures, any businesses that paid less than $150,000 in regular sales plus meal taxes or less than $150,000 in room occupancy taxes in the year ending Feb. 29 will qualify for relief. Others will also have late penalties waived.

The administration had originally postponed collection of those taxes until June 20. The House approved legislation this month that, among other relief steps, would waive penalties and interest on meals tax payments through the end of the year.

June 18

State Continues to Make Progress Moderating COVID-19

State House News – Massachusetts continues to make progress on its path down from the COVID-19 peak, even as other states in the South and West show signs of growing outbreaks.

The downward trend continued for fatalities linked to the virus, while the commonwealth remained close to the status quo for hospitalizations and overall infections. Public health officials reported 195 new cases in Massachusetts on Tuesday and 18 new deaths.

Gov. Charlie Baker could say as soon as the end of the week when the next step will come in the gradual plan to welcome consumers and employees back to brick-and-mortar businesses, and a surge of national retail sales in May offered some encouragement about the prospects of economic recovery.

One industry still waiting to come back is horse racing, and Plainridge Park Racecourse said Tuesday that live races could begin as soon as next month.

Looking further down the horizon, an overhaul of voting in the Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 general election in Massachusetts came closer to reality after the state Senate unanimously approved a massive vote-by-mail expansion.

The bill, which needs to clear a few more steps in the House and Senate before it can land on Baker’s desk, would require the secretary of state to mail every registered voter an application for a mail-in ballot by mid-July and would expand early voting hours in an attempt to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission at polling places.

Businesses Could Face Huge Tab for Unemployment Crisis

Massachusetts labor officials now estimate that the fund used to pay out unemployment benefits will be billions of dollars in the red through at least 2024, leaving businesses to pick up a huge tab.

The unemployment insurance trust fund outlook report for May, which the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development posted this month, forecasts that Massachusetts will need to seek federal loans and will likely increase payments that employers make toward unemployment insurance by as much as 65 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

As first reported by the Boston Business Journal, the latest outlook projects an unemployment fund deficit of $3.1 billion by Jan. 1, 2021. Those shortfalls, which do not account for potential federal loans, are expected to last for years, rising to $6.1 billion in 2022, $6.6 billion in 2023 and then back down slightly to almost $5.9 billion in 2024.

Officials do not currently expect the fund to bring in more than it pays out in benefits until 2023.

Through April, the fund had a balance of $1.4 billion. The massive, years-long deficit on the horizon is driven by an unprecedented level of unemployment aid, an obligation the state projects to be nearly $6.4 billion in 2020 – more than five times as much as last year – and $5.1 billion in 2021.

Business premiums generate the money distributed to laid-off workers, and those mandatory payments are set to rise starting in 2021. The May report projected the average cost per employee will rise from $562 in 2020 to $759 in 2021, $880 in 2022 and $922 in 2023. In the meantime, the Baker administration will need to secure federal loans to keep unemployment benefits flowing while work continues on economic recovery.

State eases regulations for reopening camps and child-care centers

State officials have eased some of the guidelines for reopening child-care centers, in-home programs, and summer camps after fielding complaints that their regulations would be ruinous to small businesses and unworkable with small children.

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care has decided to encourage — but not mandate — the use of masks for children older than two and to eliminate a requirement that every child undergo a temperature check at the entrance before participating. Staff would still need to wear a mask whenever six feet of distancing is not possible.

The department also dropped one of the most controversial and costly requirements it had built into the new regulations: requiring an extra teacher in every preschool room.

But even as they address central concerns raised by day- care operators struggling to stay afloat, state regulators are hearing contradictory concerns from workers at those facilities worried about their own health and safety.

“Clearly the department is signaling that they are listening, but they continue to try to balance the reality of the situation,” said Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, which advocates for early childhood programs and funding. “We’re seeing evidence that they’re just kind of back and forth.”

Indeed, no sooner did day-care owners express relief than the workers who had petitioned the state to close the centers in the first place urged caution.

“The field is not unified in its philosophy or belief system — just like the general public is not unified,” said O’Leary. She pointed to a New York Times article showing, even among epidemiologists, vast disparities in people’s comfort levels about when to return their children to camp, school, or group care.

State officials have been trying to thread that needle, heeding the concerns of business owners in a fragile industry — which is essential to restarting the rest of the economy — and the concerns of worried parents and teachers. Though Governor Charlie Baker gave camps and child-care centers the go-ahead to reopen, each must first present a plan for operating in the new landscape. The state just opened the process for submitting those plans this week.

The department also dropped a change to the teacher ratios that would have required two preschool teachers for every classroom of 10 children. Preschool rooms typically accommodate 20 children with two teachers — and their tuition disproportionately fuels a center’s budget, compared to the more labor-intensive infant and toddler rooms.

Child-care providers had complained that regulators were forcing them to keep their high staffing costs even as they halved their capacity. The revised regulations return the requirement to just one teacher for every 10 preschoolers, while noting that, “to the maximum extent possible, more than one adult is recommended.”

The initial regulations for reopening had also limited the total number of people who could be in a room at any one time — and who could come and go from a classroom throughout the day — in an effort to limit people’s contact with too many others. But providers complained that layering that requirement over existing teacher-student ratios would make it impossible to bring in an aide, even to give a teacher a bathroom break. The revised regulations do away with the total capacity limit, while still requesting that adults should not move between cohorts of children and should be dedicated to certain groups. However, they acknowledge that “programs can establish their own staffing patterns based on their own unique needs.”

The department is now encouraging providers to offer flexible hours and stagger their drop-off and pickup times. But that may be unrealistic for family providers, who often work alone in their own homes, caring for multiple children, said Jynai McDonald, family child-care coordinator for SEIU Local 509. “When you talk about things like staggered pickup and drop-off times, that’s really hard for a provider who’s used to working alone and not having an assistant,” she said. And, she noted, the new requirements for hygiene and safety will require providers to swiftly isolate a child who becomes sick from the rest of the group. “How do you do all of that and take care of all the other children without having someone else?” she asked.

Here are the updated links for the regs.

English: https://eeclead.force.com/resource/1592066255000/Minimum_requirement

Spanish: https://eeclead.force.com/resource/1592256498000/Min_Req_Spanish

Re-Opening Costs Strain Child-Care System

State House News – At the Open Center for Children in Somerville, Executive Director Sarah Sian is working through the logistics of reopening the child-care center after being closed for months due to the pandemic.

When the center does re-open, Sian said Tuesday, she will only be able to welcome back half of the students in order to comply with state safety regulations. That means she will also be forfeiting 50 percent of the center’s monthly revenue while needing to also keep all of her staff to comply with the safety rules.

“We will begin operating again at a loss of tens of thousands of dollars every month. At that rate we will deplete our reserves and be at risk of closure in a few months,” Sian said Tuesday on a call with other providers and parents.

That’s where Congresswoman Katherine Clark comes in. Clark, who organized the call, said she was filing a bill in Congress to create a $10 billion grant fund to help day-care centers pay for facility upgrades needed to reopen safely after their COVID-19 closures.

Unlike funding from the CARES Act relief bill, the money in Clark’s bill would be available to both subsidized and private-pay centers. Child-care providers say federal support is critical to their ability to keep their businesses afloat under pandemic restrictions.

Clark said her Child Care is Infrastructure Act is meant to compliment the Child Care is Essential Act, which was filed by Democrats – including Clark and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren –  in May, to create a $50 billion fund to help day care centers pay for staff, personal protective equipment and expenses tied to resuming operations.

The Melrose Democrat said Tuesday that child care was an “already fragile” system that has been “pushed to the breaking point” by the pandemic. Citing the Council for a Strong America, she said businesses nationally lose $12.7 billion a year due to employees’ inability to find affordable and quality child care.

“We cannot let this system fall through the cracks and abandon women and children in the process,” Clark said. She added, “Child care is part of the bedrock of our economy and it is a public good.”

Gov. Charlie Baker gave child-care centers permission to reopen under Phase 2 of his strategy to gradually bring people back to work and resume consumer activities. While that phase began on June 8, many child-care centers are still working through the details of what it will take to reopen safely under the state’s guidelines, which were updated as recently as Friday.

National Retail Stabilization May Foreshadow Surge in Massachusetts

State House News – American retail sales surged in May after a dismal April, offering some encouraging news about the prospects of economic recovery and delivering a potential glimpse toward the near-term future in Massachusetts, where reviving public activity has lagged other parts of the nation.

Consumers spent $485.5 billion on retail and food services nationally last month, a 17.7 percent growth over the $412.6 billion spent in April, according to data published Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

May represented the first stretch of growth in sales after month-over-month declines of 8.2 percent in March and 14.7 percent in April, precipitous drops reflecting the widespread mandatory business closures aimed at limiting transmission of the highly infectious coronavirus.

Massachusetts did not start allowing establishments shuttered in response to the outbreak to start reopening until late May, and even today – in the first half of the Baker administration’s Phase 2 – operations are still limited and some activity remains off limits. Customers have been permitted to shop inside retail stores in Massachusetts for about a week now.

However, it’s possible that the national trends could take hold soon in Massachusetts. Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said small businesses and state leaders will need to communicate to the public that “they can shop and dine locally safely.”

“For economic investment reasons, it is important for them to do so to support the future of their Main Streets and small businesses,” Hurst wrote in a Tuesday email to the News Service. “We all need to shop like jobs depend on it, because they do.”

The resurgence in May at the national level represented the largest one-month percent increase in the history of the data series.

Despite that growth, overall sales remained lower than before the pandemic hit the United States in full force and prompted a national recession. In February, consumers spent about $527.3 billion on retail and food services.

“The dramatic bounceback in retail sales last month is an extremely positive sign for the direction of the U.S. economy, but the declines over the past few months have squeezed many U.S. retailers,” Jaime Ward, head of retail finance for Citizens Bank, said in a statement.

“The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a disruption of the retail sector that was already well under way as more consumers shifted from bricks and mortar stores to online shopping. Retailers that were able to stay open during the pandemic such as grocery stores and others that had invested in their e-commerce platforms have fared better than those who relied more on bricks and mortar stores for sales or were over-leveraged.”

Survey: Black Domestic Workers Face “Pandemic … Within Pandemic”

Fifty-nine percent of Black domestic workers in the Boston area have either lost their jobs or experienced fewer hours and a decline in pay during the COVID-19 crisis, according to newly released survey results, which also found that 52 percent of those workers received no safety clothing or personal protective equipment from their employers.

The survey ran from May 19 to June 6 and was conducted in English and Creole by We Dream in Black, a project of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Institute for Policy Studies.

The results, along with findings from similar surveys conducted in New York City and Miami, were released Tuesday morning and shed light on the conditions facing Black nannies and private child-care providers, home-care and paid caregivers, and housecleaners.

“Prior to coronavirus, Black domestic workers have been in precarious working conditions and those conditions have been exacerbated by the coronavirus,” said Marc Bayard, Associate Fellow and the Director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Black Worker Initiative.

“It’s imperative to move urgently on solutions and actions that will create the necessary protections Black domestic workers need.”

Among workers surveyed in the Boston area, 56 percent reported being at risk of eviction or having their utilities shut off in the next three months, 51 percent said they fear seeking assistance or resources from the government due to their immigration status, and 20 percent of all respondents and 42 percent of undocumented workers do not have medical insurance.

The survey also found that 49 percent of respondents in Massachusetts have experienced or live with someone who has experienced COVID-19 symptoms or been at a higher risk.

“Black domestic workers are facing a pandemic within a larger pandemic,” said National Domestic Workers Alliance Black Organizing Director Aimée-Josiane Twagirumukizam.

UMass Scaling Up Online Education With New Partner

The University of Massachusetts will partner with a California-based university system to scale up its online educational programs with the goal of serving more adult learners, the schools announced Tuesday.

The partnership between UMass Online and Brandman University is expected to be finalized later this year. UMass officials said they are still working through its details.

The move comes amid the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and UMass officials said millions of adults in Massachusetts and across the country will need “flexible, high-quality and affordable online education alternatives” as they seek to recover from economic dislocation.

“The COVID crisis has actually put quite an emphasis on the need for this,” UMass Online CEO Don Kilburn told the News Service. “During the recession in 2008, 2009, programs for working adults – fully online programs – went up significantly, because people were trying to get those skills to get back in a competitive workforce. Now you have the double whammy of people not really wanting to get in their car and head to a campus necessarily.”

MBTA Seeing More Riders, but Nowhere Near the Old Days

MBTA ridership is creeping upward from record lows as Massachusetts businesses continue to open their doors to customers and their own employees, but overall public transit use remains far lighter than before the COVID-19 outbreak began.

This week, T buses transported an average of 125,000 passengers per day, an increase from 90,000 per day during the shutdown’s peak, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said at a T board meeting.

Subways also experienced an uptick from less than 40,000 riders per day to about 65,000. Even with those increases, ridership stands at only about 30 percent of the baseline for daily bus trips set in February and 13 percent of baseline subway trips.

June 16

Government Updates PPP Requirements

The Small Business Administration has issued updated Paycheck Protection Program guidance and loan application forms following the passage of the PPP Flexibility Act last week. While the new rule does not address the reforms to loan forgiveness included in the PPP Flexibility Act, it does implement the bill’s change to allow businesses more flexibility in how they allocate PPP expenses between payroll and nonpayroll costs. You can access the new resources here.

Under the new standard, PPP borrowers must use at least 60 percent of their loan proceeds on payroll costs, a decrease from 75 percent. The new rule also extends the maturity period for PPP loans made on or after June 5 to five years; for loans made prior to June 5, the rule allows borrowers and lenders to mutually agree to extend loan maturity to five years.

Positive Progress Ahead of Decision on More Openings

State House News – Gov. Charlie Baker suggested Monday that he will announce by the end of this week when the second half of the current reopening phase will begin, and a prominent member of his party suggested over the weekend that the public health data supports an acceleration of the state’s economic revival.

Baker said a little more than a week ago when he announced the start of Phase 2 of the re-opening that it would unfold in two steps, with activities such as indoor restaurant dining put on hold and businesses like nail salons told to wait a little longer.

The first step is underway and includes al fresco dining and in-store retail shopping. The second step of Phase 2 also included tanning salons, tattoo parlors and body piercing, personal training, massage therapy, hair removal, and hair replacement or scalp treatments.

“We continue to follow the data and I think by the time we get to the end of this week, we’ll probably have an announcement to make on that,” Baker said Monday when asked when the second step will be cleared for launch.

When the two-step process was rolled out on June 6, Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said the second step would be allowed to start at a point “determined based on continued improvements in public health metrics.”

Baker said Monday that “the numbers continue to show very positive progress,” and were “encouraging.” “But it doesn’t mean the virus has left town,” Baker said.

The Latest on COVID-19

State House News – A week ago, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that he was ready to move Massachusetts into the second phase of its economic reawakening, which included restaurants opening for outdoor dining and retail stores welcoming limited customers back inside.

And while it still may be too early to tell what the impact will be on infection rates from people returning to some of their familiar routines, the public health data continues to show signs of improvement.

The Department of Public Health reported 336 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, including 77 people who tested positive for antibodies to the virus, meaning they had a probable infection at some point.

Another 38 deaths were also reported by DPH, but the seven-day rolling average for positive tests is down to 3.1 percent and hospitalizations continue to decline as patient recoveries outpace new infections requiring in-patient medical care.

“There’s no question in my mind that a cautious and careful reopening based on data is ultimately our best way to ensure that we don’t end up creating a second outbreak,” Baker said on Friday, after touring Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Coming up on Sunday, former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis will join Jon Keller to discuss calls to “defund” the police, the role of Antifa in recent protests, and prospects for police reform. And U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton will on “On the Record” on WCVB Ch. 5 to talk with Janet Wu and Ed Harding about race issues surrounding the death of George Floyd, and state and national responses to COVID-19.

Kennedy: Politics, Spread of Virus May Influence Stimulus

State House News – Aid to state and local governments will be “a big piece” of a fourth federal COVID-19 relief package, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III predicted Monday, tying relief funds to President Trump’s re-election effort and the capacity of some southern states that are experiencing growth in COVID-19 cases.

Kennedy, in a New England Council videoconference, also discussed additional federal assistance for hospitals and higher education and described Senate leadership as an obstacle to passing infrastructure legislation.

He said hospitals, which in many cases paused their revenue-generating elective procedures while treating COVID-19 patients, suffered a “devastating” financial hit and “absolutely need additional support.”

Some smaller colleges that had been operating on tight margins before the pandemic hit are now “teetering on the brink,” Kennedy said. He said there “should have to be a conversation in Washington” around their needs, because of the impact that would come from the dislocation of workers, faculty and students if schools close.

Making the case for more federal aid to states and municipalities, Kennedy pointed to spikes in COVID-19 case numbers in some states and said communities across Massachusetts have already issued layoff notices to “hundreds of teachers” and districts look ahead to an uncertain future.

Boston’s New Budget No Longer Built on Local Aid Bump

State House News – A hiring freeze and adjustments to debt service and snow removal projections account for $35 million in cost savings in Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s revised fiscal 2021 budget, which also wipes out any expectation of a local aid increase for the coming fiscal year.

Walsh on Monday is submitted a $3.61 billion budget that includes $464 million in local aid, a $9 million cut from the amount of aid Gov. Charlie Baker had proposed for the city when he offered a $44.6 billion state budget proposal in January. Baker’s plan, which was offered during the strong pre-pandemic economy, is now largely obsolete due to COVID-19’s economic impacts like soaring unemployment forced by the closure of many non-essential businesses.

Baker’s budget was based on the expectation of tax collections rising 2.8 percent but officials now expect receipts to plummet due to the recession and record unemployment. Some cities and towns are laying off teachers, and state officials have delayed budget deliberations largely due to the volatility of the economic situation.

House leaders are still working on an annual fiscal 2021 budget, which cities and towns look to as a critical source of local aid for municipal budgets, and the state plans to start the new fiscal year on July 1 with spending allocated on a one-month interim budget. During an WBZ radio appearance Thursday night, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the tax revenue freefall, estimated by many at $2 billion to $6 billion, could hit $7 billion or more.

A Menu of Options for Safe Return to Casinos

As they prepare for the eventual re-opening of the state’s slots parlor and casinos, gaming regulators combed through some of the health and safety protocols they could impose on gambling halls to limit the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

The Gaming Commission did not make any decisions, but instead talked through an 11-page memo that detailed three possible sets of guidelines for a safe reopening. The commission focused on ways to build social distancing into the gaming experience; ensure the health, hygiene and safety of all workers and guests; and hold casinos accountable for maintaining safety.

Commission staff recommended that regulators require each gaming facility to submit its own plan detailing “the steps and measures the licensee will take to achieve compliance with the guidance and protocols” issued by the commission, to the governor and others at least a week before being allowed to reopen.

Commissioners were in consensus that masks should be required for players, in keeping with Gov. Charlie Baker’s order, but they wanted to think more about possible exceptions, like when a gambler is drinking a beverage. There was also consensus that each facility should make hand sanitizer available at each entrance, though there was not solid agreement on whether the casinos should encourage or require players to use it.

Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor in Everett have all been closed since March 15 and cannot reopen until June 29 at the absolute earliest. The commission has been studying the reopening plans in other states and countries as it works to compile its own set of requirements.

What you should know about taxes if you are buying or selling masks

Here you can access information from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

Connector Asks Feds to Mitigate Health Insurance Risks

State House News – The uncertainty arising from the COVID-19 pandemic has created new risks for insurers and policyholders alike, and the Massachusetts Health Connector and other state-based health insurance marketplaces are asking the federal government to step in and mitigate those risks.

Massachusetts Health Connector Authority Executive Director Louis Gutierrez joined with his counterparts from New Jersey, Minnesota, Maryland, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Rhode Island, California, Washington, Connecticut, Colorado, Vermont and Pennsylvania to send a pair of letters outlining requested policy changes they say would help COVID-19 response efforts.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig, the group warns that taxpayers who receive advance premium tax credits for marketplace health insurance “risk substantial unexpected tax liability” because “the COVID crisis makes income prediction impossible for many taxpayers.” The letter asks that the IRS and the Treasury provide relief for APTC repayment, and announce it “as soon as possible to quickly eliminate any disincentive to enroll due to fear of repayment.”

A second letter, to U.S. House and Senate leadership, also asks for flexibility around APTCs, along with federal funding for reinsurance programs and enhanced federal subsidies for consumers purchasing health coverage.

Marketplace representatives said they have taken steps to “ensure that millions of Americans could maintain or acquire coverage” despite the pandemic’s economic disruption, including opening up special enrollment periods that give newly unemployed workers who lost their insurance and others without coverage a chance to sign up.

The Health Connector’s COVID-19 special enrollment period will remain open until June 23, Gutierrez said during a Thursday meeting of the authority’s board. More than 13,000 people have entered Health Connector Coverage through that program so far, he said.

State Putting Up Money to Help with Dining, Retail Logistics

State House News – In recognition of the fact that many cities and towns might have to change the way some public spaces like sidewalks and parking spaces are used in order to accommodate expanded outdoor dining and socially distance queuing outside of retail stores, the Baker administration is making $5 million in grant funding available to municipalities.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Thursday that the administration had heard from local officials that they wanted to help their businesses rebound from COVID-19 impacts as they try to reopen under new state safety mandates and sector-specific guidelines but needed help to do so. Polito said the money is meant to help municipalities “quickly launch or expand improvements to sidewalks, curbs, streets, on-street parking spaces and off-street parking lots in support of public health, safe mobility and renewed commerce.”

“This is like the restaurant in your downtown or your Main Street that you might see opening now with outdoor dining in a parking lot or in a parklet or using sidewalks. These funds will be directly available for a municipality to help these businesses create more comfortable and exciting spaces in your community so that people can get out safely and enjoy the offerings at their local establishments,” the lieutenant governor said. “Some of these projects will help calm roadways, modify sidewalks or streets and repurpose on- or off-street parking where needed to better support curbside, sidewalk, and street retail and dining.”

During the ongoing Phase 2 of the state’s reopening, restaurants are allowed to open for al fresco dining, but some restaurateurs without patios or parking lots are constrained by their location. Retailers can welcome customers inside their stores again, but only under capacity limits and it is now common to have to wait in a line outside of a store. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread far more easily indoors, and Gov. Charlie Baker has said that, as a general rule, doing anything outdoors is better than doing it indoors.

June 11

Fed Expands Main Street Lending Program

Boston Business Journal: The Federal Reserve has expanded its $600 billion Main Street Lending Program to serve much smaller businesses.

The program — first announced as part of the Fed’s larger $2.3 trillion package of loan and bond initiatives — now has lower loan limits, with a minimum size of $250,000. That’s down from a $500,000 limit announced in May, also lowered at that time. The loan terms have also been lengthened from four years to five years, according to an announcement Monday by the Federal Reserve.

Other changes to the Main Street Lending Program include:

  • The maximum loan sizes have now been upped from $25 million to $35 million for new loans and up to $50 million for priority loans, which had also been capped at $25 million.
  • Banks now only have to hold 5% of priority loans, down from 15% before. New loans remain unchanged at 5%.
  • Principal payments on new loans will now be deferred for two years, up from one year, with 33% payments due in each of the years following that for new loans. Priority loans will see a 15% repayment in the first year and then 70% repayment in years two, three and four.

City Aims to Fill Gap in Youth Jobs Funding

State House News: Boston politicians and city workers are implementing new opportunities for youth employment as private businesses cut back amid hardships brought on by COVID-19.

At a Boston City Council hearing Monday, City Councilor Andrea Campbell said when young people have access to equitable jobs, they are less likely to end up in a gang or in the criminal justice system.

“We’ve been talking a lot on the public safety side around how we reinvest resources, redirect resources from our police department into opportunities that will help our young people and our residents at the beginning point, avoid participating in criminal activity or avoid interacting with police in such a way that isn’t productive,” Campbell said.

“It is proven that when people have good jobs and good opportunity, an equitable economic opportunity, they’re less likely to turn to behavior that’s not productive.”

COVID-19 Testing Slows in Massachusetts

State House News: Even as the state works to ramp up its testing capacity with a goal of being able to test as many as 45,000 people a day by the end of July, the actual number of tests for COVID-19 being conducted daily in Massachusetts has been declining for weeks.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday said that trend can be attributed to the decrease in the infection rate as people have stayed home and worn masks in public to control the spread of the virus. But he also expects it to change as more proactive testing becomes part of the state’s routine.

“I do think some of the issue with respect to testing generally is driven by demand,” Baker said on Tuesday from Lawrence, after touring the New Balance factory, where operations have been converted to produce personal protective equipment.

The administration at the end of May submitted a plan to the federal government to build its testing capacity from 30,000 a day currently to 45,000 by the end of next month and has received $374 million from the Trump Administration to put toward testing.

Testing also has been singled out as a key part of the administration’s strategy to prevent future outbreaks and a second surge by quickly identifying infected patients and geographic hotspots to isolate those with the virus and control the spread.

The state testing regimen, however, has never approached its full capacity.

Bars Quietly Moved to Last Phase of Reopening

State House News: Looking to grab a drink at your favorite watering hole? Unless it provides seated food service, you’ll have to wait until Phase 4 after administration officials delayed the reopening timeline for bars.

Bars were originally slated to open in Phase 3 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s restart plan but were moved to Phase 4 after administration officials determined that if they do not provide seated food service, they are more akin to nightclubs. Dance clubs and nightclubs aren’t allowed to resume operations until Phase 4, which the administration has said will require a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19.

It is unclear when the change was made. Wineries, beer gardens, breweries, and distilleries can all open as of Monday with some restrictions in place if they provide seated food service. Bars with licenses to serve food can also open in Phase 2 under the state’s restaurant reopening guidelines.

State guidance prohibits seating customers at a bar, but it does allow restaurants to reconfigure the area to accommodate table seating. A Housing and Economic Development spokesman said the list of businesses and activities is subject to revision based on the latest public health data and the issuance of sector-specific guidelines.

As of Monday afternoon, a downloadable copy of the re-opening plan on the state’s website still lists bars under Phase 3. An FAQ page on the same website categorizes bars under Phase 4.

Report Suggests Compromise to Speed Sales Tax Collections

State House News Service – One of Gov. Charlie Baker’s former employers on Wednesday backed half of his proposal to begin collecting sales taxes from certain companies in real-time, or at least on an accelerated basis, but suggested that the Legislature should scale back the second half of Baker’s proposal.

The Pioneer Institute issued a policy brief Wednesday analyzing the two-phase sales tax modernization plan that Baker included in the fiscal year 2021 budget he filed in January to pull in $237 million in one-time revenue for the state.

As state tax revenues crater during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pioneer said the governor’s plan “could get money into state coffers more quickly” and allow the state to “collect much-needed interest on the funds.”

Currently, sales taxes paid by consumers at the point of sale are held by businesses and remitted to the state on a monthly basis by the 20th day of the month following the month the taxes were collected.

Under the first phase of Baker’s proposal, which is similar to a plan the administration has previously attempted to get the Legislature to adopt, the largest 10 percent of businesses – those with at least $100,000 in sales or room occupancy and meals tax collections – would be required to remit taxes from the first three weeks of each month in the final week of that same month.

The final week’s remittance and reconciliation of any discrepancy would take place the following month.

The administration said that phase would affect only 10 percent of businesses, but account for 80 percent of sales tax revenue.

When Baker announced his sales tax modernization plan in January, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said its members supported phase one, but had concerns about the feasibility of phase two, which would take effect in mid-2023 and require “all retailers and credit card processors [to] capture sales tax from electronic transactions at the moment of purchase and remit daily,” Secretary of Administration and Finance Michael Heffernan said in January.

Pioneer wrote that it heard from opponents of real-time sales tax remittance about issues “pertaining to potential undue hardship and expense that would be placed on small and medium-sized local retailers.”

Instead of embracing the governor’s plan as presented, the Pioneer Institute suggested that the Legislature should instead adopt a scaled-down approach that would apply the second phase only to sellers conducting annual sales of $10 million or more.

The fate of the governor’s proposal is unknown, especially since the fiscal year 2021 budget process went off the rails in March when COVID-19 took hold. The House and Senate would typically be ironing out the difference between their budget bills in June. Instead, neither branch has surfaced a budget plan and the House Ways and Means Committee has until the July 1 start of the new fiscal year to produce a proposal.

Remote Participation Allowed Under New Emergency Senate Rules

State House News: The Massachusetts Senate has joined the House and adopted temporary emergency rules (S 2756) to permit senators to vote and participate in debate at formal sessions without being at the State House.

The rules were adopted Tuesday as the Senate looks toward possible action on House-approved bills dealing with relief measures for the struggling restaurant industry, investments in information technology, and mail-in voting reforms.

The Senate this week also unveiled a transportation spending bill that would institute a new MBTA Board of Directors. The Senate also agreed to a 2 p.m. Thursday initial amendment deadline for a mail-in and early voting bill (H 4778), which the chamber plans to take up during a session on Tuesday, June 16.

Spilka: Pandemic Underscores Maternal Health Inequities

State House News: Senate President Karen Spilka highlighted the issues of child care and maternal health inequities in a Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus speech Tuesday.

Spilka said the COVID-19 crisis has emphasized existing inequalities in health care, and mentioned that women of color experience higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths than white women do.

Racial disparities in maternal health are the topic of a bill advanced Monday to the House Ways and Means Committee from the Health Care Financing Committee.

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic present an opportunity for Massachusetts to reimagine its child care system, Spilka said. “We need to really envision the system that works for working parents, and that is what we should strive to create,” she said.

Baker Introduces New COVID-19 Data Collection Bill

State House News: One day after he signed a bill the Legislature sent him expanding COVID-19 reporting requirements, Gov. Charlie Baker filed a new data-collection proposal that he hopes will “put a finer point” on tracking the virus’s impact.

At a press conference in Lawrence, Baker said his bill would build on the law he signed (H 4672) by requiring more reporting of COVID-related data to the Department of Public Health, empowering the DPH to issue fines to any parties that do not comply, and by removing elder housing facilities from mandates to report health information about their tenants.

“We believe this will help improve the spirit of the law to have accurate and complete reporting,” Baker said Tuesday, echoing points he made in a letter to lawmakers alongside the bill. The governor took the full 10 days allotted to him to review the bill before signing it and could have returned it with an amendment but opted to put the new requirements into law while introducing an entirely new bill.

Baker announced the legislation following a tour of New Balance’s Lawrence factory, which has pivoted to producing personal protective equipment during the pandemic, saying he filed it on Monday.

The law Baker signed Sunday requires elder care facilities – including elderly housing as well as nursing homes, state-run soldiers’ homes and assisted living facilities – to submit daily reports to local health departments compiling COVID-19 cases and deaths among residents and staff.

The law also requires the DPH to publish detailed information about the impact of the virus on Massachusetts and creates a task force to study and report on how to support vulnerable populations, particularly the elderly and communities of color, that have been hit hard by the outbreak.

Click here to read the filing letter

Click here to read the legislation

Baker Visits Lawrence to Tour New Balance’s PPE Production Line

Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito joined New Balance chairman Jim Davis for a tour of New Balance’s Lawrence factory, a facility that has helped the company produce more than 1 million masks in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The tour highlighted the company’s face mask models, including a new version being rolled out to consumers in the coming weeks, and a new surgical mask model for frontline health care workers.

Nearly 100 New Balance employees are manufacturing products at the factory and a nearby distribution center in Lawrence, an effort that began in late March with the production of general-use face masks.

The company has been supported by the Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Team (M-ERT), which provided support around regulations and labeling for medical equipment, as well as feedback on the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), which has risen greatly since the M-ERT’s establishment in early March. The M-ERT is a coordinated effort comprised of members from academia, industry and government to address the urgent need for PPE to support health care workers on the front lines of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 response.

Starting today, New Balance will make available a new general-use face mask for the public, called the ‘NB Face Mask V3,’ a three-layer, lightweight and breathable, non-sterile physical barrier face mask with a moldable nose piece. In addition to the masks produced directly by New Balance, the company has also repaired straps on 50,000 N95 respirator masks for Brigham & Women’s Hospital, enabling them to be used by their medical staff.

The tour featured several prototypes the company is looking to produce, including a disposable, 3D-printed stethoscope. In addition to founder Jim Davis, the Governor and Lt. Governor were joined by several New Balance leaders who highlighted the production teams making the masks, including: Joe Preston, President & CEO of New Balance; Dave Wheeler, Chief Operating Officer; and Kevin McCoy, Vice President of Made Product Development & Manufacturing.

“The incredible passion, industrial R&D ability and innovative thinking of our associates combined with our New England manufacturing resources enabled us to pivot quickly to produce PPE for frontline workers and health care facilities facing the COVID-19 health crisis,” said Joe Preston, President & CEO of New Balance. “We applaud the Baker-Polito Administration for establishing a strong and highly-engaged Manufacturing Emergency Response Team that has provided us with meaningful and expert guidance throughout our journey.”

“We are incredibly proud and humbled to do our part to help so many in our health care community by producing more than one million masks in the past two months,” said Dave Wheeler, Chief Operating Officer of New Balance. “We are thankful that the innovative thinking of our associates, our long history of domestic manufacturing and the work of our highly skilled teams in our factories have allowed us to quickly adapt to help meet the immense mask needs of the health care community, and now the general public.”

Increased T Service Less Than Two Weeks Away

State House News: The MBTA will expand service on most trains and buses that have run less frequent schedules during the pandemic starting on June 21 and 22, two weeks into the second phase of the Baker administration’s reopening plan.

T officials announced Tuesday that the increase in trips, which the administration outlined as a feature of Phase 2, will start later this month on most platforms, ending more than three months of modified weekend schedules – about 60 percent of standard capacity on the core subway and trolley lines.

Starting June 21, the Blue Line will run regular weekday service, while the Orange, Red and Green Lines will increase trips during weekdays beyond the current limited levels, while almost 60 bus routes will also increase frequency beyond Saturday schedules starting on June 21.

Ferries, which have been offline since mid-March amid the COVID-19 state of emergency, will begin running limited trips on June 22, when the commuter rail system will also increase service. Ridership plummeted during the pandemic more than 90 percent on subways and 80 percent on buses as many commuters shifted to working from home or lost jobs entirely.

The reopening plan Gov. Charlie Baker and his team provided last month listed MBTA service

Community Colleges Feel Aligned with COVID-19 Economy

State House News: Community colleges are well positioned to train workers for the “new economy” created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of a regional business group said Tuesday.

New England Council President and CEO Jim Brett, speaking on a panel hosted by the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, said career fields for which there is now high demand are those that have long been “sweet spots” of community colleges, like information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care.

“I think there’s going to be pent-up demand for students to be re-trained and re-skilled in areas that in the last four months have demonstrated a shortage,” Brett said.

Valerie Roberson, the president of Roxbury Community College, said all of her school’s health care programs – from short-term training programs in phlebotomy to full associate degrees in nursing and radiologic technology – are in demand, as are information technology programs at a time when so much of life has shifted online to comply with social distancing.

Roberson said she also foresees a future need to train hospitality workers so that they are equipped for the new health and safety precautions facing their industries and prepared for future surges of COVID-19.

“We’ll be working with various industries to help adapt to this new world,” she said. To help grow the economy, Roberson suggested policymakers could “look at ways to provide an incentive” for companies to partner with community colleges. She said the state “would be well served to kind of orchestrate the marriage between the businesses and the people who need the work.”

Casino Reopening Plans on Thursday’s Gaming Commission Agenda

State House News: The next seven days will be a busy period for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Regulators plan to go over re-opening protocols for casino and slot parlor gaming floors Thursday, dive into re-opening plans for horse racing on Tuesday and consider Plainridge Park Casino’s renewal application next Thursday.

Thursday’s meeting will focus on re-opening plans for Plainridge, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor, all of which have been closed since March 15. The commission held a roundtable discussion with the casino operators last month to discuss possible safety guidelines for reopening, and regulators on Thursday are expected to review a detailed outline of the opening protocols and procedures the commission has settled on.

Casinos and the Plainville slots parlor fall under Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan and as such cannot reopen until June 29 at the absolute earliest. Horse racing, which is now limited to harness racing at Plainridge, also falls under Phase 3.

June 9

Phase Two Re-Opening Begins

Massachusetts moved into the second phase of its re-opening plan Monday as restaurants opened for outdoor dining, hotels permitted room guests and retailers welcomed shoppers back inside their stores.  Every business that re-opens will have to follow industry-specific guidelines for keeping workers and customers safe as the highly contagious coronavirus continues to circulate.

“In a world where COVID-19 exists, everything looks little different. We’re asking people to follow new safety protocols, to change how they interact with customers, to stagger work schedules and to work from home,” Governor Charlie Baker said.

Health-care providers may also incrementally resume in-person elective, non-urgent procedures and services, including routine office visits, dental visits and vision care subject to compliance with public health and safety standards. All other in-person medical, behavioral health, dental and vision services may also resume, except for elective cosmetic procedures and in-person day programs, which will be included in Phase III. Telehealth must continue to be utilized and prioritized to the greatest extent possible, whenever feasible and appropriate.

Limited reopening of visitation will also begin, and all visitation is subject to infection control protocol, social distancing and face coverings. Given the diversity of facilities and programs, there are specific timetables for visitation, and congregate care programs will be reaching out to families with specific details on scheduling visits.

Order Authorizing The Reopening of Phase II Enterprise:

https://edit.mass.gov/doc/june-6-2020-phase-ii-reopening/download

Other changes are expected in Step Two of Phase II at a later date to be determined, including indoor table service at restaurants and the re-opening of close-contact personal services, with restrictions, including:

  • Hair removal and replacement
  • Nail care
  • Skin care
  • Massage therapy
  • Makeup salons and makeup application services
  • Tanning salons
  • Tattoo, piercing and body art services
  • Personal training, with restrictions

Full list and safety protocols available at www.mass.gov/reopening.

The Baker Administration also released other sector specific guidance:

State Projects $6 Billion Hole in Unemployment Fund

Boston Business Journal: The state’s unemployment insurance trust fund is projected to have a deficit of nearly $3.2 billion by year’s end and almost $6.2 billion by the end of 2021, huge gaps that will need to be filled through higher taxes on Massachusetts employers, according to a new report.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development posted the report online late last week, the first time it has projected the Covid-19 pandemic’s effects on the fund since government-mandated shutdowns caused jobless claims to skyrocket beginning in March.

The state is expected to pay out $6.4 billion from the fund in 2020, a more than fivefold increase from the previous year, according to the report. It is projected to bring in only $1.6 billion in funding.

While experts anticipated this year’s numbers would be bad, some were taken aback at the state labor agency’s projections for 2021. Next year, the unemployment fund is projected to pay out another $5.1 billion, only a slight improvement over 2020, when huge parts of the Massachusetts economy were shut down for months.

Given the enormous deficits, the Baker administration expects it will have to significantly increase employer contributions to help make up the shortfall. While the average cost per employee for businesses is $562 this year, it’s expected to rise to $759 in 2021 — and to $922 by 2023.

Businesses Like New PPP Rules

Commonwealth Magazine: President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a measure that business owners in Massachusetts say will make it a lot easier for them to take advantage of federal aid to keep their companies afloat.

The new law changes the terms of the original Paycheck Protection Program, allowing more money to be spent on rent, utilities, and other business expenses and providing more flexibility on rehiring workers and paying back the original loan.

The law extends from eight to 24 weeks the amount of time the business owner has to spend the monies.

Payback time for the loan has been extended from two to five years if the amount provided doesn’t convert into a grant.

The law also eases rehiring requirements so that a business can still get complete loan forgiveness on payroll expenses if its unable to rehire an individual who was an employee on or before Feb. 15, 2020, or if it is able to demonstrate an inability to return to the same level of business activity as it had prior to that date.

At Schools, Masks and Hand Washing Will be the Norm

State House News: Smaller, “isolated” classes, masks on students and staff, frequent hand washing, and six feet of spacing between desks are among the elements necessary to safely reopen schools in the fall, according to new state guidance.

The state recommends ordering enough supplies for the first 12 weeks of school, based on current estimates, and says that state officials “are committed to providing support to districts in their acquisition of required supplies.”

Required supply items include disposable masks, gloves and gowns; eye protection; face shields; hand sanitizer, and smaller quantities of N-95 ventilating masks, only to be used when staff is in contact with a suspected positive COVID-19 case or “performing aerosol-generating procedures.” Supplies like gloves, gowns and face protection are intended for staff, like nurses and some special education teachers, who may have “high-intensity” contact with students, or the custodians who handle waste.

The state plans to distribute a full draft guidance around fall re-openings sometime in mid-June, and last week issued guidance on summer school and summer special education programs.

Governor Signs Bill Giving Communities Budgeting, Election Flexibility

State House News: Remote participation at representative town meetings, more flexibility in municipal budgeting, and emergency educator licenses are among the measures in a local governance reform bill signed Friday by Governor Baker to help cities and towns continue operations during the COVID-19 crisis.

For fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1, municipalities under the new law are empowered to suspend the dedication of revenues to special funds and credit the revenues instead to the general fund. The law allows for appropriations from special funds for purposes not otherwise allowed, but requires consultation with local school committees if certain special education funds are proposed to be spent.

U.S. Jobs Rebound, May Unemployment at 13.3 Percent

State House News: Employment in the United States increased in May after dropping by an unprecedented amount in April, federal labor officials said Friday, delivering a jobs report that reflected revived activity in some states following pandemic-prompted shutdowns.

American employers added 2.5 million jobs last month, pushing the unemployment rate down 1.4 percentage points to 13.3 percent. While the trend reversed, employment is still almost 20 million jobs lower than in February before the crisis unfolded.

Industries hit hardest by the response showed gains at the national level in May. Employment increased 1.2 million in leisure and hospitality, 1.4 million in food and drinking places, and 464,000 in construction.

Friday’s figures were a surprise to many economists, who had expected the data to reflect an even more dire picture after another full month of closures and restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Federal officials attributed the slight turnaround to “a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April.” State-level jobs data for May, which may indicate if the gains varied based on where states were in the recovery process, will be released on June 19. “Barring a second surge of COVID-19, the overall U.S. economy may have turned a corner, as evidenced by the surprise job gains today, even though it still remains to be seen exactly what the new normal will look like,” said Tony Bedikian, head of Global Markets at Citizens Bank.

Deadline for Essential Businesses to comply with industry specific requirements and safety protocols

https://www.mass.gov/resource/reopening-sector-specific-protocols-and-best-practices

Baker Agrees to Enhanced COVID-19 Reporting Law

State House News: Elder-care facilities in Massachusetts will have to make daily reports on their COVID-19 cases and a new task force will be formed to recommend ways to address health disparities during the pandemic, under a law Gov. Charlie Baker signed Sunday night.

Communities of color and the elderly, particularly those living in long-term care settings, have been hit hard by the respiratory disease, and the law aims to better track and respond to the impact on those populations.

The task force will need to get to work quickly. It has until Aug. 1 to make a report on how to better address the needs of underserved populations, with an interim filing due by June 30.

The group is charged with making recommendations to improve safety for populations facing greater risks from COVID-19, including essential workers, people living in group homes or congregate housing, incarcerated individuals, those with underlying medical conditions, and residents of cities and neighborhoods disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Its recommendations, the law says, shall also touch on removing barriers to equitable health services and treatment, increasing access to medical supplies and COVID-19 testing, and providing informational materials in multiple languages to underserved populations.

A daily report published Sunday showed 103,436 cumulative confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, 7,316 deaths, 648,616 tests conducted for the virus and 51,146 for antibodies, 1,442 current hospitalizations, and 22,191 cases to date among residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Group Homes to Allow Outdoor Visits

State House News: People who live in residences operated by the Department of Developmental Services will be allowed to have visitors for the first time since March this week, though the interactions must take place outdoors and physical contact will still be off limits.

The revised visitation policy DDS issued Saturday for its residential programs takes effect Wednesday and allows for outdoor visitation with conditions, like screening visitors for symptoms of illness and fever, and wearing face coverings. No physical contact between residents and guests will be allowed.

The guidelines are similar to those put in place last week to allow outdoor visits at long-term care facilities. “I know it has been very difficult for families not to be able to see their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Although our staff have tried creative ways to keep connections through phone calls, FaceTime, and Zoom, nothing replaces seeing your loved one face to face,” DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder wrote in a memo this weekend.

