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.

May 23, 2020

Unemployment Surges

State House News Service: The statewide unemployment rate surged to 15.1 percent in April as the COVID-19 pandemic and the public shutdowns it prompted have inflicted what Gov. Charlie Baker described Thursday as an “economic calamity.”

Massachusetts labor officials announced Friday that the state lost 623,000 jobs in April, the first full month during which non-essential businesses were ordered to close and most residents were urged to stay at home whenever possible.

From March to April, the unemployment rate increased 12.3 percentage points to 15.1 percent, the highest level on record since at least 1976. In fact, the increase alone surpassed any month’s overall rate over the past four and a half decades.

The state appears to be harder hit than the country as a whole. In April, the national unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent. Every private-sector industry in Massachusetts lost jobs except information, with the largest declines occurring in leisure and hospitality, other services, construction, and trade, transportation, and utilities.

Workers accounting for nearly one-third of the Massachusetts labor force have filed initial unemployment claims since March 15, according to previous state data released late Thursday.

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that another 38,081 workers submitted new applications for traditional unemployment insurance between May 10 and May 16. The office also reported 115,952 more claims last week for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance created by Congress to extend benefits to previously ineligible individuals, such as gig workers and the self-employed.

Since March 15, the two programs have seen a combined 1.23 million initial claims in Massachusetts. If state officials find each claim to be valid, that would represent 32.9 percent of the labor force in March. Massachusetts is outstripping the national trend.

Globe Coverage

Massachusetts is Processing Extended Unemployment Claims; Here’s How to Apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

MassLive

Collection Bill Stays in Legislature as UI Bill Moves to Baker

State House News Service: With two COVID-19 bills on the Legislature’s plate Thursday, only one – dealing with the unemployment insurance system – traversed the final mile to the governor’s desk before both chambers broke for Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. Charlie Baker now has 10 days to act on a package of unemployment insurance relief that includes provisions aimed at helping employers and claimants during the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a record surge in jobless claims.

The subject of several amendments since April, the bill (S 2618) includes “a number of important tools,” Sen. Bruce Tarr said, “to help not only the integrity of the unemployment insurance system but also to help those who are dependent upon it, and for whom so many have become dependent as a result.”

Included is an expansion of the maximum allowable claims period from 26 weeks to 30 weeks for any week exceeding 100,000 claims; a provision exempting employers’ experience ratings from impacts of COVID-19 and the current state of emergency; and the lifting of a cap on dependency benefits which currently stands at 50 percent, Tarr said.

The House and Senate have bounced versions of the COVID-19 data reporting bill (H 4672) back and forth for weeks and Thursday’s session showed no public signs of progress. The bill would ramp up daily COVID-19 data reporting from the Department of Public Health for facilities like long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living residences. A new draft approved by the Senate Monday would extend the requirements to the state’s two soldiers’ homes. Both branches are back in session Tuesday morning.

Budget Timeline Hinges on Aid Package 

MassLive Coverage:Legislators aren’t sure what the proposal will look like without a clear answer on whether Congress will approve $1 trillion in aid to states and municipalities, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told business leaders Thursday afternoon.

“There is talk that help from Washington may be on its way, but that picture is also uncertain due to the political opposition in some quarters against helping states,” DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, said during the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Forum.

“Without more concrete information, it’s simply not possible to immediately provide sound details about the budget or our approach.”

DeLeo went on to suggest the Legislature might need to pass a temporary budget to cover costs in July, the first month of fiscal 2021, while lawmakers crunch the latest numbers and draft a budget that meets the needs of the states during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaker Flags Child Care, Restaurants, Liability as Priorities 

State House News Service:With his agenda abruptly upended in March by the arrival of the coronavirus, House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Thursday outlined in a speech to business leaders steps the House would take to refocus lawmakers on aiding the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The speaker’s goals include finding ways to help child-care centers stay afloat and navigate the new health and safety protocols when they eventually reopen, and coming to the aid of restaurants that are requesting permission to sell alcohol outdoors and get a break from interest on late meals tax payments.

Chamber Head: Buy Local to Help Small Business

State House News Service: One long-term after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic disruption could be a heightened interest in shopping locally, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce head Tim Murray suggested Thursday.

But first, those locally owned small shops and other businesses need to survive a period of prolonged closures. Many, Murray said, face a “long slog” to recovery.

Final MBTA Budget Boosts Spending 7 Percent

State House News:MBTA Board gave final approval Thursday to a $2.29 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, putting in place a plan to use federal funds to help substantially increase spending while officials gauge the the COVID-19 pandemic’s lasting impacts.

Members voted 4-0 during a virtual meeting in favor of the budget, which increases spending by about 7 percent over the $2.14 billion fiscal year 2020 budget but alters plans for several initiatives such as scaling back hiring on bus expansion to grapple with a sharp decline in revenue.

Budget-writers expect that the MBTA will bring in only 26 percent as much fare revenue as they anticipated in a draft spending plan assembled before the pandemic hit, contributing to a $716 million shortfall from expectations. They also project that ridership will not begin to rebound substantially from its record lows until December or January.

May 22, 2020

Legislature Sends Unemployment Bill to Governor 

S.2618 – An Act providing additional support to those affected by the novel coronavirus through the unemployment insurance system was enacted by both branches yesterday and sent to the governor for his signature.  

Summary:

  • Amends various provisions of GL 151A(Unemployment Insurance), by prohibiting the reduction of an applicant’s benefit rate from 30 times to 26 times in a benefit year in which initial applications in any week exceeds 100,000, unless the federal government has authorized a period of extended benefits, in which case the total benefits shall remain at 26 times the benefit rate until the federal extended benefits have been exhausted;
  • Removes language that caps the weekly benefit for unemployed persons with dependent children at 50 percent of the individual’s weekly benefit rate, effective 540 days after the expiration of the state of emergency;
  • Prohibits applying unemployment claims resulting from COVID-19 to the account of any employer or in calculating their experience rate, in anticipation of federal funding;
  • Grants non-profits a 120-day extension on their next unemployment contribution payment;
  • Repeals the provisions related to employer contributions one year after this act’s effective date, or 180 days after the end of the state of emergency, whichever is later.

AIM has supported the legislation since it was introduced, and there has been significant outreach from us to the Legislature asking for its advance.

AIM testimony in support of UI language enacted today through S.2618 

Additional 2.5 Million Americans File Unemployment Claims 

Boston Globe Coverage

Department of Labor Press Release

Governor Urges Business to Proceed with Caution 

State House News: Gov. Charlie Baker got back in front of the cameras on Wednesday, a day when the number of COVID-19 cases statewide jumped up by 1,045 and the state reported another 128 deaths from the respiratory disease.

It’s was only the third day of the state’s Phase I reopening, and still the governor and other public officials are urging business to take it slow.

Massachusetts House Approves Borrowing Bill

State House News: The House passed a $1.73 billion borrowing bill (H 4708) to finance information technology projects and equipment, including remote learning efforts that have become essential during the health crisis.

Taking up the first piece of legislation under remote voting rules that attracted dozens of amendments -189 to be exact – the House took care of them by consolidating the proposals into one giant amendment requiring just one vote to add over $100 million in borrowing authorizations to the bill.

UMass President Marty Meehan also announced Wednesday that he would ask his board of trustees to freeze tuition next year, while other colleges around the state are thinking through the challenges of a new semester in the fall.

Mask Mandate May Lead to Conflict on the MBTA

State House News: Capping ridership on buses and trains is not on the table as the MBTA prepares for gradual resumption of public activity, nor is denying service to system users who do not cover their faces despite an executive order urging mask usage, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Wednesday.

During a wide-ranging interview with WBUR’s “Radio Boston,” Poftak said leaders at the agency are exploring ways to manage demand but hinted that designating maskless-only vehicles, strictly enforcing face-covering or distancing, and significantly increasing capacity – at least in the next few weeks – are not within reach.

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Massachusetts Implements Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

WWLP Coverage:  The Baker Administration announced yesterday that Massachusetts residents who are eligible for the federal CARES Act and qualify for having exhausted their regular unemployment compensation may now receive the new Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). The launch of this program marks the third and final benefit available for the Commonwealth through the CARES Act.

PEUC provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits to an individual who has exhausted all rights to any regular unemployment compensation and who meets other eligibility requirements of the CARES Act. PEUC will automatically begin for individuals who have been receiving regular standard unemployment benefits on an active claim and those benefits are exhausted, and those individuals do not have to take any further action.

If an individual’s standard unemployment claim has expired, he or she must file a new standard claim. If the individual is monetarily eligible on the new standard claim, regardless of the benefit rate amount, she or he will receive benefits from that new claim. Otherwise, the individual will be eligible for PEUC on the prior claim and it will be automatically implemented.

Those receiving PEUC will also receive $600 weekly through the week ending July 25, 2020, provided by the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program established by the CARES Act.

Unemployment benefits portal available here

Mariano, Wagner to Lead New House Recovery Committee

State House News: With his agenda upended in March by the arrival of the novel coronavirus, House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Thursday outlined steps the House would take to refocus lawmakers on aiding the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, including finding new ways to support child care and the restaurant industry.

The House and Senate have yet to figure out how to tackle the annual budget this year amid uncertainty over how to gauge the full extent of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some experts have predicted a drop of up to $6 billion in revenue, but DeLeo also noted the possibility of more direct federal aid.

“Without more concrete information, it’s simply not possible to immediately provide sound details about the budget or our approach. It is so much more important to operate with reliable information, than to do something for the sake of making a quick announcement,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo has asked Majority Leader Ron Mariano to chair a new Commonwealth Resilience and Recovery Special Committee. Mariano, along with Assistant Majority Leader Joseph Wagner, will coordinate across committees and with the administration to identify legislative priorities.

