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.

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.



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