Tufts Center: Pandemic Budgeting Calls for Creativity

State House News: The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique event that is sure to rock the state budget and overall financial picture for years to come, and it might take some creativity and outside-the-box thinking from policymakers for Massachusetts to address both the need for individual and business aid and the state’s need for a stable budget.

That’s the conclusion of a new report that the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University published Monday morning to assess how Massachusetts, which has to maintain a balanced budget, might be able to assist residents and businesses struggling financially as a result of the pandemic while also addressing a widening state budget deficit.

Through 11 months of the fiscal year, Massachusetts tax collections are running $2.253 billion short of expectations for the year and the plan for addressing the shortfall – whether it’s covered with the help of federal bailouts or by tapping into the state’ $3.5 billion rainy day fund – remains unclear at this point.

June 5

AIM Seeks Answers from Baker Administration on Re-opening

Congress Approves Sweeping Changes to PPP

Boston Business Journal: Congress approved sweeping changes to the Protection Program Wednesday evening, making the program’s lending terms more favorable to restaurants, retailers and other businesses.

The bill now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature.

If signed into law by Trump, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act would:

  • Extend the “covered period” under which small businesses can spend the loan proceeds from eight weeks to 24 weeks, or until Dec. 31.
  • Remove the limits on loan forgiveness for small businesses that were unable to rehire employees, hire new employees or return to the same level of business activity as before the virus.
  • Expand the 25 percent cap to use PPP funds on nonpayroll expenses, such as rent, mortgage interest and utilities, to 40 percent of the total loan. That lowers the 75 percent requirement for payroll expenses to 60 percent to get maximum forgiveness.
  • Allow small businesses to take a PPP loan and also qualify for a separate, recently enacted tax credit to defer payroll taxes, currently prohibited to prevent “double dipping.”
  • Extend the loan terms for any unforgiven portions that need to be repaid from two years to five years, at 1 percent interest.
  • Give small businesses more time to rehire employees or to obtain forgiveness for the loan if social-distancing guidelines and health-related actions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other agencies prevented the business from operating at the same capacity as it had before March 1.
  • Extend the period for when a business can apply for loan forgiveness, from within six months to within 10 months of the last day of the covered period, before it must start making interest and principal payments. Under the new bill, PPP loan interest and payment of principal and fees will be deferred until the loan is forgiven by the lender.

New Unemployment Claims Continue to Slow

State House News: New unemployment claims filed last week continued a gradual downward trend from record highs as both Massachusetts and the country consider how to support a safe recovery from the pandemic’s unprecedented economic damage.

In Massachusetts, labor officials reported 27,034 new claims for traditional unemployment insurance between May 24 and May 30, about 10,000 fewer than a week earlier and roughly one-seventh as many as the highest weekly level observed in late March.

Almost 1.88 million more Americans filed claims over the same span, according to federal data.

At both the state and national level, new applications for standard jobless benefits declined for the ninth straight week while remaining significantly elevated above pre-pandemic levels.

Protests Raise Concerns about COVID-19 Transmission

State House News: Thousands of people congregating night after night to protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis poses a risk for the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged on Wednesday, but the governor said the state has no intention of trying to discourage these types of gatherings.

Any time there’s big gatherings with close quarters the potential for spread is real,” Baker said, calling it a “balancing act” between public health and First Amendment rights.

“We are still in the midst of a terribly dangerous and wildly contagious virus and this is certainly going to be a risk,” Baker said.

Boston Mayor Sees Progress on Virus Stats, Re-Opening Plans

State House News: Boston has met “initial benchmarks” for moving forward with an economic re-opening, and the city is logging COVID-19 recoveries at two to three times the rate at which new cases are being reported, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said Thursday.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Saturday is set to announce when Massachusetts residents, workers and employers can embark on the next phase of his four-step reopening program, during which restaurants can begin outdoor dining, retail stores can open with capacity limits, and child care facilities able to meet new precautionary requirements could resume operations.

The earliest that Phase II could begin is Monday, and Walsh suggested he anticipates there will be a Monday start, though not all city establishments will take advantage of it.

“Restaurants, I believe, can open Monday, outdoor capacity,” he said. “From my understanding, a lot of our restaurants in Boston probably won’t open outdoor capacity in the beginning unless they have pre-existing space because the space just isn’t enough for them, but they’re trying to figure out a system and how they make it work when they open up inside.”

COVID-19 Nursing Home Audits Show Progress, Concerns

State House News: More than four dozen nursing homes were flagged for concerning results in at least one category of a COVID-19 audit conducted in late May, the Baker administration announced Wednesday, adding that dozens more that previously received similar warnings fared well on follow-up investigations.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said 49 of the 230 nursing homes audited between May 18 and May 29 “remain in the red,” indicating they failed to meet one or more core measures of competency for responding to the highly infectious virus that has swept through facilities across the state.

Improper use of personal protective equipment was the most common issue within nursing homes through the first two rounds of audits, Sudders said. Another 180 facilities passed the inspection by scoring at least a 24 on the 28-point checklist to prevent infections, while one other was in adherence but still warrants reinspection.

Sudders said facilities that consistently rate poorly on the inspections and may endanger residents “will not be eligible for continued enhanced funding and subject to additional consequences, including potential termination from Medicaid receivership and other sanctions.”

Wednesday’s announcement covered the second of four rounds of audits the administration launched to track how well Massachusetts nursing homes are preventing COVID-19 risks.

Coalition: No Further Reopening Until Demands are Met

State House News: Gov. Charlie Baker on Saturday will announce whether to move Massachusetts into the next phase of its reopening from COVID-19 lockdown, but a group of doctors, union leaders and community and public health advocates on Thursday demanded the administration ensure that at-risk populations, including people of color, are adequately protected.

“We will not accept a reopening at the expense of workers, particularly low-wage workers and Black and Latinx communities,” said Carlene Pavlos, the executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association.

The association is part of a task force brought together in March to examine issues of equity in the state’s response to the spread of coronavirus. The task force has put together a set of criteria that it wants to see met before Baker moves the state further along its path to reopening, including documented declines in transmission in communities of color, greater worker protections and substantially more testing.

The list of demands has been signed onto by more than 100 people and organizations, including the ACLU of Massachusetts and elected leaders like Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell.

“The challenge is we as people have not been deemed essential, just our work,” said Atyia Martin, of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition.

The groups specifically want to see a sustained reduction in infections over a two-week period for both the overall state population, but also subgroups like people of color, seniors, the disabled and those working in high-risk occupations. Worker protections must also be strengthened, they said, and local boards of health must be given financial support through loans, grants or other technical assistance to be able to enforce health safety standards as businesses reopen. The third demand revolves around testing.

June 4

Attorney General Weighs in on COVID-19 Legal Protections for Employers

Boston Business Journal: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday preached the need for balance in protecting workers and customers from exposure to COVID-19 while at the same time giving employers room to reopen without undue fear of virus-related legal actions.

As businesses welcome back employees, some are worried that even if they follow mandatory safety standards, employees will still get sick and that the business could be held liable for exposing them to the virus. Congress is debating whether and how to protect businesses from such lawsuits, but without action from lawmakers, employers are concerned about the lack of broad, coronavirus-specific legal protections at the federal or state level.

“We do this by bringing people together, people from the community that advocate for and promote worker safety, (with) management-side attorneys,” Healey said. “We need to figure this out together, because there is a balance.”

Update from the Federal Trade Commission on Unemployment Benefits Fraud

A large-scale scam involving phony unemployment benefits claims has been making headlines. Criminals, possibly based overseas, are filing claims for benefits, using the names and personal information of people who have not lost their jobs. The investigation is ongoing, but this much is known: The fraud is affecting tens of thousands of people, slowing the delivery of benefits to people in real need, and costing states hundreds of millions of dollars.

Athletic Activities to Reopen, but With Phased Schedules

State House News: Outdoor fields, courts, pools and boating facilities could reopen as soon as next week for organized youth and adult sports, but Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said contact sports like basketball, baseball and soccer will be limited to no-contact drills and practices when Massachusetts moves into the next phase of its reopening.

New guidance released Wednesday from the Baker administration on outdoor and indoor athletic activities also allows for indoor sports facilities to reopen soon for organized youth activities, but groups must limited in size to 10 participants and games or scrimmages are still prohibited.

Fitness centers, yoga and spin studios, rock gyms, and other general fitness studios will remain closed.

The release of rules for youth and adult recreational sports comes as the Baker administration is preparing different sectors for their opportunity to reopen if and when the state moves into Phase Two of the governor’s economic restarting strategy.

Baker plans to make the announcement on Saturday whether the state is ready to move into Phase Two on Monday, or later, but pointed Wednesday to the encouraging sign in Tuesday’s public health report that the positive test rate had fallen from roughly 27 percent in mid-April to around 5 percent.

MassEcon Seeks Corporate Heroes for Economic Impact Awards

MassEcon is seeking nominations for its 17th Annual Economic Impact Awards: Celebrating 2020’s Massachusetts Corporate Heroes.

MassEcon says it will honor organizations in Massachusetts that have responded to the global pandemic in exceptional ways. These awardees, from every region of the state, will reflect the spirit of Massachusetts businesses to solve problems, serve their communities, and provide for the livelihoods of their workers.

Click here to see the criteria and submit nominations.

June 3

Child-Care Centers Could Re-Open Next Week

State House News: Child-care centers, summer camps and youth programs could be allowed to reopen as soon as next week under executive orders that Gov. Charlie Baker issued Monday alongside more specific guidelines that businesses in the second wave of re-openings will have to follow.

If public health data continues to trend in the right direction throughout this week, retailers could on Monday welcome customers back inside their stores, restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining, and the limit on gathering size – currently at 10 – will be “determined based on trends” as part of the second of four phases of the state’s economic restart.

Child-care facilities, recreational summer camps and youth programs will be allowed to open as part of phase two, Baker said, once they have submitted plans with the Department of Early Education and Care detailing health and safety protocols, including for food service and transportation. The department laid out its minimum requirements for health and safety, including a provision that limits groups to a maximum of 12 (including two adults) and a requirement that the various groups of children at a facility do not intermingle.

House Advancing Restaurant Relief Bill

State House News: Restaurants would be able to sell cocktails with to-go orders and the fees third-party delivery services charge restaurants would be capped under an industry relief bill that began moving in the House on Tuesday.

The restaurants bill includes language saying the industry has been “significantly impacted” by COVID-19 and social distancing, and that “the preservation and fiscal stability of the restaurant industry is critical to the economic security and cultural vitality of the commonwealth.”

It includes a provision waiving late fees and interest on delayed meals tax payments and language around municipal approval for outdoor dining and alcohol service.

Restaurants and bars, which are already allowed to sell limited quantities of beer and wine with takeout and delivery food orders during the COVID-19 state of emergency, would also be allowed, under the bill, to sell mixed drinks to go, in sealed containers and with customers limited to 64 ounces of mixed drinks per transaction.

The bill would bar third-party delivery services from charging restaurants a fee per online order that exceeds 15 percent of the order’s purchase price. House Democrats are holding a tele-caucus at noon and plan a formal session Wednesday, when the restaurant and voting reform bills could be up for votes.

House Panel Strips Postage Costs From Mail-In Bill

State House News: A House committee has changed the vote-by-mail bill released last week by a joint committee, adding a measure requiring pre-paid postage on return envelopes that would be provided to registered voters so that they wouldn’t have to pay to return their applications for a ballot or to vote by mail in the September and November state elections.

The adjustments were made by the House Ways and Means Committee, which released an amended version of the bill (H 4762) Tuesday morning in preparation for an expected debate on Wednesday afternoon. The committee is working on cost estimates for its bill.

The Election Laws Committee polled out a bill over the weekend that would require Secretary of State William Galvin to mail applications for a vote-by-mail ballot to the more than 4.5 million registered voters in Massachusetts by July 15. The bill would also expand in-person early voting for both the Sept. 1 primary and the Nov. 3 general election and give city and town clerks additional flexibility in how they run polling stations on election day.

Governor Addresses Contact Tracing in Wake of Mass Gatherings

State House News: The combination of large demonstrations and protests while a highly-contagious and deadly virus spreads would seem to pose significant challenges to the people tasked with tracking down anyone an infected person has had contact with, but Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday suggested the complication was not a concern.

For months, Baker and most public officials have been urging people to not congregate and to limit their contact with people from other households as ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Massachusetts hired a team of public health workers to trace the contacts of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 in hopes of slowing and stopping chains of transmission.

After a demonstration that drew 20,000 people to Boston on Sunday, the governor said he expects that people participating in large marches, rallies and protests know the people they come into close contact with at those events.

“One of the things I’ve learned about contact tracing is when you call the people who test positive and start talking to them about who their close contacts are, it varies a lot depending upon what they’ve been up to for the previous 48 hours or so … they know the people they’ve been in close contact with,” he said in response to a questions about contact tracing and large public gatherings.

Health Committee Advances Immunization Overhaul Bill

State House News: While it still has a long way to go, legislation standardizing immunization requirements and monitoring in Massachusetts cleared a hurdle last week by earning the support of the Public Health Committee.

Sen. Becca Rausch and Rep. Paul Donato announced that a committee rewrite of their bill (S 2359 / H 4096) received a favorable report from the committee with revisions that Rausch’s office said “are in line with the bill’s original intent.

“While I certainly did not predict a global pandemic when I crafted the Community Immunity Act, COVID-19 forcefully demonstrates the truth that public health experts have recognized and embraced for centuries – our personal health is inherently connected to the health of those around us,” Rausch said in a statement.

The legislation, which drew hours of testimony at a heated committee hearing in December, aims to centralize immunization requirements with the state Department of Public Health rather than individual schools or communities. It would authorize the DPH to set an immunization schedule for all child care, K-12 schools, summer camps and higher education, shift responsibility for managing medical or religious exemptions from districts to the DPH, call for collection of statewide data, and require covered programs to inform families whenever rates fall below a herd immunity level.

Senate Adopts Draft of Municipal Flexibility Legislation

State House News: The Senate adopted a new draft Monday of a package of pandemic-era provisions for local cities and towns aimed at helping them operate during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the bill as it now stands (S 2733) would ease restrictions on certain special municipal funds, allow the state education commissioner to issue emergency educator licenses, and allow municipal elections originally scheduled before June 30 to be rescheduled past July 31.

Representative town meetings would also be able to institute reduced quorums, something originally only applied to open town meetings, Tarr said.

The Senate also admitted a new House bill relative to remote participation for representative town meetings.

The municipalities bill now heads back to the House, which meets Tuesday at 11 a.m. Originally slated to only meet Monday and Thursday this week, the Senate revised its plans late in the afternoon to schedule an informal session for Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Memo Outlines Conditions for Long-Term Care Visits

State House News: Starting today, Massachusetts state officials will allow residents of nursing homes, rest homes and assisted-living facilities to receive guests during pre-scheduled outdoor visits.

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 4,349 people who live in such facilities. Visits to the facilities have been restricted since early March, but the governor indicated last week that plans were in the works to reestablish some form of in-person connection for residents.

In a memo to long-term care administrators Monday, Elizabeth Kelley, the director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality, said starting June 3 they “may allow in-person visitation in a designated outdoor visitation space, provided that the long-term care facility implements all of the following safety, care, and infection control measures.”

Those measures include a requirement that facilities screen visitors for fever or respiratory symptoms before transporting the resident to the visiting space; a two-visitor limit; a mandate that all visitors remain at least six feet away from the resident at all times during the visit; and that a staff member trained in patient safety and infection control stay with the resident at all times.

All visitors will be required to wear a face covering or mask for the duration of their visit, and all residents and staff members will be required to wear a surgical face mask. Residents who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 cannot receive visitors.

Fed-Backed Main Street Lending Program Ready to Launch

Boston Business Journal: A long-awaited federally backed loan program with loan limits from $500,000 to $200 million is being positioned to launch in early June.

In April, the Federal Reserve announced it would begin its $600 billion Main Street Lending Program that month, but it has been delayed as it was being developed to support relief loans for small and middle-market companies with no more than 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenue.

The program could be enticing to banks because “the Fed takes on a substantial amount of risk,” said K-deep Dhaliwal, a partner with accounting firm Moss Adams LLP’s Rancho Cordova office.

Main Street Lending is meant to help small and medium-sized businesses and their employees weather the pandemic-caused financial downturn, he said.

The program is for companies that were strong before the pandemic. The loans are meant to help the companies maintain operations until financial conditions return to normal, according to the Federal Reserve’s website.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston issued some initial guidance on the program last week, and the Federal Reserve is hosting an “Ask the Fed” webinar Thursday to provide lenders with more details about the program.

June 2, 2020

Governor Baker Issues Executive Order in Advance of Phase Two

Governor Charlie Baker issued an Executive Order yesterday that  provides a detailed list of businesses and activities that fall into Phases II, III, and IV of the commonwealth’s Re-Opening Plan.

The order permits all Phase II enterprises, including retail, to begin preparations to safely resume operation in advance of the start of the second phase.  In addition to the retail sector, the Executive Order details further requirements for the safe resumption of amateur youth and adult sports and outdoor dining.

Effective immediately, the Executive Order permits Phase II businesses to reopen their physical workplaces to workers only to conduct necessary preparations prior to the start of Phase II.  Preparations include but are not limited to completing a COVID-19 Control Plan, implementing sector-specific protocols, and complying with Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards.

For Reopening Phase II Executive Order, click here.
For Child-Care Provider Reopening Order, click here.
View Updated List of Enterprises in Phases II, III and IV

Retailers: Retail stores will transition from curbside pickup and delivery-only to browsing and in-store transactions with restrictions at the start of Phase II.

Social distancing guidance requires each retail store to monitor customer entries and exits and limit occupancy at all times to either eight persons (including store staff) per 1,000 square feet of accessible, indoor space, or 40 percent of the retail store’s maximum permitted occupancy, whichever is greater.

Grocery stores and retail stores with pharmacy services must provide at least one hour of dedicated time for adults 60 years of age and older, while all stores are encouraged to offer exclusive hours or other accommodations for high-risk populations.

For staffing, stores should adjust workplace hours and shifts, including leveraging staggered arrival / departure, to minimize contact across workers and to allow for on-going and off-hour sanitation and cleaning. Stores should also conduct frequent disinfecting of heavy transit areas and high-touch surfaces.

Operators of enclosed shopping malls and other indoor, multi-tenant retail spaces must monitor customer and worker entries and exits to common areas and limit occupancy of common areas at all times to 40 percent of maximum permitted occupancy levels. Mall amenities like seating in food courts, children’s play areas, and arcades must remain closed, while mall food vendors and restaurants may only provide take-out or delivery service.

Retailers that have been defined as providing Essential Services pursuant to COVID-19 Order No. 13 will be required to comply with these sector-specific safety protocols within one week of the date that retailers are authorized to open pursuant to the governor’s Phase II Reopening Order.

For full retail business guidance, click here.

Sports: The order allows organizers of amateur sports programs for youths and adults to open their premises to staff only to make preparations in advance of the start of Phase II.  In addition to requiring generally applicable COVID-19 workplace standards, the order specifies that during Phase II organized sports programs will operate under the following provisions:

  • Limiting traditional contact sports to no-contact drills and practices;
  • Prohibiting games, scrimmages, and tournaments;
  • Separating participants to into groups of 10 or fewer;
  • Restricting the use of indoor athletic facilities to supervised sports programs and sport camps for youths under the age of 18.

Sector-specific guidance for youth and adult amateur sports programs will be issued in the coming days.  Subject to the implementation of COVID-19 health and safety rules adopted by respective leagues, the order permits professional sports organizations to reopen their premises to employees and other workers for practices and training; however, professional sports organizations are not allowed to engage in inter-team games and sporting facilities will remain closed to the public.

Restaurants: Lastly, the order permits restaurants to provide outdoor dining service with restrictions upon the start of Phase II; assuming continued positive progression of public-health data, indoor dining may be authorized by a subsequent order during Phase II. In order to provide improved opportunities for outdoor table service, the order provides flexibility to a local licensing authority to grant approval for a change for any type of license that permits the sale of alcoholic beverages for on- premises consumption. In both outdoor and indoor dining cases, restaurants will be required to comply with sector-specific COVID-19 workplace safety rules for restaurants.

On May 18, the Baker Administration released Reopening Massachusetts, the Reopening Advisory Board’s report, which details a four-phased strategy to responsibly reopen businesses and activities while continuing to fight COVID-19.

VIEW THE FULL REPORT
 VIEW GUIDANCE FOR SPECIFIC INDUSTRIES

  • Here for Lodgings
  • Here for Restaurants
  • Here for Childcare and Camps

Mail-in, Early Voting Bill Clears Committee 14-0

State House News: Legislation that would require state officials to mail every registered voter an application for a mail-in ballot cleared a key committee with no lawmakers in opposition and three declining to take a position.

The Election Laws Committee voted 14-0 to endorse a bill (H 4762) expanding vote-by-mail and early voting options, steps aimed at ensuring participation in the Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 general elections while minimizing COVID-19 risks.

All 11 representatives on the committee, including Republicans Nicolas Boldyga and Marc Lombardo, supported the proposal, according to results provided by co-chair Rep. John Lawn’s office. Three senators — co-chair Barry Finegold, Brendan Crighton and Edward Kennedy — voted to favorably report the bill through the legislative process. Democratic Sens. Jamie Eldridge and Sonia Chang-Diaz, among the Legislature’s most progressive members, and Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman neither supported nor opposed it.

Democratic leaders unveiled the proposal Friday, combining elements of election reform bills filed in response to the pandemic. The legislation still needs to emerge in both the House and Senate for approval before it can go to Gov. Charlie Baker, who has questioned the urgency of the issue.

“Cocktails for Commonwealth” Movement Hits Beacon Hill

State House News: Restaurants could sell sealed containers of mixed drinks with to-go orders under a bill filed by a senator from Methuen.

The emergency preamble on Sen. Diana DiZoglio’s bill (SD 2952) says its purposes is “to expand revenue-generating options in response to the COVID-19 economic crisis for local establishments licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.”

A law Gov. Charlie Baker signed on April 3 allows restaurants and bars to sell limited quantities of beer and wine, in their original containers, with takeout and delivery orders. Restaurants remain barred from serving customers in their dining rooms under a March order from Baker. Some restaurateurs and bartenders have been advocating to be allowed to serve cocktails with their takeout orders as well, a measure that has been allowed in some other states, including Rhode Island.

An online “Cocktails for Commonwealth” petition had more than 400 signatures as of Monday morning.

New Laws, Flexibility Needed to Facilitate Outdoor Dining

State House News: While some municipalities work to make it easier for restaurants to reopen with outdoor dining, the head of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber said other businesses can help and that diners need to be prepared to pay more for a meal out.

Restaurants have been limited to takeout and delivery during the business shutdowns to slow transmission of the deadly coronavirus, but will be allowed as early as next Monday to serve guests seated outdoors.

Chamber President Greg Reibman said Needham has already established three outdoor areas where the public can enjoy takeout meals and that Newton is starting this week to put tables and chairs in municipal parking lots near restaurants.

“Public spaces are a great first step. But restaurants also need support bypassing a maze of regulations so they can serve just outside their doors (with space to practice social distancing and other safety measures). That includes lawmakers on Beacon Hill who must vote to suspend the state’s arduous outdoor alcohol licensing process,” Reibman wrote in the chamber’s newsletter Monday morning.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said last week that she and the governor are working with the Legislature to “streamline the process for local permitting” for restaurants that did not previously place tables outside.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he “would fully expect … you’re going to see a lot of parking lots” converted to dining areas as restaurants are allowed to reopen.

“The rest of us have a big role too. Non-restaurants should allow restaurateurs to place tables in front of their storefronts. Landlords need to be flexible too. Neighbors will need to be tolerant of outdoor noise this summer. We’ll also need a campaign to emphasize that restaurants are back and safe,” Reibman wrote.

Suit Alleges Baker Overstepped Powers During Pandemic

State House News: Gov. Charlie Baker overstepped the constitutional separation of powers with his statewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a national group alleged in a new lawsuit filed on behalf of Massachusetts small business owners.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance, a non-profit organized to fight what it describes as the “unconstitutional administrative state,” filed a case in Worcester Superior Court asking the judiciary to nullify Baker’s March 10 state of emergency declaration and the dozens of executive orders he has issued since then.

In its legal filing, the organization argued on behalf of 10 small businesses that the governor was incorrect to adopt emergency powers under the Civil Defense Act because the law is designed for threatening crises such as invasions and natural disasters, not pandemics.

The Public Health Act confers main responsibility for disease control to local boards of health, the NCLA argued, adding that statewide pandemic policies should be in the hands of the Legislature rather than Baker.

At a virtual press conference organized alongside the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which is not a party in the case, NCLA Senior Litigation Counsel Michael DeGrandis said NCLA does not question Baker’s motives but wants to “restore constitutional order to government.”

While the Legislature has passed numerous new laws in response to the pandemic and its impacts, many of the major rules that are governing life and business activity during the crisis – including mandatory use of face coverings when social distancing is not possible, closure of K-12 schools and child care, and non-essential business shutdowns – have been included in executive orders issued by Baker.

Landlords Ask SJC to Invalidate Anti-Eviction Law

State House News: Two landlords have asked the state’s highest court to invalidate a law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in April halting evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that the mandatory pause violates their constitutional rights.

In a lawsuit filed with the Supreme Judicial Court on Friday, plaintiffs said the moratorium left them with no viable options to recoup financial losses associated with tenants not paying rent.

The law halts most housing removals defined as non-emergency while the state of emergency Baker declared is still in effect. While it does not exempt homeowners or tenants from requirements to pay mortgages and rent, it blocks landlords from imposing late fees or alerting a credit agency if a renter can prove the failure to pay stems from a COVID-related financial hardship.

Landlords said in their petition that they understand the strain many renters are feeling, but that the relief offered by the law is inappropriately one-sided.

State Extends Insurance Coverage Deadline; Addresses Provider Concerns

Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association (MHA) Monday Report: Individuals in the commonwealth not currently enrolled in a health plan now have until June 23 to enroll. Due to COVID-19, the Division of Insurance (DOI) had announced a limited-time special enrollment period with an original deadline of April 25. That deadline was then extended to May 25, and now, through a bulletin released last week, the deadline has been extended to June 23. The extension does not allow individuals to switch plans; it’s strictly for those without coverage to get coverage.

DOI has also continued its series of weekly calls with health-care providers to address questions and concerns about waivers and other flexibilities implemented for commercial health insurance companies since Governor Baker declared a state of emergency in March.

The current focus is on clarification of COVID-19 testing coverage, billing codes, and reimbursement. As the state pushes to expand testing, there has been much confusion around coverage for asymptomatic individuals, the need for a clinician referral, the different coding requirements used by different carriers, and the level of reimbursement.

Distinguishing between coverage/criteria for antibody testing versus PCR testing has also been a topic of discussion. (PCR tests are used to directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of the body’s immune response, or antibodies.) Compliance with Massachusetts executive orders particularly by some national plans has been another area of provider concern that DOI is addressing.

United States Dept. Of Labor Wage and Hour Division Update

What Employers Should Know About New Paid Leave Requirements

Covered employers must provide paid leave to all employees.

Paid sick leave up to two weeks or 80 hours at the employees’ regular rate of pay or the minimum wage (whichever is higher), if one of these scenarios applies:

  • They are under a government quarantine or stay-at-home order.
  • They have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
  • They are seeking a diagnosis for COVID-19 symptoms.

Paid sick leave up to two weeks or 80 hours at 2/3 of the employees’ regular rate of pay or the minimum wage (whichever is higher), if either scenario applies:

  • They are caring for somebody under a government quarantine or stay-at-home order, or who has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
  • They are caring for their child whose school, child care provider, or place of care is unavailable due to COVID-19.

Paid family and medical leave up to 10 additional weeks at 2/3 of the employees’ regular rate of pay, if both criteria apply:

  • They are caring for their child whose school, child care provider, or place of care is unavailable due to COVID-19; and
  • They have been employed by the employer for at least 30 calendar days.

Paid leave is capped at specific maximum amounts per worker. Learn more about calculating pay here.

Paid sick leave is limited to a total of 80 hours.

Compliance Assistance Resources

The Labor Department has conducted hundreds of outreach events to educate workers and employers about the benefits and protections of this new law, and will continue to add compliance assistance materials at dol.gov/FFCRA.

For more help understanding the FFCRA or other federal wage and hour laws, employers and workers can also call 1-866-4US-WAGE or contact us online.

May 30, 2020

Administration Provides Update on Phase II of Re-opening Plan, Releases Guidance for Restaurants and Lodging

The Baker Administration today provided an update on the Re-opening Massachusetts plan and preparations for Phase II. The administration will determine the start of Phase II on June 6.

Governor Charlie Baker will issue an executive order Monday with a detailed list of sectors that fall into each phase. The order will allow Phase II businesses to bring back employees in preparation for re-opening.

Through this order, professional sports teams can begin practicing at their facilities in compliance with the health and safety rules that all the leagues are developing. Facilities remain closed to the public.

View Workplace Safety Guidelines for the Restaurant and Lodging Industries.

Learn more about the re-opening process: www.mass.gov/reopening

The administration also issued workplace safety standards for restaurants and lodging. The standards are organized around four distinct categories covering Social Distancing, Hygiene Protocols, Staffing and Operations and Cleaning and Disinfecting.

Restaurants: Outdoor dining will begin at the start of Phase II. Indoor dining will begin later within Phase II, subject to public-health data. Even when indoor seating is permitted, use of outdoor space will be encouraged for all restaurants.

Social distancing guidance includes spacing tables six feet apart with a maximum party size of six people. The use of bars, except for spaced table seating, will not be permitted. For hygiene protocols, utensils and menus should be kept clean through single use or with strict sanitation guidelines, reservations or call ahead seating is recommended and contactless payment, mobile ordering or text on arrival for seating will also be encouraged.

Restaurants will be expected to follow cleaning and disinfecting guidelines, in accordance with CDC guidance. This includes closing an establishment temporarily if there is a case of COVID-19 in an establishment.

For full restaurant guidance, click here.

Lodging: Hotels, motels and other lodging businesses will be allowed to expand their operations in Phase II. Lodging safety standards apply to all forms of lodging including hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and short term residential rentals including Airbnb and VRBO.

Event spaces, like ballrooms and meeting rooms, will remain closed. On-site restaurants, pools, gyms, spas, golf courses and other amenities at lodging sites may operate only as these categories are authorized to operate in accordance with the phased re-opening plan. Lodging operators also must inform guests of the commonwealth’s policy urging travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days when arriving from out-of-state.

For full lodging guidance, click here.

On May 18th, the Baker-Polito Administration released Reopening Massachusetts, the Reopening Advisory Board’s report, which details a four-phased strategy to responsibly reopen businesses and activities while continuing to fight COVID-19.

View the full report

View Guidance for specific industries

Income Loss More Likely in Households with Kids:

State House News: Fifty-five percent of U.S. households with a child under the age of 18 have had at least one adult lose employment income since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Census Bureau survey.

The survey found that adults in households with children were more likely to report permanent loss of employment and food shortages since the pandemic began. Adults not living with children were more likely to indicate their unemployment was due to a furlough or otherwise was a temporary state.

Adults in households with children were also less confident in their ability to pay rent or mortgage in June than those who do not live with minor children, the Census Bureau said.

Walsh Worried About State Aid Cuts

State House News: If state officials scale back the aid they provide to cities and towns to close budget gaps, Boston will have a hard time serving its residents, Mayor Martin Walsh said Thursday.

State leaders have not settled on a spending plan yet, but Walsh said any cuts to local aid would be harmful.

“Certainly, we’re all concerned about any cuts to state aid,” he said at a press conference when asked about the chance of cuts. “It’s our second largest source of revenue, and any cuts to state aid will impact our ability to provide core municipal services that our residents have depended on during this time.”

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates that the state will bring in $6 billion less in tax revenues next fiscal year than originally projected, and the group said Thursday that the budget could remain strained for several more years.

Neal Touts $36.6 Mil for PVTA

State House News: The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will use $36.6 million in new federal funds to provide service during the COVID-19 public health emergency and respond to post-coronavirus needs, according to Congressman Richard Neal. The Springfield Democrat held a noon event on Friday in his hometown with PVTA Administrator Sandra Sheehan to discuss the funding, approved as part of the CARES Act.

Neal, who chairs the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, recently helped push a $3 trillion aid bill through the U.S. House. That bill, which supporters say is critical to preserving government services and budgets in states hardest hit by COVID-19, faces an uncertain fate in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

State Takes out $1.75 Billion Credit Line as Revenues Crumble

Boston Globe – Drawing little public attention at the time, Massachusetts state officials opened a $1.75 billion line of credit this month to help plug budget gaps ripped open by the novel coronavirus, a grim fiscal reality that, one watchdog warned, could hang over the state for years.

The credit line, disclosed in a nearly 600-page financial statement released last week by state leaders, marks a rare step by state officials, both in its size and purpose. While the state regularly leans on tens of billions of dollars in borrowing to help fund projects, entering a line of credit to potentially help the state’s cash flow is more unusual.

The state entered the credit line on May 11 with a syndicate of commercial banks, including Bank of America, and it doesn’t expire until May 2021, according to the financial document.

State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg’s office, which is responsible for issuing the state’s debt, said the state has not yet drawn on the credit line.

CVS Opens Testing Facility in Pittsfield

Berkshire Eagle: Pleas to expand the availability of testing for the coronavirus will bore fruit yesterday as the drugstore chain CVS unveiled self-administered swabs at its West Street location in Pittsfield. It is the first alternative to public testing administered by Berkshire Health Systems. The closest CVS location offering tests has been West Springfield.

While lawmakers and the city’s health director applaud the expansion, they warn that until tests for the virus are widely available, Berkshire County’s confirmed cases tally might be misleading. As of Wednesday, the county had at least 537 cases, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Opening Your Office on Monday? Here are Boston’s Guidelines

Boston Business Journal: Here are some highlights from the city’s guidance, as well as minimum standards required by the state:

Social distancing

  • Signage marking 6-foot social distance at high traffic areas such as entrances, lobbies and reception
  • Closing lobby seating areas to limit public interactions and public access to buildings
  • Installing sanitizing stations at high-traffic areas
  • Discouraging use of revolving doors in favor of swinging doors
  • Limiting the number of people in an elevator to no more than four at a time, and encouraging building occupants to use the stairs to travel down if possible
  • In cafeterias, mark one-way directional traffic flow and install touchless payment options where possible

Hygiene

  • Where possible, open windows for ventilation
  • Avoid sharing office equipment, or disinfect equipment between each use
  • Ensure access to handwashing facilities onsite, including soap and running water, or provide access to hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol
  • Keep building systems running longer — all day and night, if possible — to enhance air flow and exchange

Staffing and operations

  • Establish a Covid-19 prevention plan for your office, and have a workplace coordinator to be responsible for Covid-19 issues in the workplace
  • Workers must wear face coverings when social distancing of six feet is not possible, except when it’s unsafe due to a medical condition or disability
  • Building management must ensure that custodial, security and other building management staff have access to personal protective equipment such as masks — those staff are not responsible for providing their own PPE
  • Employers must make face coverings available for employees — ideally, reusable, cloth face coverings — and are encouraged to use their own face coverings in the workplace
  • Workers must continue to work remotely if feasible
  • Develop a policy for screening employees as well as anyone who comes into the space, including temporary visitors who are dropping off packages, to enable contact tracing
  • Allow for flexible work hours when possible to encourage off-hours commuting

Cleaning and disinfecting

  • Schedule frequent cleaning of public spaces
  • All hand-washing stations must be well-stocked with soap and paper towels and checked and restocked at least three times a day
  • Common areas should be cleaned by staff or professional cleaners no less than twice a day
  • All high-touch areas (such as doorknobs, light switches, sink faucets and toilet seats) must be cleaned and disinfected with an EPA-approved disinfectant at least three times a day, and five times a day if possible
  • Offices should keep a daily log of cleaning and disinfecting on site.

May 29, 2020

Read AIM’s New Phase 1 Re-Opening Fact Sheet

Massachusetts Phase 1 Re-Opening Fact Sheet

Crowding Thresholds to Dictate MBTA Operations

As more people begin returning to the office and venturing onto the subway or commuter rail to get work, the MBTA is exploring ways to communicate with riders about crowding and making alternative modes of transportation available if trains or buses become too full for passengers to safely distance from one another.

The efforts are part of the MTBA’s planning process to begin ramping up service in the second phase of Gov. Charlie Baker’s economic reopening plan, which could begin in as soon as June 8. But the answers to questions about how to safely operate a public transit system in the middle of a pandemic are not always clear.

COVID-19 Tracker

State House News: Massachusetts continued its progress along a gradual path from COVID-inflicted shutdowns toward the new normal Wednesday, even as the death toll since the start of the outbreak surpassed 6,500.

Public health officials reported 74 new deaths Wednesday for a total of 6,547 and there were 527 confirmed new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 94,220 infections.

Boston Announces Office Reopening Framework

Mayor Marty Walsh yesterday announced a new framework for all office spaces located within Boston.

At a minimum, employers and building/property management must follow state-issued standards for re-opening office workplaces, including the mandate that businesses and other organizations shall limit occupancy within their office space to no more than 25 percent of the maximum occupancy level during Phase 1.

The “operational recommendations” issued by the city will apply during Phase 1 and are subject to revision and modification during subsequent phases or as necessitated by public health considerations. The recommendations focus on four distinct categories covering Social Distancing, Hygiene Protocols, Staffing and Operations, and Cleaning and Disinfecting. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying and clearly communicating a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 and the impact to the workplace.
  • Providing personal protective gear for any employee whose job functions requires it, as identified in the hazard assessment, including training on how to put on and remove equipment safely.
  • Limiting the number of people in an elevator at a time to no more than four. All individuals must wear face coverings in elevators, except where unsafe due to medical condition or disability.
  • Stair usage should be limited to one direction (down) except in cases of emergency.
  • Regular sanitization of handrails, buttons, door handles and other high-touch frequency areas.
  • Establish accommodation and leave policies for employees that are consistent with federal standards.

The city hopes employees who can work from home continue to do so throughout this recovery in order to limit potential exposure and allow for a successful and resilient reopening.

Slow Climb From Economic Mess Will Take Years

State House News: The hopes for a sharp and immediate economic recovery in Massachusetts are no longer realistic, a leading Beacon Hill fiscal watchdog said Thursday, predicting a long and slow rebound that will strain state resources and delay a full recovery until 2025.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation followed up a paper earlier this month that downgraded its revenue estimates for the fiscal year that begins July 1 with a newly pessimistic outlook on the years to follow as well.

The group said that following the economic downturns in Massachusetts in 2002 and the 2009 it took three years before tax revenues rebounded to their pre-recession levels. The new MTF paper said it is “reasonable” to assume it would take at least as long this time given how steep and widespread the slowdown has been.

“When the potential structural changes to key pillars of the economy are considered, it could take considerably longer for the state to recoup tax revenues lost from this pandemic,” the paper concludes. If tax revenues grew at 6 percent a year beginning in fiscal 2022, MTF said it would take until fiscal year 2025 for revenue to fully recover, assuming a drop in tax revenues of 20 percent or more in the near term.

Scientists Underscore Need for Masks

Boston Globe: Experts from the University of California San Diego are emphasizing the need for everyone to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while warning that the virus may float through the air farther than the well-known six-foot spacing officials have asked people to maintain.

The researchers, in a Perspective article published Wednesday in the journal Science, warned of the dangers of aerosols emitted by people who are infected by the virus and who don’t even know it.

Fall Running of the Boston Marathon Has Been Canceled

State House News: The previously postponed 2020 Boston Marathon has been canceled and will not be held on the Sept. 14 date officials originally targeted when they called off the traditional April running of the 26.2-mile road race due to the coronavirus, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced Thursday.

Earlier this year, city leaders and the Boston Athletic Association agreed to delay the race for the first time in its 124-year history because of the enormous health risks posed by bringing together thousands of runners and even more spectators in close proximity.

They hoped to create a new state holiday on Sept. 14 to recreate the marathon experience in the fall, but Walsh said Thursday that hosting the major event in less than four months has become “less and less plausible.”

Organizers plan to issue refunds to any participants who had registered for the race, and they will also organize a “virtual marathon” in an attempt to fill the void that will exist until the 2021 iteration of the race.

Data Collection Bill Enacted; House Creates COVID-19 Economic Response and Recovery Committee

State House News: After several weeks of back and forth, the Legislature sent Gov. Charlie Baker a sweeping COVID-19 data reporting bill (H 4672) that overhauls much of the state’s reporting on the virus. In recent weeks, the Department of Public Health has been updating its data dashboard with additional information as the state starts to implement a restart strategy. Lower branch lawmakers also approved (H 4757), a House COVID-19 temporary special standing committee to review the federal and state economic response and recovery efforts in Massachusetts. The House meets next on Monday at 11 a.m. in an informal session.

MA DPH Weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report – May 27

The Weekly Public Health Report includes enhanced, more granular information to be updated on a weekly, or biweekly basis, including town-by-town case and testing information, cases and deaths in Long Term Care Facilities, updates on nursing facility audit results, and more. Read about this newly enhanced reporting in the Administration’s press release.

COVID-19 Dashboard – May 27, 2020

The COVID-19 Dashboard includes daily and cumulative confirmed cases; cases by hospital, county, and age/sex/ethnicity; testing by date; deaths; hospital capacity and census; nursing home data; and PPE distribution.

Unemployment Claims Increase Again

Boston Business Journal: The number of gig workers, self-employed and others making unemployment claims under a special pandemic program continues to grow in Massachusetts, even as traditional jobless claims remain at historically high levels.

For the week ending May 23, the state saw more than 147,500 initial claims to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which is meant to cover the self-employed, workers in the gig economy, and others ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits.

The PUA claims jumped by 27 percent from the previous seven-day period. Last week marked the beginning of the reopening of the Massachusetts economy, with manufacturers and construction firms getting the green light to resume activities.

May 28, 2020

Governor Signs Bill Extending Maximum Length of Unemployment Benefits

State House News: Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday evening signed into law a suite of unemployment insurance relief measures to help employers and claimants during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill signed into law (S 2618) includes an expansion of the maximum allowable claims period from 26 weeks to 30 weeks for any week in which claims exceed 100,000; a provision exempting employers’ experience ratings from impacts of COVID-19 and the current state of emergency; and a measure lifting the cap on dependency benefits that currently stands at 50 percent.

The legislation had bounced between the House and Senate in different versions since April and lawmakers got it to Baker’s desk last week before Memorial Day weekend. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr last week said the bill includes “a number of important tools … to help not only the integrity of the unemployment insurance system but also to help those who are dependent upon it, and for whom so many have become dependent as a result.”

The state’s unemployment rate surged to 15.1 percent in April as the state lost 623,000 jobs. Since March 15, Massachusetts labor officials have received more than 1.23 million new claims for traditional unemployment insurance or the expanded eligibility Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

AIM Response to Re-Opening Plan

Letter

Be On Alert for National Unemployment Insurance Scam 

Associated Industries of Massachusetts today warned employers and workers to be on alert for a national scheme in which scammers are using stolen person information to file fraudulent unemployment claims in Massachusetts. Th

READ MORE

AIM Plays PPE Matchmaker

State House News:  Businesses across Massachusetts are starting to re-open after a months-long shutdown, and when they do items like masks, gloves, protective gowns and cleaning supplies will be in high demand as employers work to meet the state’s strict criteria for operating safely during a pandemic.

To make it easier for business owners to locate the supplies they need, Associated Industries of Massachusetts said Tuesday it hopes to have a “marketplace” page set up on its website in the next several days to match buyers with sellers of personal protective equipment or cleaning services.

AIM is asking member companies that make, provide sell or distribute in-demand products and services to supply the group with necessary contact information that can be shared free of charge on its website. The business trade group said it plans to highlight companies based in Massachusetts and will not vouch for any of the products or services.

“It’s a great way to ensure that companies get the supplies they need while supporting the Massachusetts business community,” AIM said in an email announcing the effort.

Apply to be Listed on the AIM Protective Equipment/Re-Opening Services Page

AIM Launches 2020 Emplyment Law Reference Guide, Free for Members

AIM is sharing with member employers at no charge the 2020 Employment Laws for Massachusetts Companies Reference Guide. The guide is updated annually to reflect recent changes in federal and state law, as well as regulatory and case-law developments.