The speaker also said he’s asked Education Committee Chairwoman Rep. Alice Peisch to spearhead a new Early Education and Care Recovery Advisory Group focused on helping child care centers navigate new health protocols and find a financial model that will allow them to survive.

And Rep. Paul McMurty, who had been leading a group looking at ways to better promote Massachusetts restaurants, will shift gears to try to help restaurants emerge from the shutdown later this summer. DeLeo said that could include working with regulators to allow for more outdoor alcohol sales, or forgiving interest on late meals tax payments.

Massachusetts Business Groups React to Re-Opening Plan 

WBUR Coverage: While some signaled relief and thanked political leaders and the working group tasked with drawing up the 29-pagefour-phase plan, others expressed worries that businesses forced to close for two months due to the virus face potentially insurmountable problems reopening under the new rules and timeline. Others said they were concerned that the plan doesn’t offer enough detail for employers and workers.

Here’s What Health Care Will Look Like for Now

Boston Business Journal:  Massachusetts hospitals, community health centers, and doctors’ offices will resume some routine operations over the next couple weeks, but, with a host of new precautions and stipulations, they’ll look anything but normal.

Under the plan outlined by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, hospitals and community health care centers could start pediatric care, immunizations and screenings for at-risk patients on May 18. Also allowed will be some urgent elective procedures for anyone who might need it, such as removal of malignant skin lesions or orthopedic procedures to treat significant functional impairment.

But health-care systems will have to meet a number of criteria before they can move forward with an expanded reopening. Hospitals and community health centers will have to show they have adequate personal protective equipment on hand — for hospitals, that means more than 14 days worth — and procedures for workflow, cleaning and social distancing. They should also have plans for employee and patient testing.

Gig Workers Filing for Unemployment in Large Numbers

Boston Business Journal: Nearly 116,000 people in Massachusetts filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week through a special program meant to cover those ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That total is significantly higher than the 38,328 who filed for traditional benefits in the Bay State for the week ending May 16, a number that itself is huge compared with historical filings.

The special program, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), is meant to cover the self-employed, workers in the gig economy, and others not covered by the traditional program.

Panel Meets to Re-Open Restaurants, Hotels Tourism

Boston Business Journal:The administration has convened a special panel to focus on issues with re-opening restaurants, hotels and tourism businesses. The group is separate from the 17-member reopening panel that helped the administration devise the plan unveiled Monday.

The working group’s members include:

 

Boston Announces Streamlined Processes for Restaurants

Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that the Licensing Board for the City of Boston (the “Board”) has taken steps to streamline existing processes and remove outdated restrictions to help small businesses and restaurants as part of the COVID-19 reopening process.

At its voting hearing on Thursday, May 21, 2020 the Board took the following actions:

  • Voted to pass an emergency amendment to its General Rules codifying its existing administrative review of temporary extensions of licensed premise onto outdoor space using its existing One Day Amendment to Existing License Application;
  • Voted to administratively lift citywide the preexisting condition of “alcohol with food only” on outdoor space or any other similar condition that prohibits the sale and service of alcohol on outdoor space without the service of a food item;
  • The Board, Boston Transportation Department, Inspectional Services Department, Public Improvement Commission, and Public Works Department  will waive fees for the approved use of outdoor space for this program, on both public and private property, on a temporary, non-precedent setting basis.

These new protocols are part of the Walsh Administration’s ongoing work to support small businesses during this challenging time.

On Monday, the Licensing Board issued a questionnaire for businesses that will be used as the starting point for both identifying opportunities for temporary extensions onto outdoor space both on public and private property.On Thursday, Mayor Walsh announced that nearly $4 million in public and private debt-free grants have been distributed to just over 1,100 small businesses in every neighborhood across the City of Boston through the Small Business Relief Fund, including the $2 million distributed to businesses earlier this month. The businesses receiving grants represent industries most-impacted by closures, policies, or general loss of revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout every neighborhood in Boston.

Payment and ID-Check Rules Detailed for Pot Sales

State House News: Marijuana retailers will be able to take orders online and over the phone when they begin to re-open Monday, and will fulfill those orders in their parking lots or just outside the main entrance, the Cannabis Control Commission said Wednesday.

Since the pandemic hit and the governor ordered non-medical marijuana operations closed in late March, the CCC has overseen the conversion to curbside pickup at 32 medical marijuana treatment centers around the state. On Wednesday, the agency released the administrative order that will govern the new way of doing business for marijuana retailers.

“The Cannabis Control Commission, with the cooperation of licensees, municipalities, and most importantly, registered qualifying patients, has demonstrated that we are effectively able to preserve public health and safety through curbside operations and other emergency protocols,” Executive Director Shawn Collins said

Under the commission’s order, which takes effect Monday, any marijuana retailer reopening must inform the CCC ahead of time and submit to the CCC their curbside operating procedures within 48 hours of reopening, including a layout identifying the designated curbside sales area and traffic plans. The businesses must also inform local public safety and health authorities.

If a non-medical customer pays online, over the phone, or via a mobile payment point-of-sale system, the transaction will take place in the parking lot. An employee will confirm that the customer and anyone else in the vehicle is at least 21 years old before fulfilling the order.

AIM Member Highlights

Boston Medical Center is an academic medical center and as New England’s largest safety-net hospital, provides medical care for Boston’s most vulnerable patients and families. The donation will be used to continue providing emergency and medical care to these individuals, including the hospitals’ collaboration with the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide care for up to 250 homeless individuals recovering from COVID-19.
Codman Square Health Centerserves 22,000 patients through a community-focused health care and multi-service center in one of Boston’s most vulnerable communities. Will use donation to enable effective screening procedures for patients and visitors, procuring and delivering PPE to health care workers and ramping up the facility’s capacity for telephonic health care.

May 21, 2020

Boston Fed Chief Expects Double-Digit Unemployment Through 2020

Boston Globe: New England states are starting to allow shuttered businesses to reopen after two months of closures. But this is not the time to celebrate: Until the COVID-19 public health crisis is resolved, the economy will probably remain in bad shape.

That’s the word from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s chief executive, Eric Rosengren, who spoke Tuesday ― in an online presentation ― to members of the New England Council, a regional business networking and lobbying group.

Rosengren said the Boston Fed’s internal forecast now shows that the national unemployment rate is likely to remain at double-digit levels through the end of the year, after peaking at around 20 percent. (The rate was nearly 15 percent in April, up from 3.5 percent in February.)

AIM Re-Opening Letter Sent to Legislators

AIM sent a letter to members of the Massachusetts Legislature providing lawmakers with a link to AIM’s new 80-page Return to the Workplace Guide for Massachusetts Employers now available for download in the AIM web store.

“Our overall goal is for the guide to be a living document that will continue to be updated as the state’s public health data begins to trigger each of the next three phases of our economic reopening. The guide is available to employers across Massachusetts free of charge,” the letter says.

Update on Paycheck Protection Program

Please Read PPP Loan Program Inception-To-Date Data  

Attention PPP Borrowers: Before Forgiveness, your Loan Could Soon Be Sold to Someone you Don’t Know

PPP Lending in MA has slowed to a Trickle

Cambridge Announces Construction Reopening Timeline

This week, Cambridge announced a revised timeline for the reopening of construction efforts within the city. Construction activities within the City will resume in a four-phase approach:

Phase 1: Beginning May 25, the city will add site safety prep work for projects previously permitted by Inspectional Services (ISD) and Public Works (DPW). Forthcoming amendments to the City’s Temporary Emergency Construction Order issued on March 18 will modify the definition of essential construction to include work associated with COVID-19 restaurant modification needed to allow them to safely reopen;

Phase 2: Beginning on June 1, the city will add horizontal construction, city building projects, 100 percent affordable housing developments, larger buildings (over 25,000 square feet) previously permitted by ISD or DPW;

Phase 3: Tentatively beginning on June 15, the city will add all remaining existing construction previously permitted by ISD and DPW; and

Phase 4: Tentatively beginning on June 29, the city will add new permits. Permits may be submitted and pre-reviews will occur at any time, but permits will not be formally accepted or issued until this date.

Somerville Stands by Longer Construction Phase in

Two weeks ago, the City of Somerville announced an anticipated schedule for the reopening of construction sites. This week, Mayor Curtatone stood by the longer schedule despite the state’s reopening plan. The timeline is focused on critical projects thru 2021.

Phase One – May 18, 2020 Start: The first phase will focus on highly critical projects and contractors who have been working successfully under COVID-management plans on sites outside of Somerville. This phase primarily includes large municipal and utility projects.

Phase Two – June 1, 2020 Start: The second phase will focus on critical projects with contractors who have less experience with COVID-management plans. This phase primarily includes additional municipal and utility projects as well as private construction.

Phase Three – July through September 2020 Start: The third phase of construction will focus on highly critical projects currently in the design and bidding phase with anticipated construction starts in the late summer or early fall.

Phase Four – Start To-Be-Determined (may be deferred to 2021): Additional municipal projects remain under review.

To restart projects, all contractors must submit a Jobsite Hazard Analysis and prepare a Site Specific Safety Plan (example here) with a particular focus on COVID safety in accordance with state and federal guidelines on COVID spread prevention. Once safety plans are approved, projects will be allowed to restart.

Labor Chief Seeks Clues in Unemployment Data

According to the State House News, the state’s unemployment rate will be updated Friday morning, and Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said Wednesday that she will be looking at job losses from specific sectors to get a sense for how many jobs might not return post-pandemic.

During an Urban League of Eastern Mass. event focused on applying for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, Acosta said she will be paying close attention to the details of which jobs have disappeared. The state’s unemployment rate for March was 2.9 percent and some groups have estimated it will climb above 20 percent as a result of the pandemic and government-mandated business closures.