New and significantly updated information is highlighted in color throughout the reference guide.

The association will conduct an Employment Law Webinar to review important updates of changes to federal and state laws in 2020 as outlined in the Guide. Tom Jones, Esq., Vice President, AIM, will be joined by two attorneys from the law firm McLane Middleton, Andrew Botti and Charla Stevens.

Register to attend AIM’s Employment Law Webinar
1:00 PM – 2:30 pm  | Tuesday, June 9

Poll: Commuting Habits Likely to Change

State House News: The full-service resumption of public transportation has been eyed as a key to restarting the state’s economy, but new polling suggests that commuting habits are likely to change as workers slowly return to the office, with more people eyeing a permanent work-from-home schedule and a majority of commuters uncomfortable, for now, with the idea of returning to trains and buses.

Baker: Accelerated Work Will Improve Blue Line Service

State House News: For the MBTA, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented both challenges and opportunities.

Gov. Charlie Baker was in East Boston on Wednesday to highlight the ways decreased ridership during the economic shutdown has allowed the MBTA to expedite projects like the replacement of track, fare gates and other Blue Line infrastructure. The project, which is expected to improve service and is part of an $8 billion MBTA modernization plan, will be completed in two weeks, as opposed to the 12 to 14 weeks originally blocked off for it, with work to be done on weekends.

But the challenges are also front and center. With many trains already running with few passengers, new polling suggests that as much as two-thirds of residents would be hesitant to return public transportation.

“Buses, ferries and trains are unique environments. Fighting the virus in these settings is only possible through shared responsibility,” Baker said.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the MBTA would be implementing crowding thresholds based on recommendations from the World Health Organization. For instance, a bus with 58 people use to be considered crowded. Now the threshold will be 20 passengers, at which point the T will attempt to deploy additional buses or take other steps to reduce crowding. “The new normal for the T will very much be dictated by crowding thresholds,” Poftak said.

Walsh Hoping for Clearer Picture for Higher Education

State House News: Boston Mayor Martin Walsh hopes to see college students return to the city for in-person education this fall, but said the outlook will remain unclear for weeks as the state continues its progression away from the peak in COVID-19 cases.

Asked during a Tuesday press conference if there was a safe way to reopen higher education after the summer, Walsh said he believes “it’s a little too early to give you a full answer.”

“There’s always a safe way to do things, and certainly, I would love the opportunity for our college students to come back to Boston in the fall, but I still think there’s some questions about some of the accommodations we’d have to provide such as housing accommodations, transportation accommodations, what would testing look like,” Walsh said.

“All of those questions still need to be answered.”

The mayor, who said he has been in regular contact higher education officials, pointed to indications from Boston College officials that they plan to be open in the fall while Boston University plans to roll out testing protocols for its students. Many other colleges have not yet outlined their plans as they continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19.

A transmission spike could occur as Massachusetts and other states revive business activity and Walsh urged the public to remain committed to safety precautions, which many but not all people have adhered to. “The intention is to open (colleges) in the fall. I hope we can do that. I just don’t know where we’re going to be in cases,” he said. “We’ll be better prepared to answer that question probably in the next three weeks.”

Riley’s Aim: Have Schools “Up and Running” in Fall

State House News: State education officials intend to provide school districts with guidance on summer programming early next week, followed by a mid-June distribution of draft fall guidance to help schools plan to reopen in the new academic year.

According to Riley’s May 14 message to school leaders, the working group “will help develop a K-12 summer and fall restart and recovery plan” that will include guidance on teaching and learning; physical and virtual learning environments; operations and business services; and behavioral health and social and emotional learning.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s Reopening Advisory Board members…

Miceal Chamberlain, MA President, Bank of America
Quincy Miller, President & Vice Chairman, Eastern Bank
Yvonne Garcia, Chief of Staff to CEO, State Street Corporation
Robyn Glaser, Senior VP of Business Affairs, The Kraft Group
Amy Latimer, President, TD Garden
Jim Rooney, President & CEO, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
Jody Rose, President, New England Venture Capital Association
Dr. Robert Brown, President, Boston University
Dr. Lee Pelton, President, Emerson College
Alexandra Oliver-Dávila, Vice Chairperson, BPS School Committee
Sandra Fenwick, CEO, Boston Children’s Hospital
Michael Curry, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, MA League of Community Health Centers
Jeff Leiden, Executive Chairman, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
David Altshuler, Executive VP Global Research & Chief Scientific Officer, Vertex
Dan Koh, COO, HqO
Ed Kane, Owner, Big Night Entertainment Group
Jim Grossman, National Chief Operating Officer, Suffolk Construction
Martha Sheridan, President & CEO, GBCVB
Jaimie McNeil, General Agent, UNITE HERE Local 26
Darlene Lombos, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Greater Boston Labor Council
Brian Doherty, Secretary Treasurer and General Agent, Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District
Micho Spring, Chair, Weber Shandwick
Joanne Chang, Owner, Flour Bakery
Cheryl Straughter, Owner, Soleil Restaurant
Bishop Wiliam Dickerson, Greater Love Tabernacle
Linda Henry, Managing Director of The Boston Globe
Paul Ayoub, Partner, Nutter McClennen & Fish

State Street Tapped for Role in Fed’s PPP Alternative 

Boston Business Journal: The Federal Reserve has selected State Street Corp. as the custodian bank for the Main Street Lending Program, a Fed initiative that covers midsize businesses struggling during the pandemic that are too large to be eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.

The Fed announced the Main Street program in March, around the same time the PPP was unveiled, but it has taken much longer to get off the ground. The Boston Fed is overseeing the $600 billion program on behalf of the entire central bank.

PPP Totals Drop in Massachusetts

Boston Business Journal: Small businesses across Massachusetts have seen about $14.25 billion through 105,819 loans approved in total by the Small Business Administration’s $649 billion Paycheck Protection Program as of Saturday, according to the latest numbers from the agency.

The most recent total actually represents a drop from the $14.29 billion that the SBA reported through May 16 for Massachusetts businesses. That dip in loan approvals was echoed nationally, where $513 billion in total approved loans, as of May 16, fell to $511 billion as of Saturday.

That means that in Massachusetts, there was $44.3 million less in approved PPP loans on Saturday than there had been a week earlier, even though 1,404 additional loans were approved over that seven-day span.

Boston Launches $6 Million Fund for Re-Openings

Boston Business Journal: Boston officials have pledged $6 million in grants to support small businesses where employees must work in close proximity with either coworkers or customers — such as hair salons and barber shops, retail stores, gyms and food service establishments — to provide personal protective equipment so those businesses can reopen.

Companies with fewer than 15 employees can apply for up to $2,000 for materials such as masks and safety partitions for customers and employees. The funding will be available in three rounds: first, for personal services including barber shops and hair salons; second, for retail, restaurants, nail salons, day spas, waxing and laser services; and third, for bars, arts and entertainment venues and fitness businesses.

Applications open Thursday at 5 p.m. at www.boston.gov/reopen-fund.

May 27, 2020

AIM Responds to the Massachusetts Reopening Plan

Read AIM’s letter to Governor Baker & Lt. Governor Polito

State Treasurer Offers ‘Ingenuity’ Grants

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg is offering $2,500 Small-Business Grants for companies located in Gateway Cities that show ingenuity during the COVID-19 crisis.

Goldberg’s Office of Economic Empowerment is accepting applications through Friday, May 29. Grants are targeted to unusual expenses caused by the health crisis.

Applicants are eligible if they are considered a small business, have been in operation for at least one year and are registered in Massachusetts. Preference will be given to those that operate in a Gateway City. The Treasurer’s office encourages applications from minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned and/or immigrant-owned small businesses.

ISO: Region’s Power Grid Ready for Demand Uncertainty

State House News Service: Though they are planning for fluctuations in demand from having more people working from home this summer, power grid operators predict a sufficient supply of electricity to meet demand as the hotter months approach.

ISO New England said it has seen a 3 percent to 5 percent reduction in consumer electricity demand during the COVID-19 pandemic but that it is uncertain just how demand will be affected this summer as more people work from home instead of in office buildings.

Electricity demand in New England is highest in the summer when residents and businesses turn to air conditioning to beat the heat and humidity.

ISO-NE last week forecasted that demand this summer will peak at 25,125 megawatts (MW) under typical weather conditions and that extreme summer weather, like an extended heat wave, could push demand up to 27,084 MW. The grid operator said that more than 33,000 MW of capacity is expected to be available to meet demand.

Pandemic Accelerates Shift Toward Work from Home

State House News Service: The COVID-19 pandemic injected a bolt of momentum into a work-from-home trend that was already underway and will likely become permanent or more frequent for many workers, a societal change with impacts on everything from traffic and public transportation to commercial real estate, the dynamics inside homes, and the health of small businesses that rely on workers who pop in before, during and after their shifts.

In a policy brief published Tuesday, the Pioneer Institute released results of a 10-question survey that found nearly 63 percent of respondents preferred to work from home one day per week, and a plurality would like two to three days a week at home, even after a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

Boston Field Hospital to Stop Accepting COVID-19 Patients

State House News Service: With public health data indicating “that we are trending in the right direction” in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the 1,000-bed field hospital set up last month at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center “is no longer necessary” and will stop accepting new patients.

The BCEC field hospital, known as Boston Hope, was opened April 10 as the state was bracing for the surge in COVID-19 patients and was preparing for the possibility that the region’s hospitals would become overwhelmed by infected patients. Baker said Tuesday that the half of the Boston Hope run by Partners HealthCare treated about 700 COVID-19 patients and will remain operational until each of its current patients is discharged.

The governor said the 1,000 bed makeshift hospital will remain at the BCEC through the summer “if we need it.” A field hospital established on Cape Cod closed earlier this month before treating a patient, and field hospitals in Worcester and Lowell have also been phased out.

OSHA Issues Revised Enforcement Guidance Clarifying When An Employer May Need to Record COVID-19 Case As Occupational Illness 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) last week issued Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (“revised guidance”).

The revised guidance took effect on Tuesday and is intended to be time-limited to the current COVID-19 crisis.

Click here to download/read the full HRW client alert

Related Littler Client Alert

AIM to Match Makers and Sellers of Protective Equipment with Companies that Need It

Does your company make or sell protective equipment? Do you provide re-opening services?

Massachusetts companies now re-opening under mandatory safety standards are wondering where to purchase protective equipment and services that have been in short supply throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why AIM is launching an effort to match companies in need of protective equipment with member employers who provide it.

We’re keeping it simple and straightforward. Here’s how it works:

  • If your company makes, provides, sells or distributes products or services that companies need to re-open, click here and provide your contact information. Potential customers are looking for everything from masks to gloves to disinfecting services.
  • We’ll post your company information on the AIM web site at no charge. Companies based in Massachusetts will be highlighted. Your company must be a corporate AIM member to be posted.
  • We will let the rest of the AIM community know where to look for your products and services.

AIM will make no representations about the products or services listed other than to facilitate contact between customer and seller.

So, return your registration form as soon as possible. AIM expects to have the marketplace page up and running within the next several days.

It’s a great way to ensure that companies get the supplies they need while supporting the Massachusetts business community.

Need more information? Email Chris Geehern, cgeehern@aimnet.org.

Apply to be Listed on the Protective Equipment/Re-Opening Services Page

New PPP Interim Final Rules Clarify Forgiveness Calculation and Loan-Review Process

Nutter Analysis: The Treasury Department and SBA issued two new Interim Final Rules on May 22 applicable to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

One rule is primarily focused on details related to the forgiveness calculation. The second is focused on the loan review process.

While a fair amount of the content of these rules had previously been covered in prior Interim Final Rules or SBA’s continually updated FAQ, the new rules formalize the prior guidance and provide more detail than previously released. The advisory outlines how these developments impact your business, including payroll and non-payroll costs, FTE reductions, the forgiveness application process, and more.

Bill Filed to Oversee Medical Supply Chain

MA Politico Playbook: Rep. Katherine Clark filed a bill yesterday that would require the president to appoint a czar to oversee the medical supply chain. The legislation comes in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

This is Clark’s latest step in a weeks-long push to establish an official who would serve as a central point of authority for the health care system, supply chain officials and individual states as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Massachusetts, equipment like masks are in demand as coronavirus cases continue to increase, though at a lower rate than in April. Plus, the state’s reopening guidelines for businesses say all employees wear face coverings.

May 23, 2020

Unemployment Surges

State House News Service: The statewide unemployment rate surged to 15.1 percent in April as the COVID-19 pandemic and the public shutdowns it prompted have inflicted what Gov. Charlie Baker described Thursday as an “economic calamity.”

Massachusetts labor officials announced Friday that the state lost 623,000 jobs in April, the first full month during which non-essential businesses were ordered to close and most residents were urged to stay at home whenever possible.

From March to April, the unemployment rate increased 12.3 percentage points to 15.1 percent, the highest level on record since at least 1976. In fact, the increase alone surpassed any month’s overall rate over the past four and a half decades.

The state appears to be harder hit than the country as a whole. In April, the national unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent. Every private-sector industry in Massachusetts lost jobs except information, with the largest declines occurring in leisure and hospitality, other services, construction, and trade, transportation, and utilities.

Workers accounting for nearly one-third of the Massachusetts labor force have filed initial unemployment claims since March 15, according to previous state data released late Thursday.

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that another 38,081 workers submitted new applications for traditional unemployment insurance between May 10 and May 16. The office also reported 115,952 more claims last week for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance created by Congress to extend benefits to previously ineligible individuals, such as gig workers and the self-employed.

Since March 15, the two programs have seen a combined 1.23 million initial claims in Massachusetts. If state officials find each claim to be valid, that would represent 32.9 percent of the labor force in March. Massachusetts is outstripping the national trend.

Globe Coverage

Massachusetts is Processing Extended Unemployment Claims; Here’s How to Apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

MassLive

Collection Bill Stays in Legislature as UI Bill Moves to Baker

State House News Service: With two COVID-19 bills on the Legislature’s plate Thursday, only one – dealing with the unemployment insurance system – traversed the final mile to the governor’s desk before both chambers broke for Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. Charlie Baker now has 10 days to act on a package of unemployment insurance relief that includes provisions aimed at helping employers and claimants during the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a record surge in jobless claims.

The subject of several amendments since April, the bill (S 2618) includes “a number of important tools,” Sen. Bruce Tarr said, “to help not only the integrity of the unemployment insurance system but also to help those who are dependent upon it, and for whom so many have become dependent as a result.”

Included is an expansion of the maximum allowable claims period from 26 weeks to 30 weeks for any week exceeding 100,000 claims; a provision exempting employers’ experience ratings from impacts of COVID-19 and the current state of emergency; and the lifting of a cap on dependency benefits which currently stands at 50 percent, Tarr said.

The House and Senate have bounced versions of the COVID-19 data reporting bill (H 4672) back and forth for weeks and Thursday’s session showed no public signs of progress. The bill would ramp up daily COVID-19 data reporting from the Department of Public Health for facilities like long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living residences. A new draft approved by the Senate Monday would extend the requirements to the state’s two soldiers’ homes. Both branches are back in session Tuesday morning.

Budget Timeline Hinges on Aid Package 

MassLive Coverage:Legislators aren’t sure what the proposal will look like without a clear answer on whether Congress will approve $1 trillion in aid to states and municipalities, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told business leaders Thursday afternoon.

“There is talk that help from Washington may be on its way, but that picture is also uncertain due to the political opposition in some quarters against helping states,” DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, said during the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Forum.

“Without more concrete information, it’s simply not possible to immediately provide sound details about the budget or our approach.”

DeLeo went on to suggest the Legislature might need to pass a temporary budget to cover costs in July, the first month of fiscal 2021, while lawmakers crunch the latest numbers and draft a budget that meets the needs of the states during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaker Flags Child Care, Restaurants, Liability as Priorities 

State House News Service:With his agenda abruptly upended in March by the arrival of the coronavirus, House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Thursday outlined in a speech to business leaders steps the House would take to refocus lawmakers on aiding the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The speaker’s goals include finding ways to help child-care centers stay afloat and navigate the new health and safety protocols when they eventually reopen, and coming to the aid of restaurants that are requesting permission to sell alcohol outdoors and get a break from interest on late meals tax payments.

Chamber Head: Buy Local to Help Small Business

State House News Service: One long-term after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic disruption could be a heightened interest in shopping locally, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce head Tim Murray suggested Thursday.

But first, those locally owned small shops and other businesses need to survive a period of prolonged closures. Many, Murray said, face a “long slog” to recovery.

Final MBTA Budget Boosts Spending 7 Percent

State House News:MBTA Board gave final approval Thursday to a $2.29 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, putting in place a plan to use federal funds to help substantially increase spending while officials gauge the the COVID-19 pandemic’s lasting impacts.

Members voted 4-0 during a virtual meeting in favor of the budget, which increases spending by about 7 percent over the $2.14 billion fiscal year 2020 budget but alters plans for several initiatives such as scaling back hiring on bus expansion to grapple with a sharp decline in revenue.

Budget-writers expect that the MBTA will bring in only 26 percent as much fare revenue as they anticipated in a draft spending plan assembled before the pandemic hit, contributing to a $716 million shortfall from expectations. They also project that ridership will not begin to rebound substantially from its record lows until December or January.

May 22, 2020

Legislature Sends Unemployment Bill to Governor 

S.2618 – An Act providing additional support to those affected by the novel coronavirus through the unemployment insurance system was enacted by both branches yesterday and sent to the governor for his signature.  

Summary:

  • Amends various provisions of GL 151A(Unemployment Insurance), by prohibiting the reduction of an applicant’s benefit rate from 30 times to 26 times in a benefit year in which initial applications in any week exceeds 100,000, unless the federal government has authorized a period of extended benefits, in which case the total benefits shall remain at 26 times the benefit rate until the federal extended benefits have been exhausted;
  • Removes language that caps the weekly benefit for unemployed persons with dependent children at 50 percent of the individual’s weekly benefit rate, effective 540 days after the expiration of the state of emergency;
  • Prohibits applying unemployment claims resulting from COVID-19 to the account of any employer or in calculating their experience rate, in anticipation of federal funding;
  • Grants non-profits a 120-day extension on their next unemployment contribution payment;
  • Repeals the provisions related to employer contributions one year after this act’s effective date, or 180 days after the end of the state of emergency, whichever is later.

AIM has supported the legislation since it was introduced, and there has been significant outreach from us to the Legislature asking for its advance.

AIM testimony in support of UI language enacted today through S.2618 

Additional 2.5 Million Americans File Unemployment Claims 

Boston Globe Coverage

Department of Labor Press Release

Governor Urges Business to Proceed with Caution 

State House News: Gov. Charlie Baker got back in front of the cameras on Wednesday, a day when the number of COVID-19 cases statewide jumped up by 1,045 and the state reported another 128 deaths from the respiratory disease.

It’s was only the third day of the state’s Phase I reopening, and still the governor and other public officials are urging business to take it slow.

Massachusetts House Approves Borrowing Bill

State House News: The House passed a $1.73 billion borrowing bill (H 4708) to finance information technology projects and equipment, including remote learning efforts that have become essential during the health crisis.

Taking up the first piece of legislation under remote voting rules that attracted dozens of amendments -189 to be exact – the House took care of them by consolidating the proposals into one giant amendment requiring just one vote to add over $100 million in borrowing authorizations to the bill.

UMass President Marty Meehan also announced Wednesday that he would ask his board of trustees to freeze tuition next year, while other colleges around the state are thinking through the challenges of a new semester in the fall.

Mask Mandate May Lead to Conflict on the MBTA

State House News: Capping ridership on buses and trains is not on the table as the MBTA prepares for gradual resumption of public activity, nor is denying service to system users who do not cover their faces despite an executive order urging mask usage, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Wednesday.

During a wide-ranging interview with WBUR’s “Radio Boston,” Poftak said leaders at the agency are exploring ways to manage demand but hinted that designating maskless-only vehicles, strictly enforcing face-covering or distancing, and significantly increasing capacity – at least in the next few weeks – are not within reach.

AIM Submits Comments on Business Interruption Insurance

If you have any questions contact Brad or sign up future updates on this topic by opting in here.

Massachusetts Implements Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

WWLP Coverage:  The Baker Administration announced yesterday that Massachusetts residents who are eligible for the federal CARES Act and qualify for having exhausted their regular unemployment compensation may now receive the new Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). The launch of this program marks the third and final benefit available for the Commonwealth through the CARES Act.

PEUC provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits to an individual who has exhausted all rights to any regular unemployment compensation and who meets other eligibility requirements of the CARES Act. PEUC will automatically begin for individuals who have been receiving regular standard unemployment benefits on an active claim and those benefits are exhausted, and those individuals do not have to take any further action.

If an individual’s standard unemployment claim has expired, he or she must file a new standard claim. If the individual is monetarily eligible on the new standard claim, regardless of the benefit rate amount, she or he will receive benefits from that new claim. Otherwise, the individual will be eligible for PEUC on the prior claim and it will be automatically implemented.

Those receiving PEUC will also receive $600 weekly through the week ending July 25, 2020, provided by the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program established by the CARES Act.

Unemployment benefits portal available here

Mariano, Wagner to Lead New House Recovery Committee

State House News: With his agenda upended in March by the arrival of the novel coronavirus, House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Thursday outlined steps the House would take to refocus lawmakers on aiding the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, including finding new ways to support child care and the restaurant industry.

The House and Senate have yet to figure out how to tackle the annual budget this year amid uncertainty over how to gauge the full extent of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some experts have predicted a drop of up to $6 billion in revenue, but DeLeo also noted the possibility of more direct federal aid.

“Without more concrete information, it’s simply not possible to immediately provide sound details about the budget or our approach. It is so much more important to operate with reliable information, than to do something for the sake of making a quick announcement,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo has asked Majority Leader Ron Mariano to chair a new Commonwealth Resilience and Recovery Special Committee. Mariano, along with Assistant Majority Leader Joseph Wagner, will coordinate across committees and with the administration to identify legislative priorities.

The speaker also said he’s asked Education Committee Chairwoman Rep. Alice Peisch to spearhead a new Early Education and Care Recovery Advisory Group focused on helping child care centers navigate new health protocols and find a financial model that will allow them to survive.

And Rep. Paul McMurty, who had been leading a group looking at ways to better promote Massachusetts restaurants, will shift gears to try to help restaurants emerge from the shutdown later this summer. DeLeo said that could include working with regulators to allow for more outdoor alcohol sales, or forgiving interest on late meals tax payments.

Massachusetts Business Groups React to Re-Opening Plan 

WBUR Coverage: While some signaled relief and thanked political leaders and the working group tasked with drawing up the 29-pagefour-phase plan, others expressed worries that businesses forced to close for two months due to the virus face potentially insurmountable problems reopening under the new rules and timeline. Others said they were concerned that the plan doesn’t offer enough detail for employers and workers.

Here’s What Health Care Will Look Like for Now

Boston Business Journal:  Massachusetts hospitals, community health centers, and doctors’ offices will resume some routine operations over the next couple weeks, but, with a host of new precautions and stipulations, they’ll look anything but normal.

Under the plan outlined by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, hospitals and community health care centers could start pediatric care, immunizations and screenings for at-risk patients on May 18. Also allowed will be some urgent elective procedures for anyone who might need it, such as removal of malignant skin lesions or orthopedic procedures to treat significant functional impairment.

But health-care systems will have to meet a number of criteria before they can move forward with an expanded reopening. Hospitals and community health centers will have to show they have adequate personal protective equipment on hand — for hospitals, that means more than 14 days worth — and procedures for workflow, cleaning and social distancing. They should also have plans for employee and patient testing.

Gig Workers Filing for Unemployment in Large Numbers

Boston Business Journal: Nearly 116,000 people in Massachusetts filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week through a special program meant to cover those ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That total is significantly higher than the 38,328 who filed for traditional benefits in the Bay State for the week ending May 16, a number that itself is huge compared with historical filings.

The special program, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), is meant to cover the self-employed, workers in the gig economy, and others not covered by the traditional program.

Panel Meets to Re-Open Restaurants, Hotels Tourism

Boston Business Journal:The administration has convened a special panel to focus on issues with re-opening restaurants, hotels and tourism businesses. The group is separate from the 17-member reopening panel that helped the administration devise the plan unveiled Monday.

The working group’s members include:

 

Boston Announces Streamlined Processes for Restaurants

Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that the Licensing Board for the City of Boston (the “Board”) has taken steps to streamline existing processes and remove outdated restrictions to help small businesses and restaurants as part of the COVID-19 reopening process.

At its voting hearing on Thursday, May 21, 2020 the Board took the following actions:

  • Voted to pass an emergency amendment to its General Rules codifying its existing administrative review of temporary extensions of licensed premise onto outdoor space using its existing One Day Amendment to Existing License Application;
  • Voted to administratively lift citywide the preexisting condition of “alcohol with food only” on outdoor space or any other similar condition that prohibits the sale and service of alcohol on outdoor space without the service of a food item;
  • The Board, Boston Transportation Department, Inspectional Services Department, Public Improvement Commission, and Public Works Department  will waive fees for the approved use of outdoor space for this program, on both public and private property, on a temporary, non-precedent setting basis.

These new protocols are part of the Walsh Administration’s ongoing work to support small businesses during this challenging time.

On Monday, the Licensing Board issued a questionnaire for businesses that will be used as the starting point for both identifying opportunities for temporary extensions onto outdoor space both on public and private property.On Thursday, Mayor Walsh announced that nearly $4 million in public and private debt-free grants have been distributed to just over 1,100 small businesses in every neighborhood across the City of Boston through the Small Business Relief Fund, including the $2 million distributed to businesses earlier this month. The businesses receiving grants represent industries most-impacted by closures, policies, or general loss of revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout every neighborhood in Boston.

Payment and ID-Check Rules Detailed for Pot Sales

State House News: Marijuana retailers will be able to take orders online and over the phone when they begin to re-open Monday, and will fulfill those orders in their parking lots or just outside the main entrance, the Cannabis Control Commission said Wednesday.

Since the pandemic hit and the governor ordered non-medical marijuana operations closed in late March, the CCC has overseen the conversion to curbside pickup at 32 medical marijuana treatment centers around the state. On Wednesday, the agency released the administrative order that will govern the new way of doing business for marijuana retailers.

“The Cannabis Control Commission, with the cooperation of licensees, municipalities, and most importantly, registered qualifying patients, has demonstrated that we are effectively able to preserve public health and safety through curbside operations and other emergency protocols,” Executive Director Shawn Collins said

Under the commission’s order, which takes effect Monday, any marijuana retailer reopening must inform the CCC ahead of time and submit to the CCC their curbside operating procedures within 48 hours of reopening, including a layout identifying the designated curbside sales area and traffic plans. The businesses must also inform local public safety and health authorities.

If a non-medical customer pays online, over the phone, or via a mobile payment point-of-sale system, the transaction will take place in the parking lot. An employee will confirm that the customer and anyone else in the vehicle is at least 21 years old before fulfilling the order.

AIM Member Highlights

Boston Medical Center is an academic medical center and as New England’s largest safety-net hospital, provides medical care for Boston’s most vulnerable patients and families. The donation will be used to continue providing emergency and medical care to these individuals, including the hospitals’ collaboration with the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide care for up to 250 homeless individuals recovering from COVID-19.
Codman Square Health Centerserves 22,000 patients through a community-focused health care and multi-service center in one of Boston’s most vulnerable communities. Will use donation to enable effective screening procedures for patients and visitors, procuring and delivering PPE to health care workers and ramping up the facility’s capacity for telephonic health care.

May 21, 2020

Boston Fed Chief Expects Double-Digit Unemployment Through 2020

Boston Globe: New England states are starting to allow shuttered businesses to reopen after two months of closures. But this is not the time to celebrate: Until the COVID-19 public health crisis is resolved, the economy will probably remain in bad shape.

That’s the word from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s chief executive, Eric Rosengren, who spoke Tuesday ― in an online presentation ― to members of the New England Council, a regional business networking and lobbying group.

Rosengren said the Boston Fed’s internal forecast now shows that the national unemployment rate is likely to remain at double-digit levels through the end of the year, after peaking at around 20 percent. (The rate was nearly 15 percent in April, up from 3.5 percent in February.)

AIM Re-Opening Letter Sent to Legislators

AIM sent a letter to members of the Massachusetts Legislature providing lawmakers with a link to AIM’s new 80-page Return to the Workplace Guide for Massachusetts Employers now available for download in the AIM web store.

“Our overall goal is for the guide to be a living document that will continue to be updated as the state’s public health data begins to trigger each of the next three phases of our economic reopening. The guide is available to employers across Massachusetts free of charge,” the letter says.

Update on Paycheck Protection Program

Please Read PPP Loan Program Inception-To-Date Data  

Attention PPP Borrowers: Before Forgiveness, your Loan Could Soon Be Sold to Someone you Don’t Know

PPP Lending in MA has slowed to a Trickle

Cambridge Announces Construction Reopening Timeline

This week, Cambridge announced a revised timeline for the reopening of construction efforts within the city. Construction activities within the City will resume in a four-phase approach:

Phase 1: Beginning May 25, the city will add site safety prep work for projects previously permitted by Inspectional Services (ISD) and Public Works (DPW). Forthcoming amendments to the City’s Temporary Emergency Construction Order issued on March 18 will modify the definition of essential construction to include work associated with COVID-19 restaurant modification needed to allow them to safely reopen;

Phase 2: Beginning on June 1, the city will add horizontal construction, city building projects, 100 percent affordable housing developments, larger buildings (over 25,000 square feet) previously permitted by ISD or DPW;

Phase 3: Tentatively beginning on June 15, the city will add all remaining existing construction previously permitted by ISD and DPW; and

Phase 4: Tentatively beginning on June 29, the city will add new permits. Permits may be submitted and pre-reviews will occur at any time, but permits will not be formally accepted or issued until this date.

Somerville Stands by Longer Construction Phase in

Two weeks ago, the City of Somerville announced an anticipated schedule for the reopening of construction sites. This week, Mayor Curtatone stood by the longer schedule despite the state’s reopening plan. The timeline is focused on critical projects thru 2021.

Phase One – May 18, 2020 Start: The first phase will focus on highly critical projects and contractors who have been working successfully under COVID-management plans on sites outside of Somerville. This phase primarily includes large municipal and utility projects.

Phase Two – June 1, 2020 Start: The second phase will focus on critical projects with contractors who have less experience with COVID-management plans. This phase primarily includes additional municipal and utility projects as well as private construction.

Phase Three – July through September 2020 Start: The third phase of construction will focus on highly critical projects currently in the design and bidding phase with anticipated construction starts in the late summer or early fall.

Phase Four – Start To-Be-Determined (may be deferred to 2021): Additional municipal projects remain under review.

To restart projects, all contractors must submit a Jobsite Hazard Analysis and prepare a Site Specific Safety Plan (example here) with a particular focus on COVID safety in accordance with state and federal guidelines on COVID spread prevention. Once safety plans are approved, projects will be allowed to restart.

Labor Chief Seeks Clues in Unemployment Data

According to the State House News, the state’s unemployment rate will be updated Friday morning, and Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said Wednesday that she will be looking at job losses from specific sectors to get a sense for how many jobs might not return post-pandemic.

During an Urban League of Eastern Mass. event focused on applying for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, Acosta said she will be paying close attention to the details of which jobs have disappeared. The state’s unemployment rate for March was 2.9 percent and some groups have estimated it will climb above 20 percent as a result of the pandemic and government-mandated business closures.

Meehan Wants UMass Tuition Freeze in 2020-2021

State House News reports that University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan will seek a tuition freeze for the tens of thousands of in-state undergraduate students in the system, hoping to help ease financial burden on families strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meehan will ask the UMass Board of Trustees to keep tuition at its current level for the 2020-2021 academic year when the board votes on student fees in June. If approved, Meehan’s proposal would affect nearly 50,000 students in Massachusetts and would be the first time in six years without a tuition increase for UMass undergraduates.

The university system is facing major financial uncertainty because of the statewide economic downturn, but Meehan said in a press release that avoiding a hike is “the right thing to do.”

“During this time of stress and uncertainty for our students and their families, we need to keep our high-quality programs and the benefits of a UMass degree as accessible and affordable as possible,” Meehan said.

US Chamber Publishes PPP Guide to Forgiveness

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today published a new Paycheck Protection Program Guide to Forgiveness.  The document provides businesses with an easy to understand explanation of what they need to do to apply for forgiveness of their PPP loans.  Click here to download the guide.  Please note, this guide will be updated as new guidance is issued by the Dept. of the Treasury.

Baker Stresses Phase One Restart Decisions Up to Employers

State House News Service reports that Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday emphasized that there’s no need for any company or religious institution uncomfortable with the idea of reopening to come back to work right away.

“I think we want people to do whatever they’re most comfortable doing here,” Baker said.

The governor also said that cities like Boston are free to put additional restrictions on how fast offices reopen, addressing a concern levied by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh a day earlier that had frustrated some figures in the administration. Walsh said he thought the state’s guidance allowing offices to reopen on June 1 in the city at 25 percent capacity was “too much” on the first day.

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Monday released a detailed, four-phase strategy to reopen the economy after more than two months of ordering most businesses to shut their doors and to let their employees work from home, if possible.

State Details Enforcement of COVID-19 Standards

Boston.com: As Massachusetts starts a phased reopening of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, businesses that violate the state-mandated safety standards would face a series of fines before potentially being shut down, officials say.

The state has outlined four levels of enforcement for violators.

Businesses operating outside the standards will receive a verbal consultation before they receive a written warning, officials said.

After that, they could face fines of $300 at most, up to three times, while the violations persist. A cease-and-desist letter will be issued after a business is fined the third time, officials said.

The enforcement agency in a particular case will allow the business 24 hours to make changes before a follow-up inspection occurs, according to officials.

Boston Mayor Uncomfortable with State’s Office Re-Opening Plan

Boston Business Journal: Mayor Walsh says he’s uncomfortable with the state’s reopening plan, saying its office occupancy level is “too much.”

No Timeframe Available on State House Re-Opening

According to the State House News, the governor’s reopening plan announced on Monday didn’t address when the people’s house, and the governor’s workplace, will reopen to the public.

And House and Senate leaders are also not committing to any timeframe for reopening the State House.

“In order to follow the parameters of CDC guidelines and public health best practices, the State House will continue to remain closed to the public,” Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a joint statement.

It’s unclear where the State House falls under the reopening timeline. Baker said he and the Legislature, which share control of the building, are talking about “how they want to handle this place and space.”

The governor did address the status of government agencies that serve the public.

“But state government generally is, on the executive side, has been open all the way through here and the big challenge for us … is we’re going to have to open up some stuff that we either started doing online or dramatically reduced the amount of customer-facing activity,” the governor said.

A Slow Return to Normal for State’s Top Health Systems

Boston Business Journal: Two weeks ago, roughly $870 million a day in PPP loans were being approved in Massachusetts. Last week, that number was just $45 million.  Brookline Bank, like many others in the region, has seen.

Employers Scramble to Address Mental Health Epidemic

Boston Globe: As the global death toll from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic climbs, employers are scrambling to address the explosive rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and potential suicides that have emerged along with it.

The numbers are daunting. Vida Health, a digital network of therapists and clinicians that works with companies like Cisco, Visa, PayPal, and Boeing, has seen 15 percent to 20 percent week-on-week increases in mental health and stress-related appointments since mid-March, and a 30 percent to 50 percent boost in new client interest.

Warren Presses Mnuchin on Terms of CARES Act

Globe Coverage: Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday pressed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to commit to requiring medium and large companies receiving loans from the CARES Act to retain their employees, and called on him to hold corporate executives personally liable if they fail to meet certain certification requirements during a testy exchange in a Senate hearing.

“What the law specifically does is gives you the specific authority to determine the terms on which these loans are made,” Warren said. “You say the economy’s going to recover, it’s going to take jobs in order for that to happen, so what I want to know is, are you going to require companies that receive money from this half a trillion dollar slush fund to have to keep people on payroll?”

Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito Highlight Implementation of New COVID-19 Safety Standards at Symmons Industries in Braintree

Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito today toured Symmons Industries, an 80-year-old Massachusetts manufacturer that has implemented the new Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards as manufacturing operations scale back up.

The Reopening Advisory Board also released new Sector Specific Protocols that describe policies, procedures and best practices that particular industries should follow to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Businesses self-certify that they are complying with new rules by developing a COVID-19 control plan and displaying a signed attestation poster in a place on premises visible to employees and visitors. In addition to new protocols for manufacturing, the Baker Administration also released guidelines for other industries opening in Phase 1, including construction, laboratories, hair salons and barbershops, car washes, pet grooming and office spaces.

Attorney General Announces Resource For Workers to Report Safety Concerns

The Attorney General’s Office has created a new online complaint form specifically for employees to report unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19, including concerns about:

  • Cleaning/Disinfection
  • Failure to Display Compliance Attestation Poster
  • Hygiene
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Requiring Symptomatic Employees to Work
  • Retaliation
  • Social Distancing

Workers can also call the AG’s dedicated Fair Labor hotline at 617-727-3465 to report concerns. Workers can file complaints or report concerns anonymously.

AG Healey’s Fair Labor Division is responsible for enforcing state wage, hour and certain workplace laws. Read the AG’s FAQs on employee rights and employer obligations during the COVID-19 emergency, as well as the Rights for Quarantined Workers page. Visit the AG’s COVID-19 resource page for information about how the AG’s Office can help during this crisis.

To read the full press release go here.

Health Systems Turn Slowly Back to Preventative Care

According to State House News Service, Hospitals and community health centers that meet certain criteria were able to resume offering a limited set of non-emergency services on Monday under the first phase of the state’s reopening plan, but many types of care still remain on hold.

Deteriorating Economic Outlook Dims State Budget Picture

According to State House News Service, Soaring unemployment and the expectation among public health experts that a second wave of the coronavirus could land in the fall has prompted a leading Beacon Hill watchdog group to revise its tax revenue forecast for next year, now predicting the state could collect $6 billion less than anticipated just five months ago.

As Businesses in Massachusetts Re-Open, Worcester Expects to Decommission DCU Center as a Field Hospital

Mass Live Report: Officials in Worcester plan to decommission the DCU Center as a field hospital as trends continue to show positive signs associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. said officials are hopeful the nine patients at the arena will be discharged from the facility as they recover. The city manager said the supplies within the DCU Center will likely remain in place in case the city needs to reactivate the facility as a field hospital.

Pandemic Rules Put Brake on Energy Efficiency Efforts

State House News: The energy efficiency program run by the state’s utilities has been somewhat successful at continuing to promote efficiency during the pandemic and officials plan to follow the steps outlined by the Baker administration this week to eventually resume in-home and in-businesses appointments.

Patrick Woodcock, commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, said Tuesday that he has been in touch with utility companies about how the Mass Save program can eventually get back to conducting work that requires interaction with a homeowner or business owner.

“We are working with all the utilities on utilizing the phased approach that the governor announced and applying it to Mass Save,” he said during a meeting of the Mass. Clean Energy Center’s board.

“As we can continue to expand additional measures that get into homes, we’ll certainly be balancing this clearly critical work but also one that does have a customer interaction to it.”

The utilities that administer the Mass Save program have suspended “any non-essential work and appointments that require a contracted vendor to enter a customer’s home (‘in-home’) or business (‘on-premise’) or come in close, physical contact with other individuals.”

Tentative In-Person Hearings Planned on Paid Leave

State House News: The Department of Family and Medical Leave has two plans to gather public input on its latest update to the rules for the new paid family and medical leave program. One involves a virtual hearing and the other calls for two in-person hearings in mid-June if state regulations allow for them.

The department has scheduled a virtual hearing via WebEx for June 11 and said interested parties will have a chance during that session to orally present testimony on the amendments to the new benefit program, for which a payroll tax is already being collected. Written testimony can be submitted any time until 5 p.m. on June 12, DFML said.

If the state’s reopening plan advances to the point where an in-person hearing would be feasible, the department said it plans to host two.

“If social distancing restrictions permit an in-person hearing, the Department will issue additional information on any applicable restrictions for a session in Boston on June 12, 2020. If in-person hearings can be held, the Department will also conduct a hearing in Springfield on June 11, 2020,” DFML said.

Part of the June 2018 “grand bargain,” the paid leave law calls for up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active-duty military service.

It also authorizes up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker’s own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member. The program is to be funded through a 0.75 percent payroll tax that the state began collecting from employers last summer.

Though some have called on the state to make the paid leave benefits available to workers as soon as possible to help ease pandemic-related financial stress, Gov. Charlie Baker has said it would not be feasible to make benefits available sooner than Jan. 1, 2021.

AIM Return to the Workplace Webinar Materials

Webinar Slides

Webinar Recording

To download the Return to the Workplace Guide visit our website: https://my.aimnet.org/Product-Details?productid=%7bBAE113F4-5C99-EA11-8109-000D3A0DE1A1%7d

Learn more about future AIM webinars: https://my.aimnet.org/Register-for-an-Event-Class/Webinars

May 20, 2020

Governor Baker Announces Strategy to Re-Open Businesses and Activities

The Reopening Advisory Report details the four-phased strategy.

Each phase of the reopening will be guided by public health data and key indicators including:

  • COVID-19 positive test rate;
  • Number of individuals who died from COVID-19;
  • Number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals;
  • Health-care system readiness;
  • Testing capacity;
  • Contact tracing capabilities.

Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks and could last longer.

If public health data trends are negative, specific industries, regions, and/or the entire commonwealth may need to return to an earlier phase.

The commonwealth will partner with industries to draft sector-specific protocols in advance of future phases (example: restaurant-specific protocols will be drafted in advance of Phase 2);

Success in earlier phases will refine criteria for future phases including travel, sizes of gatherings, as well as additional retail openings, lodging and accommodations, arts, entertainment, fitness centers, museums, restaurants, youth sports, and other activities.

May 18:

  • Places of worship with guidelines that require social distancing and encourage services to be held outdoors.
  • Hospitals and community health centers that attest to specific public health and safety standards can begin to provide high priority preventative care, pediatric care and treatment for high risk patients.

May 25:

  • Other health care providers not included in May 18 opening who attest to meeting these standards may resume limited in-person services.
  • Lab space, office space
  • Limited personal services, including hair salons, pet grooming, car washes;
  • Retail: remote fulfilment and curbside pick-up;
  • Beaches, parks,
  • Drive-in movie theaters;
  • Select athletic fields and courts; many outdoor adventure activities; most fishing, hunting, and boating; outdoor gardens, zoos, reserves, and public installations.

June 1:

Office spaces in the city of Boston with applicable guidelines.

In order to reopen, businesses must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19.  See https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-massachusetts for general details and sector specific guideline.

Phase one of Massachusetts’ coronavirus reopening plan includes places of worship, construction and manufacturing – (Masslive.com)

A look at what can reopen in each phase of Massachusetts’ opening plan

Baker Plan Seeks Balance Between Public and Economic Health

State House News Service: Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito laid out their plan Monday to begin to reopen businesses and resume economic and social activity in Massachusetts, while continuing to work to keep the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus in check.

For the last two months, the state has mandated business closures, emphasized staying at home as much as possible and promoting social distancing as the keys to slowing the spread of the virus and keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Monday’s rollout of a reopening plan shifted the state’s approach to one that relies on continued social distancing and personal responsibility to control the spread of the virus as some activities resume.

“People need to understand that we’re playing this game, and it’s a real one, with the virus and the economy at the same time,” Baker said Monday. “And it’s really important for people to step up and recognize and understand that this game is not over.”

Baker and Polito stressed that the same things that got the state to the point of being able to reopen some businesses – social distancing, frequent hand-washing, regular disinfection of surfaces, and wearing a mask or face covering when distancing is not practical – are here to stay.

“People need to do their part, employers and people at home,” Polito said. “As you take on more activities, face covering, distancing and hand-washing are key to unlocking next phases of activity.” Initial reaction to the plan was mixed.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest employer group and one of the most influential on Beacon Hill, said the plan strikes a balance between economic needs and public health realities.

“We realize that every employer in Massachusetts would love to hear that they can re-open immediately. But we also acknowledge that a phased re-opening balances the need to re-start the economy with the need to manage a public-health crisis that continues to claim 100 lives a day in Massachusetts,” AIM President and CEO John Regan said.

State Updates Stay-at-Home Advisory

Department of Public Health updates Stay at Home Advisory with new advisory – (Mass.gov News)

  • Everyone to stay home unless they are headed to a newly opened facility or activity.
  • Those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions to stay home apart from trips required for health care, groceries, or that are otherwise absolutely necessary.
  • All residents must continue to wear a face covering in public when social distancing is not possible, and individuals are advised to wash their hands frequently and be vigilant in monitoring for symptoms.
  • Restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remain in effect.

Industry Specific Guidance 

Mass.gov provides Mandatory safety standards and recommended best practices for sectors that are eligible to open in Phase 1. Additional sector guidance for future phases will be issued later. Businesses operating to provide Essential Services, as defined in the Governor’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order, updated on March 31, April 28 and May 15, may remain open and have until May 25, 2020 to comply with their industry’s sector-specific protocols (if applicable).

The administration also said that all businesses that resume operations must adhere to a number of industry-specific social distancing measures.

Health-Care System Begins Re-Opening Process

Reopening Health & Human Services in MA – Hospitals and community health centers that can attest to meeting all state guidelines (ICU capacity, PPE availability, and workplace safety) can begin providing certain in-person services yesterday, while all other compliant providers may begin starting May 25.

The expansion of in-person services is currently severely restricted to either:

High-priority preventative services

  1. pediatric care
  2. high-risk chronic disease management
  3. prenatal care
  4. immunizations

Urgent procedures that would cause additional risk and worsening patient conditions if delayed any further.

Individual hospitals and hospitals systems must attest to the state that they are maintaining at least 25 percent capacity for fully staffed adult beds and fully staffed adult ICU beds and commit to retaining these capacities at or above 20 percent throughout Phase 1.

All providers, on both May 18 and May 25 must attest to the following public health and safety requirements:

  • Adequate levels of PPE – at least 14 days’ worth – on hand with a reliable supply chain in place that does not depend on the state stockpile.
  • Infection control readiness – social distancing, workflow and cleaning guidelines in place.
  • Established screening and testing protocols for patients and staff.

Above all else this reopening is contingent on sufficient statewide hospital capacity being maintained. Throughout the state of emergency Massachusetts has had to maintain at least 30 percent capacity for fully staffed total adult beds as well as at least 30 percent for fully staffed adult ICU beds. This capacity must be maintained until May 25th in order to proceed in Phase 1 with additional providers.

Whenever possible, telehealth and remote care delivery are strongly encouraged. Patients are instructed to seek immediate medical attention in emergency situations and reach out to their PCPs/healthcare providers with questions or concerns about when to come in.

For additional information on provider requirements and exactly what types of services will and will not be permitted throughout Phase 1 please see EOHHS’ PowerPoint on Phase 1 and their Reopening 1-pager.

Self-Certification for Business

All businesses must meet safety and health requirements before reopening. Businesses operating to provide Essential Services, as defined in the Governor’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order, updated on March 31, April 28 and May 15, may remain open and have until May 25 to comply with these mandatory safety standards.

  • COVID-19 control plan template – Template that satisfies the written control plan requirement for self-certification
  • Compliance attestation poster – Poster that customer facing businesses are required to print, sign, and post in an area within the business premises that is visible to workers and visitors
  • Employer and Worker posters – Posters that businesses can print and display within the business premises to describe the rules for maintaining social distancing, hygiene protocols, and cleaning and disinfecting

Mandatory Safety Standards for the Workplace

When Can My Business Reopen?

COVID-19 Employee Health, protection, guidance and prevention

SBA and Treasury Release Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Application

The US Small Business Administration (SBA), in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, released the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Forgiveness Application and detailed instructions for the application.

The form and instructions inform borrowers how to apply for forgiveness of their PPP loans, consistent with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  SBA will also soon issue regulations and guidance to further assist borrowers as they complete their applications, and to provide lenders with guidance on their responsibilities.

The form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers, including:

  • Options for borrowers to calculate payroll costs using an “alternative payroll covered period” that aligns with borrowers’ regular payroll cycles
  • Flexibility to include eligible payroll and non-payroll expenses paid or incurred during the eight-week period after receiving their PPP loan
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to perform the calculations required by the CARES Act to confirm eligibility for loan forgiveness
  • Borrower-friendly implementation of statutory exemptions from loan forgiveness reduction based on rehiring by June 30

Addition of a new exemption from the loan forgiveness reduction for borrowers who have made a good-faith, written offer to rehire workers that was declined

The Loan Forgiveness Application may be found here.

For a legal analysis of the PPP Loan forgiveness program please see:

Administration to Address Food Insecurity

The Baker Administration on Sunday announced $56 million to combat urgent food insecurity for some Massachusetts families and individuals as a result of COVID-19. The funding is consistent with findings of the Food Security Task Force, which was convened by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center in response to increased demands for food assistance.

The Food Security Task Force, which was convened on April 22, synthesized and prioritized more than 80 recommendations into the following four key actionable categories:

  • Develop and implement an emergency food program
  • Fortify the food bank system
  • Maximize federal resources for food and nutrition
  • Reinforce and redeploy the food system infrastructure

Disproportionate Impacts from an Indiscriminate Virus

State House News Service: The fate of the postponed NAACP national convention, which had been scheduled for July in Boston, is unknown at this point, but the head of the organization’s Boston chapter said Sunday morning that COVID-19 can serve as a catalyst for change.

“One of the things that is good in this moment is that from a local standpoint, we have maintained for now over a year, that the work and the preparation for this convention should not just be about the event, but that it really should be about really serving as a catalyst for the systemic work that needs to happen in our community every day,” Tanisha Sullivan told Jon Keller of CBS during a televised interview.

“And if anything, this virus has really laid bare for all of us the reality that there are systemic racial inequities that put communities of color in harm’s way, even from a virus that would otherwise be considered, you know, indiscriminate.”

Pressley Weighs In On Mail-In Ballots

State House News Service: Independent voters should be mailed two primary ballots to vote in either the Democratic or Republican Party contests this summer, said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, choosing the more expansive option for mail-in voting currently being considered on Beacon Hill.

Pressley, in a Sunday morning appearance on WCVB’s “On the Record,” was pressed about how the state should approach mail-in voting. Asked whether unenrolled voters should be automatically sent primary ballots for both major parties, Pressley said, “Yes. Yes, absolutely.”

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws heard testimony last week on a variety of proposals to expand access to mail-in voting for the 2020 elections. One alternative to mailing ballots to everyone automatically would be to have registered voters apply to have a ballot of their choice sent to their home.

May 16, 2020

State and Employer Community Announce Continuation of Work From Home Policies to Support Safe Reopening of Massachusetts Economy

The Baker Administration released a partial list of employers Friday who are committing to continuing work-from-home policies for the foreseeable future as a way to provide more flexibility for their employees and greater capacity for social distancing on the state’s public transportation system.

The state is planning a phased reopening process that balances public-health precautions with reopening the economy during the pandemic. The companies cited, including some of the largest employers in Massachusetts and totaling 150,000 employees, will have significant portions of their workforce working remotely for the rest of the spring and, in numerous cases, beyond.

The administration has also issued guidance for all state employees to extend the current remote workforce arrangements for the Executive Branch to reflect health and safety provisions of the re-opening phase. This guidance will stay in effect until further notice.

These employers plan to evolve Work From Home to a flexible strategy that slowly brings workers to workplaces as needed. Depending on the employer, some companies may consider arrangements such as staggered shifts or flexible work schedules that help avoid rush hour traffic congestion and crowded buses and trains on public transit systems.

The Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP), Massachusetts Business Roundtable (MBR), Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), Massachusetts High Tech Council (MHTC), Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), and Kendall Square Association (KSA) polled their member companies regarding their plans for extending Work from Home (WFH) policies even after the Massachusetts economy reopens.

Companies that will continue to extend their Work from Home policies past the reopening date include:

 

  • AECOM
  • John Hancock
  • Akamai Technologies
  • The Kraft Group
  • Alkermes
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Alnylam
  • MassMutual
  • Amgen
  • Millipore Sigma
  • Analog Devices
  • MFS Investment Management
  • Autodesk
  • MITRE
  • Bank of America
  • Monster.com
  • Biogen
  • National Grid
  • bluebird bio
  • New Balance
  •  Boston Scientific
  • Novartis
  • Brooks Automation
  • PTC
  • Care.com
  • Putnam Investments
  • Cigna
  • Rapid7
  • Comcast
  • Raytheon Technologies
  • Dassault Systèmes
  • RSM
  • Dell Technologies
  • Sanofi
  • Deloitte
  • Sarepta Therapeutics
  • Eaton Vance
  • Siemens
  • EY
  • State Street
  • Facebook
  • Takeda
  • Foundation Medicine
  • Tango Therapeutics
  • Google
  •  Tufts Health Plan
  • Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
  • Verizon
  • Ipsen
  • Wayfair
  • Iron Mountain

Governor Baker extends nonessential business order by 24 hours, paving way for reopening plan

Globe Report: With Massachusetts’ phased reopening of the economy looming, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that his legal office would be extending by 24 hours the order closing non-essential businesses in the state, from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday.

CDC Issues Re-Opening Guidance

ABC News: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, while voluntary, is the most specific instruction yet from the federal government on how not to trigger an outbreak, as President Donald Trump pushes states to reopen and most have already started to do so.

The guidelines, posted on the agency’s website, include ones designed for businesses and workplaces as well as for schools and childcare programs.

The guidance includes various “decision tools” for specific institutions.

For example, if a restaurant can answer “yes” to several questions – such as whether it’s prepared to encourage social distancing among patrons and encourage flexible leave among employees – then it could reopen safely.

Massachusetts DOR Issues Telecommuting Guidance

Blum Shapiro Update: In an attempt to minimize the disruptions experienced by businesses whose workforce is mandated to function remotely due to COVID-19, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) has issued a Technical Information Release (TIR) and Emergency Regulations covering a broad base of telecommuting-related topics.

The TIR is broken into four main subsections:

  • Personal income and withholding tax
  • Sales and use tax nexus
  • Corporate income tax
  • Paid family and medical leave

Mass. Business Groups Show Guarded Optimism as Re-Opening of Economy Approaches

Chesto Means Business: One big caveat: These two groups are Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which has a large number of manufacturers as members, and the Mass Technology Leadership Council, which largely consists of software firms. Only a small number of respondents in the AIM survey were in the retail and hospitality sectors, two of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Still, the vast majority of the roughly 250 respondents to the AIM poll lost revenue, with roughly one-fourth saying revenue declined by 40 percent or more because of the pandemic.

Now, the good news. More than half of respondents said they are currently operating, after being deemed an essential business by the Baker administration. Of the companies that laid off or furloughed employees in the AIM survey, 51 percent plan to bring all of those employees back once nonessential workplaces are allowed to reopen. Only 20 percent have no expectation of bringing any of them back.

Should employers check temperatures? Major Mass. businesses are split.

Boston Business Journal: When it comes to checking employee temperatures at the workplace to screen for Covid-19, it seems there are as many plans in place as there are employers in Massachusetts.

There is good reason for that, executives say. On-site temperature checks are complicated. They are one way to help keep employees and customers safe. But executives have questions about their effectiveness in slowing the spread of Covid-19, and they present legal risks and logistical hurdles that make implementation tricky. In some cases, the property manager at a firm’s office may decide to check the temperatures of people entering the building, taking the decision out of an employer’s hands.

It’s possible the Baker administration will weigh in on temperature checks, or at least offer best practices to businesses, when it releases its plan for reopening the economy later this month. A spokesman for the administration declined to comment, saying it’s still deliberating on a blueprint.

So far, it has not issued any blanket rules. Mandatory workplace safety standards released by the Department of Public Health on Monday make no mention of temperature checks. When the administration allowed retailers deemed non-essential to bring employees into stores and warehouses earlier this month, it required employees to take their own temperatures before each shift, not their bosses.

Even without clear direction from the government, some of the state’s biggest employers have forged ahead with their own plans to check (or not check) temperatures.

AIM Letter to Gov. Baker Re: Temperature Checks

Massachusetts short-term borrowing bill during coronavirus pandemic heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk

MassLive Coverage: “The bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate today authorizes the commonwealth to finance the recent extension of the 2019 state individual income tax filing deadline and provides a necessary bridge to help us get through the next few months until the next fiscal year,” Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat and chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, said in a statement.

Under the bill, the state treasurer can borrow money to cover the shortfall due to the delayed income tax deadline. The funds must be repaid by June 30, 2021, which marks the end of fiscal 2021.

The decision to move the April 15 deadline to July 15 brought relief to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who lost their jobs or were furloughed, but it also left spending gaps for the state at a time when it faces unprecedented expenses to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 5,000 people in Massachusetts.

In April, normally the single largest month for collections, the state’s tax revenues dropped by more than 50% compared to the 2019 figures. The state collected $1.9 billion in April, compared to $4.3 billion this time last year.

Retail Sales Plunge a Record 16.4 Percent in April, Far Worse than Predicted

CNBC Coverage: Consumer spending tumbled a record 16.4 percent in April as the backbone of the U.S. economy retrenched amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a government report Friday.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected the advanced retail sales number to fall 12.3 percent afterMarch’s reported 8.3 percent dive already had set a record for data going back to 1992. The March numbers were revised to be not as bad as the 8.7 percent initially reported.

Some 68 percent of the nation’s $21.5 trillion economy comes from personal consumption expenditures, which tumbled 7.6 percent in the first quarter just as social distancing measures aimed at containing the coronavirus began to take effect.

Paycheck Protection Fixes and Tax Breaks: Here’s What’s in the HEROES Act for Small Business

Boston Business Journal:  Here are some of the items in the proposed House bill directed toward small businesses:

  • It sets aside a portion of the remaining Paycheck Protection Program-authorized loan funding for businesses with 10 or fewer employees and a separate set aside for nonprofit organizations.
  • It expands eligible nonprofits to include trade groups, chambers of commerce and others after 501(c)(6) organizations and other classes of nonprofits were left out of SBA’s original PPP authorization.
  • It recycles PPP loan dollars returned by companies taking advantage of the safe harbor provisions, which give businesses until May 18 to return loans and retain the “good faith” clause of their certification. That money could then be used to make new loans under this bill.
  • It strikes down an SBA rule that made people convicted of non-fraud crimes ineligible for PPP loans after their release from incarceration.
  • It eliminates the 25% cap on eligible nonpayroll expenses, including rent, mortgage interest and utilities, an SBA rule that many restaurants and other businesses said made the program unusable for them.
  • It alters a tax provision created in the original CARES Act that allows companies to take a loss in 2018, 2019 or 2020 and carry those losses back to the preceding five taxable years. Under the HEROES Act, that would be limited to taxable years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2018, and prohibits businesses with excessive executive compensation or stock buybacks from carrying back losses.
  • It creates a business-interruption credit for self-employed workers, who would get a 90% individual income tax credit if they experienced a significant loss of income, at more than 10%. The credit is capped at $45,000 and phases out gradually based on any other income the self-employed person is still receiving.
  • It creates a 50% refundable payroll tax credit for qualified fixed costs for companies that have closed because of Covid-19, including rent obligations, mortgage obligations and utility payments, much like the PPP. The credit is for a maximum of $50,000, or about 6.25% of gross 2019 receipts, and only available to businesses with no more than 1,500 full-time employees or no more than $41.5 million in gross receipts in 2019.

May 15, 2020

CDC and OSHA Jointly Release Comprehensive Manufacturing Guidance 

The new guidance details the steps companies need to take to protect their workforces. Read the new guidance here.

Labor Department Reports 36.5 million Unemployment Claims

Politico Coverage: Workers filed nearly 3 million new unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department (DOL) reported Thursday, signaling that a wave of coronavirus-induced layoffs is continuing as the country struggles to reopen for business.

The latest number, which covers the week ending May 9, pushed the two-month tally of unemployment claims to 36.5 million, reflecting a jobless rate that the Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledged last week is the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Workers who are called back face a choice between potentially risking their health or losing unemployment benefits. On Monday, DOL “strongly encouraged” state unemployment agencies to find out from employers whether benefit recipients refuse to return to work, as federal guidelines dictate that those workers will no longer be eligible.

The data released by DOL Thursday also indicated that self-employed workers who were made eligible for jobless benefits under a new temporary program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, have finally begun to tap into the relief.

Globe Coverage: 3 million more Americans filed for unemployment last week

Bay State unemployment highest on Cape and in Western Massachusetts

Boston Business Journal: The counties with unemployment at 25 percent or higher, as of late April, are in Western Massachusetts and the Cape and Islands — two regions that rely on tourism and the hospitality industry. The total unemployment rate since mid-March has been more than 21 percent in all 14 Massachusetts counties.

Unemployment by municipality shows Provincetown with a 33.8 percent rate, as of May 2, with Lawrence and Amherst next at 32.6 percent. Truro is seeing a 31.8 percent rate, while Holyoke has a 31 percent rate.

By ZIP code, the Amherst area has the highest rate with 39.6 percent, followed by Springfield and Lawrence areas at 36.5 percent.

Months into Pandemic, Jobless Claims Remain High

Boston Business Journal Related Coverage: Approximately 115,000 people in Massachusetts filed their first claims for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to more than 1 million in the Bay State since coronavirus-related shutdowns started taking effect in mid-March.

Nearly 45,000 people made initial claims for traditional unemployment benefits for the week ending May 9, according to new U.S. Department of Labor data. That’s down by over 11,000 claims the previous week.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts saw more than 70,000 initial claims last week under the new temporary federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is meant to cover workers in the gig economy as well as the self-employed.

While traditional first-time jobless claims in Massachusetts have now declined for six consecutive weeks, they remain at levels that are historically high even for a recession.

Nationally, 3 million people in the U.S. filed for traditional unemployment claims last week. That number is seasonally adjusted, while the state-level numbers are not.

State Officials Announce Expanded Testing

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced expanded COVID-19 testing capacity and strategy and provided an update on personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement.

Testing Plan: As required to secure COVID-19 testing resources allocated in legislation passed by Congress on April 24, the administration will submit its plan to expand testing to the federal government this month.

The plan builds on previously expanded testing criteria, and calls for the following:

  • Boost overall testing capacity to 45,000 daily tests by the end of July, and 75,000 daily tests by the end of December, with the goal of decreasing positivity rate to less than 5 percent.
  • Lab processing capacity is also planned to expand, enabling preparedness for a potential testing surge in the fall.
  • Testing expansion for residents and patients in high-risk congregate settings like state hospitals, group homes and correctional facilities will continue, and the administration will ensure testing for individuals who are symptomatic, close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases or whose employment places them at a high risk.
  • Randomized testing for surveillance purposes to build on the Community Tracing Collaborative’s contact tracing efforts.
  • Improved turnaround time of testing to provide same-day or next-day results.

When implementing the new testing proposed in this plan, communities with low testing availability, hotspots with high positive rates and high density areas will be the priorities.

Click here to view today’s testing presentation from the press conference.

CVS Testing Sites: The Baker Administration and CVS today announced the expansion of self-swab and send testing sites at 10 select CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations throughout the commonwealth, which will enable on-the-spot COVID-19 testing at no cost, with results available in 2-3 days.

CVS served as an early partner in Massachusetts’ efforts to expand testing, and these new testing sites build upon the previously announced location in Lowell. These new sites are part of CVS’s first rollout of its national testing expansion program, with a goal of 1,000 testing sites across the country.

The drive-thru CVS testing sites include:

  • Charlton
  • Worcester
  • Raynham
  • Northampton
  • Bridgewater
  • Carver
  • West Springfield
  • Danvers
  • Westport
  • Wellesley

Individuals who meet testing criteria may register in advance at CVS.com beginning Friday, May 15 to schedule an appointment.

PPE Procurement: The administration highlighted the delivery of more than 7.5 million pieces of PPE and supplies to be delivered to front-line workers throughout the commonwealth.

From April 20 through this past weekend, this equipment has been brought to Massachusetts through six different chartered flights. The PPE includes more than six million surgical and procedural masks, about 800,000 swabs, nearly 400,000 coveralls and  more than 125,000 gowns. The administration is grateful to the partners who helped secure and deliver this PPE, including the Chinese Consul General in New York, Huang Ping, OCEANAIR and Delta Airlines.

Healey Seeks Commercial Auto Insurance Reduction

State House news Service: With fewer cars and trucks on the road due to decreased economic activity, Attorney General Maura Healey says commercial auto insurance rates should be lowered to reflect the decreased risk insurers are taking on as drivers stay at home.

Healey wrote to state Insurance Commissioner Gary Anderson on Thursday asking him to direct auto insurance companies to reduce their commercial insurance premiums paid by state businesses.

“Without a reduction, Massachusetts businesses will be overpaying for this insurance at a time when many are already in difficult economic circumstances as a result of the national emergency,” Healey wrote.

Healey said the exposure to commercial claims is closely related to traffic volume and economic activity, both of which have declined significantly over the past two months. The attorney general cited a U.S. Census Bureau estimate that nationwide retail and food services sales were down 8.7 percent from February and 6.2 percent from March 2019. California has already required insurers to reduce commercial rates, Healey said, and some companies in Massachusetts have done it “on an ad hoc basis.”

“In order to ensure a level playing field and to protect small business policyholders, we request that you immediately send a notice to every insurance company writing commercial automobile insurance in Massachusetts requiring a reduction in premiums commensurate with the expected reduction in claims,” Healey wrote. “This reduction should remain in effect until the substantial reduction in exposure to loss ends.”

Governor Baker insists on slow, phased return as Mass. coronavirus deaths top 5,300

Globe Update: Days before Massachusetts is slated to begin to reopen its economy, Governor Charlie Baker insisted Wednesday that a deliberate, phased approach, underpinned by the continued expansion of COVID-19 testing, is the best path toward a new normal, as the state’s coronavirus death toll topped 5,300.

“The last thing we’re going to do is reopen in a way that fires that virus up again,” said Baker at a news conference in the parking lot of a community health center in Fall River that is providing drive-through testing.

The state Health Department reported Wednesday that the death toll in Massachusetts rose by 174 cases to 5,315. It was the largest number of deaths since May 6, when 208 fatalities were reported.

Massachusetts Families Get a Lifeline Against Hunger

Globe Report: The families of roughly half the public school students in Massachusetts will soon receive payments totaling around $400 per child to help them cover the cost of meals on days when the schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to nearly $200 million in federal funding from Congress.

About 500,000 public school students are eligible, either because their families are low-income or they go to classes in one of hundreds of school districts statewide where average incomes are low. That would include the students at all 125 Boston public schools.

Starting this month, eligible families will receive the first of two lump sums totaling around $400 on a special Electronic Benefit Transfer card that will arrive in the mail for those who don’t already have one. The payments, which work out to $5.70 a day for school closures from mid-March to mid-June, add up to roughly $1,200 for a family with three school-age children.

May 14, 2020

State Reports Town-by-Town COVID-19 Data

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has updated its town-by-town COVID-19 data.

Globe Coverage: “The Department of Public Health released new town-by-town data for coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the fifth set of such data showing how the virus has ravaged individual communities throughout Massachusetts.”

Baker Comments Suggest Little Reopening Next Week

Commonwealth Magazine: Governor Charlie Baker indicated on Tuesday that Massachusetts residents are unlikely to see much change next week in the first phase of the state’s planned four-part reopening effort.

Materials his administration handed out on Monday indicated phase one would involve limited industries resuming operations with severe restrictions. At a press conference in Ashland on Tuesday, the governor elaborated slightly.

Baker said the indicators lately have been encouraging, but he insisted the state’s reopening would not move ahead unless there was continued improvement. “We’re not out of the woods,” he said.

The industry-specific guidelines Baker mentioned on Tuesday won’t be released until Monday, but the statewide guidelines require every business to follow protocols on social distancing, hygiene, staffing, and cleaning/disinfecting.

The key social distancing requirements require all employees, customers, and vendors to remain at least six feet apart “to the greatest extent possible” and to wear face coverings or masks. Businesses are also required to provide signage for safe social distancing.

Hygiene, staffing, and disinfecting protocols require hand-washing capabilities and use, regular sanitization of high-touch areas, training programs for workers, and cleaning programs specific to the business.

The statewide guidelines, particularly the social distancing requirements, may be difficult for some businesses to follow. The MBTA, for example, hasn’t come up with a plan to comply with social distancing requirements on its buses and subways and the general manager of the transit authority has been reluctant to place caps on how many people can board vehicles.

Baker said the second phase of reopening, which his administration’s handout calls the cautious phase, will allow additional industries to resume operations “with restrictions and capacity limits.” At his Tuesday press conference, Baker said “the second group that’s likely to come out earliest are going to be people who work in ways and in places where they don’t have a lot of face-to-face contact with customers as part of their regular business.”

The governor’s description would seem to mean that businesses like barbers, hair salons, dentists, and summer programs where there is the potential for more face-to-face contact may not open until later on in the process.

 Easthampton Mayor Discusses State Reopening Plan

Western Mass News: [Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle] is on the state’s reopening advisory board and said they are still determining where many types of industries will fall on the four-phased plan.

“I think there’s some really obvious ones where you’re going to see big venues for concerts and sporting events being, you know, in phase four,” she said.

LaChapelle said she gives the following advice to individual businesses who ask how they can be proactive about planning their re-openings.

“Go walk through a grocery store and see what they’ve done with their traffic, with their taping, how people go through that line, how they deal with crowds,” she said. She suggests all businesses think about the general guidelines they’ve released on social distancing, hygiene, and cleaning.

“Think about how you can pivot your current operations to follow the basic guidelines that we know have been very helpful,” she said.

She said even when a particular industry is given the OK to open, not every business may be able or willing to comply with the strict regulations that will be imposed.

‘Probably Not Worth It’: Some Businesses Aren’t Sure They’ll Reopen, Even When Allowed

WBUR Report: The day is coming when Massachusetts businesses forced to shut their doors because of the coronavirus can reopen. Gov. Charlie Baker this week outlined a four-phase recovery plan, with more details expected Monday.

Yet some companies say it may not make financial sense for them to welcome back customers as soon as they’re allowed to do so.

June 29 Re-Opening for Massachusetts Day-Care Centers Limits Options for Parents

MassLive Coverage: As Massachusetts officials work to devise a plan to at least partially reopen sectors of the economy, there are some businesses still charging customers during Gov. Charlie Baker’s mandated closure; namely, day cares.

Yet many providers are having to cope with added uncertainty: as it stands now, childcare companies will have wait until at least June 29 to resume operations — a time when many parents may be back to work and in need of child-care options.

But many providers, particularly those that are privately owned, don’t have the luxury to bear the financial shortfalls until reopening and have been charging parents and families during the outbreak. Unlike publicly funded schools, the cost to private day cares has been acutely felt, and many owners have felt the move necessary.

The situation has prompted more than 85 complaints filed with Attorney General Maura Healey, her office says.

“We’ve been in touch with the state Department of Early Education and Care and are closely monitoring this situation,” a spokesperson for the AG’s office said, in a statement. “We know this is an issue for families across the state, especially those who have lost incomes.”

Peyser: Riley Working on K-12 Education Reentry Plan

State House News Service: Plans for bringing students back to the K-12 schools that have been physically closed to Massachusetts students since March will not be included in the report due next week from Gov. Charlie Baker’s re-opening advisory board, but a separate education-focused panel has begun to “wrestle with what school might look like in the fall,” Education Secretary James Peyser said Wednesday.

Peyser told lawmakers on the Education Committee that Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley has put together a working group to develop a re-entry plan that will be dependent on “continued improvement and stabilization in the overall public health data” around COVID-19. There is little doubt, Peyser said, that a return to classrooms would “require stringent protocols to ensure social distancing, personal hygiene, and effective cleaning, along with daily measures to assess student and staff health, testing protocols, and systems for contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.”

“There is no question that remote learning will be a much larger factor in planning for the next school year,” he said. “Even if we are able to start school in a quasi-normal fashion, we have to be better prepared for the possibility that in-person education will be interrupted again.” Peyser and Riley testified during a remote oversight hearing the committee scheduled to explore the status of the state’s K-12 schools and remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis.

Boston May Widen Sidewalks, Create Pedestrian Lanes on Streets to Help with Social Distancing during Re-Opening

MassLive Coverage: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said on Monday that the city is looking at ways to create more distance between residents on sidewalks and streets as sectors of Massachusetts begin reopening later this month.

Walsh said officials are thinking about expanding sidewalks in business districts and creating pedestrian- and cyclist-only lanes on streets. As businesses reopen, and capacity limits are put in place, Walsh said many businesses may experience long lines that spill out onto the sidewalks.

Washington Post/U. Maryland Poll: Americans’ Expectations for Safe Public Gatherings Slip to July at the Earliest

As the coronavirus spreads across the country, Americans are curbing their expectations about when it will be safe for gatherings of 10 or more people, with about 2 in 3 adults now saying it will not be until July or later before those events can happen, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

The findings provide more evidence that Americans remain worried about the threat of the virus and cautious about efforts to lift stay-at-home restrictions and to reopen businesses, even as many governors have begun to move in that direction. In the face of plans in many states to gradually ease those limitations, significant majorities of Americans continue to emphasize the need for social distancing and other safety measures.

Fully half of all Americans say in the poll that they think it will not be safe for gatherings of 10 or more until midsummer, including nearly one-quarter who say it will not be safe until 2021 or later. Just about 1 in 5 say they believe such gatherings are safe now or will be by the end of this month.

Federal Updates

 New York Times: House Democrats Unveil $3 Trillion Pandemic Relief Proposal

 Boston Business Journal: House Democrats propose $3tn in additional stimulus

Treasury Addresses PPP Borrower Certifications

 US Treasury Updates PPP FAQs as of May 13, 2020

Question 46: How will SBA review borrowers’ required good-faith certification concerning the necessity of their loan request?

Answer: When submitting a PPP application, all borrowers must certify in good faith that “[c]urrent economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.” SBA, in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, has determined that the following safe harbor will apply to SBA’s review of PPP loans with respect to this issue: Any borrower that, together with its affiliates,20 received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.

SBA has determined that this safe harbor is appropriate because borrowers with loans below this threshold are generally less likely to have had access to adequate sources of liquidity in the current economic environment than borrowers that obtained larger loans. This safe harbor will also promote economic certainty as PPP borrowers with more limited resources endeavor to retain and rehire employees.

In addition, given the large volume of PPP loans, this approach will enable SBA to conserve its finite audit resources and focus its reviews on larger loans, where the compliance effort may yield higher returns. Importantly, borrowers with loans greater than $2 million that do not satisfy this safe harbor may still have an adequate basis for making the required good-faith certification, based on their individual circumstances in light of the language of the certification and SBA guidance.

SBA has previously stated that all PPP loans in excess of $2 million, and other PPP loans as appropriate, will be subject to review by SBA for compliance with program requirements set forth in the PPP Interim Final Rules and in the Borrower Application Form.

If SBA determines in the course of its review that a borrower lacked an adequate basis for the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request, SBA will seek repayment of the outstanding PPP loan balance and will inform the lender that the borrower is not eligible for loan forgiveness.

If the borrower repays the loan after receiving notification from SBA, SBA will not pursue administrative enforcement or referrals to other agencies based on its determination with respect to the certification concerning necessity of the loan request. SBA’s determination concerning the certification regarding the necessity of the loan request will not affect SBA’s loan guarantee.

May 13, 2020

Feds See Test Rate of 50 Million Per Month by September 
 
State House News – Federal officials expect the country to be able to conduct 50 million COVID-19 tests per month by September, but Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday the idea of having a vaccine and treatment ready to facilitate students’ return to school in the fall is a “bridge too far.”

 

Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other top doctors in the federal government testified before a U.S. Senate committee, where he cautioned of “really serious” consequences and “little spikes that would turn into outbreaks” if states and cities try to reopen before they’ve experienced sustained, gradual declines in COVID-19.

 

Fauci said that in the states, even if officials pursue reopening at an “appropriate pace” that matches the local dynamics of the contagious disease, their ability to respond to future cases will be what determines “whether you can continue to go forward as you try to reopen America.”

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield said testing, early identification and isolation of new cases, contact tracing and social distancing are all important parts of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

 

“Rapid, extensive and widely available, timely testing is essential for reopening America,” Redfield said. Increasing state, local and tribal contact tracing capacity is also “critical,” he said. 

 

First Look at US House Version of Phase 4 Coronavirus Stimulus Bill – HEROES Act

 

Bill Text 

Bill Summary – Politico 

Deloitte Summary – House Democrats release ‘Phase 4’ economic recovery proposal 

  

Lawmakers Want More Data on COVID-19 Cases 
 

State House News – The Massachusetts Senate on Monday approved a bill to step up daily COVID-19 reporting from the Department of Public Health after adding reporting requirements for state-licensed care facilities, gateway cities, and impacts inside state prisons and county jails. 

 

Under the bill (S 2695), a redraft of legislation (H 4672) that passed the House three weeks ago, DPH would report daily data on resident and staff COVID-19 cases at facilities licensed by state agencies like DPH and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, including long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living residences. The bill, if passed, would also require daily reports on the number of cases and fatalities among inmates and staff at all correctional facilities. 

 

Staff cases would be broken down by occupation. Sen. Julian Cyr said those breakdowns are important to understand what types of protective equipment or training are needed. The data would be reported at a facility-specific level, while maintaining individuals’ privacy, according to a Senate official. 

 

Stepped-up daily reporting requirements for the Department of Public Health would include the number of people tested for the virus, the number who subsequently test positive within 24 hours, and a range of demographic information including gender, race, place of residence, age, disability status, and primary language, Sen. Michael Rodrigues said prior to the bill’s passage during a lightly attended session. 

 

IT Spending Bill Surfaces in House 
 
State House News – With dependence on technology rising, House Democratic leaders have set their sights on legislation to borrow more than $1 billion for information technology and cybersecurity upgrades.

 

Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office informed members of his party on Monday to be prepared to discuss a committee rewrite (H 4039) of Gov. Charlie Baker’s IT bond bill during a remote caucus on Wednesday. The Baker administration has been pressing for the bill’s passage for months.

 

The speaker’s office did not outline a timeline for consideration of the bill by the full House, but bills that are the focus of caucus talks often emerge for House consideration shortly thereafter.

 

Baker filed his $1.15 bill in April 2019, describing it as necessary to protect Massachusetts from cyberattacks and to improve how constituents interact online with their government for health care, housing and more. During a September committee hearing, Technology Services and Security Secretary Curtis Wood said the state sustains “about 525 million probes a day from foreign soil.”

The House Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets Committee recommended the bill with an amendment in October, and it has been pending in the House Ways and Means Committee since then. Major capital bills tend to draw dozens or hundreds of amendments and require recorded votes to pass. 

 

IRS: Today is the Deadline to Submit Direct Deposit Information

 

With a variety of steps underway to speed Economic Impact Payments, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service urged people to use Get My Payment by noon today for a chance to get a quicker delivery. 

 

The IRS, working in partnership with Treasury Department and the Bureau of Fiscal Services (BFS), continues to accelerate work to get Economic Impact Payments to people as soon as possible. Approximately 130 million individuals have already received payments worth more than $200 billion in the program’s first four weeks. 

May 12, 2020

Baker Administration Announces Four-Phase Approach to Re-Opening

Read the AIM Blog – Governor Charlie Baker said today that Massachusetts will re-open its economy in four phases beginning on May 18 as long as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to trend in a positive direction. The four phases – called Start, Cautious, Vigilant and the New Normal – are designed to methodically allow certain businesses, services, and activities to resume, while protecting public health.

US Small Business Administration Adds to Online Fact Sheet

View the SBA online FAQ sheet.

New Guidance Issues for Fulfillment of Remote Orders by Retail Businesses

The Baker Administration provided new guidance for retail businesses. Under this guidance, non-essential businesses are allowed to bring in a small number of employees in order to remotely fulfill online or phone orders, provided they can meet safety protocols. Read the full guidance in the COVID-19 Essential Services FAQs.

U.S. DEPT. OF COMMERCE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ADMINISTRATION FUNDING: ECONOMIC ADJUSTMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM 

U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration announced the availability of $1.5B in funding through an Economic Adjustment Assistance program. This funding will support communities in economic recovery through planning and technical assistance grants, grants for recovery and resilience strategies, capitalizing or recapitalizing revolving loan funds, and innovation grants. Cities and towns, Regional Planning Agencies, private or public non-profits working with local government, and others can apply for this support. Read more about this funding on the EDA’s website; eligible applicants may apply here. Chambers of Commerce may consider speaking with city and town officials or Regional Planning Agencies about this opportunity, to follow up on notice provided to these entities by my office.

State Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) Provides Resource

DUA has recently released FAQs to guide employers and employees in returning to work: Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Returning to Work: Guide for Employers and Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Returning to Work: Guide for Workers. These FAQs provide responses to some of the questions that employers and employees may have when looking ahead to reopening.

Pandemic Creates Opportunity for Telehealth

Boston Business Journal: The use of telehealth services in Massachusetts has “expanded exponentially” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Friday.

Sudders and Hilltown Health Center CEO Eliza Lake joined Gov. Charlie Baker at his afternoon press conference to highlight a public awareness campaign with the message that community health centers are open and that people, especially those with chronic conditions, should come in for the care they need.

Since COVID-19 arrived in Massachusetts, Baker and health officials have been encouraging the use of telehealth to preserve the availability of in-person care for people struck by the respiratory disease and to protect others from the risk of exposure.

May 10, 2020

Unemployment Rate Skyrockets to Nearly 15 percent

Globe Report: The U.S. unemployment rate hit 14.7 percent in April, the highest rate since the Great Depression, as 20.5 million jobs vanished in the worst monthly loss on record. The figures are stark evidence of the damage the coronavirus has done to a now-shattered economy.

The losses, reported by the Labor Department Friday, reflect what has become a severe recession caused by sudden business shutdowns in nearly every industry. Nearly all the job growth achieved during the 11-year recovery from the Great Recession has now been lost in one month.

The report indicated that a clear majority of April’s job losses — roughly 75 percent — are considered temporary, a result of businesses that were forced to suddenly close but hope to reopen and recall their laid-off workers. Whether most of those workers can return to their jobs anytime soon, though, will be determined by how well policymakers, businesses and the public manage their response to the public health crisis.

The collapse of the job market has occurred with stunning speed. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was a five-decade low of 3.5%, and employers had added jobs for a record 113 months. In March, the unemployment rate was just 4.4%

The jump in the unemployment rate didn’t capture the full devastation wrought by the business shutdowns. The Labor Department said its survey-takers erroneously classified millions of Americans as employed in April even though their employers have closed down. These people should have been classified as on temporary layoff and therefore unemployed. If they had been counted correctly, the unemployment rate would have been nearly 20 percent, the government said.

State House News Service: Close to one million Massachusetts workers have sought unemployment benefits since most of public life shuttered in mid-March to limit transmission of the highly infectious COVID-19, according to new data published Thursday.

Between March 15 and May 2, state labor officials received nearly 780,000 applications for standard unemployment insurance. Another 185,000 claimants have sought aid through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program – created by Congress to extend eligibility to gig workers, self-employed workers and others who do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance.

Cumulative standard and expanded claims together total about 960,000 in Massachusetts since March 15, based on the latest figures unveiled Thursday, representing more than one-quarter of the state’s entire labor force.

The state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said last week that, between March 15 and April 25, it had paid more than $2.3 billion in benefits to nearly 700,000 recipients. Officials did not provide an updated estimate with Thursday’s release of another week’s data.

Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance trust fund used to cover those costs dropped from a balance of $1.63 billion on March 1 to $748 million on April 16, according to U.S. Treasury data. A Wall Street Journal report described that as the largest decline among all states.

To help stave off the fund’s depletion — which a Tax Foundation report warned last week is imminent — Baker last month requested federal loans to cover $900 million of unemployment benefits in May and $300 million in June. His administration has not indicated if the application was successful.

Boston Business Journal: Mass. unemployment claims approach 1 million since pandemic’s start

Washington Post Coverage: Unemployment rate jumps to 14.7% – the worst since the Great Depression

New York Times: The Jobs Numbers Will Be Terrible. Here’s How to Interpret Them.

IRS Issues FAQ regarding Employee Retention Tax Credit Eligibility

Click here for the updated IRS FAQs on the tax credit.

MassDOT Updates:

RMV: Be Aware of Unofficial Third-Party Websites

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is cautioning customers to use only Mass.Gov/RMV when they are trying to renew a license or registration or process any business transactions online.

MassDOT on April Fatal Crashes: Drivers Urged to Slow Down 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reports that despite 50 percent less traffic recorded on major highways, 28 individuals died in crashes in April, compared to 27 deaths in April 2019.

Gun Shops Allowed to Re-Open after Federal Judge Ruling

Boston Business Journal: Massachusetts must allow gun shops to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic after the businesses were previously designated as non-essential by Gov. Charlie Baker, a federal judge ruled this week.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock ruled on Thursday that that the restrictions Baker ordered in response to the public-health crisis posed an “improper burden” to the constitutional rights of individuals seeking to purchase firearms, Reuters reported. The state will now have to allow licensed firearms dealers to sell guns, ammunition and other goods by appointment only, with no more than four appointments per hour. Dealers may only operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily starting Saturday.

Under Woodlock’s order, gun dealers must follow proper social distancing and public health requirements, including having employees wear proper face coverings and establishing procedures to sanitize frequent touch points throughout the day.

White House at Odds with CDC on Re-Opening Economy

Boston Globe: As President Trump pushes to reopen the economy, a battle has erupted between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the agency’s detailed guidelines to help schools, restaurants, churches, and other establishments safely re-open.

A copy of the CDC guidance obtained by The New York Times includes sections for child- care programs, schools and day camps, churches and other “communities of faith,” employers with vulnerable workers, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators. The recommendations include using disposable dishes and utensils at restaurants, closing every other row of seats in buses and subways while restricting transit routes between areas experiencing different coronavirus infection levels, and separating children at school and camps into groups that should not mix throughout the day.

AFL-CIO Outlines Recommendations on Re-Opening

This week, Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman sent a letter to Governor Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board highlighting the following recommendations from occupational safety and health experts at the AFL-CIO:

  • Effective and stringent health and safety protections, informed by science and designed with meaningful input by workers, unions and occupational safety and health experts.
  • There must be personal protective equipment for workers currently on the job—and for those returning to the job.
  • A planned, detailed and enforced system of screening, testing, contact tracing, proper isolation and epidemiological surveillance
  • People who cannot work due to COVID, whether because of infection, vulnerability, or lack of child care, should be protected from the loss of income, benefits and employment.
  • Workers must have stronger protections against retaliation and the right to refuse to work if they fear exposure to the virus.
  • Strong, clear and enforceable workplace health and safety standards must be in place

May 9, 2020

Baker Administration, Partners in Health, Public Health Officials Provide Update on Community Tracing Collaborative

The Baker Administration joined Partners in Health and local public health officials to provide an update on contract tracing efforts through the COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) launched last month. The initiative focuses on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, building on COVID-19 Response Command Center efforts to leverage public health college students to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health.

If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the MA COVID Team will reach out by phone to connect the confirmed case with support and resources necessary for quarantine, and to identify any close contacts that may have been exposed. As the CTC continues its contact tracing work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that Massachusetts residents answer the phone when a contact tracer calls or texts. Contact tracers will only reach out from phone numbers with 833 or 857 area codes, and the phone’s caller ID will say MA COVID Team.

Since calls began on April 12, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have participated in contact tracing. Staffed with more than 1,600 tracers, the Tracing Collaborative has reached nearly 14,000 confirmed cases and established more than 7,500 of their contacts since calls began on April 12. In part due to effective social distancing measures, the median number of contacts reported by each confirmed case remains approximately two.

To learn more about the MA COVID Team and the Community Tracing Collaborative, visit www.mass.gov/MATracingTeam.

Jobless Claims Climb to 780,000 in Massachusetts

State House News ServiceA seventh straight weekly burst pushed the amount of new unemployment insurance claims filed since March 15 to more than 780,000 in Massachusetts and 33 million nationwide, further evidence of the pandemic’s ongoing economic damage.