Meehan Wants UMass Tuition Freeze in 2020-2021

State House News reports that University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan will seek a tuition freeze for the tens of thousands of in-state undergraduate students in the system, hoping to help ease financial burden on families strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meehan will ask the UMass Board of Trustees to keep tuition at its current level for the 2020-2021 academic year when the board votes on student fees in June. If approved, Meehan’s proposal would affect nearly 50,000 students in Massachusetts and would be the first time in six years without a tuition increase for UMass undergraduates.

The university system is facing major financial uncertainty because of the statewide economic downturn, but Meehan said in a press release that avoiding a hike is “the right thing to do.”

“During this time of stress and uncertainty for our students and their families, we need to keep our high-quality programs and the benefits of a UMass degree as accessible and affordable as possible,” Meehan said.

US Chamber Publishes PPP Guide to Forgiveness

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce today published a new Paycheck Protection Program Guide to Forgiveness.  The document provides businesses with an easy to understand explanation of what they need to do to apply for forgiveness of their PPP loans.  Click here to download the guide.  Please note, this guide will be updated as new guidance is issued by the Dept. of the Treasury.

Baker Stresses Phase One Restart Decisions Up to Employers

State House News Service reports that Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday emphasized that there’s no need for any company or religious institution uncomfortable with the idea of reopening to come back to work right away.

“I think we want people to do whatever they’re most comfortable doing here,” Baker said.

The governor also said that cities like Boston are free to put additional restrictions on how fast offices reopen, addressing a concern levied by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh a day earlier that had frustrated some figures in the administration. Walsh said he thought the state’s guidance allowing offices to reopen on June 1 in the city at 25 percent capacity was “too much” on the first day.

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Monday released a detailed, four-phase strategy to reopen the economy after more than two months of ordering most businesses to shut their doors and to let their employees work from home, if possible.

State Details Enforcement of COVID-19 Standards

Boston.com: As Massachusetts starts a phased reopening of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, businesses that violate the state-mandated safety standards would face a series of fines before potentially being shut down, officials say.

The state has outlined four levels of enforcement for violators.

Businesses operating outside the standards will receive a verbal consultation before they receive a written warning, officials said.

After that, they could face fines of $300 at most, up to three times, while the violations persist. A cease-and-desist letter will be issued after a business is fined the third time, officials said.

The enforcement agency in a particular case will allow the business 24 hours to make changes before a follow-up inspection occurs, according to officials.

Boston Mayor Uncomfortable with State’s Office Re-Opening Plan

Boston Business Journal: Mayor Walsh says he’s uncomfortable with the state’s reopening plan, saying its office occupancy level is “too much.”

No Timeframe Available on State House Re-Opening

According to the State House News, the governor’s reopening plan announced on Monday didn’t address when the people’s house, and the governor’s workplace, will reopen to the public.

And House and Senate leaders are also not committing to any timeframe for reopening the State House.

“In order to follow the parameters of CDC guidelines and public health best practices, the State House will continue to remain closed to the public,” Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a joint statement.

It’s unclear where the State House falls under the reopening timeline. Baker said he and the Legislature, which share control of the building, are talking about “how they want to handle this place and space.”

The governor did address the status of government agencies that serve the public.

“But state government generally is, on the executive side, has been open all the way through here and the big challenge for us … is we’re going to have to open up some stuff that we either started doing online or dramatically reduced the amount of customer-facing activity,” the governor said.

A Slow Return to Normal for State’s Top Health Systems

Boston Business Journal: Two weeks ago, roughly $870 million a day in PPP loans were being approved in Massachusetts. Last week, that number was just $45 million.  Brookline Bank, like many others in the region, has seen.

Employers Scramble to Address Mental Health Epidemic

Boston Globe: As the global death toll from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic climbs, employers are scrambling to address the explosive rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and potential suicides that have emerged along with it.

The numbers are daunting. Vida Health, a digital network of therapists and clinicians that works with companies like Cisco, Visa, PayPal, and Boeing, has seen 15 percent to 20 percent week-on-week increases in mental health and stress-related appointments since mid-March, and a 30 percent to 50 percent boost in new client interest.

Warren Presses Mnuchin on Terms of CARES Act

Globe Coverage: Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday pressed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to commit to requiring medium and large companies receiving loans from the CARES Act to retain their employees, and called on him to hold corporate executives personally liable if they fail to meet certain certification requirements during a testy exchange in a Senate hearing.

“What the law specifically does is gives you the specific authority to determine the terms on which these loans are made,” Warren said. “You say the economy’s going to recover, it’s going to take jobs in order for that to happen, so what I want to know is, are you going to require companies that receive money from this half a trillion dollar slush fund to have to keep people on payroll?”

Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito Highlight Implementation of New COVID-19 Safety Standards at Symmons Industries in Braintree

Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito today toured Symmons Industries, an 80-year-old Massachusetts manufacturer that has implemented the new Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards as manufacturing operations scale back up.

The Reopening Advisory Board also released new Sector Specific Protocols that describe policies, procedures and best practices that particular industries should follow to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Businesses self-certify that they are complying with new rules by developing a COVID-19 control plan and displaying a signed attestation poster in a place on premises visible to employees and visitors. In addition to new protocols for manufacturing, the Baker Administration also released guidelines for other industries opening in Phase 1, including construction, laboratories, hair salons and barbershops, car washes, pet grooming and office spaces.

Attorney General Announces Resource For Workers to Report Safety Concerns

The Attorney General’s Office has created a new online complaint form specifically for employees to report unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19, including concerns about:

  • Cleaning/Disinfection
  • Failure to Display Compliance Attestation Poster
  • Hygiene
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Requiring Symptomatic Employees to Work
  • Retaliation
  • Social Distancing

Workers can also call the AG’s dedicated Fair Labor hotline at 617-727-3465 to report concerns. Workers can file complaints or report concerns anonymously.

AG Healey’s Fair Labor Division is responsible for enforcing state wage, hour and certain workplace laws. Read the AG’s FAQs on employee rights and employer obligations during the COVID-19 emergency, as well as the Rights for Quarantined Workers page. Visit the AG’s COVID-19 resource page for information about how the AG’s Office can help during this crisis.

To read the full press release go here.

Health Systems Turn Slowly Back to Preventative Care

According to State House News Service, Hospitals and community health centers that meet certain criteria were able to resume offering a limited set of non-emergency services on Monday under the first phase of the state’s reopening plan, but many types of care still remain on hold.

Deteriorating Economic Outlook Dims State Budget Picture

According to State House News Service, Soaring unemployment and the expectation among public health experts that a second wave of the coronavirus could land in the fall has prompted a leading Beacon Hill watchdog group to revise its tax revenue forecast for next year, now predicting the state could collect $6 billion less than anticipated just five months ago.

As Businesses in Massachusetts Re-Open, Worcester Expects to Decommission DCU Center as a Field Hospital

Mass Live Report: Officials in Worcester plan to decommission the DCU Center as a field hospital as trends continue to show positive signs associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. said officials are hopeful the nine patients at the arena will be discharged from the facility as they recover. The city manager said the supplies within the DCU Center will likely remain in place in case the city needs to reactivate the facility as a field hospital.

Pandemic Rules Put Brake on Energy Efficiency Efforts

State House News: The energy efficiency program run by the state’s utilities has been somewhat successful at continuing to promote efficiency during the pandemic and officials plan to follow the steps outlined by the Baker administration this week to eventually resume in-home and in-businesses appointments.

Patrick Woodcock, commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, said Tuesday that he has been in touch with utility companies about how the Mass Save program can eventually get back to conducting work that requires interaction with a homeowner or business owner.

“We are working with all the utilities on utilizing the phased approach that the governor announced and applying it to Mass Save,” he said during a meeting of the Mass. Clean Energy Center’s board.

“As we can continue to expand additional measures that get into homes, we’ll certainly be balancing this clearly critical work but also one that does have a customer interaction to it.”

The utilities that administer the Mass Save program have suspended “any non-essential work and appointments that require a contracted vendor to enter a customer’s home (‘in-home’) or business (‘on-premise’) or come in close, physical contact with other individuals.”

Tentative In-Person Hearings Planned on Paid Leave

State House News: The Department of Family and Medical Leave has two plans to gather public input on its latest update to the rules for the new paid family and medical leave program. One involves a virtual hearing and the other calls for two in-person hearings in mid-June if state regulations allow for them.

The department has scheduled a virtual hearing via WebEx for June 11 and said interested parties will have a chance during that session to orally present testimony on the amendments to the new benefit program, for which a payroll tax is already being collected. Written testimony can be submitted any time until 5 p.m. on June 12, DFML said.

If the state’s reopening plan advances to the point where an in-person hearing would be feasible, the department said it plans to host two.

“If social distancing restrictions permit an in-person hearing, the Department will issue additional information on any applicable restrictions for a session in Boston on June 12, 2020. If in-person hearings can be held, the Department will also conduct a hearing in Springfield on June 11, 2020,” DFML said.

Part of the June 2018 “grand bargain,” the paid leave law calls for up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active-duty military service.

It also authorizes up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker’s own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member. The program is to be funded through a 0.75 percent payroll tax that the state began collecting from employers last summer.

Though some have called on the state to make the paid leave benefits available to workers as soon as possible to help ease pandemic-related financial stress, Gov. Charlie Baker has said it would not be feasible to make benefits available sooner than Jan. 1, 2021.

AIM Return to the Workplace Webinar Materials

Webinar Slides

Webinar Recording

To download the Return to the Workplace Guide visit our website: https://my.aimnet.org/Product-Details?productid=%7bBAE113F4-5C99-EA11-8109-000D3A0DE1A1%7d

Learn more about future AIM webinars: https://my.aimnet.org/Register-for-an-Event-Class/Webinars

May 20, 2020

Governor Baker Announces Strategy to Re-Open Businesses and Activities

The Reopening Advisory Report details the four-phased strategy.