Almost 3.2 million American workers and more than 55,000 in Massachusetts filed initial claims for jobless aid between April 26 and May 2, according to federal Department of Labor data published Thursday. Both the state and national figures were the lowest one-week increases since the week ending March 21, which was the first span where the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on employment became clear.

However, both were once again several times higher than any pre-pandemic levels observed. Total claims since the start of the pandemic represent about 20.5 percent of the country’s labor force in March.

The Department of Labor also reported national numbers on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which Congress created to make benefits available to previously ineligible Americans such as gig workers and the self-employed, for the first time in Thursday’s release. More than 583,000 workers submitted claims for PUA aid in the week ending May 2 among the 23 states reporting data. Last week, state officials reported receiving 171,598 claims for the PUA program between April 19 and April 25. The Baker administration plans to provide an estimate for the most recent time period later on Thursday.

DOL Data May 7th, 2020

Globe Coverage: Another 3.2 Million Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week

Washington Post Poll: 77% of Laid Off Workers Believe They Will Return to Work

AIM Urges Time-Stamping of Re-Opening Guidance in Letter to Governor Baker

Golf Courses Allowed to Reopen Under Strict Rules – The Baker Administration Updated a COVID-19 essential services webpage

Private operators of golf courses may permit individuals access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind, appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly followed, and the business operator and golfers abide by the specific guidelines for golf courses outlined below.

Municipalities may decide to open municipal courses under these guidelines, if they so choose.

The specific guidelines for golf courses are:

  • Security personnel can be delineated by each club (example, a pro and the head starter) and will be present to enforce social distancing. There can be no other employees working at the recreational component of the golf operation.
  • All staff must wear face coverings while on the property
  • Club facilities including but not limited to the club house, pro shop, restaurant, bag room and locker room must remain closed
  • No caddies allowed
  • No golf carts allowed
  • Push carts may be used. Players must either carry their own bag or use a push cart
  • All golfers must maintain proper social distancing of at least six feet at all times
  • Groups of players are restricted to no more than four players at one time.
  • Members-only clubs may allow guests as determined by the security personnel on the golf course
  • Private clubs that allow non-members to make reservations can do so at their discretion
  • Maintenance personnel are permitted to work on the golf course
  • Tee Time Policy must be 15 minutes between groups
  • Golfers must stay in their car until 15 minutes before their tee time and must return to their car immediately following play
  • Online and remote payment options must be utilized
  • All golfers must use their own golf clubs. Sharing golf clubs or rental golf clubs is not allowed.
  • Flag sticks must remain in the hole. Hole liners must be raised so picking a ball out of the hole doesn’t occur
  • Bunker rakes must be removed, and ball washers must be removed or covered.
  • Practice putting green, driving range, and chipping areas must be closed.
  • Facilities must have readily accessible hand sanitizer”

Globe Coverage: Mass golf courses allowed to reopen amid coronavirus pandemic – but with restrictions

State Updates Town-by-Town COVID Data 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health  has published updates on case counts, testing, guidance, and resources regarding our public health response to COVID-19 in the Commonwealth. To learn about all aspects of the Massachusetts COVID-19 response, visit mass.gov/covid19. View today’s current cases in Massachusetts and learn more about COVID-19.

The Clock is Ticking, Yet Widespread Confusion Remains on PPP Spending Deadlines 

The Boston Business Journal: The shifting terms and guidance around the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program are raising confusion about nearly all aspects of the stimulus plan — including when and how long recipients have to draw down their funding.

One thing is clear: Businesses are faced with two important deadlines.

Per one deadline, a business must spend all of its PPP money within eight weeks of receiving it in order to maximize the program’s loan-forgiveness guidelines. But the other is to spend the money on eligible expenses and rehire workers no later than June 30, a deadline established in the first $349 billion PPP round created by the CARES Act in late March. It leaves little time for businesses that are receiving funding in the program’s second $310 billion round, still underway, to reach maximum loan forgiveness.

What remains unclear is how those dual deadlines will work together. That leaves individual businesses to make the call until the SBA sets more definitive terms or revises its requirements.

As currently written, the PPP loan, of which 25 percent may be used for overhead costs with the rest going to payroll, is for expenses incurred from Feb. 15 through June 30 of this year. But it’s unclear whether an eight-week period that starts in the middle of May can run past the June 30 deadline for rehiring workers.

What should a business do? To be safest, it should spend that money by June 30, at least barring any new SBA guidance, per the CARES Act’s stipulation, said David Cole, partner at law firm Holland & Knight LLP, with offices around the country.

Regardless, lending and legal experts are in agreement on at least one aspect of the PPP: It is crystal clear about what those funds can be used for. Anyone who strays from those approved expenses may invite scrutiny from the SBA and certainly won’t be eligible for full forgiveness thereafter, no matter whether the funds are used up before June 30

 Small Businesses Counting on Loan Forgiveness Could be Stuck with Debt

Boston Business Journal: With thousands of businesses preparing to ask for their eight-week loans to be forgiven, banks and borrowers are just now beginning to realize how complicated the program may turn out to be. Along with lawmakers, they are pushing the Treasury Department, which is overseeing the loan fund, to make forgiveness requirements easier to meet.

It is the latest complication for a program that has come under fire for allowing big companies to borrow funds from a finite pool of money aimed at keeping small businesses afloat. More than $500 billion in loans have been approved since the beginning of April, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has repeatedly tightened the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program to try to dissuade large companies from taking money. Mnuchin has said Treasury would review any company that took more than $2 million in loans and would hold firms “criminally liable” if they did not meet the program’s terms.

The Consumer Bankers Association warned on Wednesday that loan forgiveness is the “next shoe to drop” for the program, and the Independent Community Bankers of America raised alarm that struggling borrowers have been misled.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is a requirement that businesses allocate 75% of the loan money to cover payroll costs, with only 25% allowed for rent, utilities and other overhead. That has become more difficult as the economic crisis from the coronavirus drags on and as some businesses face a prolonged period of depressed sales, even once they reopen.

Some businesses are facing smaller payroll expenses because workers have opted to accept more generous unemployment insurance benefits, while only a handful of states have so far allowed businesses to reopen.

The ICBA, which represents smaller banks, asked the Treasury and the Small Business Administration on Wednesday to require only half of the loans made through the aid program to be spent on payrolls and allow the loans to be split evenly between paying workers and covering rent, which remains a substantial expense for many businesses.

Mnuchin indicated last week that while he believed he had the authority to change the payroll requirement rules, he was not inclined to do so given that the intent of the program was to maintain ties between businesses and workers while much of the economy was shut down.

“The objective here is to put people back to work,” Mnuchin said, adding that he did not want to encourage businesses to choose overhead costs over workers.

But that is not how things have unfolded for small businesses. Many laid off their workers to wait out the economic shutdown, intending to rehire as many as possible after it ended.

The SBA said on Tuesday that 5,411 lenders had approved $181 billion in loans since the second round of the program was initiated last week. The program, which began on April 3, has experienced high demand but has suffered from technical glitches that stalled loan processing and poor optics as big, publicly traded companies reported receiving millions of dollars while smaller businesses have been shut out. Backlash over those disclosures prompted Treasury to rewrite rules on the fly.

The Treasury Department issued new guidance on April 23 urging big companies with the ability to access other financing to rethink whether they really needed the money. Mnuchin has given those borrowers until May 14 to return the funds, no questions asked.

Some borrowers believe that in changing the rules after the fact, Treasury has gone against the letter of the law, which waived requirements for businesses to seek funds elsewhere before applying for loans through the SBA.

This week, Zumasys, a small technology company in California, and two of its subsidiaries filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department, Mnuchin, the SBA and Jovita Carranza, the SBA administrator, claiming that the latest guidance was unlawful. The company, which has fewer than 50 employees, received a $521,500 loan that it used for payroll costs and now it fears that it might have to repay that money. According to the complaint, Zumasys had access to other credit sources, but the small business loan was the only option available that would have provided funds that did not need to be repaid.

The uncertainty is emerging as lawmakers and the Trump administration begin debating another economic relief bill. While the initial rounds of funding anticipated businesses needing just short-term bridge loans, the economic devastation from the virus shows no signs of abating, suggesting more help is likely needed.

The next legislation, which will take shape later this month, could include another round of funding for the small business loans but would likely come with changes to the program to reflect the more protracted collapse in business activity.

EEOC Delays Data Collection Requirements

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced today that due to COVID-19, employers will not be required to submit EEO-1 Component 1 data until March 2021. The EEOC will notify businesses of a specific date when it becomes available. You can find today’s EEOC announcement here and a resource on employer responsibilities to prevent discrimination during COVID-19 here.

Massachusetts Health-Care Providers to Get a Pass on Cost Benchmarks this Year

Boston Business Journal: Efforts to keep the annual increase in the state’s health care spending to less than 3.1%, an area of top concern for the past few years under the Health Policy Commission, will take a back seat this year.

During a virtual hearing on Wednesday, executive director David Seltz, said the commission is required by statute to consider factors outside of a health system’s control when weighing whether spending increases have gone over the state’s benchmark. The coronavirus pandemic will be “weighed heavily,” in those future discussions, he said.

Fellow commissioners agreed that the benchmark and the state’s focus on containing health care costs will likely be an afterthought as officials begin to understand the impacts of the health pandemic. But they said they plan to return to that focus in the future.

“(The benchmark) may be a bit fictitious for this one year, with all the differences that occurred,” said Stuart Altman, chairman of the commission. “But the concept of the benchmark is important. It undergirds much of what we do … As we think about what the amount is for this coming year for the benchmark, I think we need to be less concerned about it, and use it as a guide, but the concept of the benchmark needs to be maintained.”

The commission also noted that while they have continued their own work behind the scenes analyzing systems that may have recently exceeded spending limits, they aren’t currently asking hospitals for data out of respect for the work they were doing in the ongoing pandemic.

Instead, the commission is looking at how the crisis might transform the health care sector moving forward. National statistics already show that volume has dropped at health institutions across the board. Through March, hospital revenue was down from 15% to 20%. Discharges, operating room minutes and emergency department visits also all dropped for hospitals across the nation.

 Study- Rents Will Fall at Downtown Office Towers

Globe Report: Rents for office space in downtown Boston could fall sharply this year as companies lay off employees and reassess how and where they work amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a report out Wednesday.

Estimates from Moody’s Analytics project a 12 percent drop in office rents in the city, one of the five steepest declines in the country, as the impact of the pandemic sweeps through the economy, and particularly through dense downtown business districts like Boston’s.

It would mark the end of a long run-up in rents and demand for office space in central Boston, though the study’s author, Victor Canalog, noted a 12 percent drop would be softer than the crashes of the early 1990s and 2001, and about what the region endured amid the broad economic collapse in 2008 and In that context — and given the cratering economy and job market — things could look a lot worse, he said.

Fauci Singles Out Moderna’s Coronavirus Vaccine as Reason for Optimism

Boston Business Journal: FDr. Anthony Fauci, who has become one of the faces of the Trump administration’s pandemic response due to his consistent presence and candid responses at White House press briefings, highlighted Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate as well as another one in development at Oxford University in an interview with National Geographic this week.

While discussing the likelihood that Covid-19 will return in the fall, Fauci said that he believes that the U.S. will have a vaccine ready for general use as early as January — a potentially record-setting timeframe. That’s because of what he called “impressive” preclinical data on Moderna’s drug, known as mRNA-1273. He did not specify what stood out to him in the data, and the NIAID did not immediately respond to questions about Fauci’s statement.

Local Towns Reviewing Commercial Property Values Opening up Possibly for Shift in Business Tax Rate

(The following is a communication from the Massachusetts Deportment of Local Services to every municipality):

Reviewing Options to Shift the Tax Rate

Each year, before the tax rate can be set, the select board, town council or city council hold the Classification Hearing and decide what percentage of the tax burden will be paid by each of the classes of property: residential, open space, commercial and industrial real estate and personal property. A policy choice is made between a single rate (taxing all property owners at the same rate) or a split tax rate (taxing the Commercial, Industrial and Personal Property (CIP) classes at a higher rate than the Residential and Open Space (RO) classes). This shift in the tax burden between classes can only be done within legally defined limits. If the board or council votes for a split tax rate, a decision is made about how much to shift, within those legally defined limits.

It’s not the assessors’ job to make these decisions. However, it is the assessors’ responsibility to provide the select board, town council or city council with the information they need to make informed decisions about tax rates and the effects different shifts in the tax burden between classes will have on the tax rates.

In the coming months, assessors will be analyzing the real estate market and the effects of these changes to prepare the FY2021 property assessments. The pandemic crisis could impact new growth estimates. There could also be changes in assessment levels between classes. There is a tool in Gateway that could help assessors monitor the effects of these changes in anticipation of their responsibilities for the Classification Hearing. Here is an excerpt from a previous City & Town article (October 5,2017).

May 7, 2020

April Tax Collections Plunge by $2.3 Billion

State House News Reporting: State tax collections tumbled in April by more than $2.3 billion compared to last April, another sign of the damage inflicted on the economy and the state’s finances by forced business shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Revenue Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder late Tuesday announced that collections last month totaled $1.981 billion, down 54 percent, or $2.34 billion, when compared to April 2019. Some of the decline stems from the state’s decision in late March to push the April 15 income tax filing deadline to July 15.

April is typically the biggest month of the year for collections. The decline in revenue comes 10 months into fiscal 2020, a budget year where the state had been on track to possibly produce a surplus, before the pandemic struck.

Now, officials are poised to embrace short-term borrowing to offset some of the decline in receipts, with House and Senate leaders showing interest in passing a borrowing authorization bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker in late March.

With hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents suddenly jobless during the pandemic, income taxes last month were down by nearly $2.1 billion, or 65 percent, compared to April 2019, accounting for most of the year-over-year decline for the month.

The state reported Tuesday that the Department of Revenue received 24 percent fewer income tax returns through April 30 than the same period last year.

Globe Coverage of April 2020 Tax Shortfalls

Massachusetts Banks Report No More Backlogs of PPP Applications

Boston Business Journal: Some Massachusetts banks are reporting that they have worked through their backlog of Paycheck Protection Program applications, freeing themselves to work with businesses that have yet to secure the loans.

When the first round of PPP funding dried up in mid-April, many lenders were left with a long list of clients that had yet to win loan approvals. They initially made little progress in whittling down that list when Round 2 kicked off last week, thanks to a U.S. Small Business Administration online portal that moved at a glacial pace.

Since then, however, SBA approvals have picked up significantly in Massachusetts and nationwide, as evidenced by some of the loan totals at Boston-area banks.

Eastern Bank, the state’s largest SBA lender, has won approvals for 7,400 loans worth approximately $1.2 billion since the PPP’s April 3 launch, Eastern President Quincy Miller said Tuesday afternoon. Just under $1.1 billion of those loans have already been disbursed, he said.

More Than 600 Businesses Apply to Make Personal Protective Equipment

Charlie Merrow, a seventh-generation manager of Merrow Manufacturing in Fall River, estimates the company will produce up to four million medical gowns, coveralls and other protective items in the coming months in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Enlisting the help of the Baker administration, Merrow pivoted from making sewing machines and apparel to producing protective gear for hospital workers and others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.

Resources

(Draft) Updated guidance for employers and unemployment insurance regarding offering work and return to work.    

EOHED Essential Business Guidance from April 2020

Massachusetts House Passes Borrowing Bill in First Ever Remote Session

State House News Service reports: “House lawmakers, many of whom watched on computer screens miles from the State House, took an historic and unanimous vote on Wednesday to authorize the Treasury to borrow billions of dollars as needed through June to meet the state’s financial obligations during the ongoing fight against the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, speaking from the House chamber with a mask covering his nose and mouth, said that Treasurer Deb Goldberg may need to borrow as soon as this month to balance the state’s outflow of cash, which is not being replenished as fast as it otherwise might.

“State revenue officials reported Tuesday that April tax collections fell 54 percent compared to the same month in 2019 and missed budgeted estimates for the month by nearly $2.2 billion.

“April is the state’s largest tax revenue month of the year, and Michlewitz called the losses a ‘staggering number.” He and other experts have said a ‘large portion’ of the drop in revenues could be because of the extended income tax filing deadline. If that assumption is correct, it would allow the state to quickly recoup some of the losses in July to begin repaying a large short-term debt by the end of fiscal 2021.

The 157-0 vote marked the first occasion in its nearly 400-year history that the House has used a roll call to pass legislation with most members participating remotely using computers and phones to monitor the proceedings and send in their votes. Remote participation was authorized this week in new emergency rules.”

Masks Are Now Mandatory – Here’s What to Know

Globe Coverage: Governor Charlie Baker’s order that everyone wear a face covering took effect yesterday. It requires everyone in Massachusetts to wear a face covering when they’re in a public place — inside or outside — and can’t distance themselves from others.

The mandate requires everyone to wear a face covering when they are in public and cannot be at least six feet away from others. This includes time spent in businesses, outside, and on public transportation.

Face coverings do not have to be medical masks. In fact, Baker is urging residents not to buy medical masks so there will be enough available for medical workers and first responders. You can use a T-shirt or bandanna as a face covering or create your own homemade mask.

Anyone who has a medical condition that would prevent them from wearing a face covering is exempt. Children under the age of 2 “should not wear face coverings or masks,” state guidance says.

WGBH Mask Coverage

City of Boston announces incremental approach to broadening the allowable categories of construction.  

Effective yesterday, all essential construction projects (as defined by the state, which currently means residential, hospitals, public schools, mixed use with residential, public works and construction related to COVID-19) with approved safety plans and signed affidavits as required under the COVID-19 Safety Policy for Construction will be authorized to prepare the site with project specific COVID-19 safety measures.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh Announces Expansion of COVID-19 Testing

The City of Boston is aiming to reach an average of at least 1,500 diagnostic tests per day to residents, targeting efforts in each neighborhood, while prioritizing populations most vulnerable to the severe impacts of COVID-19. An average of 1,100 tests are currently conducted each day across all available testing sites, up from an average of 680 tests conducted per day the previous week.

As part of the expansion, the city will work to expand the current testing infrastructure that exists to increase the number of community health centers offering testing and increasing their testing capacity by 50 percent in the next month. In addition, the City will partner with two hospitals to expand community-based testing over the next month.

 Facebook to Give Grants to 156 Small Businesses in Greater Boston

Globe Report

Senator Sal DiDomenico: Assisting Small Business

Senator Sal DiDomenico recently published an op-ed on assisting small business.

“Another important resource that is available, especially for our district, is the Massachusetts Equitable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Access Initiative. This initiative is committed to providing timely access to the Small Business Association PPP for underbanked businesses and historically disadvantaged demographic groups, including people of color and women.

“A coalition of banks is committing to making PPP loans directly and a network of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are providing technical assistance with loan applications. If you are a minority-owned business, you are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.”

Trump Administration to Phase Out Coronavirus Task Force

New York Times reporting: Despite growing evidence that the pandemic is still raging, administration officials said on Tuesday that they had made so much progress in bringing it under control that they planned to wind down the coronavirus task force in the coming weeks and focus the White House on restarting the economy.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has led the task force for two months, said it would probably wrap up its work around the end of the May, and shift management of the public health response back to the federal agencies whose work it was created to coordinate.

May 6, 2020

Governor Baker Expands Essential Services Definition and Eases Restrictions on Some Retailers

Updated Essential Service FAQs

Boston Business Journal Coverage: The Baker administration, effective immediately, will allow businesses considered non-essential to bring a few employees into their stores and warehouses to fulfill online and phone orders — a change the state’s retail industry has wanted for weeks.

Previously, only the owner of a non-essential business was allowed on-premises during the pandemic, and then only “to take care of crucial tasks that cannot be done remotely or to retrieve necessary materials or documents.”

Now the guidelines explicitly say that Massachusetts businesses can bring in employees to fulfill orders remotely, as long as they follow a new set of rules that include face-mask and social-distancing requirements, mandatory employee-temperature checks and limits on the number of on-site workers.

The change takes effect right away. The state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development on Monday updated a page on its website to reflect the change.”

State House News Coverage: “The administration quietly updated its essential services guidance to allow a limited number of employees of florist shops and other businesses to re-enter closed stores and warehouses to fulfill and ship orders taken over the phone and online.

The new guidelines require these stores to remain closed to the public and limit operating hours to allow for sufficient off-hour cleaning. Employees must wear face coverings and stay at least six feet apart from one another, and all deliveries must be “no-contact” deliveries to consumers.

The guidelines also limit the number of employees who can work at a given time, starting with three in a business smaller than 10,000 square feet and growing to seven in a facility with more than 30,000 square feet.

Employers must also require workers to self-administer temperature checks before their shifts, and not report to work if they have a fever over 100 degrees.

The updated essential business guidelines also made new allowances for car dealerships, allowing for sales to resume over the phone or online and for dealerships to follow the same remote fulfillment rules as other retailers.

Test drives of vehicles are not permitted, and all processing of documents should be done electronically, if possible, the rules said.

Dealerships must remain closed to walk-in customers, but transfer, delivery and return of new and leased vehicles or trade-ins can be conducted in person by appointment.”

Governor’s Statewide Order Requiring Masks, Face Coverings in Full Effect Beginning May 6

Updated Order

NEPR Report: In many places across Massachusetts, it’s already the norm to wear a mask to the grocery store or pharmacy. This week, it’ll be a statewide order, with violators facing a $300 fine.

As recently as last week, Governor Charlie Baker seemed OK with city and town leaders taking the lead on rules for face coverings.

But then he decided the whole state needed masks. As of Wednesday, the statewide order takes effect.

Masks Required on the T Starting Wednesday

State House News reports that workers will put up signs across the MBTA network informing riders that face coverings will be required on board trains and buses starting Wednesday, but the agency plans to be flexible with those who do not comply.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order requires all Massachusetts residents to cover their faces in some way if they are unable to socially distance in public, but it does not apply to children under 2 or those with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks.

“We’re obviously going to give people the benefit of the doubt if there is a reason why they’re not wearing the face mask,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said during a Monday board meeting.

“However, we want people to comply with this order. This is an important piece both for the riders and our operators of taking care of one another, of keeping each other safe.”

The MBTA has already implemented several other strategies to limit transmission of the highly infectious virus, such as requiring rear-door boarding on buses and street-level Green Line stops.

As of Monday, 81 T employees are ill with COVID-19, 56 have recovered from the disease and returned to work, and one died as a result of contracting the virus, Poftak said. Leaders at the transit agency are drafting plans for how the T will operate during the transition out of widespread shutdowns, Poftak said, targeting key questions such as capacity and long-term social-distancing practices. He said the process is “well underway internally and one we’ll be reporting out on shortly.”

“What was a crowded bus two months ago – that definition has changed over time,” Poftak said.

Treasurer’s Office Introduces Small Business Grant

The Massachusetts state treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment (OEE) introduced the Empowerment Grant for Small Businesses in Gateway Communities.  The deadline for applications is May 29. Funding decisions will be made by June 12.

The Empowerment Grant Program aims to support the well-being and continuity of small businesses by providing access to capital and empowerment through engaging in OEE resources.

Grant resources will be focused on small business owners serving Massachusetts Gateway Cities. The State Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment encourages minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, and/or immigrant-owned small businesses located in gateway communities to apply.

House Agrees to Rules for Remote Sessions

State House News Service: “Under the new rules, representatives wishing to speak in favor of or against a particular bill must still notify their division monitor by 10 a.m. on the day of the formal session. Division monitors would then provide a list to the speaker of those wishing to speak in support or opposition to a bill.

After conferring with the minority leader, the speaker would create a final list of members in support and opposition to email out to all members before the session.

Instead of limiting legislators to one chance at oral arguments, the compromise amendment adopted Monday allows the House minority leader, the chair of the committee that released the bill, and the ranking minority member of the committee reporting the bill to be recognized more than once on any question before the House.

After all members who signed up have been recognized to speak on a bill or amendment, the primary sponsor, or their designee, could provide a rebuttal or further explanation. If that happens, a member of the opposing political party could also be recognized and neither could speak for more than five minutes without unanimous consent.”

Nearly 1 Million Unemployment Claims is Just One Troubling Number Spilka Delivered Monday Night to Natick Selectmen

MetroWest Daily News: State Senate President Karen Spilka delivered some sobering news Monday night to Natick selectmen about the statewide financial fallout caused by the coronavirus: Up to $700 million in lost tax revenue in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The culprit is thousands of businesses closing and sheltering-in-place advisories that have kept families pent up at home, unable to spend money that fills state coffers.

In addition, there have been nearly 1 million unemployment claims.

Next fiscal year, which starts July 1, the financial pain could be much worse, with state revenues falling by $4 billion to $6 billion.

“That’s a best-case scenario,” Spilka said during an appearance on a Zoom meeting.

“Frightening” and “uncertain” were among the words the Ashland Democrat used to describe the tough road ahead for state lawmakers as they try to set a budget for next fiscal year.

The uncertainty is tied to many factors, including the unknown dollar figure on state revenues and how much money could arrive from the federal government. Twelve years ago, as the housing bubble burst, Spilka said Washington, D.C. sent Massachusetts a substantial amount of education funds that helped the state weather a crisis. But that can’t be counted on this time around, Spilka said.

The good news is there are no expected cuts to cities and towns this fiscal year in state aid and Chapter 70 education funds.

Paycheck Protection Program Updates Round Two Data

Massachusetts state approved loans: 48,768. Approved Dollars: $4,363,228,611

US Treasury Updates PPP Round 2 Data

US Treasury Updated PPP FAQs

Moulton Seeks UI Relief for Non-Profits

Congressman Seth Moulton filed legislation and submitted a letter to leadership demanding additional non-profit UI relief.   “The group outlined what they’d like to see in the next relief bill: expanding access for non-profits in disaster relief programs including the Paycheck Protection Program, increasing the unemployment insurance reimbursement for self-insured nonprofits struggling to pay furloughed employees, and strengthening tax incentives so more Americans donate to nonprofits in this era of economic uncertainty.

The full text of the letter is available here.

AIM Letter in Support of Non-profit UI Relief

US Chamber of Commerce Letter (AIM Signed On) for Expanded PPP Eligibility

US Senate Back in Session

Globe Coverage: “The Senate reopened Monday in a Capitol largely shuttered by the coronavirus, but prospects for quick action on a new aid package are uncertain with a deepening debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

The 100 senators are convening for the first time since March, while the House is staying away due to the health risks, as the conflicted Congress reflects an uneasy nation. The Washington area remains a virus hot spot under stay-home rules.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell opened the session, defending his decision to focus the agenda on confirming President Trump’s nominees rather than the virus outbreak.”

Poll Reveals Mass. Residents Determined to Socially Isolate and Slow Spread, Despite Economic Struggles

Globe Reporting: The Suffolk University/Boston Globe Poll shows widespread support for Governor Charlie Baker and the restrictions he imposed on daily life more than a month ago.

At the same time, the poll indicated that the road back to economic health is likely to be slow and painful, with respondents expressing reluctance about resuming many activities that were once a normal part of life — going to the movies, riding public transportation, and attending sporting events.

More than seven in 10 residents said they won’t be comfortable engaging in those activities when government restrictions and recommendations are lifted, the poll found. Even if there is an effective treatment but not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, a majority of residents would not be comfortable going to a ballpark or riding the subway.”

Americans Widely Oppose Re-Opening Most Businesses, Despite Easing of Restrictions in Some States, Post-U. Md. Poll Finds

Washington Post Coverage: “Fear of infection, the poll finds, has not abated at all in recent weeks. In the survey, 63 percent of Americans say they are either very or somewhat worried about getting the virus and becoming seriously ill, with 36 percent saying they are either not too worried or not at all worried. In a Post-U. Md. poll two weeks ago, 57 percent said they were worried about becoming seriously ill from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 42 percent said they were not worried.

States are at different points in the cycle of the virus, with some appearing to be past the peak and others still experiencing growth in the pace of infections. Asked their impressions of where their own communities stand in relation to the curves, 31 percent say the worst is behind them. Another 30 percent say the worst is happening now, while 38 percent say the worst is yet to come.”

Baker Administration: Nothing ‘Magical” About May 18 Re-Opening Date

Boston Business Journal: Acknowledging employers’ anxiety and sense of urgency in restarting the economy, as the state grapples with nearly 24 percent of its workforce unemployed, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said May 18 is not a ‘magical’ date.

“Our plan will be released on that date which will outline a phased-in reopening across our commonwealth,” she said. “And phased-in means just that. Some industry sectors will be more ready than others. And even within an industry sector, there might be components of that industry that can begin first and eventually build out to full capacity. So that’s what May 18 is. It doesn’t mean the economy across our commonwealth will just reopen. It’s just not possible.”

Baker said that in coming weeks, state officials will release “concrete plans” on what each phase of the reopening will look like, where industries fit, general business guidance on social distancing and cleaning protocols that all businesses will have to adhere to upon reopening, and industry-specific guidance and protocols for reopening.

The child-care and transportation sectors “will continue to be key enablers to ensure a safe and successful reopening,” according to Baker, who added that the advisory panel is developing “next steps” for those sectors.

The panel has virtually met with representatives from 23 different industry associations and community coalitions, representing 100,000 businesses and 1.4 million Bay State workers, according to Baker. The associations included sectors involving retail, restaurants, travel and tourism, banking, construction and recreation.”

May 3, 2020

Massachusetts House Agrees to Remote Session Rules

State House News reports: “House Democrats and Republicans resolved their differences Monday over a rules package that will allow the House to resume formal sessions with representatives allowed to participate by phone in debates and voting. The House on Monday afternoon passed an amended version of the temporary, emergency rules package.”

Unemployment by the Numbers

Here is updated state UI data as of April 30

  • From April 19 to April 25, Massachusetts had 70,552 individuals file an initial claim for standard Unemployment Insurance (UI).
  • Since March 15, a total of 722,009 initial claims were filed.
  • For the week of April 19 to April 25, there were a total of 527,538 claimants, an increase of 13.8 percent over the previous week. The largest number of claimants include Food and Accommodation with 93,168;Retail Trade at 69,333; and Health and Social Assistance with 66,202.
  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA)is paying standard Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to around 450,000 claimants and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to around 150,000 claimants.
  • Since March 15, nearly 700,000 Massachusetts total claims have been paid amounting to more than $2.3 billion in disbursements to beneficiaries of both programs.

Update on PPP Loan Forgiveness

Will a borrower’s PPP loan forgiveness amount (pursuant to section 1106 of the CARES Act and US Small Business Administration (SBA) implementing rules and guidance) be reduced if the borrower laid off an employee, offered to rehire the same employee, but the employee declined the offer? 

SBA and the US Treasury Department intend to issue an interim final rule excluding laid-off employees whom the borrower offered to rehire (for the same salary/wages and same number of hours) from the CARES Act’s loan forgiveness reduction calculation. The interim final rule will specify that, to qualify for this exception, the borrower must have made a good faith, written offer of rehire, and the employee’s rejection of that offer must be documented by the borrower. Employees and employers should be aware that employees who reject offers of re-employment may forfeit eligibility for continued unemployment compensation.

Globe Coverage: Community banks have been working deep into the night to get loans for their local businesses
Boston Business Journal: PPP’s Round 2 seems to favor smaller Mass. Businesses
Washington Post: SBA Touts More Small Businesses Getting Relief Funds in New Data

State Representative Calls for State to Ramp Up Mask Production 

Daily Hampshire Gazette: Democratic Rep. Mindy Domb on Friday filed a bill that directs the state Department of Public Health to ramp up the production of masks and to make sure that all residents have access to them.

The bill states:

  • The state health department would contract with manufacturers to produce cloth face coverings that it would purchase.
  • Those making the masks must be based in Massachusetts.
  • Priority would go to businesses whose employees have a union contract.
  • Masks must be produced in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Once the production is established, the state health department, in coordination with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, will proceed to distribute cloth face coverings to local emergency management directors or local health officers so that they can be put to immediate use by both municipal employees and residents.

Warren, Schakowsky to Introduce Legislation to Publicly Manufacture Personal Protective Equipment, Prescription Drugs, Other Medical Supplies

Vox Coverage: The bill would set up a new Emergency Office of Manufacturing for Public Health within the US Health and Human Services Department. That agency would be charged with guaranteeing “an adequate supply of drugs, devices, biological products, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and other supplies necessary to diagnose, mitigate, and treat COVID-19 and to address shortages in products used to treat non-COVID conditions and illnesses,” according to a summary of the bill.

The office could enter into contracts with private manufacturers to produce those supplies or it could assume responsibility for manufacturing itself. The bill text authorizes the federal government to construct manufacturing facilities if necessary to perform that work. Separate from addressing supply needs, the bill would also authorize the government to construct facilities that could produce vaccines and other therapeutics as soon as they become available.

Bill Text

Bill Summary 

 Neal Pressing Ahead with Phase Four Relief Package

State House News: “The White House may be trying to pump the brakes on the next round of economic relief being discussed in Congress, but U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said Monday that it’s full steam ahead for House Democrats, who want to provide more aid to state and local governments, as well as hospitals, families and the unemployed.

‘We’re writing it now,’ Neal told the News Service in a phone interview from Springfield on Monday afternoon.

Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he hoped the so-called “Phase Four” relief bill would be ready for consideration in the House next week, despite the White House’s top economic advisor over the weekend talking about the administration’s desire for a “pause” on stimulus spending.

Northeast Governors Banding Together to Buy Medical Supplies

Politico Coverage: Seven Northeast governors are banding together to purchase medical equipment as a unit in hopes of avoiding a mad scramble for supplies if the coronavirus returns in the fall.

The governors — who have said they will coordinate plans as they look to reopen their states — announced the consortium during a conference call on Sunday led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The aim is to give states more sway in the international marketplace, Cuomo said.

“That will increase our market power when we’re buying and we will buy as a consortium, priced as a consortium, for the PPE equipment, ventilators, medical equipment — whatever we need to buy for all those hospitals together,” Cuomo said.

In addition to New York, the group consists of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The idea of purchasing supplies regionally was floated last month, as states were bidding against one another and embarking on international hunts to acquire masks, gowns and ventilators, a competition they said was absurd but necessary in lieu of federal coordination.

Cuomo said the governors estimate they’ll collectively buy about $5 billion in medical supplies this year, with $2 billion of that for New York.”

Boston’s Rental Relief Fund Begins Making Payments

WGBH: The first $15,000 from Boston’s $3 million rental relief fund has been distributed, just ahead of the first-of- the-month, a rental due date for many of Boston hundreds of thousands of renters.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced the fund in early April.

Guidelines issued for seasonal Cape and Islands visitors

Cape Cod Times: “The Cape and Islands legislative delegation, along with the region’s chambers of commerce and hospitals, has issued guidelines for seasonal residents amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, with Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of the summer season — three weeks away. Although the instructions may sound familiar to local residents, they compile in one listing all the restrictions that out-of-state visitors may not be aware of.”

Massachusetts researchers are on front lines of coronavirus antibody testing

Globe: Scientists and doctors across Massachusetts are mobilizing to address two of the most baffling questions of this pandemic: How widely has the coronavirus spread and if you’ve been infected, do you have lasting immunity?

The answers lie in the antibody test — a pinprick of blood that captures the body’s immune response. Researchers say such testing is the foundation upon which policymakers can determine when the commonwealth may safely, fully reopen.

As pilot antibody testing projects launch across the country, Massachusetts is seeing a surge of energy in the front lines of the field — and key results could be just a few months away. One project at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is ramping up to run thousands of antibody tests per day. Other local researchers are examining long-term immunity by testing people’s antibody responses after infection and following them over time to see if they get reinfected.

Sign-ups Surge on Massachusetts Health Exchange

Eagle Tribune: “Enrollment in the Health Connector, which allows people without insurance to sign up for coverage, is up 45,000 over the past two months.

The activity comes as hundreds of thousands of people are jobless and without employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Officials at the Health Connector say they’ve signed up at least 20,000 new people through the online exchange, while another 11,600 people with existing plans who’ve seen their income drop have shifted to MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. At least 12,000 people have moved into another health exchange plan.”

International Developments

Italy Loosens Europe’s Longest Lockdown
With Virus Under Control, Australia and New Zealand May Form a “Travel Bubble.”

AIM Joins others business groups and NAM in support for Liability Protections

AIM signed onto this coalition letter signed by nearly 300 national and regional associations to ensure that businesses are not punished for leading our country’s response to COVID-19, operating in good faith and trying to do the right thing. If this is important to your operation, please contact AIM’s Brad MacDougall.

May 2, 2020

Governor Orders Use of Masks, Face Coverings

The Baker Administration issued an order requiring the use of masks or face coverings in public places where people cannot socially distance from others.

The mask order applies to all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations that are currently open to the public and permitted to operate as COVID-19 Essential Businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail stores.

Instructions on how to make a cloth mask are available from the CDC here.

Essential Workers Conduct Strike

Employees at many online retailers, grocery store chains and package-delivery services conducted labor actions Friday to protest what they describe as unsafe working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while others, put out of work by the disease, are used May Day to demand an end to stay-at-home orders they say are ruining livelihoods and irreparably harming the economy.

IRS Provides Guidance on Deductible Business Expenses and PPP Loans

The US Internal Revenue Service has explained how it will handle the tax treatment of deductible expenses for businesses receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans. To prevent a “double tax benefit,” the IRS will not allow taxpayers to deduct trade or business expenses (e.g., payroll) associated with forgiven PPP loans, which under the CARES Act are not considered as taxable income. Read the IRS guidance here.

Warren Bill Seeks to End Shortages of Protective Gear

Under a new bill from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a new federal agency would take responsibility for eliminating protective gear shortages and other supply scarcities critical to the coronavirus response.  The legislation, to be released on Thursday and shared first with Vox, seeks to remedy the critical supply shortages reported in some Covid-19 hot spots.

If the bill were to become law, the office would be required to begin its work within one month of its passage. Once supplies are produced, the government must provide them to federal, state, local and Native American health programs at no cost. They could be sold to private or international entities at a fair price. The office would also be charged with replenishing the national strategic stockpiles that have been depleted during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Community Health Care Center COVID-19 Testing 

In continued partnership with Quest Diagnostics and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, the Baker Administration announced expansion of COVID-19 testing at additional centers throughout the commonwealth.

The testing expansion builds upon the previously announced increased testing, bringing the total to 18 Community Health Centers. The new facilities that will begin or expand testing include:

  • Lynn Community Health Center
  • Holyoke Health Center
  • North Shore Community Health Center
  • Community Health Center of Franklin County

Here for a full list of Testing Sites including MAP:

May 1, 2020

Jobless Claims in Mass. top 893,000, or 24 Percent of the Labor Force

Globe Coverage: “In the six weeks since COVID-19 restrictions closed thousands of businesses and forced people to stay at home, the state has received more than 893,600 claims for jobless benefits, or almost 24 percent of the labor force before the pandemic.

“Bad as these are, these numbers are likely to increase in Massachusetts as layoffs start to hit the education and government sectors in the months ahead,” said Thomas Kochan, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The state’s unemployment rate, which stood at 2.9 percent in March, could rise to more than 25 percent, according to an estimate by Greg Sullivan at the Pioneer Institute.

Nationally, 3.8 million workers applied for unemployment benefits in the week ended April 25, bringing the six-week total to about 30.3 million, the Labor Department said Thursday. That means more than one in six American workers have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

State Senator Adam Hinds (D – Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden) Op-Ed: The Nation’s Economy Can be Rescued by Rescuing State Economies

Covid-19 Causes Massachusetts Economy to shrink at 6 Percent Pace

Boston Business JournalMassachusetts’ real gross domestic product declined at an annualized rate of 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2020, a steeper drop-off than the country as a whole, according to a new estimate from MassBenchmarks.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis published data on Wednesday that showed U.S. GDP declining at a 4.8 percent pace from January through March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to roil the country and sent the economy into a recession.

The 6.1 percent estimated decline is based on the best information currently available, according to MassBenchmarks, an economic journal published by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The figure fails to “reflect the full severity of the pandemic-induced downturn,” MassBenchmarks editors warned in a note, because it incorporates data that predates the pandemic blossoming into a full-blown economic crisis. The payroll-employment and unemployment-rate data reflected conditions from March 8 to March 14, while sales-tax revenue data reflected February purchases.”

NBC News Update: (National) GDP falls by 4.8 percent, bringing longest economic expansion on record to abrupt halt

“The coronavirus pandemic has slammed into the economy so hard the nation’s GDP has fallen by 4.8 percent, bringing the longest economic expansion on record to an abrupt halt.

AIM Signs on to National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Business Liability Protections Letter 

“Many members who have remained operational during times of legal uncertainty risk becoming the targets of coronavirus-related lawsuits. Congress must act to ensure that such misguided litigation does not derail our recovery.”

Click here to view and sign onto the business association letter urging Congress to protect essential businesses.

NAM plans to deliver the letter to Capitol Hill on Friday, May 1, but the timing could shift

Day-Care Centers Fear COVID-19 Will Close Them Permanently; Request Aid

MassLive ReportingDaycares United, a coalition for child-care facilities across Massachusetts, addressed a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday requesting assistance because many are unsure they’ll be able to reopen after the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter provides the governor with three specific methods to help aid day-care centers with rent and other costs. Daycares United said federal Paycheck Protection Program loans have acted as lifelines to those facilities that received approval. But many haven’t received aid.”

Biggest Hurdle to Bringing People Back to the Office Might be the Commute  

Wall Street Journal: “The mass transit systems that allowed some of the world’s most densely populated financial capitals to grow and flourish for a century, including New York City and Tokyo, are emerging as a major concern because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Challenges with commuting could keep offices in those locations shut for longer than other places where people can more easily drive to work, human resources and real-estate executives say.

Companies are starting to consider alternatives to mass transit, such as company car allowances, private bus services and leasing smaller office space in suburban locations closer to where many workers live.”

See Which States Are Reopening and Which Are Still Shut Down

New York Times Interactive Map: “After weeks of shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation is beginning to slowly open up.

“Beaches and state parks are reopening to visitors, spurring concerns about overcrowding. The first barbers have returned to work, masks over their faces. Even some restaurants are getting ready to serve customers again.

“The re-openings — which in some cases have gone against the advice of public health experts — are happening piecemeal even as the number of new cases increases or remains steady across many states, leading to both pushback and confusion.”

Guidelines call for 14-day drop in cases to reopen. No state has met them.

NBC Update: “As a handful of states begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions, no state that has opted to reopen has come close to the federally recommended decline in cases over a 14-day period.

“Even as the U.S. hit the grim milestone of more than 1 million cases Tuesday — one-third of the world’s total — Georgia, Minnesota and other states are pushing to reopen businesses, even though new infection rates are still rising.

“Some states, such as Colorado and Kentucky, have reported fewer new cases in the past week. But no single state has had a two-week decline in case numbers.”

WBUR List of Communities in Massachusetts Requiring Face Masks in Public

Main Street Lending Program

The Federal Reserve announced today new details on the Main Street Lending Program. The announcement included key reforms, including lowering the minimum loan size to $500,000 to enable more small businesses to benefit from the program. It also expanded program eligibility to include companies with up to 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenues, limited the application of the facilities’ “specific support” provisions so that fewer companies are excluded and clarified that pass-through businesses’ distributions do not exclude them from the program.

Loans will be offered to small and medium-sized businesses via the Main Street New Loan Facility, the Main Street Expanded Loan Facility and the newly announced Main Street Priority Loan Facility. The maximum loan size will be $25 million for the new and priority facilities and $200 million for the expanded facility, all subject to the borrower’s existing outstanding and undrawn available debt and its 2019 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

The Federal Reserve has provided updated term sheets for the New LoanExpanded Loan and Priority Loan facilities, as well as a comprehensive FAQ document on the program. More information, including the official program launch date and application procedures, will be available on the Federal Reserve’s Main Street page as it becomes available

The Main Street Lending Program is separate from the Paycheck Protection Program, which is primarily designed for companies with fewer than 500 employees. Companies may qualify for both programs. Learn more at the SBA website here.

IRS Provides Expanded FAQs on Employee Retention Tax Credit

The Internal Revenue Service has issued expanded FAQs for the employee-retention tax credit “COVID-19 Policy Action Plan Recommendations.” The FAQs cover employer eligibility, allocation of qualified health plan expenses, interaction with other COVID-19 relief provisions and more.

New CDC Guidance on Re-Opening

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday released new re-opening guidance that is universally applicable to the broad U.S. population, including manufacturers and other businesses. The CDC webpage provides a general framework for cleaning and disinfection practices. The new guidance underscores the importance of the development, maintenance and constant reevaluation of cleaning and disinfection plans for businesses, workplaces and facilities.

April 30, 2020

The Small Business Administration Requests Public Comments on the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) Regarding the Rules for Forgiveness.

AIM members may either submit their own comments directly to the SBA or can contact AIM’s Brad MacDougall with feedback.

Boston Banks Face Another Payroll Protection Plan Slog

The Boston Business Journal reports: “Round 1 was awful. Round 2 was atrocious,” Eastern Bank CEO Bob Rivers said. “The system just keeps kicking the applications back. It can’t accept them.”

Eastern, the state’s largest SBA lender, has about 3,000 applications ready to submit to the agency, according to Rivers. By day’s end, it was only able to knock off a fraction of that, he said, though bank employees planned to keep working through the night.

Rivers is concerned that this round, customers of small banks will lose out to those of bigger banks. During the PPP’s first round, smaller banks fared comparatively well. While they started processing applications manually soon after the PPP launched, big banks attempted to automate the application process, to mixed results.”

No Virtual House of Representatives Formal Session, After All

State House News Service Reports that an attempt by House Democrats to push through emergency rules allowing for remote formal sessions stalled out after Republican action ended Wednesday’s House session – a move that drew a strong rebuke from the House speaker and an equally strong rebuttal from the House GOP leader.

“House Minority Leader Brad Jones’ move derailed House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s plans to hold a remote formal session on Thursday to advance a borrowing bill to tide the state through pandemic-related revenue shortfalls. After disagreements reached a tipping point, Jones objected and ended the session for the day by doubting the presence of a quorum, which was not present in the House.”

The House will meet on Thursday at 10 am in an informal session“The bill House leaders wanted to take up on Thursday is a House Ways and Means report on legislation (H 4593) that allows the Treasury to borrow an unspecified amount this fiscal year and pay it back by the end of the next fiscal year. Governor Charlie Baker previously said the legislation is needed “to protect the state’s budgetary and cash balances during a public health emergency.”

As Re-Opening Task Force Forms, Other States Explore Options

Baker’s Reopening Task Force Forms

Commonwealth Magazine Coverage:

“Colorado – Gov. Jared Polis is allowing retail shops to open on Friday as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines and require employees to wear face coverings and gloves. Under his order, real estate showings can resume, as can elective surgeries.  Hair salons and massage parlors can reopen as long as the provider and customer wear masks and no more than 10 people are allowed inside the business at one time. Office-based businesses may resume operations May 4, but employees must be tested daily for fever, meetings of more than 10 people are prohibited, and social distancing must be maintained. Not allowed to open at this time are restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, concert halls, casinos, and off-track betting facilities.

Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott said on Monday he is allowing the state’s stay-at-home order to expire on Thursday, allowing businesses to reopen on a phased basis. According to Abbott’s order, the first phase would allow retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums, and libraries to open Friday. They will only be allowed to operate at 25 percent of their allowed capacity. Assuming no spike in coronavirus cases occurs, Abbott would start the second phase on May 18, allowing businesses to expand to 50 percent of their allowed capacity.

Tennessee – The Tennessee Pledge is Gov. Bill Lee’s blueprint for reopening the state, starting with restaurants and retailers. The pledge limits customers to 50 percent of the restaurant’s seating capacity, with tables at least six feet apart and no more than six people per table. Employees must wear masks and gloves at all times. No buffets and no live music. Customers at a minimum should be asked about their recent health history upon entering, but the pledge says best practice would be taking the temperature of everyone who enters. The rules for retailers are almost the same, except retail customers would also be required to wear masks.

Georgia – For salon and spa owners, Georgia required the facilities to clean and disinfect their establishments before opening, remove all reading materials, and regularly disinfect all tools, shampoo bowls, pedicure bowls, and workstations. Employees are required to wear masks at all times and use face shields, gloves, and capes that can either be thrown away or washed after each use. Employees are also required to arrive at work showered and wearing clean clothes, and then change clothes before leaving the salon for the day. The Georgia guidelines recommend that customers wait outside the shop until the attendant is ready for them, maintaining a distance of six feet from other customers outside and inside the building. Customers are urged to wear masks while receiving services. The guidelines recommend taking the temperature of employees each day and every customer who enters the shop.”

CNN Map – This is Where All 50 States Stand on Reopening

Reopening Rhode Island Website

Poll Finds Support for Restrictions

A Washington Post Poll: Nearly 2 in 3 Americans say the restrictions on restaurants, stores and other businesses in their states are appropriate, with another 16 percent saying they are not tight enough. Just under 2 in 10, or 17 percent, call the limits on business activity too restrictive.

About 7 in 10 (72 percent) Democrats and 6 in 10 (62 percent) Republicans say their state’s current restrictions on businesses are appropriate. Republicans are more likely to say their state is too restrictive on businesses, though fewer than 3 in 10 say this (27 percent), compared with 17 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats.” 

Businesses Seek Sweeping Shield from Pandemic Liability Before They Reopen

New York Time Coverage: The biggest push, business groups say, is to give companies enhanced protection against lawsuits by customers or employees who contract the virus and accuse the business of being the source of the infection.

The effort highlights a core tension as the economy begins to reopen: how to give businesses the confidence they need to restart operations amid swirling uncertainty over the virus and its effects, while also protecting workers and customers from unsafe practices that could raise the chances of infection.

Administration officials have said they are examining how they could create some of those shields via regulation or executive order. But lobbyists and lawmakers agree that the most consequential changes would need to come from Congress — where the effort has run into partisan divisions that could complicate lawmakers’ ability to pass another stimulus package.

Republicans are pushing for the liability limitations as a way of stopping what they say are overzealous trial lawyers and giving business owners the certainty they need to reopen. Democratic leaders say they oppose any moves to undermine worker protections.

Leaders of labor unions say limiting business liability will reward companies that are not taking adequate steps to ensure the safety of their workers and consumers.

In announcing that the Senate will return on May 4, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Monday there was an “urgent need” to enact legislation to shield businesses from pandemic-related legal liability if they reopen, citing the risk of “years of endless lawsuits” arising from “a massive tangle of federal and state laws.”

If you have questions regarding this legislative issue, please contact AIM’s Brad MacDougall with feedback.

Trump Invokes Defense Production Act to Classify Meat Processing Plants as “Essential”

New York Times Reports: “In an executive order issued late Tuesday, Mr. Trump said recent closures of meat processing facilities “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”

The president said his administration would “take all appropriate action” to ensure that meat and poultry processors “continue operations” consistent with federal health and workplace safety guidance.”

CDC and OSHA Interim Guidance  

April 29, 2020

Governor Extends Non-Essential Business Closures; Announces Re-Opening Board 

Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday extended the essential-services emergency order to May 18 and launched a Reopening Advisory Board that will produce a plan by the same date.

Governor also announced that the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Stay-At-Home Advisory remains in effect and gatherings of 10 or more people remain prohibited until May 18th.

  • Essential Services Order – The emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public will be extended until May 18.  Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until May 18.
  • Stay at Home Advisory– The Department of Public Health’s stay-at-home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are strongly urged to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person to person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

The Reopening Advisory Board will be Co-Chaired by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy.

The Board brings public health officials together with leaders from the business community and municipal government from across the commonwealth. The group is charged with advising the administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics.  It will solicit input from a variety of constituencies during the next three weeks to develop a report that will include DPH-approved workplace safety standards, industry frameworks and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders.

The administration has made clear that public health data and guidance from health care experts will dictate the timeline of the re-opening process.

Reopening Advisory Board Members:

  • Aron Ain, CEO, Kronos Inc & Ultimate Software
  • Carlo Zaffanella, Vice President and General Manager, Maritime & Strategic Systems, General Dynamics Mission Systems
  • Corey Thomas, CEO, Rapid 7
  • Daniel Rivera, Mayor, City of Lawrence
  • Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Girish Navani, CEO and Co-Founder, eClinicalWorks
  • Joe Bahena, Senior Vice President, Joseph Abboud Manufacturing
  • Kathryn Burton, Chief of Staff, City of Boston
  • Laurie Leshin, Ph.D., President, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Linda Markham, President, Cape Air
  • Mark Keroack, President & CEO, Baystate Health
  • Monica Bharel, Ph.D., Commissioner, Department of Public Health
  • Nicole LaChapelle, Mayor, City of Easthampton
  • Pamela Everhart, Head of Regional Public Affairs and Community Relations, Fidelity Investments
  • Stephanie Pollack, Transportation Secretary and CEO
  • Steve DiFillippo, CEO, Davios Restaurants
  • Wendy Hudson, Owner, Nantucket Book Partners

Baker Signs Virtual Notarization Bill as Chapter 71 of the Acts of 2020. 

Governor Baker Signs Virtual Notarization Bill as Chapter 71 of the Acts of 2020. 

According to the State House News Service: “Videoconferencing may be used by notaries public to accomplish important business transactions while avoiding face-to-face meetings during the COVID-19 state of emergency, under a bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday.

“Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the law, which includes a series of checks and balances to ensure the integrity of the process, will make it easier to notarize wills, trust, health care proxy statements, and real estate documents. Real estate closings and other notary procedures can be executed in a timely way under the law, according to Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association Executive Director Deborah Sousa, while affording people opportunities to ask questions and get answers, but in a safe way.”

MassLive Coverage

Massachusetts House Dems Plan Teleconference on Emergency Rules

State House News Service reports: “The Massachusetts House on Wednesday plans to take up historic temporary rule changes aimed at facilitating formal sessions with lawmakers participating and voting remotely. The proposed rules, which would remain in effect through the state of emergency and include fiscal 2021 budget deliberations, was the focus of a closed teleconference caucus of House Democrats on Tuesday.

Speaker Robert DeLeo is hoping the rules can be adopted on Wednesday, enabling a formal session on Thursday where Democrats are hoping to pass a bill (H 4593) giving the state until June 30, 2021 to pay back short-term borrowing needed to bridge a gap in fiscal 2020 revenues created by a postponed tax-filing deadline and cratering tax collections in the pandemic.”

Click here for a draft of the Rules Change.

Commonwealth Magazine Coverage – House Plans Votes by Phone

Joint State Budget Proposal Surfaced as Possibility

State House News Service reports: “Bill Bell, the education department’s senior associate commissioner for administration and finance, told the board Tuesday that education officials have ‘had some informal discussions’ with the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, and said it looks like lawmakers are looking for “a better sense of how we’re going to get out of (Fiscal Year) 2020 from a revenue perspective” before forging ahead with the fiscal 2021 budget.

“He raised the possibility of a joint budget proposal coming from both the House and Senate committees, rather than individual versions from each branch. ‘We’re not clear exactly what they’re going to be able to do as it relates to the FY’ 21 budget release,’ Bell said. ‘There’s been discussions, based on timeline, that both bodies might join together, not sure yet.’ Bell said he is ‘not anticipating any reductions in funds made available through the state budget’ in the final few months of the 2020 fiscal year. ‘My understanding is right now the commonwealth does not believe it will need to reduce spending, between revenues that will come through tax receipts to a certain date as well as relief coming out of federal revenue streams,’ he said.

“It’s also ‘quite likely,’ Bell said, that the state will use one-twelfth budgets for the beginning of the new fiscal year. The mini-budgets have been used in recent years when a full state budget has not been signed into law by the July 1 start of the fiscal year.”

Activists Seek LGBTQ+ Coronavirus Data

LGBTQ+ activists sent a letter to legislative leaders seeking additional data on how COVID-19 has effected the LGBTQ+ community. The push for more data comes after the state began collecting and sharing coronavirus statistics on race and ethnicity earlier this month. The letter is signed by representatives from the Bay State Stonewall Democrats, Fenway Health, PFLAG National and the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, among others.

Delta Donation Puts Massachusetts Dental Society Over Fundraising Goal

State House News Service reports: “The state’s largest dental insurer has committed $2 million to a recovery fund set up to help community dentists around the state, fulfilling a fundraising goal for the effort. The Massachusetts Dental Society set up its COVID-19 Recovery Fund on April 21, making a $300,000 seed donation and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million from other donors. Delta Dental’s commitment of $2 million put the fund over the top. ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Massachusetts dental offices to close, except for emergency care. This not only limits patients’ access to non-urgent care, it creates significant financial and business challenges for dentists and other oral health providers,’ said Dennis Leonard, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Massachusetts and Treasurer of AIM.

“Like many health care providers who have been hurt financially by the cancellations of all elective procedures and the postponement of many well visits, dentists have been forced to transition, delivering only emergency care only. The Massachusetts Dental Society will determine how to disperse the money from the recovery fund.”

Pandemic Opens Policy Opportunities, Spilka Says

Endorsing the idea of a “phased in” reopening of the state’s economy, Senate President Karen Spilka told business leaders on Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic could present opportunities to begin repairing transportation infrastructure and to elevate early education and child care as policy priorities.

  • Before the coronavirus, the Massachusetts Legislature was engaged in discussions about how to improve the state’s transportation system, and the House of Representatives passed legislation to raise the gas tax and borrow $18 billion to support investments in infrastructure.
  • Spilka said the Senate still plans to pass the borrowing part of that transportation package, and she has asked Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore to work with House Co-chair Rep. William Straus to host a virtual oversight hearing with experts to explore plans to “open” the state’s transportation systems.
  • With fewer people driving, Spilka said now is the time for the House to pass the Senate’s climate-change bill to capitalize on momentum toward achieving the state’s emission reduction goals.
  • With millions of parents working from home during the public health crisis, Spilka said it also has become clear how difficult it can be for a single parent or a household with two working adults to juggle jobs and child care. She said she has spoken with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren about the fact that child care is as important as public transit, roads and bridges in getting people to work.
  • “To be clear, the state will not have the capacity to fully fund universal early education and care on our own given our current budget situation, no matter how much we may want to. So, in the same way that we have partnered in the past on issues of importance to all of us, including transportation, climate change and mental health, I am hoping that we can begin a conversation on convening a public-private partnership to address our early education and care needs,” Spilka said.
  • While the Legislature and governor over the past five years have built up the state’s “rainy day” fund to $3.5 billion, Spilka said she’s hopeful that the state can get through the final two months of fiscal 2020 without tapping those reserves or making cuts to spending.
  • She said that by “making some changes and using Medicaid funds,” state budget officials may be able to wait until fiscal 2021 to start using the reserve money.
  • The top Senate Democrat also said Massachusetts was going to need more support from the federal government to get through the economic meltdown and health impacts from the pandemic.

Cambridge and Lawrence Join Somerville, Enforcing Fines on Residents Who Don’t Use a Mask in Public

Cambridge on Monday issued an order requiring people over five years old to wear face coverings in all public places, businesses and common areas of residential buildings. Violators could face fines of up to $300

Lawrence followed suit on Tuesday with its own order that comes with a $300 fine for people not complying. The city’s board of health issued the executive order requiring masks or facial coverings in public, Mayor Daniel Rivera’s office said.

NBC Coverage

April 28, 2020

Paycheck Protection Program Reopens

The US Small Business Association (SBA) announced that the second round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is now available through approved lenders and federally insured credit unions.

The first round of the funding was included in the third COVID stimulus package known as the CARES Act signed into law on March 27. The original $350 billion funding for the program was depleted in its second week, after which Congress and the president approved an additional $310 billion in PPP funding on April 24.

Eligibility requirements for the loan program, created to incentivize businesses to keep employees on the payroll, remains the same. However, of the $310 billion in new funding, $30 billion has been set aside for banks and lending institutions with assets less than $10 billion; another $30 billion is reserved for lenders with assets between $10 and $50 billion. The change is intended to prompt more small lenders – and thereby more small businesses – to take advantage of the federal funds.

More on Paycheck Protection Plan Round Two

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (HED) has published this list of institutions that provided loans to Massachusetts companies during the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program. The list includes all entities that appeared on the SBA’s approved lenders list, which was last updated on April 13, 2020.

Language Translation Services for PPP – The Mass Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) provides translation services for PPP applicants in 19 languages.

Centers for Disease Control List New Virus Symptoms

Chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell have been added to the list of coronavirus symptoms, according to New England Public Radio. 

Baker Administration Announces New Funding for Nursing Facilities

The Baker Administration announced a second round of funding up to $130 million for nursing facilities to support COVID-19 response efforts over the next two months, as well as increased funding of $44 million for residential congregate-care service providers. The funding will support staffing costs, infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to increased financial support, the administration has implemented required testing for staff and residents of nursing facilities.

The funding is dependent on required COVID-19 testing of all staff and residents, regular infection control audits, appropriate allocation of funding and the public release of facility performance and funding use.

Read more here.

The Commonwealth will offer support for temporary staffing assistance for all nursing homes in need. This includes clinical response teams of 120 nurses and CNAs deployed in teams of 10 during emergency situations, crisis-management support and deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard. These efforts will be supported by a centralized infection control performance improvement center established by the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

The increased funding for service residential congregate-care service providers builds on the $95 million in increased funding announced on March 30, bringing the total funding for these providers to $139 million. The money will support increased staffing costs, infection control and PPE. Read more.

Updated List of US Department of Labor COVID-19 Resources 

Advocates Pressure State Leaders for Small-Business Assistance

Boston Globe business columnist Jon Chesto reports that “[M]embers of the newly created Small Business COVID-19 Response Coalition fear many of the smallest businesses, particularly those in lower-income communities or owned by minorities, will be left out in the cold. Again.

“That’s why this coalition of roughly 80 advocacy and local business groups sent a request to Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday. The ask: $40 million for grants that would help small businesses, either directly or through community organizations that would provide counsel, and another $110 million that would be distributed in the form of low-cost loans.

“Spilka offered a brief statement, saying she looks forward to working with federal partners to identify gaps in available programs — namely, the newly replenished PPP — and to advocating for small businesses. Senator Eric Lesser, co-chair of the Legislature’s economic development committee, said he’s interested in helping. He suggested some form of small-business assistance could be included in an economic development bill under consideration at the State House.”

Wear Your Mask in Somerville

“Officials announced on the city’s website Monday that Somerville residents will be required to wear face masks both inside and outside when in public places. The city previously had an advisory about face coverings in place, but it will now become mandatory for anyone over the age of 2. The order, which goes into effect on Wednesday, will have a one-week grace period before it’s enforced by police. After that period, people will face anything from a written warning to a $300 fine, officials said.

April 25, 2020

Administration Files Medicaid Waiver for MassHealth Flexibility

Massachusetts is filing two waiver requests with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that will give the state and its Medicaid program, MassHealth, flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. If allowed, the waivers will build upon the two previously submitted waivers.

Through these waiver requests, the commonwealth is seeking flexibility to address key areas of need:

  • Expand Medicare telehealth coverage to include services provided by phone and video, increasing access to health care for seniors and individuals with disabilities without readily accessible video technology. This expansion is consistent with telehealth coverage currently provided by MassHealth and commercial plans.
  • Allow MassHealth to waive the requirement that certain applicants and members spend down to qualify for coverage in cases of financial hardship.
  • Extend retroactive coverage for individuals who qualify for MassHealth to allow individuals to be covered up to 90 days prior to submitting their application.
  • Provide flexibility for federal provider payment limits to enable MassHealth to provide critical stabilization funds to health-care providers.
  • Ease provider requirements that could result in unnecessary administrative burdens or barriers to care.

State Issues Update on New Unemployment System

Massachusetts on Monday became one of the first states in the nation to successfully implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program established by the federal CARES Act. PUA provides benefits for individuals who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits, but who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

The platform launched 10 days ahead of schedule. The PUA system has so far processed more than 100,000 claims and benefit checks, which include an additional $600 as part of another federal CARES Act benefit implemented by the administration.

 State Introduces Weekly Unemployment Claims Data

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development introduced new weekly UI claims data.

About 653,000 Massachusetts residents have filed unemployment claims in the past five weeks, and more than 200,000 others applied under the PUA for self-employed and gig workers who did not previously qualify.

Massachusetts had 80,153 individuals file an initial claim for unemployment insurance from April 12 to April 18. The number represented a decrease of 22 percent over the previous week.

The largest number of claims, 41 percent, came from the retail, food/accommodation, and health- care industries. Industry filings included:

  • Retail Trade with 12,669 or 16.8 percent
  • Food and Accommodation at 9,564 or 12.8 percent
  • Health and Social Assistance with 9,249 or 11.8 percent

American Hotel and Lodging Association Impact Report

House Approves Bill Seeking More COVID-19 Data

The Massachusetts House approved a bill seeking detailed COVID-19 data. State House News Service reports that the bill would require the Department of Public Health to publish detailed demographic data about COVID-19’s impact and would convene a task force to recommend strategies for eliminating barriers to care.

Congress Passes Language to Restart the Paycheck Protection Program

Legislation passed by the US House on Thursday includes $310 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.  The Small Business Administration issued an updated FAQ document for PPP lenders and borrowers to provide guidance on application submissions, secondary sales of PPP loans and eligibility for businesses with large company ownership.

CNBC Coverage: US issues new guidance for small business loans, pressures public companies to return funds.

The guidance makes it “unlikely” that big, publicly traded companies will be able to access the next round of funding. Companies applying for relief funds must certify that the loans are necessary and that they cannot tap other sources of funding and public companies have access to the capital markets.

For instance, Shake Shack returned the $10 million it got through the PPP after it sold $150 million in new shares. “It is unlikely that a public company with substantial market value and access to capital markets will be able to make the required certification in good faith,” the SBA said.

The SBA indicated that large public companies who tapped the PPP before the rule change can avoid scrutiny by returning the relief loans in two weeks.

Organizations Offer Translation Services for Loan Program

Massachusetts organizations will partner to provide translation services to help small business owners with limited English proficiency apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans.

The effort, organized by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, will open 49 technical assistance providers to businesses to help translate applications into more than a dozen languages.

Cities of Boston and Somerville Allow Restaurants to Provide Groceries

Globe Coverage – April 24

“On Friday, Mayor Martin Walsh announced that the City of Boston will begin allowing restaurant owners to sell groceries out of their storefronts for delivery, curbside pickup, and takeout, offering eateries another financial lifeline during the coronavirus shutdown.

“According to the proposal, restaurants would have to apply for permits through the city’s Inspectional Services Department and follow all state and federal guidelines with regard to sale of products. As part of the application, restaurateurs would need to submit a health, safety, and operations plan to ensure the safety of their workers, and an outline of the list of goods they intend to sell.”

Municipalities such as Somerville and Arlington are also cutting  red tape and making it easier for bars and restaurants to sell items like meat, produce, and toilet paper. Some restaurants have been doing it on their own since the Massachusetts Restaurant Association reminded members that their licenses allow them to sell prepared meals and provisions. Panera Bread, for example, recently rolled out Panera Grocery, allowing customers to buy items like a gallon of milk, a bag of grapes, and avocados.”

City of Boston Updates

Warren and Markey Request Additional Provider Relief Funding for Massachusetts from Federal Office of Health and Human Services 

The new Provider Relief Fund, intended to help hospitals, health-care facilities and health-care providers deal with financial issues created by the coronavirus pandemic included inadequate funding for Massachusetts, according to the senators’ letter.

“The initial formula did not account for the extreme impact in coronavirus hot spots. Although Massachusetts represents 4.7 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases and 3.6 percent of all U.S. deaths (as of April 17, 2020), Massachusetts received only 2.8 percent of the $30 billion initially distributed,” the senators wrote in their letter.

“And although the funding Massachusetts received amounted to $44,000 per reported COVID-19 patient in the state, other states such as Minnesota, Nebraska, West Virginia, and North Dakota received more than $300,000 per reported COVID-19 case.”

Massachusetts received $841 million when the federal government released the first $30 billion from the $100 billion Provider Relief Fund, created under the CARES Act. The senators told Azar that the first round of funding “is a tremendous help and a necessary first step” and that they appreciate that HHS based the allocations on 2019 fee-for-service Medicare reimbursement data.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) Releases Remote Learning Comparison Tool

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) released a tool that monitors data on remote learning from the state’s 20 largest school districts. The application will be updated regularly.

“The data make it clear that the deployment of remote learning in Massachusetts, at least in its design, is highly inconsistent at this time, raising concern that such disparities could broaden achievement gaps across and within districts while also complicating efforts to develop a cohesive return-to-school strategy,” MBAE said.

The initial version of the database contains information on the 20 largest school districts by total student enrollment, which collectively educate 29 percent of Massachusetts’ public school students.  The information comes from school districts’ websites and public communications to students, parents, teachers and community members.

MBTA Board to Accept Live Remote Testimony

State House News Service reports that members of the public who wish to weigh in on topics before the MBTA board will be able to testify remotely without violating social-distancing practices.  The Fiscal and Management Control Board will use the GoToWebinar digital platform to queue up speakers and call on them to address members remotely.

Those interested in testifying using the new method should first ensure they can get GoToWebinar to run on a computer or phone and then sign up online by 11 a.m. Monday.

April 24, 2020

Massachusetts Sees More Than 3,000 New Coronavirus Cases in Single Day
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Suggests 4-6 More Weeks of Social Distancing

Globe Coverage

House passes $484 Billion Coronavirus Aid package and Legislation Creating select Coronavirus Oversight Committee

The House on Thursday gave resounding approval to a $484 billion coronavirus relief package to restart a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, and moved to increase oversight of the sprawling federal response to the pandemic.

President Trump said he was “grateful” for the action to refill the loan program and indicated he would sign the measure as early as Thursday evening.

The package passed on Thursday was an interim step after enactment of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law. It emerged after a flurry of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration after funding lapsed for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business loan program created by the stimulus plan that had been overwhelmed by demand as soon as it began.

Governor Baker Seeks $1.2 Billion Loan to Pay Jobless Benefits

State House News Service reports: “In the midst of five straight weeks of surging unemployment claims, Gov. Charlie Baker asked the federal government for a $1.2 billion loan to help Massachusetts meet unprecedented needs and ensure that people do not suffer through payless paydays.

Baker wrote to U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia on April 6 requesting the funding, an administration spokesperson confirmed. In his letter, obtained by the News Service, Baker estimated that Massachusetts will need to supplement its coffers with an advance of $900 million from Washington to pay unemployment benefits in May and another $300 million for June.

In need of a cash infusion soon, the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund balance has dropped by more than half, down to about $750 million, since the start of March amid record levels of applications.

Governor’s Letter to US Dept of Labor Secretary

Globe Coverage – 4.4 Million More Americans File for Jobless Claims

Local Initiatives Support Corporation Recovery Grant Program

LISC will offer grants of up to $10,000 to address immediate financial peril, limit layoffs, avoid gaps in employee benefits or insurance, mitigate economic instability and increase the likelihood of business survival. Launched with seed funding provided by Citizens, the Small Business Recovery Grant Program is part of the LISC Rapid Relief & Resiliency Fund for Massachusetts.

The link to the application will close on Friday, April 24 at noon.  Sign up to receive updates here.

Private Student Loan Relief

Massachusetts House Passes H.4672, An Act addressing COVID-19 data collection and disparities in treatment.  

Legislature Sends Public Health, Virtual Notarization Bills to Governor

Two bills are heading to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk after both branches of the Legislature enacted them during day-long informal sessions:

  • One bill deals with strengthening local and regional public health systems (H 4503)
  • A second would allow virtual notarization via video conferencing(S 2645

AIM Supports Remote Notarization
 AIM 30 on Thursday Webinar | Communicating During Times of Turmoil

Webinar Recording

April 23, 2020

State Expands COVID-19 Testing at Community Health Centers

In partnership with Quest Diagnostics and the Mass League of Community Health Centers, the Baker Administration announced efforts to increase COVID-19 testing through community health centers.

Community health centers in areas of high need that can increase testing capacities will be prioritized.

  • Since Friday, Quest has sent more than 2,255 kits to community health centers in Boston and Brockton.
  • Quest shipped additional COVID-19 test kits yesterday and will send more today to 12 community health centers, with a commitment to add health centers.
  • By Friday of this week, Quest has committed to ship an additional 5,000 COVID-19 test kits to the 12 community health centers.

WiFi Hotspots Expanded

Cities and towns throughout Massachusetts that do not yet have a completed “last-mile” broadband network will receive expanded access to high-speed Internet.

  • The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech, KCST and local internet service providers (ISPs) will offer communities new WiFi hotspots, building off the commonwealth’s MassBroadband 123 fiber-optic network.
  • This program will be offered free of monthly charge to eligible communities until September 1.
  • MassBroadband is providing support to local ISPs as needed, and is tracking these hotspots as they come online and posting them online here.

Division of Banks Joins Effort to Help Student Borrowers

The Massachusetts Division of Banks (DOB) has joined a multi-state initiative to secure payment relief options for Massachusetts student loan borrowers. The Division issued a Consumer Advisory with important information and resources for private student loan borrowers, building on the federal CARES Act, which provided relief for students with federal loans, including the suspension of monthly payments, interest and involuntary collection activity until September 30, 2020. The advisory also follows the recently announced Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s deferment of payments in its No-Interest Loan Program until August 1.

Under this initiative, eligible borrowers must:

  • Have commercially owned Federal Family Education Program Loans or privately held student loans;
  • Be struggling to make their payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Borrowers in need of assistance must immediately contact their student loan servicer to identify the options that are appropriate to their circumstances. Relief options include:

  • Providing a minimum of 90 days of forbearance
  • Waiving late payment fees
  • Ensuring that no borrower is subject to negative credit reporting
  • Ceasing debt collection lawsuits for 90 days
  • Working with borrowers to enroll them in other borrower assistance programs, such as income-based repayment.

Additional information, including a full list of participating private student loan servicers, are included in the Division’s Consumer Advisory.

Governor Encourages Residents to Participate in Contact Tracing Effort

Governor Baker said the state’s contact and tracing program is reaching out to individuals to inform them regarding any risk and next steps they may need to take.  The Governor encouraged residents to not block these calls and to answer those phone calls.

WBUR Coverage on Massachusetts Contact Tracing from April 18th includes the following:

  • Massachusetts has secured two prefixes for all contact tracing calls: 833 or 857. Ideally, the incoming caller will show up as “MA COVID Team”;
  • Massachusetts is asking Sprint, Verizon and others to waive caller ID fees and hoping phone owners will activate that feature.
  • As the first week of calls draws to a close, contact investigators reached 765 Massachusetts residents who’ve tested positive as of the end of the day on Thursday.Those 765 people have identified more than a thousand close contacts, meaning someone they spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of during the three days before their positive test. Contact tracers have reached 626 of those people.

Department of Revenue (DOR) Issues Guidance Allowing for Electronic Signatures

This DOR directive outlines for taxpayers and tax practitioners guidance for the practices and procedures concerning acceptance of electronic signatures on various administrative forms submitted to the department. It does not affect the acceptance of electronic signatures during the electronic tax return filing process.

The directive addresses forms including, but not limited to, Form A-37, Consent Extending the Time for Assessment of Taxes; Form B-37, Special Consent Extending the Time for Assessment of Taxes; Form DR-1, Office of Appeals Form; and Form M-2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative. The DOR has indicated that for other forms not listed herein, that the department will work with taxpayers to confirm the parties’ declaration of intent to sign electronically.

Representative Pignatelli Proposes $75 Million Nonprofit Relief Fund Legislation
before the Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee

State House News Service reports that Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, wrotein a column published Wednesday that directing aid to cultural centers will keep them afloat and “allow them to hit the ground running” once the state emerges from the COVID-19 emergency.

“Once the dust settles and we are allowed to once again meet in person, we will all crave the contact with one another that has been deprived of us during this time of social isolation,” he said.

Last week, the Massachusetts Cultural Council reported that the cultural sector has lost more than $264 million in revenue since the start of the outbreak based on a survey of member organizations. Almost 700 organizations replied to the council’s questions, and 91 percent said they had canceled programming and events amid the social-distancing.

About 62 percent reported layoffs, furloughs or reducing employee hours and wages to cope with financial hardship, which the council said would impact more than 15,000 Massachusetts workers

The bill Pignatelli co-filed with Rep. John Barrett III (HD 5017), which the House on Tuesday sent to the Tourism Committee, would offer $75 million in grants to nonprofit cultural organizations “experiencing financial distress as a result of COVID-19.”

New Partnership Links Essential Workers, Early Educators

State House News Service also reports that the Executive Office of Early Education and Care will connect essential workers who need child care with out-of-work early educators who can provide skilled in-home care. The partnership, announced Tuesday, is in addition to the emergency drop-in child care programs that will continue to operate while traditional, non-emergency programs remain closed until June 29.

“While childcare services are not typically free of charge, the Massachusetts portal also enables early educators to waive their fees and volunteer as caregivers, should they be able to do so, providing additional support to essential workers” Care.com officials said in a press release. Eligible families and child care workers can receive free 90-day premium memberships to the service.”

AIM Supports Health-Care Worker Liability Protections

AIM expressed support for the Healthcare Worker Liability Protections Bill.  The legislation was signed by Governor last week as Chapter 64 of the Acts of 2020.

April 22, 2020

Massachusetts K-12 Schools to Remain Closed Through Academic Year

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order extending the closure of all public and private schools through the end of the school year, and the closure of all non-emergency child care programs until June 29, 2020 in an effort to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

  • The order expands the March 25 order suspending normal educational operations at schools and non-emergency child care programs. The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) established a process to approve Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs to serve families of first responders, medical personnel and essential workers.
  • Emergency child-care programs approved by EEC will continue to operate. There are 523 emergency child-care programs statewide serving families of essential workers. Weekly attendance averages about 2,500 children in these programs.
  • EEC will continue to pay subsidies to child-care providers based on their pre-COVID-19 enrollment, in order to support the workforce.
  • The order does not apply to residential special education schools.

K-12 School Order Link Child Care Program Link 

  • Baker signed a law on April 10 allowing Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to vacate MCAS testing for the year and instructing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive graduation requirements.
  • Several other governors have shuttered schools in their states into the summer, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

State Revises Crisis Standards of Care; Plans Equity Advisory Group

Revisions to the state’s crisis standards of care (a set of voluntary guidelines intended to help hospitals allocate limited resources) include clarifications aimed at preventing unfair discrimination, according to the Department of Public Health.

Commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel, will also convene an advisory group on health-care equity and disparities.

At the same time, a public-health order is issued requiring mandatory reporting, oversight and monitoring of any hospital that implements crisis standards of care as well as the convening of an advisory group to advise on disparities and inequities.

Globe Coverage 

Click here for a full list of guidance and directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), and other state agencies related to COVID-19.

Department of Revenue Issues Emergency Regulations on Telecommuting

On April 21, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) issued emergency regulation 830 CMR 62.5A.3: Massachusetts Source Income of Non-Residents Telecommuting due to COVID-19.

Emergency regulation 830 CMR 62.5A.3 sets forth the sourcing rules that apply to income earned by a non-resident employee who telecommutes on behalf of an in-state business from a location outside the state due to the COVID-19 state of emergency in Massachusetts and explains the parallel treatment that will be accorded to resident employees with income tax liabilities in other states that have adopted similar sourcing rules. The regulation is effective for the period beginning March 10, 2020 and ending on the date on which the governor gives notice that the state of emergency declared in Executive Order 591 is no longer in effect.

For additional guidance regarding Massachusetts telecommuting tax regulations click here for RSM client alert.

DOR Issues Additional Guidance on Remote Working

TIR 20-5:  Massachusetts Tax Implications of an Employee Working Remotely due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The DOR also issued Technical Information Release (“TIR”) 20-5 to describe the Massachusetts personal income tax, withholding, and corporate excise implications of an employee working remotely in a state other than the state where the employee previously worked, solely due to the 2019 novel Coronavirus pandemic.  It also explains the application of the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave program where an employee is working remotely in a different state. The rules are being adopted to minimize disruption for employers and employees during the state of emergency. They are effective for the period beginning March 10, 2020 and ending on the date on which the governor gives notice that the state of emergency declared in Executive Order 591 is no longer in effect.

Please contact Brad MacDougall, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at 617-262-1180 if you have any questions.

New Law – Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures Impacting Residential and Small Business

Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation yesterday to protect homeowners and tenants from eviction and foreclosure. The law may be read here. It was signed as Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020.

The law provides temporary protections for both residential tenants and small businesses that are unable to pay rent, in an effort to stabilize homes and commercial spaces during the COVID-19 crisis. The law also prohibits proceedings on residential foreclosures during the COVID-19 crisis.   

 

While this bill does not relieve a residential or commercial tenant of their responsibility to pay their rent or mortgage, it does offer protection for those who are unable to make these payments as result of the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

 

Under this legislation, a landlord may not file a complaint in court to evict an eligible small business for a non-essential purpose (i.e. a purpose that does not pose a health or safety risk). Eligible small businesses are businesses which operate only in Massachusetts, have 150 or fewer employees, and are not publicly traded. This moratorium will last for either four months following the bill’s signing on April 20, 2020, or until 45 days after the emergency declaration expires (whichever is sooner, and unless extended by the Governor).  

 

The new law does not eliminate or reduce an obligation to pay rent. Businesses that can pay rent should continue to do so and should work collaboratively with their landlords when they are unable to pay rent due.  

 

Under this legislation, landlords may not apply late fees or negatively report to credit bureaus if the tenant sends a timely notice that the non-payment of rent was the result of a financial hardship caused by COVID-19. Evictions may still proceed when a tenant’s lease violation creates a health or safety risk for others. 

 

Eligible small businesses can use the Form of Notice – COVID-19 Hardship – Small Business Tenant and the Documentation of Financial Hardship – Small Business Tenant forms to provide the required notice to their landlord of their inability to pay rent found here. 

AIM Supports Remote Notarization

The legislation was engrossed by the Massachusetts Senate yesterday.

The proposed legislation would authorize notaries to use communication technology for remote notarization throughout the duration of the state of emergency declared due to COVID-19. AIM and our members believe that an emergency law is necessary to allow for remote notarization –by the broadest definition of notary –in order to enable these financial transactions to occur remotely and avoid in-person transactions to abide by social distancing, avoid spread and mitigate the significant backlog that will be created without an emergency legislative response.”

Globe Coverage

Deal Reached on Interim Stimulus Package: 

Senate passes bill, House expected to vote on Thursday. (CNN Coverage)

Additional Sources:

April 18, 2020

State Distributes PPE to Emergency Responders

The Baker-Polito Administration announced the distribution of approximately 200,000 respirator masks for all local law enforcement officers and firefighters to ensure they have protective equipment during the COVID-19 crisis. These FDA-approved respirator masks will be distributed to all local law enforcement officers, including sheriffs and college and university police, and firefighters through a coordinated effort by the COVID-19 Response Command Center and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers are continuing to receive these types of masks and other PPE.

Daily distribution of PPE data can be found here.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program Depleted

Bloomberg Coverage – “About 100 members of Congress signed a letter Thursday to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza with concerns about the EIDL program, saying they would strongly back a request for more funding. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters he supports adding money to the program, and a Senate Democratic bill floated last week included money for it.”

Cambridge-based Biotech, Moderna, Receives Millions in Federal Funding for Continued Vaccine Research (Globe Coverage)

AIM signs on to US Chamber 501(C)6 Letter to Congress

The Paycheck Protection Program does not currently accept applications from all non-profit organization. The Program leaves out 501(c)(6) chambers of commerce.  Business organizations have a letter urging Congress to quickly make changes to the law to enable all non-profits to obtain access to these funds.  

The deadline to sign is Thursday, April 23, 2020 at 4 p.m.  Click here to read and sign the letter

Registry of Motor Vehicles Furthers Extensions 

Registry of Motor Vehicles Furthers Extensions to Expiring Licenses, Permits, Motor Vehicle Inspection Stickers, and Passenger Plate Registrations 

All non-commercial driver’s licenses, ID cards, and Learner’s Permits that expire in May 2020, will now expire in July 2020 and do not need to be renewed at this time. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 credential was already extended by 60 days. The specific expiration date typically coincides with an individual’s birth date. Customers holding a license marked “Limited-Term” that has expired or will expire between March 1 and May 31, 2020 should visit Mass.gov/RMV for more information and to check the validity of their credential.

All Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) and Commercial Driver’s License Permits (CLP) that expire in May 2020, will now expire in July 2020 and do not need to be renewed at this time. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 credential was already extended by 60 days. The specific expiration date typically coincides with an individual’s birth date. The RMV also recently introduced an online renewal option for CDL holders if they are self-certified in the Non-Excepted Interstate (NI) category for medical certification.

In accordance with updated guidance from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), all CDL Medical Certificates expiring between March 1 and April 30, 2020, will also now not expire until June 30, 2020 and do not need to be renewed at this time. Extensions to CDL Medical Certificates are intended to prevent license downgrades and elective medical visits, as well as alleviate demand on medical providers, during the State of Emergency.

The annual motor vehicle safety and emissions inspection stickers that expire on May 31, 2020 will now expire on July 31, 2020. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 inspection sticker was already extended by 60 days. Annual motor vehicle inspection stickers typically expire on the last date of the month. While automotive repair and maintenance facilities continue to remain open as “essential services” and inspection stations may operate at their discretion, these annual inspections do not need to occur at this time.

All passenger plate registrations that will expire in May 2020, will now expire in July 2020. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 passenger plate registration was already extended by 60 days. Registration renewals can continue to be performed online at Mass.Gov/RMV during this time. Customers seeking to do so in-person will not be able to make an appointment and should delay their visit to a Service Center at this time.

Professional credentials for School Bus Certificates, School Pupil Transport Licenses (7D), Inspector Licenses, Inspection Station Licenses, Driving Instructor Licenses and Driving School Licenses that expire in May 2020, will also now be extended for 90 days after the State of Emergency is lifted and do not need to be renewed at this time.

AIM Member Sullivan Provides Alert regarding SEC Disclosure Guidance for Public Companies

This client alert provides an overview of recent disclosure guidance provided by the Securities and Exchange Commission for public companies impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 – essentially all public companies to greater or lesser degree have been impacted and must carefully evaluate their upcoming disclosures. For additional updates, please subscribe to the SEC Pulse blog.

April 17, 2020

President Announces Three-Phase Guidance for States to Re-Open

President Trump gave governors a road map Thursday for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out “a phased and deliberate approach” to restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, the Associated Press reported.

The new guidelines are aimed at easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations. They make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak. And they largely reinforce plans already in the works by governors, who have primary responsibility for public health in their states.

Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools:

  • In phase one, for instance, the plan recommends strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided and nonessential travel is discouraged.
  • In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume.
  • Phase three envisions a return to normalcy for most Americans, with a focus on identification and isolation of any new infections.

Governor Updates COVID-19 Medical and Economic Statistics

Department of Public Health Provides Town-by-Town Breakdown of COVID-19 Numbers – This resource will be updated weekly by 4 pm every Wednesday.

Testing – 131,023 tests have been conducted to date with peak in new cases expected later this month.

  • Mobile testing at 279 facilities with over 5,000 tests completed to date.
  • Self-test kits have been sent to 103 facilities for almost 11,000 tests.
  • Mobile testing at state operated large congregate care settings.

PPE – The state has distributed 3.8 million pieces of PPE to date: 2.2 million gloves, 850,000 masks, 370,000 masks from aircraft delivery, 180,000 gowns and 380 ventilators.

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending nearly 1 million pieces of PPE, including masks and suits.
  • A daily summary of PPE inventory and distribution is posted at mass.gov/covid19

Hospital Capacity – 9,600 beds are available statewide as of Tuesday: 6,000 acute-care beds, 2,500 Intensive-Care Unit beds, and 750 beds at field hospitals with additional field beds coming on line. Hospitalizations have increased during the past few days.

  • Field hospitals at Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the DCU Center in Worcester are functioning.
  • Bourne, Dartmouth, Lowell field hospitals are opening within the next week.

Unemployment – 570,000 Massachusetts residents have applied for unemployment insurance since March 15. Some 100,000 have applied in the last week.

  • State typically sees 7,000-10,000 people file each week.
  • As of last week, claimants began receiving an extra $600 from the federal CARES Act.
  • Massachusetts is still making progress on system for those who are new to the UI system – self-employed and gig economy workers.