Each phase of the reopening will be guided by public health data and key indicators including:

  • COVID-19 positive test rate;
  • Number of individuals who died from COVID-19;
  • Number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals;
  • Health-care system readiness;
  • Testing capacity;
  • Contact tracing capabilities.

Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks and could last longer.

If public health data trends are negative, specific industries, regions, and/or the entire commonwealth may need to return to an earlier phase.

The commonwealth will partner with industries to draft sector-specific protocols in advance of future phases (example: restaurant-specific protocols will be drafted in advance of Phase 2);

Success in earlier phases will refine criteria for future phases including travel, sizes of gatherings, as well as additional retail openings, lodging and accommodations, arts, entertainment, fitness centers, museums, restaurants, youth sports, and other activities.

May 18:

  • Places of worship with guidelines that require social distancing and encourage services to be held outdoors.
  • Hospitals and community health centers that attest to specific public health and safety standards can begin to provide high priority preventative care, pediatric care and treatment for high risk patients.

May 25:

  • Other health care providers not included in May 18 opening who attest to meeting these standards may resume limited in-person services.
  • Lab space, office space
  • Limited personal services, including hair salons, pet grooming, car washes;
  • Retail: remote fulfilment and curbside pick-up;
  • Beaches, parks,
  • Drive-in movie theaters;
  • Select athletic fields and courts; many outdoor adventure activities; most fishing, hunting, and boating; outdoor gardens, zoos, reserves, and public installations.

June 1:

Office spaces in the city of Boston with applicable guidelines.

In order to reopen, businesses must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19.  See https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-massachusetts for general details and sector specific guideline.

Phase one of Massachusetts’ coronavirus reopening plan includes places of worship, construction and manufacturing – (Masslive.com)

A look at what can reopen in each phase of Massachusetts’ opening plan

Baker Plan Seeks Balance Between Public and Economic Health

State House News Service: Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito laid out their plan Monday to begin to reopen businesses and resume economic and social activity in Massachusetts, while continuing to work to keep the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus in check.

For the last two months, the state has mandated business closures, emphasized staying at home as much as possible and promoting social distancing as the keys to slowing the spread of the virus and keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Monday’s rollout of a reopening plan shifted the state’s approach to one that relies on continued social distancing and personal responsibility to control the spread of the virus as some activities resume.

“People need to understand that we’re playing this game, and it’s a real one, with the virus and the economy at the same time,” Baker said Monday. “And it’s really important for people to step up and recognize and understand that this game is not over.”

Baker and Polito stressed that the same things that got the state to the point of being able to reopen some businesses – social distancing, frequent hand-washing, regular disinfection of surfaces, and wearing a mask or face covering when distancing is not practical – are here to stay.

“People need to do their part, employers and people at home,” Polito said. “As you take on more activities, face covering, distancing and hand-washing are key to unlocking next phases of activity.” Initial reaction to the plan was mixed.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest employer group and one of the most influential on Beacon Hill, said the plan strikes a balance between economic needs and public health realities.

“We realize that every employer in Massachusetts would love to hear that they can re-open immediately. But we also acknowledge that a phased re-opening balances the need to re-start the economy with the need to manage a public-health crisis that continues to claim 100 lives a day in Massachusetts,” AIM President and CEO John Regan said.

State Updates Stay-at-Home Advisory

Department of Public Health updates Stay at Home Advisory with new advisory – (Mass.gov News)

  • Everyone to stay home unless they are headed to a newly opened facility or activity.
  • Those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions to stay home apart from trips required for health care, groceries, or that are otherwise absolutely necessary.
  • All residents must continue to wear a face covering in public when social distancing is not possible, and individuals are advised to wash their hands frequently and be vigilant in monitoring for symptoms.
  • Restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remain in effect.

Industry Specific Guidance 

Mass.gov provides Mandatory safety standards and recommended best practices for sectors that are eligible to open in Phase 1. Additional sector guidance for future phases will be issued later. Businesses operating to provide Essential Services, as defined in the Governor’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order, updated on March 31, April 28 and May 15, may remain open and have until May 25, 2020 to comply with their industry’s sector-specific protocols (if applicable).

The administration also said that all businesses that resume operations must adhere to a number of industry-specific social distancing measures.

Health-Care System Begins Re-Opening Process

Reopening Health & Human Services in MA – Hospitals and community health centers that can attest to meeting all state guidelines (ICU capacity, PPE availability, and workplace safety) can begin providing certain in-person services yesterday, while all other compliant providers may begin starting May 25.

The expansion of in-person services is currently severely restricted to either:

High-priority preventative services

  1. pediatric care
  2. high-risk chronic disease management
  3. prenatal care
  4. immunizations

Urgent procedures that would cause additional risk and worsening patient conditions if delayed any further.

Individual hospitals and hospitals systems must attest to the state that they are maintaining at least 25 percent capacity for fully staffed adult beds and fully staffed adult ICU beds and commit to retaining these capacities at or above 20 percent throughout Phase 1.

All providers, on both May 18 and May 25 must attest to the following public health and safety requirements:

  • Adequate levels of PPE – at least 14 days’ worth – on hand with a reliable supply chain in place that does not depend on the state stockpile.
  • Infection control readiness – social distancing, workflow and cleaning guidelines in place.
  • Established screening and testing protocols for patients and staff.

Above all else this reopening is contingent on sufficient statewide hospital capacity being maintained. Throughout the state of emergency Massachusetts has had to maintain at least 30 percent capacity for fully staffed total adult beds as well as at least 30 percent for fully staffed adult ICU beds. This capacity must be maintained until May 25th in order to proceed in Phase 1 with additional providers.

Whenever possible, telehealth and remote care delivery are strongly encouraged. Patients are instructed to seek immediate medical attention in emergency situations and reach out to their PCPs/healthcare providers with questions or concerns about when to come in.

For additional information on provider requirements and exactly what types of services will and will not be permitted throughout Phase 1 please see EOHHS’ PowerPoint on Phase 1 and their Reopening 1-pager.

Self-Certification for Business

All businesses must meet safety and health requirements before reopening. Businesses operating to provide Essential Services, as defined in the Governor’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order, updated on March 31, April 28 and May 15, may remain open and have until May 25 to comply with these mandatory safety standards.

  • COVID-19 control plan template – Template that satisfies the written control plan requirement for self-certification
  • Compliance attestation poster – Poster that customer facing businesses are required to print, sign, and post in an area within the business premises that is visible to workers and visitors
  • Employer and Worker posters – Posters that businesses can print and display within the business premises to describe the rules for maintaining social distancing, hygiene protocols, and cleaning and disinfecting

Mandatory Safety Standards for the Workplace

When Can My Business Reopen?

COVID-19 Employee Health, protection, guidance and prevention

SBA and Treasury Release Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Application

The US Small Business Administration (SBA), in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, released the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Forgiveness Application and detailed instructions for the application.

The form and instructions inform borrowers how to apply for forgiveness of their PPP loans, consistent with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  SBA will also soon issue regulations and guidance to further assist borrowers as they complete their applications, and to provide lenders with guidance on their responsibilities.

The form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers, including:

  • Options for borrowers to calculate payroll costs using an “alternative payroll covered period” that aligns with borrowers’ regular payroll cycles
  • Flexibility to include eligible payroll and non-payroll expenses paid or incurred during the eight-week period after receiving their PPP loan
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to perform the calculations required by the CARES Act to confirm eligibility for loan forgiveness
  • Borrower-friendly implementation of statutory exemptions from loan forgiveness reduction based on rehiring by June 30

Addition of a new exemption from the loan forgiveness reduction for borrowers who have made a good-faith, written offer to rehire workers that was declined

The Loan Forgiveness Application may be found here.

For a legal analysis of the PPP Loan forgiveness program please see:

Administration to Address Food Insecurity

The Baker Administration on Sunday announced $56 million to combat urgent food insecurity for some Massachusetts families and individuals as a result of COVID-19. The funding is consistent with findings of the Food Security Task Force, which was convened by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center in response to increased demands for food assistance.

The Food Security Task Force, which was convened on April 22, synthesized and prioritized more than 80 recommendations into the following four key actionable categories:

  • Develop and implement an emergency food program
  • Fortify the food bank system
  • Maximize federal resources for food and nutrition
  • Reinforce and redeploy the food system infrastructure

Disproportionate Impacts from an Indiscriminate Virus

State House News Service: The fate of the postponed NAACP national convention, which had been scheduled for July in Boston, is unknown at this point, but the head of the organization’s Boston chapter said Sunday morning that COVID-19 can serve as a catalyst for change.

“One of the things that is good in this moment is that from a local standpoint, we have maintained for now over a year, that the work and the preparation for this convention should not just be about the event, but that it really should be about really serving as a catalyst for the systemic work that needs to happen in our community every day,” Tanisha Sullivan told Jon Keller of CBS during a televised interview.

“And if anything, this virus has really laid bare for all of us the reality that there are systemic racial inequities that put communities of color in harm’s way, even from a virus that would otherwise be considered, you know, indiscriminate.”

Pressley Weighs In On Mail-In Ballots

State House News Service: Independent voters should be mailed two primary ballots to vote in either the Democratic or Republican Party contests this summer, said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, choosing the more expansive option for mail-in voting currently being considered on Beacon Hill.

Pressley, in a Sunday morning appearance on WCVB’s “On the Record,” was pressed about how the state should approach mail-in voting. Asked whether unenrolled voters should be automatically sent primary ballots for both major parties, Pressley said, “Yes. Yes, absolutely.”