Paycheck Protection Program Depleted

The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) have tapped the initial $349 billion in funding based on an announcement from the SBA.  The SBA is not accepting new applications for the PPP.

  • Globe Coverage
  • Washington Post Coverage
  • Senate adjourns on Thursday without reaching a consensus for replenishing the loan program. t funding to municipalities and regional planning agencies that help small business address fixed debt, payroll, accounts payable, lost sales, lost opportunities, and other working capital expenses incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General’s Office Launches Small Business Relief Partnership Grant Program 

The grants, which are funded by money the attorney general’s office secured through settlements, direct funding to municipalities and regional planning agencies that help small business address fixed debt, payroll, accounts payable, lost sales, lost opportunities, and other working capital expenses incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grants will be issued in varying amounts up to $500,000, and individual requests may not exceed $50,000. None of the money may be used to defray administrative or operational costs.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Introduces the Save Small Business Fund 

Qualifying businesses must employ between 3-20 people, be negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and be located in an economically vulnerable community.

April 16, 2020

Baker Administration Announces Funding, Mobile Testing, PPE Initiatives

Governor Charlie Baker announced new funding for nursing facilities, expanded mobile testing and an update on the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • $130 Million In New Funding – In early April, the Administration announced a 10 percent MassHealth rate increase (approximately $50 million) across the board for all nursing facilities. Facilities that create dedicated COVID-19 wings and units and follow necessary safety protocols will be eligible for an additional 15 percent rate increase, or a net increase of 25 percent (approximately $50 million). These funds support additional staffing, infection control and supply costs throughout the state of emergency. An estimated $30 million will support facilities that established dedicated skilled nursing facilities.
  • Expanded Mobile Testing – The Commonwealth’s mobile testing program, a partnership between the Department of Public Health, the National Guard, and the Broad Institute, has improved access to testing for nursing home, rest home, and assisted living facilities to test more people.As of April 14, more than 4,500 tests have been collected at 264 facilities. As of yesterday, 77 facilities had requested more than 8,600 test kits.
  • PPE Distribution – Since the beginning of March, the Command Center has distributed nearly 1.3 million masks, almost 200,000 gowns and over 2 million gloves to long-term care facilities.

Experts Predict Plummeting State Revenues at Virtual Consensus Revenue Hearing 

Department of Unemployment Assistance Issues Notice to Employers

The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) issued a notice to employers about filings and payments for the first quarter of 2020:

  • In order to maintain the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance system and continue paying claimants, it’s critical that employers file quarterly wages by the standard April 30, 2020 deadline. Not filing quarterly wages by April 30 may result in delays to benefit payments to claimants.
  • Employers severely impacted by COVID-19 who are not able to file and pay by April 30, 2020 may submit a written request by email for a 60-day extension on company letterhead, specifying how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19. For employers who have prepaid with a third-party administrator, we expect those payments to be sent in a timely manner so that we can keep the Unemployment trust fund solvent and healthy in order to pay claimants who have had their lives devasted by this pandemic.
  • Please email extension requests to Enforcement@detma.orgno later than April 30. Approved requests will be relieved from first-quarter 2020 interest and penalties through June 30, 2020. Even if you are approved for an extension to pay, the state encourages employers to file wages as soon as possible.
  • Private Contributory Employers will not be charged for COVID-19 claims.
  • Contributory Government will only be charged for 50 percent of COVID-19 claims.
  • Government and Non-Profit Reimbursable Employers will only be charged for 50 percent of COVID-19 claims.

Check the Status of Your Stimulus Payment through the IRS

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) launched the Get My Payment tool for Americans to check the status of their Economic Impact Payment stimulus checks, a minimum of $1,200 each for single filers with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less.

New guidance is also available for non-filers.

Beware of Stimulus Check Scams

Attorney General Tells Debt Collectors that Stimulus Payments are Off Limits

According to new guidance, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has determined that emergency funds that will be issued to consumers starting this week through the CARES Act are exempt from seizure or garnishment by creditors under Massachusetts law.

The AG’s office also signed onto a multistate letter to the U.S. Department of the Treasury asking the agency to protect CARES Act payments like other government relief programs and ensure that the funds go to individuals and families, where they were originally intended.

Attorney General Launches Web Site for Front-Line Workers

The site includes extensive COVID-19 resources compiled by the AGO.

US Chamber of Commerce Explores a Path Forward

The chamber outlines key considerations in a letter to its members, including the need for general health screenings and COVID-19 testing for workers, personal protective equipment, resolving legal and regulatory issues around liability, safe workplace issues and health privacy, and support for businesses dependent on high-density gatherings.

AIM Member Highlight 

Eversource to Suspend Disconnections and Late Fees During Pandemic

April 15, 2020

Baker Joins Northeast Coalition to Restore Economy

Governor Charlie Baker is joining a multi-state council “to restore the economy and get people back to work.” The council will feature one health expert, one economic development expert and the respective chief of staff from each state – New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The council seeks to develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift the states’ stay-at-home orders without triggering renewed spread – including testing, contact tracing, treatment and social distancing – and will rely on the best available scientific, statistical, social and economic information to manage and evaluate those tools.

Globe Article

Governor Announces Expanded COVID-19 Response Reporting

To support ongoing preparations for a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Baker Administration announced the expansion of COVID-19 response reporting to include statewide hospital capacity and distribution data for personal protective equipment.

  • Testing: Daily test reporting data, including number of positive cases, can already be found at this linkat 4 pm each day.
  • Hospital Capacity: At 4 pm each day the Command Center will report hospital bed occupancy and availability as reported by Massachusetts hospitals at this link
  • PPE Distribution: PPE distribution reports will be posted each day by 4 pm, and may be found here.

30  on Thursday

Thursday, April 16, 2020, 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Free for AIM Members & Non-members
Register to attend

Join us as Bill Gagnon of GAGNONtax tackles the state and federal tax implications of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) and the significant tax provisions and other measures available to assist impacted individuals and businesses.

Boston Mayor Announces First Tests for General Public

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said that testing for the novel coronavirus is now being offered to all Boston residents. The Whittier Street Health Center, in Roxbury, is offering scheduled rapid testing for the general public, Mondays through Saturdays. The clinic asks residents to schedule tests by phone.

April 14, 2020

Baker Administration Issues Further Public Health Guidance, Expands First Responder Testing Sites to Include Grocery Store Workers 

  • Department of Public Health advisory, consistent with CDC guidance, recommends that all residents wear a mask or face covering in public when social distancing is not possible.
  • Grocery Store Worker Priority Testing: The Administration and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security expanded access to the free, priority COVID-19 testing sites for first responders to include grocery store and supermarket workers. Beginning Saturday April 11, grocery store and supermarket employees may schedule an appointment to receive COVID-19 testing at the sites located at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and the Big E fairgrounds in West Springfield. All appointments must be made in advance by the worker’s supervisor or manager, and personnel do not need to be symptomatic to be eligible.

Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (M-ERT) Portal Open to Help State Manufacturers Produce Needed COVID-19 Equipment

The M-ERT’s Mission is to mobilize, organize, and operationalize critical-path work streams necessary for Massachusetts manufacturers to pivot their operations to produce needed materials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the M-ERT include the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), MIT, MIT Lincoln Labs, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP), Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), and multiple industry partners.

Unemployment Insurance Expansions

The US Department of Labor has published updated guidance/regulations that permit employees on Workshare to receive the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.  AIM has been helping members learn about and access this option.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Unemployment Assistance is working with new federal CARES Act guidance to implement new programs that will extend unemployment benefits for certain claimants; temporarily increase weekly benefits for all claimants; and allow additional categories of people to claim unemployment benefits.

State Division of Banks Issues Guidance for Paycheck Protection Program

The Division of Banks issued guidance that is intended to help lenders implement the Paycheck Protection Program and share expertise on administering Small Business Administration programs. The guidance relieves some state-level regulatory pressure and encourages lenders to collaborate in making this important resource available to our businesses.

And More Information on the Paycheck Protection Program

Employers can read more about the program and loan terms by visiting the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program landing pageand the Fact Sheet on the PPP.

This program is offered through lenders located throughout the Commonwealth; if a business does not have an existing relationship with a lender, they should visit the SBA’s website and use the Find A Lender tool to find an eligible lender in their area. Businesses can also consult the SBA Massachusetts District Office’s list of participating Paycheck Protection Program lenders

Finally, business owners with questions about the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan or Loan Advancedebt relief for existing or new SBA loans, or Express Bridge Loan programs can work with an SBA resource partner to understand which program is a fit for their business. These resources partners include Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), SCORE mentors, Centers for Women and Enterprise, and others. Find a resource partner near you by using the SBA’s Find Local Assistance tool.

State Schedules Additional Unemployment Virtual Town Halls  

Massachusetts officials have scheduled additional unemployment virtual town halls:

  • Tuesday, April 14 at 1:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 15 at 1:40 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 16 at 1:50 p.m.
  • Friday, April 17 at 1:50 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 18 at 1:50 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 19 at 2:00 p.m.

Administration Launches Spanish Language Unemployment Application

In the Media

Senate President Karen Spilka discusses the crisis on WBZ 

AIM Senior Vice President Brad MacDougall speaks with State Representative James Arciero

April 11, 2020

Governor Updates Hospital Surge Capacity

The commonwealth has worked to make approximately 14,500 treatment beds available ahead of the surge: 

  • 11,000 beds could be available for Intensive Care Units (ICU) and acute care in the existing hospital system. The total includes roughly 9,400 acute-care beds and 1,500 ICU beds.
  • Approximately 3,500 new beds are coming online for ICU and acute care – approximately 2,500 new hospital beds coming online from hospital surge planning, and 1,000 beds coming online though field hospitals.
  • As of April 10, hospitals report that 8,100 beds are occupied statewide, or approximately 55 percent (including hospitalizations for non-COVID-19 patients). Some 6,400 beds are currently available for both ICU and acute care, or roughly 45 percent.
  • Five Field Hospitals will serve as an alternative site for hospitals to treat patients, particularly individuals who need acute care. They are being built around the state to ensure all residents have access to this emergency care.

Mask / Face Covering Advisory 

The Department of Public Health will issue a Public Health Advisory that, consistent with CDC guidance, recommends that people wear a mask or cover their face in public when they cannot safely socially distance. Members of the public will be advised to wear something to cover their face in public places like supermarkets and pharmacies.

Federal Reserve Bank Unveils Main Street Lending Program

As part of the $2.3 trillion funding the Federal Reserve announced yesterday to aid in the economic response to coronavirus, the Main street Lending Program will be available to small businesses beginning next week.

The Main Street Lending Program is a four-year loan for businesses with fewer than 10,000 employees and revenues of less than $2.5 billion per year. Qualifying businesses may receive funding from both the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program and the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program.

The Treasury Department has asked Congress for another $250 billion in funding for small business loans and Congress is expected to address this request in the coming weeks.

April 10, 2020

Massachusetts Announces Initial Implementation of New Federal Unemployment Benefits from CARES Act

Federal Reserve to Provide up to $2.3 Trillion in Loans

The Federal Reserve will provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support American households and businesses, as well as local governments through a Main Street Lending Program authorized by the economic relief bill pass by Congress last month.

The objectives:

  • Bolster the effectiveness of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by supplying liquidity to participating financial institutions through term financing backed by PPP loans to small businesses. The PPP provides loans to small businesses so that they can keep their workers on the payroll. The Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility (PPPLF) will extend credit to eligible financial institutions that originate PPP loans, taking the loans as collateral at face value.
  • Ensure credit flows to small and mid-sized businesses with the purchase of up to $600 billion in loans through the Main Street Lending Program. The Department of the Treasury, using funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) will provide $75 billion in equity to the facility.
  • Increase the flow of credit to households and businesses through capital markets, by expanding the size and scope of the Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities (PMCCF and SMCCF) as well as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF). These three programs will now support up to $850 billion in credit backed by $85 billion in credit protection provided by the Treasury.
  • Help state and local governments manage cash flow stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic by establishing a Municipal Liquidity Facility that will offer up to $500 billion in lending to states and municipalities. The Treasury will provide $35 Billion of credit protection to the Federal Reserve for the Municipal Liquidity Facility using funds appropriated by the CARES Act.

AIM 30 on Thursday Expert Panel Q&A Recording and Slides

CDC Issues New Employer Guidelines on Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 Exposure

Employers should implement the recommendations in the Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 .

Critical Infrastructure workers who have had an exposure but remain asymptomatic should adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:

  • Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • Regular Monitoring: If the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a Mask: The employee should always wear a face mask while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • Disinfect and Clean workspaces:Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

Baker Administration Announces Field Medical Station Details, New Support for Health- Care Workforce and Additional Resources 

  • Easing licensing restrictions for foreign-educated doctors to allow medical practice in the Commonwealthspecifically allows graduates of international medical schools who have successfully completed at least two years of postgraduate resident medical training in the US to be eligible for licensure in the Commonwealth.
  • Expediting licensure of nursing students and graduatesallows nursing school graduates and students in their final semesters of nursing programs to practice nursing in advance of receiving a license, if they are directly supervised by other licensed medical professionals.
  • Ensuring access to in-patient servicesmandates that insurers must cover all medically required costs of COVID-19 treatment in out-of-network hospitals or other medical facilities with no charge to the patient, including co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance payments. Health care providers and medical facility insurers must accept the following rates for out-of-plan treatment: If insurers have a contract with a provider or facility: contracted rate even if the patient is not in a network that covers the provider or facility. If insurer has no contract with a provider or facility: 135 percent of the applicable Medicare rate. Insurers may not balance bill, or charge, patients for amounts above the above specified payments.
  • COVID-19 Demographic DataThe Department of Public Health (DPH) issued an order designed to expand COVID-19 demographic reporting data, including race and ethnicity, to address disparities in the virus’ impact and support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response efforts. This order mandates all health care providers and labs to collect and report complete demographic information of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients.

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton Urges Governor to Designate Grocery Store Workers as Emergency Personnel

After a Market Basket employee in Salem died from coronavirus, Rep. Moulton wrote to Governor Baker saying: “This designation would provide them access to priority testing, personal protective equipment like masks and gloves as well as other workplace protections necessary to keep them and the general public safe and healthy.”

Moulton wants President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to expand access to personal protective equipment.

Grocery Stores Outline Own Measures to Keep Shoppers and Staff Safe

April 9, 2020

Massachusetts Jobless Rate Could Hit 25 Percent

The Pioneer Institute reports that 8.6 percent of the state’s civilian workforce made an unemployment claim during the week ending March 28, ranking Massachusetts sixth in the nation for new UI claims. In February, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the MA unemployment rate was 2.5 percent (106,526 people).

The research cites a prediction from a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economist that the number of unemployed Americans will rise from 5.76 million (in February) to 52.8 million in June. In this case, Massachusetts would be home to about 975,000 unemployed residents – or 25 percent.

Governor Baker Files Legislation to Protect Health-Care Workers from Civil Lawsuits

Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation to extend liability protection to health-care workers during the pandemic. The bill would protect medical workers from lawsuits while caring for patients in unique settings, like the state’s new field hospitals at the DCU Center in Worcester or the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston.

The governor also issued a directive to maximize protections for health-care workers under the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (“PREP Act”) during the state of emergency by ensuring that health-care workers and facilities that distribute and administer testing, drugs and medical devices for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 are protected from suit and liability to the maximum extent possible.

The Massachusetts Nurses’ Association has been calling for such legislation and a similar measure was signed into law in New York State on April 3.

State Issues New Orders for Grocery Stores

Governor Baker has issued a new order to prevent food store overcrowding by imposing new restrictions making grocery stores to 40 percent capacity.  The new order will be enforced by local boards of health relative to the number of people in store.

The Department of Public Health’s March 25 order required grocery stores and pharmacies to set aside at least one hour per day for adults age 60 and older to shop; close any self-service food stations; mark “social distancing lines” beginning six feet away from checkouts; provide alternative assignments for employees who are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus; instruct employees who are sick to stay home; and offer sanitation options, like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, to clean shopping carts and other frequently touched surfaces. Municipal governments, too, have had their eyes on supermarkets and other food stores.

State and Local Tax Updates

  • On April 3, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) issued TIR 20-4covering information about tax filing and payment relief for personal income taxpayers (including fiduciary income taxpayers), and corporate excise taxpayers affected by COVID-19. Included in the TIR is information about changes to due dates for personal income tax filings and payments that were originally due April 15, 2020 and are now due July 15, 2020.  In addition, the department will waive any late-file and late-pay penalties that apply to corporate excise returns and payments due April 15, 2020 that are filed and paid by July 15, 2020. The TIR also explains the relief provided with respect to individual estimated tax payments. Please see the COVID-19 Coronavirus Response Update from DOR webpage for additional updates.
  • Changes have been made to deadlines and penalties for some vendors responsible for Sales and Use Taxes – including Meals Tax, and Room Occupancy Excise. Detailed information is available on the DOR information page.
  • Relief is available for several compliance actions to ease the burden on those currently facing tax or child-support issues. Please review the changes related to appeals, audit, collections, and litigation on theDOR information page.
  • Refunds are being issued. Taxpayers who are owed a refund should file as soon as possible. Taxpayers should file electronically and request direct deposit for the quickest turnaround. Filing on paper, or requesting a mailed paper check, will likely delay refunds.
  • The electronic filing of returns and electronic payments continues without interruption. Direct deposit refunds will also continue without interruption.
  • The best way to get information to DOR when it’s requested is to upload it throughMassTaxConnect under “Submit documentation.” If you need help submitting your documents, call us at 1-617-887-6367.
  • Customer service telephone contact centers are up and running and available for questions. Please choose the self-service optionson the DOR website or contact DOR by email or phone for information. Walk-up counters, for both tax and child-support assistance, are temporarily closed. Tax kiosks are also closed.
  • Many of the physical sites for tax preparation services for low income, ESL and senior taxpayers are temporarily closed. Checking in with theseorganizations is recommended to see what services are being offered.
  • Visit theImportant COVID-19 Coronavirus Response Update from DOR page now for detailed information on filing and payment extensions and penalty relief. You will also find information on tax and debt resolutions. The DOR website will be regularly updated with important information.
  • Local Tax updates: The Division of Local Services issued Municipalities
    Bulletin 2020-03, an addendum to Bulletin 2020-2.  The new bulletin explains alternative procedures for notification to taxpayers when local options are exercised under sections 10 and 11 of  2020, c. 53, including extending property tax bill due dates or exemption filing application due dates. Instead of mailing notice to taxpayers, notification in Bulletin 2020-02 may be posted on official municipal website and other official electronic media.

April 8, 2020

Govenor Baker Announces New CVS Rapid-Testing Site and Additional $800 Million Healthcare Investment

The Baker Administration and CVS announced the launch of a new rapid-testing site in Lowell, which will enable on-the-spot COVID-19 testing and results at no cost. Massachusetts is the third state where CVS has launched rapid-testing sites, joining Georgia and Rhode Island.

CVS Health will halt COVID-19 testing at the original Shrewsbury pilot site and transition its efforts to support COVID-19 testing in Massachusetts to the Lowell location, a site that allows for up to 1,000 patients to be tested per day and receive results on-site so they may quarantine or seek treatment as appropriate. Patients need to pre-register in advance online at CVS.com in order to schedule a same-day time slot for testing.
State Directs Money to Health-Care Providers

Governor Charlie Baker announced yesterday an infusion of $800 million in critical stabilization funding at MassHealth to support health-care providers impacted by and responding to COVID-19, including:

  • More than $400 million to hospitals. Most of the funding will support 28 safety net and high-Medicaid hospitals to address lost revenue and increased costs at the front lines of treating patients with COVID-19. The infusionincludes a 20 percent rate increase for COVID-19 care, as well as a 7.5 percent across-the-board rate increase for other hospital care
  • More than $80 million for nursing facilities.Fifty million dollars will be dedicated funding for all nursing facilities across the state. Facilities and units within nursing homes that are designated COVID-19 sites of care will receive approximately $30 million in additional funding to support their capacity to care for COVID-19 patients.
  • More than $300 million for other health care providers that are delivering medical care. The sum includes more than $50 million for community health centers;$30 million for personal-care attendants; funding for ambulance providers, physicians, community behavioral health providers, and home health agencies; and funding for certain long-term services and day programs such as adult day health or day habilitation programs that have converted from group programs.

AIM COVID-19 Webinars

Q and A for Employers on COVID-19
Thursday, April 9, 2020, 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Free for AIM Members & Non-members
Register to attend

State & Federal Tax Implications of COVID-19
April 16 @ 11:00 am
Reserve your seat.

Updates on Paycheck Protection Program

On Monday, April 6, 2020, the U.S. Treasury issued additional guidance in the form of frequently asked questions regarding the Paycheck Protection Program created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The FAQ provides guidance on eligibility of businesses and lender obligations.

US Department of Labor Issues Guidance on Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

The CARES Act was designed to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The measure includes a provision of temporary benefits for individuals who have exhausted their entitlement to regular unemployment compensation (UC) as well as coverage for individuals who are not eligible for regular UC (such as individuals who are self-employed or who have limited recent work history).  These individuals may also include certain gig economy workers, clergy and those working for religious organizations who are not covered by regular unemployment compensation, and other workers who may not be covered by the regular UC program under some state laws.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to qualifying individuals who are otherwise able to work and available for work within the meaning of applicable state UC law, except that they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to one of the COVID-19 related reasons

The highlights of this program include:

  • The program provides benefits for unemployment going back to the weeks beginning on and after January 27, 2020. This reach-back provision is tied to the point at which the impact of COVID-19 was recognized as a disaster, but also makes it more difficult to determine eligibility retroactively in a timely way.
  • For weeks of unemployment beginning on or after March 27, 2020, and ending on or before July 31, 2020, individuals eligible to receive PUA are also eligible to receive FPUC (Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation) which provides an additional $600 per week.

April 7, 2020

Governor Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker Announce New $13 million Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Find

First Lady Lauren Baker and the One8 Foundation are teaming up with philanthropists, business leaders, Eastern Bank, The Boston Foundation, and the Foundation for Business Equity to launch the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund to support those across the state most impacted by this health crisis. The Fund will work in concert with regional non-profit leaders, community foundations, leaders on the ground and at the state level to understand the response and relief landscape to fill in where gaps are pronounced. The mission is to ensure essential needs are understood in real time and provide resources for interventions that are effective and impactful.”

  • 100 percent of donations will serve people and families most in need;
  • The Fund will work in partnership with community foundations and local non-profit organizations providing critical, essential services in local communities throughout Massachusetts;
  • Get dollars out quickly and with transparency;
  • Monitor progress and provide updates on needs;
  • Continue to provide support throughout the crisis;
  • All donations are unrestricted.

The fund will support:

  • Frontline health-care professionals, first responders, and other essential workers;
  • Households disproportionately affected by COVID-19;
  • Immigrant and undocumented populations;
  • Food security;
  • People with disabilities;
  • Homeless populations

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Recommends Curfew and Masks

Mayor Marty Walsh has recommended a citywide curfew be in place between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. starting Monday, April 6 and running through May 4. He has also asked individuals always use a mask or “cloth face covering,” while outdoors.  The city will also sporting facilities at Boston parks, including basketball courts.

CDC Updates Guidance on Wearing Cloth Masks in Public 

On Friday April 3, CDC issued new recommendations about wearing cloth face coverings in public settings. The recommendation was made after considering recent studies that have shown individuals with the virus who lack symptoms can transmit the virus to others.

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings including places where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (such as grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.  The mask recommendation does not replace social distancing, stay-at-home measures and hand-washing recommendations that remain in effect. Social distancing, staying at home except for essential travel, and hand hygiene remain vitally important to slowing the spread of the virus. The recommendation is considered a voluntary public health measure, and the CDC offers a primer on simple face cloths here.

Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) Issues Guidance on Individual and Corporate Excise Tax Returns and Payments

On Friday April 3, the DOR issued an extension of the 2019 state individual income tax filing and payment deadline from April 15 to July 15 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and announced that the Department of Revenue (DOR) will waive any late-file and late-pay penalties for corporate excise returns and payments due April 15 that are filed and paid by July 15.

The guidance does not remove “interest” penalties.  The waiver of penalties applies to corporate excise returns and payments with an original due date of April 15, including those of certain S corporations and non-profits that file on a fiscal-year basis and have tax returns and payments due April 15.  This income tax relief is automatic, and taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms to qualify. To read the Technical Information Release, click here.  Should you have questions about this, please contact Brad MacDougall at bmacdougall@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

April 4, 2020

Governor Baker Announces COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative

The COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) is a collaboration between the administration and Partners In Healthand is the first of its kind in the nation. The initiative will focus on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, and builds on the efforts already underway from the Command Center to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health.

Contact tracing will be combined with the state’s efforts to increase testing, provide support to people in quarantine in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, and support the Baker-Polito Administration’s ongoing efforts to expand bed capacity, increase personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and provide resources for health care providers and patients.

The Collaborative will deploy nearly 1,000 contact tracers throughout the state to connect with COVID-19 patients and their contacts to support Massachusetts’ efforts to track and contain the virus.

Partners In Health will provide staff and contribute technical expertise in community tracing. The Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority (CCA) will stand up a virtual support center and maintain connectivity, while the Massachusetts Department of Health (DPH) will maintain data, guides and processes.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Announces Small-Business Relief Fund

The Small Business Relief Fund, administered by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (OED), has been established to assist Boston’s small businesses most directly impacted by closures, policies, or general loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligible small businesses – for-profit entities with fewer than 35 employees and less than $1.5 million in annual revenue, registered and operating in Boston – will apply through a single application and be considered for one of three grants based on the size of the business.

OED has created a Financial Relief Handbook and FAQ document, both of which are continuously updated. Small-business conference calls will continue every Tuesday at 3 p.m. to communicate policy updates, answer questions, feature relevant City of Boston departments, and troubleshoot the ecosystem of funding available from the state, federal, and private industry. Any business interested in joining these weekly calls may email smallbiz@boston.gov.

Legislation to Address Challenges Faced by Massachusetts Cities and Towns Signed into Law; Includes Provisions for Corporate, Non-Profit Boards

Public Corporation Remote Shareholder Meetings. Allows, for the declaration of a state of emergency issued by the governor on March 10, 2020 and 60 days thereafter, a public corporation to conduct an annual or special meeting of the shareholders solely by means of remote communication.

Non-Profit Organization Remote Meeting Participation: Allows, for the declaration of a state of emergency issued by the governor on March 10, 2020 and 60 days thereafter, participation by remote communication at any non-profit corporate meeting of the members to constitute presence at such meeting if certain conditions are met.

Restaurants: The bill allows an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic beverages or only wines and malt beverages on-premises, during the state of emergency declared by the governor on March 10, 2020, to sell wine or malt beverages only for off-premises consumption subject to certain conditions, including:

  • The wine or malt beverage shall not be sold to a person under 21 years of age; any delivery of wine or malt beverages for off-premises consumption shall not be made without verification that the person receiving the order has attained 21 years of age.
  • The wine shall be sold in its original, sealed container and the malt beverage shall be sold in a sealed container.
  • The wine or malt beverage shall be sold as part of the same transaction as the purchase of food
  • Any order that includes wine or malt beverages shall be placed not later than the hour of which the establishment is licensed to sell alcohol or 12:00 midnight, whichever time is earlier
  • A customer shall be limited to 192 ounces of malt beverage and 1.5 liters of wine per transaction.

Federal Government Issues Unemployment Insurance Guidance for States

In a 13-page letter the U.S. Department of Labor outlined for states the aspects of the federal coronavirus stimulus bill – the CARES Act – that deal with the administration of, and eligibility criteria for, state unemployment insurance (UI) programs, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance meant to benefit workers who would not typically be eligible for UI, like gig workers.

During the week ending March 21, 148,452 Bay State residents submitted initial unemployment claims, roughly 20 times as many as the 7,449 who submitted such claims in the week ending March 14. The sweeping $2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package expanded eligibility for workers who are self-employed or contracted and previously did not qualify, though states had been waiting for federal guidance on making the new aid available.

Best Practices for Employers of COVID19-Positive Employees 

Quarantine: Employers should work with the employee and the employee should work with his or her local board of health (in the town they reside) to do contact tracing – soon to be expanded through the commonwealth’s new partnership with Partners in Health. Once that is done, it can be determined who from the workplace should be quarantining due to close contact with that positive COVID-19 case.

Sanitation: After an employee tests positive, assuming the employee had been in the workplace prior to be diagnosed, the workplace should do a “deep clean” of the workplace. CDC Cleaning Guidelines.

April 3, 2020

AIM’s Thirty on Thursday Webinar: Small Business Administration Loans 

Watch the Webinar Recording

Follow Along with Webinar Slides

SBA Paycheck Protection Program

The recently passed federal CARE Act includes up to eight weeks of financial assistance for small businesses under the US Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Money from the program may be used to cover overall payroll costs if businesses retain employees. Small businesses and sole proprietorships may apply as soon as April 3 through any existing SBA lender. Self-employed and independent- contractor applicants may apply beginning April 10.  A full list of lenders is available on www.sba.govBusinesses must employ 500 or fewer individuals. Non-profits and veterans’ organizations are eligible to apply, and total payroll costs will be capped at $100,000 per employee on an annualized basis. Payroll costs include salary, wages, healthcare premiums, commission, vacation time, retirement benefits, and sick leave time.

Feds Issue Key Forms for Paid Sick or Extended Family and Medical Leave

Form 7200 is the Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19 Form that has been referenced in the US Department of Labor Regulations.  (Download document Form 7200 and Instructions for 7200).

Private sector employers that provide paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave required by the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act (FFCRA) are eligible for reimbursement of the costs of that leave through refundable tax credits. If you intend to claim a tax credit under FFCRA, retain appropriate documentation for your records. Consult applicable forms, instructions and information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the procedures to claim your credit, including any substantiation required.

You are not required to provide leave if materials sufficient to support the applicable tax credit have not been provided.

If one of your employees takes expanded family and medical leave to care for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed, or whose child-care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19, you may also require your employee to provide additional documentation in support of such leave, to the extent permitted under the certification rules for conventional FMLA leave requests. The documentation could include a notice that has been posted on a government, school, or day-care website, or published in a newspaper, or an email from an employee or official of the school, place of care, or childcare provider.

Baker Administration Outlines COVID-19 Surge Modeling

The administration’s COVID-19 Response Command Center has been working with its advisory board of medical experts and epidemiologists from Harvard University, the University of Guelph and Northeastern University to refine models related to the expected surge of COVID-19 cases. These efforts include modeling the surge’s timing, number of cases, necessary bed capacity, and search for facilities to meet overfill capacity. The model’s projections are based on the experience of Wuhan, China, but Massachusetts’ trajectory could differ due to lower population density, lower smoking rates, and earlier social distancing measures. The Command Center has also been comparing to experience in other states and around the world.

The administration seeks to find or build an additional 750 – 1000 beds in field medical hospitals and other alternate-care sites to reduce strain on hospitals. Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito visited the first of these Field Medical Stations at the DCU Center in Worcester yesterday.

The state has secured a contractor who can build out sites once a health-care partner has been finalized.   The Command Center is also securing 1000 beds for step-down care options in nursing facilities for stabilized COVID-19 positive patients who can be transferred out of the hospital to make room for those with higher medical need.

State Beach Parking Areas Closed 

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all coastal beach reservation parking areas managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to close effective noon Friday, April 3 to reduce concentrations of people at beaches during the COVID-19 outbreak.  DCR will open select seasonal state parks early and expand access at other parks to provide open-space opportunities for residents to enjoy. Coastal parkways that provide access to state beaches will also be closed to both parking and dropping off passengers. State beaches will remain open and available to pedestrians for transitory use only (walking, jogging, biking, solitary fishing). A link to find specific parking and traffic restrictions may be found here.

Eviction ban passes House, picks up speed on Beacon Hill

Stimulus Checks to Individuals and Families Likely Arriving Next Week

  • According to the Washington Post the Treasury announced late Wednesday that Social Security beneficiaries who typically do not file a tax return will automatically get the $1,200 payment. The announcement is a reversal from earlier in the week when the Internal Revenue Service said everyone would need to file some sort of tax return in order to qualify for the payments

April 2, 2020

Senate Homeowner and Renter Legislation Advances

The Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee late Tuesday approved emergency legislation providing temporary protections for renters and homeowners during the COVID-19 emergency. The measures are intended to ensure housing security while people are being advised to stay home to achieve collective public health goals.  The Senate Ways and Means committee proposal provides for protections against eviction and foreclosures.

Additional details provided by State House News:

  • Under the bill, courts would be prohibited from entering a default judgement for a plaintiff for possession of a residential dwelling in a non-essential eviction action, or from scheduling a court event in such an action. The bill also prohibits a landlord from imposing a late fee for non-payment of rent, or furnishing rental payment data to a consumer reporting agency related to the non-payment of rent, if the tenant provides documentation to the landlord not more than 30 days after the missed rent payment that the non-payment was due to a financial impact from COVID-19.
  • The restrictions would remain in place for 90 days following the bill’s passage, or until the COVID-19 emergency is terminated, whichever is sooner.
  • To protect homeowners, the bill under the same time limitations, prohibits a mortgagee, for the purpose of foreclosure of a residential property, from causing notice of a foreclosure sale to be published; exercising a power of sale; exercising a right of entry; initiating a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process; or filing a complaint to determine the military status of a mortgagor.
  • The bill also includes language to assist people applying for a reverse mortgage, enabling them to receive counseling via real-time video conference rather than in person, an apparent effort to facilitate the social distancing measures that public officials say are critical to slowing the virus’ spread.
  • The bill was approved as House leaders continue to work on bill with a similar goal and amid reports that tenants and homeowners, despite assurances from Gov. Charlie Baker, are growing anxious about the consequences of missing April 1 payments due to job and income losses stemming from the pandemic.
  • According to members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, a portion of a $2 billion pot of aid included in the new $2 trillion CARES Act is aimed at helping to prevent evictions.

IRS Provides New Guidance on Family Leave and Tax Credits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released new guidance on tax credits authorized in the “phase two” COVID-19 bill to help small businesses offset the cost of new paid leave requirements. Click here to learn more about how to implement these policies.

April 1, 2020

Essential Services Order Extended

Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public will be extended until May 4. Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people until May 4.

Travelers Instructed to Self-Quarantine

Beginning March 27, all travelers arriving to Massachusetts are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. The guidance will be displayed as posters at service plazas along 1-90 eastbound, distributed as flyers at major transportation hubs, including Logan International Airport, and on posted on highway message boards. Visitors are instructed not to travel to Massachusetts if they are displaying symptoms. Health care workers, public health workers, public safety workers, transportation workers and designated essential workers are exempt from this requirement.

State Updates Essential Services List

The state today updated the list of COVID-19 Essential Services based on federal guidance that was updated earlier this week. The new list will go into effect April 1, at noon.

While these businesses are designated as essential, they are urged to follow social distancing protocols for workers in accordance with guidance from the Department of Public Health (DPH).

Some updates to the essential services list include:

  • Clarity around the supply chain that supports other essential services
  • Adding health-care providers like chiropractors and optometrists
  • Expanding the types of workers providing disinfectant and sanitation services
  • COVID-19 Essential Services FAQs

State Offers Guidance for Hotels, Motels

As part of the updated essential business list, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) issued new guidance today around hotels, motels, inns, beds and breakfasts and other short-term residential rentals. Based on this new guidance, hotels, motels, and short-term rentals may only be used for efforts related to fighting COVID-19, like front-line health workers or individuals, or for Massachusetts residents who have been otherwise displaced from their residences.

Stay-at-Home Advisory Remains in Effect

The Governor announced today that the Stay-at-Home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person-to-person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

Unemployment Virtual Town Halls 

The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) continues its series of virtual town halls to aid applicants in submitting UI claims over the phone or online. This week’s schedule is as follows:

  • Wednesday, April 1, 2020 at 2 pm
  • Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 2:10 pm
  • Friday, April 3, 2020 at 2 pm

Virtual Electronic Signing

The law firm of Sullivan and Worcester issued a client alert about virtual and electronic signing.

“In these uncertain times, trade finance and other transaction parties may face logistical challenges when signing documents in person.  One option available to the transaction parties is to sign documents ‘virtually’ by signing a hard copy of a document and sending a scan of the signature page to the other side. This method of signing will be familiar to most people who have entered transactional documents with an international counterparty.

“Parties are also increasingly turning to the possibility of utilizing electronic platforms for signing documents, called e-signing or electronic signing.  But can electronic signing be a valid form of signing an agreement? Sullivan looks in detail at the options available to those signing agreements.

Manufacturing Partnership on COVID-19

Listen to MassMEP President, John Killam address COVID-19

March 31, 2020

Governor Permits Virtual Shareholder Meetings 

Governor Charlie Baker today issued an order adjusting the requirement that public companies hold a meeting in a physical space by permitting public companies to hold annual or special shareholder meetings completely by means of remote communication, until 60 days after the end of the state of emergency.

Governor Urges Self-Employed and 1099 Workers to wait for State Alert through Massachusetts COVID-19 Unemployment Resource Page 

Governor Baker urged that certain individuals wait for a state alert before applying for unemployment insurance.

Since the passage of the federal CARES act, self-employed and 1099 workers, in addition to individuals who have exhausted their original state unemployment insurance benefits, will be able to apply for unemployment insurance. Governor Baker indicated that individuals should apply when Massachusetts receives federal guidance and subsequently notifies the public that the claims can be made.

States must await federal guidance before they can update their state unemployment benefits system to accept new individuals who have previously never been eligible for unemployment payments.

Government Issues Updated Advisory on Essential Workers

The advisory document updates the original March 16 advisory regarding “Essential Workers.”

Governor Baker indicated that additional state guidance on essential business and updated social distancing guidelines will be coming Tuesday.

State Order Provides Financial Relief to Care Providers

Governor Baker today issued an order providing the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) administrative flexibility to extend financial relief to providers of critical health care and social services who serve EOHHS clients, including members of MassHealth. These measures will be subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. This will allow EOHHS to extend critical financial support to:

  • providers facing extraordinary demand due to the COVID-19 emergency while having lost significant revenue because they have had to cancel other procedures and appointments.
  • providers who are necessary to keep vulnerable individuals safe in their homes.
  • Human-service providers who have been forced to respond to the unanticipated circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic by altering the hours, delivery and scope of these services.

U.S. Department of Labor Adds to Guidance on Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Benefits Under Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Questions and Answers addressing critical issues such as the definition of a “healt- care provider,” and the scope of the small business exemption/exclusion from the provisions of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, as well as whether public sector employees may take paid family and medical leave.

Small Business Provisions of Importance/ Resources for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID19 via Small Business Investor Alliance (SBIA)

CDC Provides Helpful Resources for Employers

The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a helpful checklist for employees and individuals preparing their households for COVID-19.  The checklist covers various things that Human Resource departments and individuals can use as a starting point.

March 30, 2020

List of all Massachusetts state orders by Governor Baker.

Small Business Relief Resources

Join AIM on Thursday, April 2 to learn more about SBA Economic Injury Loan Information and private institutional loan offerings. Register Here

US Chamber of Commerce – Click here for 4 page summary and the U.S. Chamber’s Coronavirus Emergency Loans Small Business Guide and Checklist.  Resources to help small businesses understand recently approved legislation and resulting financial relief opportunities.by Congress to respond to the ongoing pandemic.

Small Business Administration – The Disaster Loan Assistance portal has been revamped and the process has been more simplified.  You are now required to upload only two (2) forms to initiate the process:

If you already submitted an application and want to check on status, please call customer service at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Blood Shortage

Governor Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker visited the American Red Cross of Massachusetts headquarters in Dedham on Saturday to urge residents to donate blood. The Red Cross is facing a critical shortage of blood products due to cancellations of blood drives during the COVID-19 outbreak. The governor has deemed blood and plasma donors and the employees of the organizations that operate and manage related activities as an essential service. Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets are urged to make an appointment to donate as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). To schedule a new blood drive contact Bill Forsyth at (617) 699-3808 or email William.Forsyth@redcross.org.

Baker Administration launches online portal for personal protective equipment and volunteer efforts

The portal allows individuals and companies to donate or sell personal protective equipment (PPE). It also provides volunteers an opportunity to support the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts. The effort will ensure that front-line responders get the protective equipment they need to stay and push for more trained volunteers to join the response.  Details are here: COVID-19 PPE Procurement and Donation Program

PPE and donations needed include:

  • N95/N99 masks (respirators)
  • Facemasks with integrated shields
  • Goggles
  • Protective suits/gowns
  • Headcovers
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Surgical/procedure masks
  • Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPR)
  • Gloves
  • Booties/shoe covers
  • Hand sanitizer

Call for volunteers:  There is an immediate need for respiratory therapists and public health nurses, and the administration is asking health care professionals interested in volunteering to sign up by clicking here. Since launching the initiative, more than 1,000 people have already registered.

March 27, 2020

President Signs $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill after It Is Approved by the US House.

Fact Sheet prepared by the House Small Business Committee

Fact Sheets prepared by the House Ways and Means Committee

Massachusetts Announces State Income Tax Filing Deadline Being Extended to July 15

Today’s announcement will move the state income tax filing deadline to match the July 15 deadline for filing federal individual income taxes. Legislation will be filed in the near future to finance the extension and accompanying administrative changes will be implemented through the Department of Revenue. The legislation will authorize the Commonwealth borrowing flexibility to manage deferred revenue this fiscal year and repay it in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2020.

Individuals with questions or concerns regarding taxes may contact the Massachusetts Department of Revenue at (617) 887-6367 or send a secure e-message through MassTaxConnect.

Telehealth – Buoy Digital Platform

Buoy has entered a partnership with Massachusetts to promote telehealth services and provide residents with additional tools to assess their risks for COVID-19. The Baker Administration announced the launch of Buoy Health’s new online resource for residents to check their symptoms and connect with the appropriate health-care resource. The tool does not replace emergency medical care, but may be used as a support for residents during the COVID-19 outbreak to connect them. Buoy Health’s online 24/7 tool is free for Massachusetts residents and uses current COVID-19 guidance from the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Visit Buoy.com/mass to learn more and use the tool.

Travelers Coming into Massachusetts Advised to Self-Quarantine for 14 Days

Beginning March 27, all travelers arriving to Massachusetts are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. The guidance will be displayed as posters at service plazas along I-90 eastbound, distributed as flyers at major transportation hubs and on posted on highway message boards. Visitors are instructed not to travel to Massachusetts if they are displaying symptoms. Health- care workers, public health workers, public safety workers, transportation workers and designated essential workers are exempt from this requirement.

Early Medical School Graduation

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel have coordinated with Massachusetts medical schools to facilitate early graduation of their qualified fourth-year students to allow graduates to support the health care workforce during the COVID-19 response.

This coordinated effort includes Boston University School of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.

Emergency Limited Medical Licenses

The Board of Registration in Medicine will provide medical school graduates who have matched as an intern, resident or fellow with a board-approved Massachusetts health-care facility or training program with Emergency 90-Day Limited Licenses to practice medicine during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

To qualify, medical residents must fill out an application to be approved by the program or facility. Once approved, residents will receive the emergency license and be able to start when their program begins. This Emergency Limited License will allow medical staff to provide support while the regular screening progresses, and it is not a substitute for the regular Limited License process.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs):

The administration has issued a public health order to provide Advanced Practice Registered (APRNs) in good standing with greater flexibility in their prescribing practices. This order includes the following updates:

  • Certified nurse midwives will be allowed to continue to prescribe as already authorized.
  • Authorized APRNs who have at least two years of supervised practice experience will be able to prescribe without physician supervision.
  • Authorizes APRNs with fewer than two years of supervised practice experience to prescribe with physician supervision, but without the normally required written guidelines.
  • Read the order here.

MassHealth Waiver:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved, in part, the Baker-Polito Administration’s 1135 waiver to fast-track MassHealth enrollment, streamline administrative requirements for providers and better deliver critically needed health care services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. CMS has approved the following items of the waiver.

  • Enrollment of out-of-state providers and easing other provider requirements when enrolling in MassHealth.
  • Allowing providers to be reimbursed for care in alternative, unlicensed settings.
  • Suspension of prior authorization requirements and extending pre-existing prior authorizations through the emergency.