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Laws heard testimony last week on a variety of proposals to expand access to mail-in voting for the 2020 elections. One alternative to mailing ballots to everyone automatically would be to have registered voters apply to have a ballot of their choice sent to their home.

May 16, 2020

State and Employer Community Announce Continuation of Work From Home Policies to Support Safe Reopening of Massachusetts Economy

The Baker Administration released a partial list of employers Friday who are committing to continuing work-from-home policies for the foreseeable future as a way to provide more flexibility for their employees and greater capacity for social distancing on the state’s public transportation system.

The state is planning a phased reopening process that balances public-health precautions with reopening the economy during the pandemic. The companies cited, including some of the largest employers in Massachusetts and totaling 150,000 employees, will have significant portions of their workforce working remotely for the rest of the spring and, in numerous cases, beyond.

The administration has also issued guidance for all state employees to extend the current remote workforce arrangements for the Executive Branch to reflect health and safety provisions of the re-opening phase. This guidance will stay in effect until further notice.

These employers plan to evolve Work From Home to a flexible strategy that slowly brings workers to workplaces as needed. Depending on the employer, some companies may consider arrangements such as staggered shifts or flexible work schedules that help avoid rush hour traffic congestion and crowded buses and trains on public transit systems.

The Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP), Massachusetts Business Roundtable (MBR), Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), Massachusetts High Tech Council (MHTC), Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), and Kendall Square Association (KSA) polled their member companies regarding their plans for extending Work from Home (WFH) policies even after the Massachusetts economy reopens.

Companies that will continue to extend their Work from Home policies past the reopening date include:

·        AECOM ·        John Hancock
·        Akamai Technologies ·        The Kraft Group
·        Alkermes ·        Liberty Mutual
·        Alnylam ·        MassMutual
·        Amgen ·        Millipore Sigma
·        Analog Devices ·        MFS Investment Management
·        Autodesk ·        MITRE
·        Bank of America ·        Monster.com
·        Biogen ·        National Grid
·        bluebird bio ·        Novartis
·        Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts ·        Oasis Systems

·        Peoples United Bank

·        Boston Scientific ·        PTC
·        Brooks Automation ·        Putnam Investments
·        Care.com ·        Rapid7
·        Cigna ·        Raytheon Technologies
·        Comcast ·        RSM
·        Dassault Systèmes ·        Sage Therapeutics
·        Dell Technologies ·        Sanofi
·        Deloitte ·        Sarepta Therapeutics
·        Eaton Vance ·        Siemens
·        EY ·        State Street
·        Facebook ·        Takeda
·        Foundation Medicine ·        Tango Therapeutics
·        Google ·        Tufts Health Plan
·        Harvard Pilgrim Health Care ·        Verizon
·        Ipsen ·        Wayfair
·        Iron Mountain

Governor Baker extends nonessential business order by 24 hours, paving way for reopening plan

Globe Report: With Massachusetts’ phased reopening of the economy looming, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that his legal office would be extending by 24 hours the order closing non-essential businesses in the state, from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday.

CDC Issues Re-Opening Guidance

ABC News: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, while voluntary, is the most specific instruction yet from the federal government on how not to trigger an outbreak, as President Donald Trump pushes states to reopen and most have already started to do so.

The guidelines, posted on the agency’s website, include ones designed for businesses and workplaces as well as for schools and childcare programs.

The guidance includes various “decision tools” for specific institutions.

For example, if a restaurant can answer “yes” to several questions – such as whether it’s prepared to encourage social distancing among patrons and encourage flexible leave among employees – then it could reopen safely.

Massachusetts DOR Issues Telecommuting Guidance

Blum Shapiro Update: In an attempt to minimize the disruptions experienced by businesses whose workforce is mandated to function remotely due to COVID-19, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) has issued a Technical Information Release (TIR) and Emergency Regulations covering a broad base of telecommuting-related topics.

The TIR is broken into four main subsections:

  • Personal income and withholding tax
  • Sales and use tax nexus
  • Corporate income tax
  • Paid family and medical leave

Mass. Business Groups Show Guarded Optimism as Re-Opening of Economy Approaches

Chesto Means Business: One big caveat: These two groups are Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which has a large number of manufacturers as members, and the Mass Technology Leadership Council, which largely consists of software firms. Only a small number of respondents in the AIM survey were in the retail and hospitality sectors, two of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Still, the vast majority of the roughly 250 respondents to the AIM poll lost revenue, with roughly one-fourth saying revenue declined by 40 percent or more because of the pandemic.

Now, the good news. More than half of respondents said they are currently operating, after being deemed an essential business by the Baker administration. Of the companies that laid off or furloughed employees in the AIM survey, 51 percent plan to bring all of those employees back once nonessential workplaces are allowed to reopen. Only 20 percent have no expectation of bringing any of them back.

Should employers check temperatures? Major Mass. businesses are split.

Boston Business Journal: When it comes to checking employee temperatures at the workplace to screen for Covid-19, it seems there are as many plans in place as there are employers in Massachusetts.

There is good reason for that, executives say. On-site temperature checks are complicated. They are one way to help keep employees and customers safe. But executives have questions about their effectiveness in slowing the spread of Covid-19, and they present legal risks and logistical hurdles that make implementation tricky. In some cases, the property manager at a firm’s office may decide to check the temperatures of people entering the building, taking the decision out of an employer’s hands.

It’s possible the Baker administration will weigh in on temperature checks, or at least offer best practices to businesses, when it releases its plan for reopening the economy later this month. A spokesman for the administration declined to comment, saying it’s still deliberating on a blueprint.

So far, it has not issued any blanket rules. Mandatory workplace safety standards released by the Department of Public Health on Monday make no mention of temperature checks. When the administration allowed retailers deemed non-essential to bring employees into stores and warehouses earlier this month, it required employees to take their own temperatures before each shift, not their bosses.

Even without clear direction from the government, some of the state’s biggest employers have forged ahead with their own plans to check (or not check) temperatures.

AIM Letter to Gov. Baker Re: Temperature Checks

Massachusetts short-term borrowing bill during coronavirus pandemic heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk

MassLive Coverage: “The bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate today authorizes the commonwealth to finance the recent extension of the 2019 state individual income tax filing deadline and provides a necessary bridge to help us get through the next few months until the next fiscal year,” Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat and chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, said in a statement.

Under the bill, the state treasurer can borrow money to cover the shortfall due to the delayed income tax deadline. The funds must be repaid by June 30, 2021, which marks the end of fiscal 2021.

The decision to move the April 15 deadline to July 15 brought relief to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who lost their jobs or were furloughed, but it also left spending gaps for the state at a time when it faces unprecedented expenses to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 5,000 people in Massachusetts.

In April, normally the single largest month for collections, the state’s tax revenues dropped by more than 50% compared to the 2019 figures. The state collected $1.9 billion in April, compared to $4.3 billion this time last year.

Retail Sales Plunge a Record 16.4 Percent in April, Far Worse than Predicted

CNBC Coverage: Consumer spending tumbled a record 16.4 percent in April as the backbone of the U.S. economy retrenched amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a government report Friday.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected the advanced retail sales number to fall 12.3 percent afterMarch’s reported 8.3 percent dive already had set a record for data going back to 1992. The March numbers were revised to be not as bad as the 8.7 percent initially reported.

Some 68 percent of the nation’s $21.5 trillion economy comes from personal consumption expenditures, which tumbled 7.6 percent in the first quarter just as social distancing measures aimed at containing the coronavirus began to take effect.

Paycheck Protection Fixes and Tax Breaks: Here’s What’s in the HEROES Act for Small Business

Boston Business Journal:  Here are some of the items in the proposed House bill directed toward small businesses:

  • It sets aside a portion of the remaining Paycheck Protection Program-authorized loan funding for businesses with 10 or fewer employees and a separate set aside for nonprofit organizations.
  • It expands eligible nonprofits to include trade groups, chambers of commerce and others after 501(c)(6) organizations and other classes of nonprofits were left out of SBA’s original PPP authorization.
  • It recycles PPP loan dollars returned by companies taking advantage of the safe harbor provisions, which give businesses until May 18 to return loans and retain the “good faith” clause of their certification. That money could then be used to make new loans under this bill.
  • It strikes down an SBA rule that made people convicted of non-fraud crimes ineligible for PPP loans after their release from incarceration.
  • It eliminates the 25% cap on eligible nonpayroll expenses, including rent, mortgage interest and utilities, an SBA rule that many restaurants and other businesses said made the program unusable for them.
  • It alters a tax provision created in the original CARES Act that allows companies to take a loss in 2018, 2019 or 2020 and carry those losses back to the preceding five taxable years. Under the HEROES Act, that would be limited to taxable years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2018, and prohibits businesses with excessive executive compensation or stock buybacks from carrying back losses.
  • It creates a business-interruption credit for self-employed workers, who would get a 90% individual income tax credit if they experienced a significant loss of income, at more than 10%. The credit is capped at $45,000 and phases out gradually based on any other income the self-employed person is still receiving.
  • It creates a 50% refundable payroll tax credit for qualified fixed costs for companies that have closed because of Covid-19, including rent obligations, mortgage obligations and utility payments, much like the PPP. The credit is for a maximum of $50,000, or about 6.25% of gross 2019 receipts, and only available to businesses with no more than 1,500 full-time employees or no more than $41.5 million in gross receipts in 2019.

May 15, 2020

CDC and OSHA Jointly Release Comprehensive Manufacturing Guidance 

The new guidance details the steps companies need to take to protect their workforces. Read the new guidance here.

Labor Department Reports 36.5 million Unemployment Claims

Politico Coverage: Workers filed nearly 3 million new unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department (DOL) reported Thursday, signaling that a wave of coronavirus-induced layoffs is continuing as the country struggles to reopen for business.

The latest number, which covers the week ending May 9, pushed the two-month tally of unemployment claims to 36.5 million, reflecting a jobless rate that the Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledged last week is the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Workers who are called back face a choice between potentially risking their health or losing unemployment benefits. On Monday, DOL “strongly encouraged” state unemployment agencies to find out from employers whether benefit recipients refuse to return to work, as federal guidelines dictate that those workers will no longer be eligible.

The data released by DOL Thursday also indicated that self-employed workers who were made eligible for jobless benefits under a new temporary program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, have finally begun to tap into the relief.

Globe Coverage: 3 million more Americans filed for unemployment last week

Bay State unemployment highest on Cape and in Western Massachusetts

Boston Business Journal: The counties with unemployment at 25 percent or higher, as of late April, are in Western Massachusetts and the Cape and Islands — two regions that rely on tourism and the hospitality industry. The total unemployment rate since mid-March has been more than 21 percent in all 14 Massachusetts counties.

Unemployment by municipality shows Provincetown with a 33.8 percent rate, as of May 2, with Lawrence and Amherst next at 32.6 percent. Truro is seeing a 31.8 percent rate, while Holyoke has a 31 percent rate.

By ZIP code, the Amherst area has the highest rate with 39.6 percent, followed by Springfield and Lawrence areas at 36.5 percent.

Months into Pandemic, Jobless Claims Remain High

Boston Business Journal Related Coverage: Approximately 115,000 people in Massachusetts filed their first claims for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to more than 1 million in the Bay State since coronavirus-related shutdowns started taking effect in mid-March.

Nearly 45,000 people made initial claims for traditional unemployment benefits for the week ending May 9, according to new U.S. Department of Labor data. That’s down by over 11,000 claims the previous week.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts saw more than 70,000 initial claims last week under the new temporary federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is meant to cover workers in the gig economy as well as the self-employed.

While traditional first-time jobless claims in Massachusetts have now declined for six consecutive weeks, they remain at levels that are historically high even for a recession.

Nationally, 3 million people in the U.S. filed for traditional unemployment claims last week. That number is seasonally adjusted, while the state-level numbers are not.

State Officials Announce Expanded Testing

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced expanded COVID-19 testing capacity and strategy and provided an update on personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement.

Testing Plan: As required to secure COVID-19 testing resources allocated in legislation passed by Congress on April 24, the administration will submit its plan to expand testing to the federal government this month.

The plan builds on previously expanded testing criteria, and calls for the following:

  • Boost overall testing capacity to 45,000 daily tests by the end of July, and 75,000 daily tests by the end of December, with the goal of decreasing positivity rate to less than 5 percent.
  • Lab processing capacity is also planned to expand, enabling preparedness for a potential testing surge in the fall.
  • Testing expansion for residents and patients in high-risk congregate settings like state hospitals, group homes and correctional facilities will continue, and the administration will ensure testing for individuals who are symptomatic, close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases or whose employment places them at a high risk.
  • Randomized testing for surveillance purposes to build on the Community Tracing Collaborative’s contact tracing efforts.
  • Improved turnaround time of testing to provide same-day or next-day results.

When implementing the new testing proposed in this plan, communities with low testing availability, hotspots with high positive rates and high density areas will be the priorities.

Click here to view today’s testing presentation from the press conference.

CVS Testing Sites: The Baker Administration and CVS today announced the expansion of self-swab and send testing sites at 10 select CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations throughout the commonwealth, which will enable on-the-spot COVID-19 testing at no cost, with results available in 2-3 days.

CVS served as an early partner in Massachusetts’ efforts to expand testing, and these new testing sites build upon the previously announced location in Lowell. These new sites are part of CVS’s first rollout of its national testing expansion program, with a goal of 1,000 testing sites across the country.

The drive-thru CVS testing sites include:

  • Charlton
  • Worcester
  • Raynham
  • Northampton
  • Bridgewater
  • Carver
  • West Springfield
  • Danvers
  • Westport
  • Wellesley

Individuals who meet testing criteria may register in advance at CVS.com beginning Friday, May 15 to schedule an appointment.

PPE Procurement: The administration highlighted the delivery of more than 7.5 million pieces of PPE and supplies to be delivered to front-line workers throughout the commonwealth.

From April 20 through this past weekend, this equipment has been brought to Massachusetts through six different chartered flights. The PPE includes more than six million surgical and procedural masks, about 800,000 swabs, nearly 400,000 coveralls and  more than 125,000 gowns. The administration is grateful to the partners who helped secure and deliver this PPE, including the Chinese Consul General in New York, Huang Ping, OCEANAIR and Delta Airlines.

Healey Seeks Commercial Auto Insurance Reduction

State House news Service: With fewer cars and trucks on the road due to decreased economic activity, Attorney General Maura Healey says commercial auto insurance rates should be lowered to reflect the decreased risk insurers are taking on as drivers stay at home.

Healey wrote to state Insurance Commissioner Gary Anderson on Thursday asking him to direct auto insurance companies to reduce their commercial insurance premiums paid by state businesses.

“Without a reduction, Massachusetts businesses will be overpaying for this insurance at a time when many are already in difficult economic circumstances as a result of the national emergency,” Healey wrote.

Healey said the exposure to commercial claims is closely related to traffic volume and economic activity, both of which have declined significantly over the past two months. The attorney general cited a U.S. Census Bureau estimate that nationwide retail and food services sales were down 8.7 percent from February and 6.2 percent from March 2019. California has already required insurers to reduce commercial rates, Healey said, and some companies in Massachusetts have done it “on an ad hoc basis.”

“In order to ensure a level playing field and to protect small business policyholders, we request that you immediately send a notice to every insurance company writing commercial automobile insurance in Massachusetts requiring a reduction in premiums commensurate with the expected reduction in claims,” Healey wrote. “This reduction should remain in effect until the substantial reduction in exposure to loss ends.”

Governor Baker insists on slow, phased return as Mass. coronavirus deaths top 5,300

Globe Update: Days before Massachusetts is slated to begin to reopen its economy, Governor Charlie Baker insisted Wednesday that a deliberate, phased approach, underpinned by the continued expansion of COVID-19 testing, is the best path toward a new normal, as the state’s coronavirus death toll topped 5,300.

“The last thing we’re going to do is reopen in a way that fires that virus up again,” said Baker at a news conference in the parking lot of a community health center in Fall River that is providing drive-through testing.

The state Health Department reported Wednesday that the death toll in Massachusetts rose by 174 cases to 5,315. It was the largest number of deaths since May 6, when 208 fatalities were reported.

Massachusetts Families Get a Lifeline Against Hunger

Globe Report: The families of roughly half the public school students in Massachusetts will soon receive payments totaling around $400 per child to help them cover the cost of meals on days when the schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to nearly $200 million in federal funding from Congress.

About 500,000 public school students are eligible, either because their families are low-income or they go to classes in one of hundreds of school districts statewide where average incomes are low. That would include the students at all 125 Boston public schools.

Starting this month, eligible families will receive the first of two lump sums totaling around $400 on a special Electronic Benefit Transfer card that will arrive in the mail for those who don’t already have one. The payments, which work out to $5.70 a day for school closures from mid-March to mid-June, add up to roughly $1,200 for a family with three school-age children.

May 14, 2020

State Reports Town-by-Town COVID-19 Data

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has updated its town-by-town COVID-19 data.

Globe Coverage: “The Department of Public Health released new town-by-town data for coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the fifth set of such data showing how the virus has ravaged individual communities throughout Massachusetts.”

Baker Comments Suggest Little Reopening Next Week

Commonwealth Magazine: Governor Charlie Baker indicated on Tuesday that Massachusetts residents are unlikely to see much change next week in the first phase of the state’s planned four-part reopening effort.

Materials his administration handed out on Monday indicated phase one would involve limited industries resuming operations with severe restrictions. At a press conference in Ashland on Tuesday, the governor elaborated slightly.

Baker said the indicators lately have been encouraging, but he insisted the state’s reopening would not move ahead unless there was continued improvement. “We’re not out of the woods,” he said.

The industry-specific guidelines Baker mentioned on Tuesday won’t be released until Monday, but the statewide guidelines require every business to follow protocols on social distancing, hygiene, staffing, and cleaning/disinfecting.

The key social distancing requirements require all employees, customers, and vendors to remain at least six feet apart “to the greatest extent possible” and to wear face coverings or masks. Businesses are also required to provide signage for safe social distancing.

Hygiene, staffing, and disinfecting protocols require hand-washing capabilities and use, regular sanitization of high-touch areas, training programs for workers, and cleaning programs specific to the business.

The statewide guidelines, particularly the social distancing requirements, may be difficult for some businesses to follow. The MBTA, for example, hasn’t come up with a plan to comply with social distancing requirements on its buses and subways and the general manager of the transit authority has been reluctant to place caps on how many people can board vehicles.

Baker said the second phase of reopening, which his administration’s handout calls the cautious phase, will allow additional industries to resume operations “with restrictions and capacity limits.” At his Tuesday press conference, Baker said “the second group that’s likely to come out earliest are going to be people who work in ways and in places where they don’t have a lot of face-to-face contact with customers as part of their regular business.”

The governor’s description would seem to mean that businesses like barbers, hair salons, dentists, and summer programs where there is the potential for more face-to-face contact may not open until later on in the process.

 Easthampton Mayor Discusses State Reopening Plan

Western Mass News: [Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle] is on the state’s reopening advisory board and said they are still determining where many types of industries will fall on the four-phased plan.

“I think there’s some really obvious ones where you’re going to see big venues for concerts and sporting events being, you know, in phase four,” she said.