Office of the Attorney General (AG) Issues Emergency Debt Collection Regulations

Effective March 26, a new emergency regulation became effective upon the filing of the regulation by the Office of the Attorney General to address debt collection.  The emergency regulation will remain in effect for 90 days or until the state of emergency ends, whichever comes first.

The new regulation, 940 CMR 35.00 contains protections that apply to all creditors and prohibits them from deceptive practices in pursuing the payment of a debt during the COVID-19 emergency, including:

  • filing any new collection lawsuit
  • garnishing wages, earnings, properties or funds
  • repossessing vehicles
  • applying for or serving a capias warrant
  • visiting or threatening to visit the household of a debtor
  • visiting or threatening to visit the place of employment of a debtor
  • confronting or communicating in person with a debtor regarding the collection of a debt in any public place.

The AG’s emergency debt collection regulation also prohibits debt collection agencies and debt buyers from making unsolicited debt collection telephone calls to Massachusetts consumers for the next 90 days, unless the state of emergency ends before that time.

AG Resource Page – COVID-19 resources page for information about how the office can assist you during this crisis.

SBA Announces Express Bridge Loan Program to Bridge Long-Term Financing

Click here for The Small Business Administration’s Express Bridge Loan Program to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The program authorizes SBA Express Lenders to provide expedited SBA-guaranteed bridge loan financing on an emergency basis in amounts up to $25,000 for disaster-related purposes to small businesses who have applied for and await long-term financing (including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program)

US Department of Labor (DOL) Frequently Asked Questions

Click here for DOL FAQs that went live March 26 to provide answers to a lot of common employer/employee questions including intermittent leave.

REAL ID Deadline Moved

Americans will now have until Oct. 1, 2021 to get the Real ID Act compliant identification needed to board commercial flights, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Thursday. The original deadline was October 2020.

March 26, 2020

State Extends Tax Filing Deadline

Governor Baker Requests Major Disaster Declaration –

Governor Charlie Baker submitted a written request to President Trump for a Major Disaster Declaration for Massachusetts under the federal Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to allow the state to access additional federal resources.

The request includes access to the following two programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

Three new Department of Public Health Orders:

  • Pharmacy Practice: To ensure pharmacists are able to support the health-care system’s response to COVID-19, this emergency order makes several changes regarding pharmacy practice, including expedited approval for pharmacists licensed in other states to practice in Massachusetts, and allowing the remote processing of prescriptions by pharmacy technicians.  Read the Order
  • Determination of Need: This emergency order exempts health-care facilities from the requirement that they submit a Notice of Determination of Need for certain activities that will support their response to COVID-19. Read the Order|Read the Guidance
  • Nurse Staffing: To ensure hospitals have the flexibility they need to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, this emergency order exempts hospitals from certain nurse-staffing requirements, while requiring that they must ensure that staffing levels remain adequate to meet patients’ needs, and staff is trained and competent to meet the needs of their patients. Read the Order

COVID-19 Essential Services-Related FAQs Supplied by Mass.gov

MassHousing $5 Million to State Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program 

RAFT assists households of all sizes and configurations with financial assistance up to $4,000 per household to help preserve current housing or move to new housing. Funding is distributed by partner Regional Administering Agencies. All offices are operating remotely and are taking applications and questions.

Berkshire Housing Development Corporation
Community Teamwork Inc.
Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority
Housing Assistance Corporation
Way Finders
Metro Housing|Boston
RCAP Solutions
South Middlesex Opportunity Council
NeighborWorks Housing Solutions
Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development
Central MA Housing Alliance

Executive Order Pertaining to Commercial Property Owners

Governor Baker issued an Executive Order to suspend relevant permitting deadlines and extend out the validity of state permits. It applies to a wide range of state approvals and clarifies that all approvals shall toll during the State of Emergency. It shall remain in effect until rescinded or until the state of emergency is terminated, whichever happens first. Update provided by NAIOP Massachusetts.

AIM “30 on Thursdays” Webinar Links

Department of Unemployment Virtual Town Halls

  • Friday March 27 at 9:00AM
  • Saturday March 28 at 12:00PM – Spanish Town Hall

Additional Resources for Employers

National:  3.3 Million have filed for unemployment benefits

US Senate passes CARE Act by a Unanimous 96-0 Vote

  • Unemployment Insurance Highlights – $260 billion for increased unemployment assistance, including up to four months of full replacement wages up to certain limits for individuals who lose a job or are furloughed.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provision would create a new program modeled on Disaster Unemployment Assistance that would provide unemployment benefits to individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation and are unable to work because of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Qualified individuals may include self-employed workers (including gig workers and independent contractors), part-time workers, and those with limited work histories. The changes to increase the size of regular unemployment benefits and make them available for additional weeks will also apply to benefits received through the PUA program. PUA will be state administered but fully federally funded. The program is effective through December 31, 2020.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation would make an additional 13 weeks of federally funded unemployment compensation for individuals who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits available immediately through December 31, 2020.
  • Emergency Unemployment Relief for Governmental Entities and Nonprofit Organizations would reduce the amount by which nonprofits, Indian Tribes, and governmental entities are required to reimburse states for benefits paid to their workers who claim unemployment insurance by 50 percent through December 31, 2020.
  • Emergency Increase in Unemployment Compensation would add $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to every weekly unemployment benefit, effective until July 31, 2020. This $600 benefit will be taxable (like regular unemployment benefits), but it will be disregarded in determining Medicaid or CHIP eligibility.
  • Temporary Full Federal Funding of the First Week of Compensable Regular Unemployment for States with No Waiting Week would allow states to enter into an agreement with the federal government to receive full reimbursement for the total amount of unemployment compensation paid to individuals for their first week of unemployment, provided that the state does not have a waiting week between applying for and receiving benefits, effective until December 31, 2020.
  • Temporary Financing of Short-Time Compensation in States with Programs in Law would provide 100 percent federal reimbursement to states for payments made under qualifying short-time compensation programs (also known as work sharing programs) through December 31, 2020.

State and Local Aid Highlight 

  • Coronavirus Relief Fund provides $150 billion to states for necessary expenditures incurred in responding to the coronavirus outbreak – including building field hospitals and buying ventilators – as well as to offset the cost of other essential government services not budgeted for and incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. The U.S. Treasury must allocate funds to states within 30 days based on a state’s population, although every state will be guaranteed at least $1.25 billion. The bill reserves 45 percent of the state’s total allotment for localities of 500,000 or more. These localities may apply directly to the Treasury for their relative share by population of this amount.

Tax Policy Highlights

  • Employee retention credit- a new temporary refundable 50 percent employee retention credit for employers subject to full or partial business suspension due to the COVID-19 emergency, or for employers whose gross receipts have significantly declined due to COVID-19, to be applied against the employer’s share of payroll taxes. The amount of qualified compensation (including health benefits) eligible for the credit with respect to any individual employee is limited to $10,000.
  • Payroll taxes- Delays in payment of certain applicable 2020 employer payroll taxes from date of enactment through December 31, 2020. Half of the deferred tax is to be paid by December 31, 2021, and the remainder by December 31, 2022.
  • Corporate AMT credit refunds- Accelerates the ability of companies to receive refunds of AMT credits in tax years beginning in 2019. Alternatively, companies could elect to claim the entire refundable AMT credit in tax years beginning in 2018.
  • Section 163(j) changes increase the 30 percent adjusted taxable income limitation to 50 percent for tax years beginning in 2019 and 2020. For 2019, this provision does not apply to partnerships – partners may deduct 50 percent of their distributive share of the partnership’s excess business interest in 2020 without regard to Section 163(j). The provision also allows a taxpayer to elect to use its 2019 adjusted taxable income for its 2020 limitation.

More information: PWC and The Tax Foundation

The stimulus measure now goes to the House of Representatives where it is anticipated there will be strong bipartisan support. The legislation is expected to pass by voice vote, a move that would allow for the House to avoid compelling its members to return to Washington for a recorded roll call vote.  The House will take up the measure beginning on Friday beginning at 9 am.

U.S. Department of Labor provides Additional Guidance Explaining Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Under Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Updates on the Defense of Production Act

In early March the Congressional Research Service updated research and provided Congress “The Defense Production Act of 1950: History, Authorities, and Considerations for Congress.” As of this post on March 26, 2020, President Trump and the administration have not utilize the full powers of the act, but have used it as a means to encourage and seek businesses voluntary efforts to provide items such as masks, ventilators and other personal protective equipment (PPE) among other critical supplies.

Key provisions include:

  • Title I: Priorities and Allocations, which allows the President to require persons (including businesses and corporations) to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services as necessary to promote the national defense.
  • Title III: Expansion of Productive Capacity and Supply, which allows the President to incentivize the domestic industrial base to expand the production and supply of critical materials and goods. Authorized incentives include loans, loan guarantees, direct purchases and purchase commitments, and the authority to procure and install equipment in private industrial facilities.
  • Title VII: General Provisions, which includes key definitions for the DPA and several distinct authorities, including the authority to establish voluntary agreements with private industry; the authority to block proposed or pending foreign corporate mergers, acquisitions, or takeovers that threaten national security; and the authority to employ persons of outstanding experience and ability and to establish a volunteer pool of industry executives who could be called to government service in the interest of the national defense.

March 25, 2020

The US Senate last night unanimously approved the $2 trillion economic stimulus package.

Governor Charlie Baker announced that all public and private schools, and all non-emergency childcare programs will be closed until May 4, 2020

AIM Provides Model Documents on Accrued Vacation Time, Essential Business

AIM has received a number of questions on the HR Hotline about the use of accrued vacation time and documentation of essential businesses. In response to requests by members, we thought it would be helpful to provide two model documents at no cost to help employers through this difficult period.

As a result of recent decisions made by the Massachusetts state government, employers may be faced with two significant decisions regarding situations involving their employees.
The first one involves employee(s) separating from employment and the disposition of the employee’s accrued vacation time, the second one involves how to ensure that someone is identified as an employee of an essential employer.

Department of Public Health Pharmacy Grocery Order  temporarily lift bans on plastic bags

  • Grocery store and pharmacy employees shall not perform bagging of retail products if reusable checkout bags are used and customers at grocery stores and pharmacies shall not use reusable checkout bags until further notice.
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies, food banks and emergency food programs, including those currently subject to municipal ordinances or regulations banning single-use plastic bags, may choose to use recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags or single-use plastic bags.
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies may not assess a charge for recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags or single-use plastic bags.
  • Stores must provide at least one hour per day of shopping for adults over 60-years-old.
  • Stores must offer sanitation options, such as hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, as available, to clean points of frequent contact.
  • Stores must observe appropriate social distancing policies, including a marked “Social Distancing Line,” beginning six feet away from all checkout counters.
  • Stores must close all self-serve food stations.
  • Store employees who are ill must stay home, and stores must accommodate employees who fall in the high-risk category with alternative assignments to limit exposure.

MassHousing to provide $5 Million to the Department of Housing and Economic Development (DHCD) for COVID19 Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) fund. 

Read Additional DHCD Guidance:

Notices and guidance regarding federal and state rental assistance programs:

Department of Banks issues Guidance Regarding Mortgage Loan Borrowers

  • Postpones foreclosures for 60 days
  • Forbeares mortgage payments for 60 or more days from their due dates
  • Waives late-payment fees and any online payment fees for a period of 60 days
  • Requires lenders to refrain from reporting late payments to credit rating agencies for 60 days
  • Offers borrowers an additional 60-day grace period to complete trial loan modifications, and ensures that late payments during the COVID-19 pandemic do not affect their ability to obtain permanent loan modifications
  • Ensures that borrowers do not experience a disruption of service if the mortgage servicer closes its office, including making available other avenues for borrowers to continue to manage their accounts and to make inquiries
  • Reaches out to borrowers to explain the above-listed assistance being offered.

Health Connector Update 

One-page information document for people who have recently been separated from work or lost job-based health coverage on how to get health coverage through the Health Connector, where many people moving onto unemployment may qualify for free or low-cost coverage.

Boston

McChrystal Group helping Boston review and analyze emergency plans.

The Boston Resiliency Fund to provide food and supplies to students and families and support to healthcare workers/first responders surpassed its original $20M goal and is still accepting donations. Grants are being made to organizations including:

Boston Public School students have been supplied with 18,000 Chromebooks for remote learning with more on the way.

Boston Ban on Plastic Bags Temporarily Lifted to curb spread of disease and minimize time in stores.

27 Emergency Childcare Centers open in Boston with contact information provided on the City’s website for each, as well as further information on how to access more in MA through the state website.

Transportation Adjustments

  • Discounted parking rates for medical staff.
  • Greater Boston communities providing 30-day free Blue Bike pass for hospital staff and emergency personnel.
  • Commuter Rail schedule adjustment to help transport healthcare workers to 7AM shifts
  • City of Boston Multilingual Text Servicefor COVID updates

 

March 24, 20202

Governor Files HD4974, An Act to further address challenges faced by municipalities, school districts and state authorities resulting from COVID-19

Full Bill Details Include:

  • Establishments licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption may sell wine and beer by take-out and delivery, provided that the wine or beer is sold in the original sealed container, in the same transaction as a purchase of food and is under certain volume limitations.
  • Local permitting process modifications during the state of emergency.
  • Municipalities may waive late-payment penalties for 4th quarter tax bills, which are due May 1. In addition, municipalities can change their tax bill due date from April 1 to June 1.
  • Municipalities may extend the deadline for property tax exemptions and deferrals from current statutory deadline of April 1 to June 1.
  • The cap on hours and compensation for retired employees collecting a pension are suspended during the state of emergency, allowing municipalities to tap qualified workers.
  • Regional School Districts may suspend required vote on their FY2021 budget and allowing the DESE to certify an amount for the operation of the district until a budget can be adopted.
  • The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may modify or waive the required competency determination for high school graduation. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education may also modify or waive the MCAS testing requirement.
  • The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education may extend the April 1, 2020 deadline for each district to submit its first 3-year plan as per last year’s Student Opportunity Act.
  • E-signatures are permitted for search warrants and criminal complaints.
  • The dates for MBTA to approve a preliminary budget and submit a final budget are extended to align with the state budget process.

Governor Baker announced that his administration will soon be issuing guidance on safe practices for construction work in Massachusetts. The governor also unveiled a new statewide text alert system. Text: COVIDMA to 888777 to receive updates on COVID matters and policies.

Department of Public Health “Stay At Home” Advisory

The first part is directed to those Massachusetts residents who are 70 years and older and those with underlying health conditions to strongly advise them to stay-at-home except for essential trips for food, medicine, and focused time for exercise and fresh air. The second part is directed to the common population.

Department of Insurance Bulletin – Flexibility in the Issuance and Administration of Insurance During COVID-19.

“With restrictions on certain types of activities, the Division is aware of growing stress for policyholders as businesses reduce or suspend operations and how this may impact the payment of all expenses, including premium payment. During this period, the Division believes that carriers should be looking for all ways to be flexible in collecting premiums and find ways to address what the Division hopes will be a short-term disruption in the business environment.”

 Department of Unemployment Virtual Town Halls – To aid applicants in submitting UI claims over the phone or online. This week’s schedule is as follows:

  • Wednesday March 25 at 9 am
  • Thursday March 26 at 11:10 am NOTE UPDATED TIME
  • Friday March 27 at 9 am
  • Saturday March 28 at 12:00 pm – Spanish Town Hall

March 23, 20202

Governor Baker Orders Non COVID-19 Essential Businesses to Close

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public as of Tuesday, March 24th at noon until Tuesday, April 7th at noon. These businesses are encouraged to continue operations remotely.

The Baker-Polito Administration issued a list of designated businesses and other organizations that provide essential services and workforces related to COVID-19 that shall continue to operate brick and mortar facilities during this two-week time period. This list is based on federal guidance and amended to reflect the needs of Massachusetts’ unique economy. While these businesses are designated as essential, they are urged to follow social distancing protocols for workers in accordance with guidance from the Department of Public Health.

Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order.

Restaurants, bars, and other establishments that sell food and beverage products to the public are encouraged to continue to offer food for take-out and by delivery if they follow the social distancing protocols set forth in Department of Public Health guidance. On-premises consumption of food or drink is prohibited.

Due to evolving spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, Governor Baker has directed the Department of Public Health to issue a stay at home advisory outlining self-isolation and social distancing protocols. Residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities during this two-week time period.  Residents over 70 years of age or with underlying health conditions, who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19, should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

The Baker-Polito Administration does not believe Massachusetts residents can be confined to their homes and does not support home confinement for public health reasons.

The Baker-Polito Administration Order also limits gatherings to 10 people during the state of emergency, a reduction from the 25 person limit established in an earlier order.

This includes community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, and any similar event or activity that brings together more than 10 persons in any confined indoor or outdoor space. The order does not prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people in an outdoor space, like a park or athletic field.

Click here for the full list of categories of “COVID-19 Essential Services”

Click here for a copy of the Emergency Order

Click here for a copy of the Guidance of Assemblages

Categories of COVID-19 Essential Services: 

  • Health Care & Public Health
  • Law Enforcement, Public Safety & First Responders
  • Food & Agriculture
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Transportation
  • Energy
  • Water & Wastewater
  • Public Works
  • Communications and Information Technology
  • Financial Services
  • Defense Industry Base
  • Chemical Manufacturing & Hazardous Materials
  • Other Designated Community Based Essential Function & Government Operations
  • News Media

Many AIM members have reached out to us directly to ensure that they are able to remain in operation during the national crisis and have expressed concerns regarding inconsistent or different orders through municipalities.  Many businesses are direct contractors, sub-contractors or critical members of the supply chain for addressing COVID-19 or are essential businesses.  In fact, many businesses have a “Special Responsibility,” under the Guidelines for America to implement and maintain strategies to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus and to help ensure continuity of Essential Critical Infrastructure Sectors, as defined by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Next Steps & Business Recommendations:

  1. Determine whether you are listed as an “essential business.”
  2. If you are not covered, click here to request essential business status or contact biz@mass.gov 
  3. Should you need further assistance or have questions, please contact the AIM hotline at 800-470-6277.
  4. Follow further guidelines and clarifications issued through EOHED website.

Postponement of Special Elections

AIM Testimony in support of the postponement of March special elections and S.2608 to potpone municipal elections and increase voting options in response to COVID19. Bill was enacted by both branches and laid before the governor.

Letter to Congress

Council of State Chambers Letter, supported by AIM, urging Congress to help businesses improve liquidity, expand and streamline loan programs, and create credit facilities to provide loans to those negatively impacted by COVID-19. Support additional temporary benefits, timeframe of legislation should match social distancing guidelines of 8-12 weeks.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, or “Phase 3”

Senate negotiations fell apart. The Senate was supposed to have its first procedural vote on the CARES Act (a motion to proceed) Monday afternoon at 3 pm, but it failed with a 47-47 vote. It is now unlikely that an enacted stimulus will emerge before the latter half of this week. The bill is likely to be bigger than what the Senate has drafted so far – approaching $2 trillion. Speaker Pelosi has announced that the House will introduce its own version of the stimulus.

In conjunction with the one-time rebate checks and paycheck protection, the Senate economic relief package provides much-needed support for American workers by making a significant investment – $250 billion – to expand unemployment benefits.

The bill will ensure that self-employed and independent contractors like Uber drivers and gig workers are able to receive unemployment. It also allows individuals to remain connected to employment by extending eligibility to those who are employed but unable to work due to coronavirus.

The bill would add $600 per week on top of what a state normally pays and provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits. There are also provisions to support state and local governments and non-profits so they can pay unemployment to their employees. Unemployment provisions go through the end of 2020, so they aren’t permanent.

This funding, plus the $500 million in administrative funds Congress provided to state agencies in the first stimulus package, will make a tremendous difference to help keep workers afloat through this crisis and make sure no American worker falls through the cracks:

  • Helps those not eligible for regular unemployment insurance: Creates a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to help those not traditionally eligible for UI, including self-employed, independent contractors, and those who are unable to work as a result of the coronavirus public health emergency.
  • Pays 50 percent of the unemployment insurance costs incurred by state, local and tribal governments and non-profit organizations, not part of the UI system.
  • Provides an additional payment to each recipient – Provides additional $600/week payment to each UI or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance recipient for 3 months.
  • Supports states who pay individuals quickly – Provides funding for the first week of unemployment for states to waive the traditional “waiting week” before benefits begin.
  • Allows for additional weeks of unemployment benefits when needed – Provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment to help those who remain unemployed after weeks of state unemployment are no longer available.
  • Assists states in meeting critical staffing needs to get benefits out quickly – Provides states with temporary, limited flexibility to hire temporary staff or re-hire former staff to quickly process unemployment claims.
  • Helps states maintain and establish programs to prevent layoffs during a downturn. Provides funding to states to help them maintain short-time compensation programs to prevent layoffs, as well as expand these work sharing programs in the future.

March 22, 20202

SBA Modifies Loan Repayment Terms

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has made an important adjustment to the terms of its Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Moving forward, EIDL loans will defer payments for the first year (twelve months) of the loan. This is a change from the initial loan structure, which allowed payment deferral for four months. SBA EIDL loans are for small businesses and private non-profits (of any size) that were previously profitable, but whose revenues have been adversely impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 (since January 31, 2020). Loans can be up to $2 million and have a long-term repayment schedule of up to 30 years. Businesses may apply for the program at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

State Hosts Unemployment Insurance Virtual Town Halls

To help with the increased demand on the unemployment system and the increased volume or your staff, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Unemployment Assistance will host virtual town hall meetings. Presenters will take all who sign up through a step-by-step process of achieving a successful unemployment claim. We will also be taking questions from claimants across the commonwealth. Applicants should file for benefits at https://www.mass.gov/unemployment-insurance-ui-online .

The first virtual town hall will be held today at 3:30pm. Sign up information for the virtual town hall is available at www.mass.gov/unemployment/townhall. A Spanish language town hall will be held on Tuesday at 9 am and additional language town halls shortly thereafter.

To further help claimants through the process of applying for benefits, the state has made web page updates that include the latest guidance for employee qualifications and additional resources like contact forms and a COVID-19 specific unemployment claim handbook.

Child-Care/Day-Care Closures

Under an executive order issued last week, Governor Baker required all early education centers and family child care providers to close, starting tomorrow, Monday March 23rd to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Early Education and Care issued emergency procedures designed to open exempt emergency child care programs to meet the needs of families of emergency personnel, medical staff, and others critical to confronting COVID-19.

The Department of Early Education and Care put procedures in place to quickly review applications for emergency programs, and to conduct expedited background record checks for teachers and staff. Starting tomorrow somee selected sites for emergency drop in services for those that must report to work and critical workers (first responders, medical including grocery store workers).  This should be utilized as a last resort.  Additional details can be found at: bit.ly/echildcare

Municipal Shelter-in-Place/Closure Orders

No shelter-in-place order in Massachusetts as of Saturday, March 21.  The governor indicated that the state is working on setting a framework allowing municipalities to make their own decisions because they know their own communities best. To that end, municipalizes may begin issuing shelter in place orders. On Saturday, Somerville’s Mayor ordered non-essential businesses to close over coronavirus boston.cbslocal.com/2020/03/21/cor… pic.twitter.com/9fKJ6vYEse

Visit the AIM COVID-19 Resource Page for Employers

March 19, 2020

The Baker Administration announced today that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Massachusetts small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19. The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available following a request received from Governor Baker on March 17, 2020. The COVID-19 Resources and Guidance for Businesses webpage includes information on this SBA declaration as well as the Small Business Recovery Loan Fund and other resources and guidance for businesses.

  • The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available in the entire state of Massachusetts; and the contiguous counties in neighboring states.
  • How does this help – Small businesses, private non-profit organizations of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises that have been financially impacted as a direct result of COVID-19 since Jan. 31, 2020, may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred. Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses.
  • The interest rate for private non-profit organizations is 2.75 percent.SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years, and are available to entities without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship.
  • Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call (800) 877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX  76155.

The Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is now open in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts small businesses can now access and apply for Economic Impact Disaster Loans at sba.gov/disaster.

  • Small Business Administration, SCORE, and Women Business Centers will be providing workshops to answer questions and to help small businesses with the loan application process.

The Baker Administration announced administrative tax relief measures for small local businesses that have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, especially in the restaurant and hospitality sectors.

This tax relief includes postponing the collection of regular sales tax, meals tax, and room occupancy taxes that would be due in March, April and May. They will instead be due on June 20. Additionally, all penalties and interest that would otherwise apply will be waived.

  • Businesses that paid less than $150,000 in regular sales plus meals taxes in the year ending February 29, 2020 will be eligible for relief for sales and meals taxes, and business that paid less than $150,000 in room occupancy taxes in the year ending February 29, 2020 will be eligible for relief with respect to room occupancy taxes.
  • The Department of Revenue is currently drafting emergency regulations to implement these administrative relief measures, and they are expected to be finalized before Friday, March 20, 2020.

Governor Activates National Guard

Governor Charlie Baker today activated the Massachusetts National Guard to support the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, representing a significant addition of supply chain resources available to the Commonwealth and its residents. 

Governor Baker’s order authorizes activation of up to 2,000 National Guard members across the Commonwealth, who will be tasked with supporting requests from state agencies for equipment, logistics, warehousing, and related duties. Local cities, towns, and state agencies should submit requests for support through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

AIM sent testimony to Joint Committee on Municipalities on H4572 – An Act to Address Challenges in Town Governance resulting from COVID-19 supporting the bill, which mostly included procedural changes to allow town governments to operate even if they cannot hold their town meetings and enact their budgets by June 30.

AIM also cautioned the legislature that if further legislation is enacted that it not have unintended consequences for critical industries in Massachusetts, including groceries, pharmacies, food processing and delivery, medical equipment, IT, and Transportation Network Companies, as these industries provide vital services, even in a pandemic.

President Signs Economic Relief Bill

Just hours after the Senate voted to approve the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” on Wednesday afternoon the president signed it into law. The measure is the second package that Congress has passed amid growing concerns about the widespread coronavirus outbreak in the United States that has already bludgeoned the economy.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Secretary is working with Congress for “phase three” stimulus package today, which could include $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, $150 billion for other distressed sectors of the economy, two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18, and the creation of a small business interruption loan program. It is unclear if this “phase three” package would include a payroll tax cut.

According to Speaker Pelosi, “solutions include expanding eligibility for Unemployment Insurance which will expedite financial relief for more people.  In terms of helping small businesses, solutions include funds to ensure that workers continue to be paid.  Refundable tax credits including the EITC and the child tax credit continue to be priorities as Members discuss other cash payments in the days ahead.”

Below is a summary of what we believe most employers in Massachusetts need to know the applicable sections of the phase 2 Bill, H.R. 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided by Bloomberg. For a section by section summary of the entire bill, go to:

https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/Families%20First%20Summary%20FINAL.pdf  

Coronavirus Emergency Leave

The agreement would create an emergency paid leave program to directly respond to the coronavirus. Private sector employers with fewer than 500 workers and government entities would have to provide as many as 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employees who have to provide care for child younger than 18 whose school or day care has closed because of coronavirus.

The first 14 days of leave could be unpaid, though a worker could choose to use accrued vacation days, personal leave, or other available paid leave for unpaid time off. Following the 14-day period, workers would receive a benefit from their employers that will be at least two-thirds of their normal pay rate.

The measure also would modify the FMLA to allow individuals to use unpaid leave if they are diagnosed with the virus, caring for a family member, or caring for a child whose school or day care has closed because of a public health emergency through Dec. 31, 2020.

The Labor Department would be authorized to issue regulations to:

  • Exclude certain health-care providers and emergency responders from paid leave benefits.
  • Exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the paid leave requirements.

Workers under a multi-employer collective bargaining agreement and whose employers pay into a pension plan would have access to paid leave.

Emergency Sick Leave

Private sector employers with fewer than 500 workers and government entities would have to provide employees with paid sick time off to:

  • Self-quarantine.
  • Obtain a medical diagnosis or care for coronavirus.
  • Provide care for a family member who has been diagnosed or is in quarantine or for a child whose school or day care has closed due to coronavirus.

Full-time employees would receive 80 hours of sick leave under the new emergency leave program and part-time workers would be granted time off that’s equivalent to their scheduled or normal work hours in a two-week period. Paid sick time wouldn’t carry over from year to year.

Workers would have to be paid at least their normal wage or the federal, state, or local minimum wage, whichever is greater. They would be paid, however, at two-thirds of their regular earning for providing caregiving to a family member.

Employers with similar existing paid leave policies would be required to provide workers with the emergency paid sick time. An employer couldn’t require a worker to use any other available paid leave before using the sick time.

Employers would be prohibited from:

  • Requiring a worker to find a replacement to cover their hours during time off.
  • Discharging or discriminating against workers for requesting paid sick leave or filing a complaint against the employer.

An employer could be subject to civil penalties for a violation of paid sick leave requirements.

Workers under a multiemployer collective bargaining agreement and whose employers pay into a pension plan would have access to paid emergency leave.

Employer Tax Credits

The measure would provide payroll tax credits to employers to cover wages paid to employees while they are taking time off under the bill’s sick leave and family leave programs.

The payroll tax, which funds Social Security, is a 6.2% levy on wages imposed on both employers and employees. Employees’ share wouldn’t be affected by the bill.

The sick leave credit for each employee would be for wages of as much as $511 per day while the employee is receiving paid sick leave to care for themselves, or $200 if the sick leave is to care for a family member or child if their school is closed. The limit would be the excess of 10 days over the aggregate number of days taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters.

The family leave credit for each employee would be for wages of as much as $200 per day while the employee is receiving paid leave, or an aggregate of $10,000.

The credit would be refundable if it exceeded the amount the employer owed in payroll tax.

Employers couldn’t receive the credit if they’re also receiving a credit for paid family and medical leave established by the 2017 tax overhaul (Public Law 115-97). They would have to include the credit in their gross income.

State and local governments couldn’t receive the credit. The credit would be in effect for wages through the end of 2020. The Treasury Department would have to issue regulations or guidance to ensure employers don’t manipulate the credit, to minimize compliance and record-keeping burdens, to waive penalties for underpayments in anticipation of the credit, and to establish a process to recapture credits when there’s an adjustment.

The measure would authorize the transfer of amounts equal to the credit, as well as lost revenue from wages that are exempt from payroll tax, to the Social Security and disability insurance trust funds from the general fund.

Self-Employed Tax Credit

The measure would provide a similar refundable credit against self-employment tax. It would cover 100 percent of self-employed individuals’ sick-leave equivalent or 67 percent if they were taking care of a sick family member or child if their school was closed.

Their sick-leave equivalent amount would be the lesser of their average daily self-employment income, or $511 per day if caring for themselves or $200 if caring for a family member. It would be available for 10 days over the number of days taken into account in preceding years.

Self-employed individuals could receive a family leave credit for as many as 50 days for the lesser of $200 or their average daily self-employment income.

Self-employed individuals would have to submit documentation, as required by the Treasury Department. The measure would establish alternate requirements for self-employed individuals who also receive sick-leave pay from an employer. It would also establish rules for the credit to be provided in U.S. territories.

Unemployment Insurance

Emergency Transfers: The measure would provide as much as $1 billion for emergency transfers to states in fiscal 2020 to process and pay unemployment benefits.

Each state would receive a proportional amount based on the share of federal unemployment taxes paid by its employers.

States would receive half of their allocation within 60 days of the bill’s enactment if they certify that they meet certain requirements, such as ensuring that workers can apply for benefits online or by phone.

States would receive the remaining funds if their unemployment claims increased by at least 10% over the same quarter in the previous year. They would have to waive certain eligibility rules for claimants and charges for employers affected by Covid-19.

States could modify certain unemployment policies, including rules related to job searches and initial payment waiting periods, on an emergency temporary basis to address the effects of Covid-19.

The Labor Department announced guidance March 12 to clarify that states can make other changes to their unemployment policies to cover affected workers. For instance, current law allows states to pay benefits when workers are quarantined, or when they leave their jobs due to a risk of exposure or to care for a family member, the department said.

Extended Benefits

Eligible laid-off workers can receive regular unemployment benefits for as long as 26 weeks in most states. After exhausting those benefits, individuals in states with rising unemployment can qualify for an additional 13 weeks of benefits — or 20 weeks in some states — through the Extended Benefits (EB) program. The bill would waive a state matching requirement and provide full federal funding for the EB program for the rest of 2020. To qualify, states would need to experience a 10 percent spike in unemployment claims over the past year and qualify for a full emergency funding transfer under the measure.

 

 

 

 

Interest-Free Loans

 

The bill would waive interest payments that states owe for the rest of 2020 on federal advances to their unemployment accounts.

March 18, 2020

State Approved for Business Loans

The Baker-Polito Administration announced yesterday that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Massachusetts small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available following a request received from Governor Charlie Baker on March 17, 2020. SBA assistance will be made available in the entire state of Massachusetts; and the contiguous counties in neighboring states.

Baker Unemployment Bill Made Law

The Massachusetts House and Senate enacted legislation the governor presented earlier this week to make the state unemployment insurance (UI) benefit more accessible to individuals affected by COVID-19. Senate Bill 2599 waives the typical one-week waiting period between the submittal of an application and the commencement of weekly benefits for Massachusetts employees who are separated from work due to the outbreak of COVID-19, or as a result of the state of emergency declared by Governor Baker on March 10, 2020. Such individuals will now be able to access their benefits more quickly. The final bill has been signed by the Governor as Chapter 40 of the Acts of 2020.

Business Leaders Issue Unity Statement

AIM President John Regan was among several prominent business leaders to issue a statement yesterday saying that “we have been encouraged to see business leaders from across the Commonwealth and the country step up to take care of their employees, and lift up their broader communities.”

Child-care Operations Set to Close March 23rd

Early education centers and family child-care providers will close beginning Monday, March 23. Emergency child-care programs, regulated and overseen by the Department of Early Education and Care will be exempt to provide care for children of medical professionals, emergency personnel and other persons critical to mitigating the effects of COVID-19. To access the full order please see the following: Early Education and Care Order.

Senate Passes Economic Relief Bill

The US Senate, in a vote of 90-8, approved the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” on Wednesday. The measure, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates will cost $104 billion, is the second package that Congress has passed amid growing concerns about the widespread coronavirus outbreak in the United States that has already bludgeoned the economy. The bill passed by the Senate grants paid sick leave to hourly employees and expands unemployment insurance (UI).

Meanwhile, Republican senators are expected to begin negotiations with Democrats on a trillion-dollar “phase three” stimulus package as early as Wednesday night, which could include $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, $150 billion for other distressed sectors of the economy, two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18, and the creation of a small business interruption loan program. It is unclear if this “phase three” package would include a payroll tax cut. Negotiations are ongoing.

March 17, 2020

Governor Baker announced several additional initiatives on Tuesday

Emergency money for boards of health and Expedited contracts for municipalities

  • $5 million going out today to 14 of the largest municipalities and 15 local public health districts
  • Boston to expects $250,000
  • Bigger cities will get $50,000 to $250,000 each, depending on need.

Department of Public Health emergency orders for licensing to allow health-care professionals to work in other hospital settings and allow out-of-state and retired doctors to get licenses; expedite licensing for RN’s and respiratory specialists

Telehealth and other healthcare mandates

Adjusting ambulance staffing standards – presumably for rural towns that depend on voluntary services.

Small Business Administration loans – The governor has asked the SBA to make a declaration of economic injury in the Commonwealth to meet certain federal funding guidelines.

Unemployment legislation still pending. still pending in legislature. Proposed regulations to relax current claim requirements and legislation to suspend one-week wait period on new claims.

No on-premise food consumption for next three weeks

Lab testing – The focus is on increasing testing capacity with commercial entities and existing labs. The commonwealth could analyze 2,500 daily tests, but is hindered by the amount actual testing kits. State government is working on establishing an agreement with Broad Institute in Cambridge.

Closures – “I believe that people should not engage in nonessential activities; we defined that…but expect the local board of health to enforce that.”

Retail establishments to use best judgement. Grocery stores and pharmacies need to stay open.

Layoffs – “Tremendous amount of activity.” Governor expects a huge spike in Department of Unemployment Assistance activity.

Small-Business Loans

Governor Charlie Baker announced the following measures on March 16:

  • A $10 million small-business loan fun (similar to snow emergency and recent gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley). The fund, which will also include non-profits, is set up through the Massachusetts Capital Growth Corporation. www.empoweringsmallbusiness.org.
  • The MBTA has made schedule changes www.mbta.com/coronavirus
  • Public access to State House will be shut down as of close of business and only “invited guests” allowed.

AIM’s Most Recent Blogs/Resources:

  • AIM Webinar: Webinar: Facts for Employers About COVID-19; Thursday, March 19 | Noon – 1:30 pm REGISTER HERE
  • Government Actions to date and See AIM HR Solutions Employer Guide here.
  • Given the increased concern and circumstances around COVID-19, and in response to Governor Baker’s recommendations to employers, AIM’s John Regan, President & CEO communicated to members that that the association has made some decisions regarding upcoming AIM programs, events and meetings. For instance, the March 20 AIM Executive Forum with Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta has been cancelled. The decision is consistent with Governor Charlie Baker’s recommendations to employers pertaining to COVID-19.

March 16, 2020

Federal Actions

  • US House Legislation – Impacting tax practitioners, HR and operations.  Legislation changes paid sick days, family leave and other employer related provisions.  Of note, the Senate still needs to debate and vote on this – Today (Monday) and this upcoming week will be important to monitor as this legislation moves towards to the President’s desk for his consideration and signature.  AIM Government Affairs teams have been in constant communication with members of the US House and Senate regarding the progress of this legislation.  AIM member audit and law firms have produced great summaries of this legislation. (Text Of Legislation) Summary & Analysis by PWC, Deloitte, FisherPhillips. (If you have analysis to share please forward for future updates) and Littler FAQ, Guide for Business Emergency Preparedness and FoleyHoag.

State Actions

Early morning Sunday, Massachusetts Governor appeared on TV Sunday regarding next steps (Video).  Later on Sunday at a 6pm press conference, Governor Baker issued an order to close all Mass. schools, announced restaurant restrictions, banned gatherings over 25 people in addition to ordering all non-essential state employees to work from home.

Public Health

There is NO shelter in place order.  The order regarding closures prohibiting gatherings over 25 or more, includes faith based activities, fitness centers, private clubs or theaters.  Restaurants, bar may NOT allow people to eat inside on premises. They can allow takeout and delivery only, effective Tuesday, March 17.  Grocery stores and pharmacies are exempt. (See below for additional details). Social distancing has been recommended for any activities outside home, and maintaining a six-foot distance from others. It was also recommended that colleges and universities shift to remote learning.

Massachusetts UI Legislation

On Sunday, Governor Baker announced that he will be filing unemployment insurance related legislation in part will relaxing UI claims process and will waive 1 week waiting period among other emergency regs to be filed to address COVID 19 claims tomorrow. AIM’s Government Affairs team has remained in contact with the administration and legislature.  We will provide specific updates once we have them. In addition to recent actions by legislative leaders regarding events and limiting staff at the State House, see also Senate President Karen Spilka’s Resource Center and most recent public statement by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.  If you have legislative issues and have questions on how to navigate the legislature please contact us.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

The state has started a three week suspension of school operations for educational purposes at all public and private elementary and secondary schools effective Tuesday, and through April 7.  Extended care for breakfast will remain in place to students can access meals in addition to lunch.

Telehealth

All commercial health insurance carrier were ordered to allow providers to deliver services via telehealth to help people avoid trips to medical offices.

Hospitals

Massachusetts hospitals have been ordered to postpone elective surgeries to ensure availability of medical workers and hospital space to deal with COVID-19.

Nursing Homes – Governor issued new restriction on visitations etc.

RMV

Registry of Motor Vehicles is extending renewal timelines for certain credentials to reduce foot traffic at RMV service centers.

Command Center

The Baker-Polito Administration today announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Response Command Center. Governor Charlie Baker has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to lead this cross-secretariat response to the outbreak of COVID-19

Other Actions

The Governor will be filing legislation tomorrow regarding open meeting laws, municipal actions regarding the timing and completion of local budgets and moving the official date of the marathon.

For the Latest Updates

See DPH and Mass211 website for updates that will be helpful and are translated in multiple language to help your particular workforce. Also see Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

Boston Businesses

Mayor Walsh announced several items on Sunday impacting businesses including a City State of Emergency.  In particular, announced the closure of certain venues particularly bars, clubs and certain restaurants.  (Order impacting restaurants, Bars and Clubs in Boston) (Additional City of Boston Details) (Boston Globe) (Summary)

AIM Hotline

Many AIM members have utilized the hotline over the past week and one questions has been related to layoffs and healthcare impacts.  As employers evaluate options regarding operations including unemployment insurance and healthcare, know the Massachusetts Health Connector has initiated a special open enrollment period starting March 12 – April 25.  Should AIM members have questions, AIM encourages you to contact the AIM hotline to review your options and consider best practices.

Other Resources for Employers and Employees

    1. CDC: Family Emergency Preparedness Checklist
    2. See DPH and Mass211 website for updates that will be helpful and are translated in multiple language to help your particular workforce.
    3. Also see Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

President Declares a National Emergency

President Trump today declared a national emergency, a move that will give him authority to use $40 billion allocated by Congress for disaster relief to address the COVID-19 crisis. Mr. Trump invoked the Stafford Act, a law that empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster response and aid state and local governments.

$15 million State Supplemental Budget

The Massachusetts House and Senate passed a $15 million supplemental budget bill (H 4561) that creates a “reserve to support the commonwealth’s monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts against the 2019 novel coronavirus by the department of public health, regional and local boards of health and other public instrumentalities. The bill doesn’t offer direct instructions as to how the money is to be used, but Gov. Charlie Baker said he anticipates a large portion of the money will be directed into communities to fund first responders and local boards of health.

$8.3 Billion Federal Funding Response

  • Small Business Loans
  • States to receive a minimum of $4 million
  • $826 million to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – for the development of vaccines, treatments, and tests.
  • $61 million to FDA to expedite reviews and cover manufacturing disruptions from epicenters such as China.
  • Includes language empowering the US Department of Health and Human Services to ensure vaccines, drugs or tests are “affordable in the commercial market.”

Additional Federal Bill (In Progress)

  • Negotiations continue at this hour between Congress and the White House.

Unemployment Insurance Flexibility

In a major development for companies concerned about lost income for their employees if they shut down or lay off employees due to Covid-19, the U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday a new guidance outlining flexibilities that states will have in administering their unemployment insurance (UI) programs to assist employees affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance is available to read here.

Under the guidance, federal law permits significant flexibility for states to interpret or amend their laws to provide UI benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.

Under the guidance, states will have greater assurance about the circumstances in which they are authorized to extend unemployment insurance benefits to Americans whose employment has been disrupted by coronavirus.

An individual receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave is still receiving pay and is not  “unemployed,” so the individual is ineligible for unemployment insurance. The Department’s Employment and Training Administration will continue to assist any states seeking assistance in implementing these flexibilities.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Baker-Polito Administration are working closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to activate the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program which would provide assistance to eligible businesses and non-profits impacted by COVID-19.

The first step in this process is to meet a minimum threshold of affected businesses within Massachusetts. To do this, affected small businesses and non-profits should download, complete, and submit the SBA EIDL Worksheet and Instructions to expedite activation of the EIDL program.

Completed forms may be submitted by email to Disaster.Recovery@mass.gov or by fax to (508) 820-1401. If submitting by fax, please include an email address.

Governor Bans Gatherings of 250 People or More

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order prohibiting most gatherings of over 250 people in an effort to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. The order includes, but is not limited, to the following events: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals, and any similar event or activity that brings together 250 or more persons in a single room or single space at the same time in a venue such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theatre, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.

Read AIM’s Employers’ Guide to COVID-19

Register for our March 19 webinar: COVID FAQs for Employers

Questions about managing COVID-19? AIM members may call the Employer Hotline at 1.800.470.6277.

Need to become an AIM member? View our Membership page.

Please contact Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org, if you have any questions regarding legislative actions or want to receive electronic updates regarding state and federal legislative responses to COVID-19. You can also update your AIM communications preferences and sign up for HR updates here – click here to opt-in or out.

The information above was compiled by AIM staff members John Regan, Brooke Thomson, Brad MacDougall, Tom Jones and Christopher Geehern.