LaChapelle said she gives the following advice to individual businesses who ask how they can be proactive about planning their re-openings.

“Go walk through a grocery store and see what they’ve done with their traffic, with their taping, how people go through that line, how they deal with crowds,” she said. She suggests all businesses think about the general guidelines they’ve released on social distancing, hygiene, and cleaning.

“Think about how you can pivot your current operations to follow the basic guidelines that we know have been very helpful,” she said.

She said even when a particular industry is given the OK to open, not every business may be able or willing to comply with the strict regulations that will be imposed.

‘Probably Not Worth It’: Some Businesses Aren’t Sure They’ll Reopen, Even When Allowed

WBUR Report: The day is coming when Massachusetts businesses forced to shut their doors because of the coronavirus can reopen. Gov. Charlie Baker this week outlined a four-phase recovery plan, with more details expected Monday.

Yet some companies say it may not make financial sense for them to welcome back customers as soon as they’re allowed to do so.

June 29 Re-Opening for Massachusetts Day-Care Centers Limits Options for Parents

MassLive Coverage: As Massachusetts officials work to devise a plan to at least partially reopen sectors of the economy, there are some businesses still charging customers during Gov. Charlie Baker’s mandated closure; namely, day cares.

Yet many providers are having to cope with added uncertainty: as it stands now, childcare companies will have wait until at least June 29 to resume operations — a time when many parents may be back to work and in need of child-care options.

But many providers, particularly those that are privately owned, don’t have the luxury to bear the financial shortfalls until reopening and have been charging parents and families during the outbreak. Unlike publicly funded schools, the cost to private day cares has been acutely felt, and many owners have felt the move necessary.

The situation has prompted more than 85 complaints filed with Attorney General Maura Healey, her office says.

“We’ve been in touch with the state Department of Early Education and Care and are closely monitoring this situation,” a spokesperson for the AG’s office said, in a statement. “We know this is an issue for families across the state, especially those who have lost incomes.”

Peyser: Riley Working on K-12 Education Reentry Plan

State House News Service: Plans for bringing students back to the K-12 schools that have been physically closed to Massachusetts students since March will not be included in the report due next week from Gov. Charlie Baker’s re-opening advisory board, but a separate education-focused panel has begun to “wrestle with what school might look like in the fall,” Education Secretary James Peyser said Wednesday.

Peyser told lawmakers on the Education Committee that Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley has put together a working group to develop a re-entry plan that will be dependent on “continued improvement and stabilization in the overall public health data” around COVID-19. There is little doubt, Peyser said, that a return to classrooms would “require stringent protocols to ensure social distancing, personal hygiene, and effective cleaning, along with daily measures to assess student and staff health, testing protocols, and systems for contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.”

“There is no question that remote learning will be a much larger factor in planning for the next school year,” he said. “Even if we are able to start school in a quasi-normal fashion, we have to be better prepared for the possibility that in-person education will be interrupted again.” Peyser and Riley testified during a remote oversight hearing the committee scheduled to explore the status of the state’s K-12 schools and remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis.

Boston May Widen Sidewalks, Create Pedestrian Lanes on Streets to Help with Social Distancing during Re-Opening

MassLive Coverage: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said on Monday that the city is looking at ways to create more distance between residents on sidewalks and streets as sectors of Massachusetts begin reopening later this month.

Walsh said officials are thinking about expanding sidewalks in business districts and creating pedestrian- and cyclist-only lanes on streets. As businesses reopen, and capacity limits are put in place, Walsh said many businesses may experience long lines that spill out onto the sidewalks.

Washington Post/U. Maryland Poll: Americans’ Expectations for Safe Public Gatherings Slip to July at the Earliest

As the coronavirus spreads across the country, Americans are curbing their expectations about when it will be safe for gatherings of 10 or more people, with about 2 in 3 adults now saying it will not be until July or later before those events can happen, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

The findings provide more evidence that Americans remain worried about the threat of the virus and cautious about efforts to lift stay-at-home restrictions and to reopen businesses, even as many governors have begun to move in that direction. In the face of plans in many states to gradually ease those limitations, significant majorities of Americans continue to emphasize the need for social distancing and other safety measures.

Fully half of all Americans say in the poll that they think it will not be safe for gatherings of 10 or more until midsummer, including nearly one-quarter who say it will not be safe until 2021 or later. Just about 1 in 5 say they believe such gatherings are safe now or will be by the end of this month.

Federal Updates

 New York Times: House Democrats Unveil $3 Trillion Pandemic Relief Proposal

 Boston Business Journal: House Democrats propose $3tn in additional stimulus

Treasury Addresses PPP Borrower Certifications

 US Treasury Updates PPP FAQs as of May 13, 2020

Question 46: How will SBA review borrowers’ required good-faith certification concerning the necessity of their loan request?

Answer: When submitting a PPP application, all borrowers must certify in good faith that “[c]urrent economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.” SBA, in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, has determined that the following safe harbor will apply to SBA’s review of PPP loans with respect to this issue: Any borrower that, together with its affiliates,20 received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.

SBA has determined that this safe harbor is appropriate because borrowers with loans below this threshold are generally less likely to have had access to adequate sources of liquidity in the current economic environment than borrowers that obtained larger loans. This safe harbor will also promote economic certainty as PPP borrowers with more limited resources endeavor to retain and rehire employees.

In addition, given the large volume of PPP loans, this approach will enable SBA to conserve its finite audit resources and focus its reviews on larger loans, where the compliance effort may yield higher returns. Importantly, borrowers with loans greater than $2 million that do not satisfy this safe harbor may still have an adequate basis for making the required good-faith certification, based on their individual circumstances in light of the language of the certification and SBA guidance.

SBA has previously stated that all PPP loans in excess of $2 million, and other PPP loans as appropriate, will be subject to review by SBA for compliance with program requirements set forth in the PPP Interim Final Rules and in the Borrower Application Form.

If SBA determines in the course of its review that a borrower lacked an adequate basis for the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request, SBA will seek repayment of the outstanding PPP loan balance and will inform the lender that the borrower is not eligible for loan forgiveness.

If the borrower repays the loan after receiving notification from SBA, SBA will not pursue administrative enforcement or referrals to other agencies based on its determination with respect to the certification concerning necessity of the loan request. SBA’s determination concerning the certification regarding the necessity of the loan request will not affect SBA’s loan guarantee.

May 13, 2020

Feds See Test Rate of 50 Million Per Month by September 
 
State House News – Federal officials expect the country to be able to conduct 50 million COVID-19 tests per month by September, but Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday the idea of having a vaccine and treatment ready to facilitate students’ return to school in the fall is a “bridge too far.”

 

Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other top doctors in the federal government testified before a U.S. Senate committee, where he cautioned of “really serious” consequences and “little spikes that would turn into outbreaks” if states and cities try to reopen before they’ve experienced sustained, gradual declines in COVID-19.

 

Fauci said that in the states, even if officials pursue reopening at an “appropriate pace” that matches the local dynamics of the contagious disease, their ability to respond to future cases will be what determines “whether you can continue to go forward as you try to reopen America.”

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield said testing, early identification and isolation of new cases, contact tracing and social distancing are all important parts of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

 

“Rapid, extensive and widely available, timely testing is essential for reopening America,” Redfield said. Increasing state, local and tribal contact tracing capacity is also “critical,” he said. 

 

First Look at US House Version of Phase 4 Coronavirus Stimulus Bill – HEROES Act

 

Bill Text 

Bill Summary – Politico 

Deloitte Summary – House Democrats release ‘Phase 4’ economic recovery proposal 

  

Lawmakers Want More Data on COVID-19 Cases 
 

State House News – The Massachusetts Senate on Monday approved a bill to step up daily COVID-19 reporting from the Department of Public Health after adding reporting requirements for state-licensed care facilities, gateway cities, and impacts inside state prisons and county jails. 

 

Under the bill (S 2695), a redraft of legislation (H 4672) that passed the House three weeks ago, DPH would report daily data on resident and staff COVID-19 cases at facilities licensed by state agencies like DPH and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, including long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living residences. The bill, if passed, would also require daily reports on the number of cases and fatalities among inmates and staff at all correctional facilities. 

 

Staff cases would be broken down by occupation. Sen. Julian Cyr said those breakdowns are important to understand what types of protective equipment or training are needed. The data would be reported at a facility-specific level, while maintaining individuals’ privacy, according to a Senate official. 

 

Stepped-up daily reporting requirements for the Department of Public Health would include the number of people tested for the virus, the number who subsequently test positive within 24 hours, and a range of demographic information including gender, race, place of residence, age, disability status, and primary language, Sen. Michael Rodrigues said prior to the bill’s passage during a lightly attended session. 

 

IT Spending Bill Surfaces in House 
 
State House News – With dependence on technology rising, House Democratic leaders have set their sights on legislation to borrow more than $1 billion for information technology and cybersecurity upgrades.

 

Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office informed members of his party on Monday to be prepared to discuss a committee rewrite (H 4039) of Gov. Charlie Baker’s IT bond bill during a remote caucus on Wednesday. The Baker administration has been pressing for the bill’s passage for months.

 

The speaker’s office did not outline a timeline for consideration of the bill by the full House, but bills that are the focus of caucus talks often emerge for House consideration shortly thereafter.

 

Baker filed his $1.15 bill in April 2019, describing it as necessary to protect Massachusetts from cyberattacks and to improve how constituents interact online with their government for health care, housing and more. During a September committee hearing, Technology Services and Security Secretary Curtis Wood said the state sustains “about 525 million probes a day from foreign soil.”

The House Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets Committee recommended the bill with an amendment in October, and it has been pending in the House Ways and Means Committee since then. Major capital bills tend to draw dozens or hundreds of amendments and require recorded votes to pass. 

 

IRS: Today is the Deadline to Submit Direct Deposit Information

 

With a variety of steps underway to speed Economic Impact Payments, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service urged people to use Get My Payment by noon today for a chance to get a quicker delivery. 

 

The IRS, working in partnership with Treasury Department and the Bureau of Fiscal Services (BFS), continues to accelerate work to get Economic Impact Payments to people as soon as possible. Approximately 130 million individuals have already received payments worth more than $200 billion in the program’s first four weeks. 

May 12, 2020

Baker Administration Announces Four-Phase Approach to Re-Opening

Read the AIM Blog – Governor Charlie Baker said today that Massachusetts will re-open its economy in four phases beginning on May 18 as long as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to trend in a positive direction. The four phases – called Start, Cautious, Vigilant and the New Normal – are designed to methodically allow certain businesses, services, and activities to resume, while protecting public health.

US Small Business Administration Adds to Online Fact Sheet

View the SBA online FAQ sheet.

New Guidance Issues for Fulfillment of Remote Orders by Retail Businesses

The Baker Administration provided new guidance for retail businesses. Under this guidance, non-essential businesses are allowed to bring in a small number of employees in order to remotely fulfill online or phone orders, provided they can meet safety protocols. Read the full guidance in the COVID-19 Essential Services FAQs.

U.S. DEPT. OF COMMERCE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ADMINISTRATION FUNDING: ECONOMIC ADJUSTMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM 

U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration announced the availability of $1.5B in funding through an Economic Adjustment Assistance program. This funding will support communities in economic recovery through planning and technical assistance grants, grants for recovery and resilience strategies, capitalizing or recapitalizing revolving loan funds, and innovation grants. Cities and towns, Regional Planning Agencies, private or public non-profits working with local government, and others can apply for this support. Read more about this funding on the EDA’s website; eligible applicants may apply here. Chambers of Commerce may consider speaking with city and town officials or Regional Planning Agencies about this opportunity, to follow up on notice provided to these entities by my office.

State Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) Provides Resource

DUA has recently released FAQs to guide employers and employees in returning to work: Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Returning to Work: Guide for Employers and Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Returning to Work: Guide for Workers. These FAQs provide responses to some of the questions that employers and employees may have when looking ahead to reopening.

Pandemic Creates Opportunity for Telehealth

Boston Business Journal: The use of telehealth services in Massachusetts has “expanded exponentially” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Friday.

Sudders and Hilltown Health Center CEO Eliza Lake joined Gov. Charlie Baker at his afternoon press conference to highlight a public awareness campaign with the message that community health centers are open and that people, especially those with chronic conditions, should come in for the care they need.

Since COVID-19 arrived in Massachusetts, Baker and health officials have been encouraging the use of telehealth to preserve the availability of in-person care for people struck by the respiratory disease and to protect others from the risk of exposure.

May 10, 2020

Unemployment Rate Skyrockets to Nearly 15 percent

Globe Report: The U.S. unemployment rate hit 14.7 percent in April, the highest rate since the Great Depression, as 20.5 million jobs vanished in the worst monthly loss on record. The figures are stark evidence of the damage the coronavirus has done to a now-shattered economy.

The losses, reported by the Labor Department Friday, reflect what has become a severe recession caused by sudden business shutdowns in nearly every industry. Nearly all the job growth achieved during the 11-year recovery from the Great Recession has now been lost in one month.

The report indicated that a clear majority of April’s job losses — roughly 75 percent — are considered temporary, a result of businesses that were forced to suddenly close but hope to reopen and recall their laid-off workers. Whether most of those workers can return to their jobs anytime soon, though, will be determined by how well policymakers, businesses and the public manage their response to the public health crisis.

The collapse of the job market has occurred with stunning speed. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was a five-decade low of 3.5%, and employers had added jobs for a record 113 months. In March, the unemployment rate was just 4.4%

The jump in the unemployment rate didn’t capture the full devastation wrought by the business shutdowns. The Labor Department said its survey-takers erroneously classified millions of Americans as employed in April even though their employers have closed down. These people should have been classified as on temporary layoff and therefore unemployed. If they had been counted correctly, the unemployment rate would have been nearly 20 percent, the government said.

State House News Service: Close to one million Massachusetts workers have sought unemployment benefits since most of public life shuttered in mid-March to limit transmission of the highly infectious COVID-19, according to new data published Thursday.

Between March 15 and May 2, state labor officials received nearly 780,000 applications for standard unemployment insurance. Another 185,000 claimants have sought aid through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program – created by Congress to extend eligibility to gig workers, self-employed workers and others who do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance.

Cumulative standard and expanded claims together total about 960,000 in Massachusetts since March 15, based on the latest figures unveiled Thursday, representing more than one-quarter of the state’s entire labor force.

The state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said last week that, between March 15 and April 25, it had paid more than $2.3 billion in benefits to nearly 700,000 recipients. Officials did not provide an updated estimate with Thursday’s release of another week’s data.

Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance trust fund used to cover those costs dropped from a balance of $1.63 billion on March 1 to $748 million on April 16, according to U.S. Treasury data. A Wall Street Journal report described that as the largest decline among all states.

To help stave off the fund’s depletion — which a Tax Foundation report warned last week is imminent — Baker last month requested federal loans to cover $900 million of unemployment benefits in May and $300 million in June. His administration has not indicated if the application was successful.

Boston Business Journal: Mass. unemployment claims approach 1 million since pandemic’s start

Washington Post Coverage: Unemployment rate jumps to 14.7% – the worst since the Great Depression

New York Times: The Jobs Numbers Will Be Terrible. Here’s How to Interpret Them.

IRS Issues FAQ regarding Employee Retention Tax Credit Eligibility

Click here for the updated IRS FAQs on the tax credit.

MassDOT Updates:

RMV: Be Aware of Unofficial Third-Party Websites

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is cautioning customers to use only Mass.Gov/RMV when they are trying to renew a license or registration or process any business transactions online.

MassDOT on April Fatal Crashes: Drivers Urged to Slow Down 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reports that despite 50 percent less traffic recorded on major highways, 28 individuals died in crashes in April, compared to 27 deaths in April 2019.

Gun Shops Allowed to Re-Open after Federal Judge Ruling

Boston Business Journal: Massachusetts must allow gun shops to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic after the businesses were previously designated as non-essential by Gov. Charlie Baker, a federal judge ruled this week.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock ruled on Thursday that that the restrictions Baker ordered in response to the public-health crisis posed an “improper burden” to the constitutional rights of individuals seeking to purchase firearms, Reuters reported. The state will now have to allow licensed firearms dealers to sell guns, ammunition and other goods by appointment only, with no more than four appointments per hour. Dealers may only operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily starting Saturday.

Under Woodlock’s order, gun dealers must follow proper social distancing and public health requirements, including having employees wear proper face coverings and establishing procedures to sanitize frequent touch points throughout the day.

White House at Odds with CDC on Re-Opening Economy

Boston Globe: As President Trump pushes to reopen the economy, a battle has erupted between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the agency’s detailed guidelines to help schools, restaurants, churches, and other establishments safely re-open.

A copy of the CDC guidance obtained by The New York Times includes sections for child- care programs, schools and day camps, churches and other “communities of faith,” employers with vulnerable workers, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators. The recommendations include using disposable dishes and utensils at restaurants, closing every other row of seats in buses and subways while restricting transit routes between areas experiencing different coronavirus infection levels, and separating children at school and camps into groups that should not mix throughout the day.

AFL-CIO Outlines Recommendations on Re-Opening

This week, Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman sent a letter to Governor Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board highlighting the following recommendations from occupational safety and health experts at the AFL-CIO:

  • Effective and stringent health and safety protections, informed by science and designed with meaningful input by workers, unions and occupational safety and health experts.
  • There must be personal protective equipment for workers currently on the job—and for those returning to the job.
  • A planned, detailed and enforced system of screening, testing, contact tracing, proper isolation and epidemiological surveillance
  • People who cannot work due to COVID, whether because of infection, vulnerability, or lack of child care, should be protected from the loss of income, benefits and employment.
  • Workers must have stronger protections against retaliation and the right to refuse to work if they fear exposure to the virus.
  • Strong, clear and enforceable workplace health and safety standards must be in place

May 9, 2020

Baker Administration, Partners in Health, Public Health Officials Provide Update on Community Tracing Collaborative

The Baker Administration joined Partners in Health and local public health officials to provide an update on contract tracing efforts through the COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) launched last month. The initiative focuses on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, building on COVID-19 Response Command Center efforts to leverage public health college students to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health.

If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the MA COVID Team will reach out by phone to connect the confirmed case with support and resources necessary for quarantine, and to identify any close contacts that may have been exposed. As the CTC continues its contact tracing work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that Massachusetts residents answer the phone when a contact tracer calls or texts. Contact tracers will only reach out from phone numbers with 833 or 857 area codes, and the phone’s caller ID will say MA COVID Team.

Since calls began on April 12, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have participated in contact tracing. Staffed with more than 1,600 tracers, the Tracing Collaborative has reached nearly 14,000 confirmed cases and established more than 7,500 of their contacts since calls began on April 12. In part due to effective social distancing measures, the median number of contacts reported by each confirmed case remains approximately two.

To learn more about the MA COVID Team and the Community Tracing Collaborative, visit www.mass.gov/MATracingTeam.

Jobless Claims Climb to 780,000 in Massachusetts

State House News ServiceA seventh straight weekly burst pushed the amount of new unemployment insurance claims filed since March 15 to more than 780,000 in Massachusetts and 33 million nationwide, further evidence of the pandemic’s ongoing economic damage.

Almost 3.2 million American workers and more than 55,000 in Massachusetts filed initial claims for jobless aid between April 26 and May 2, according to federal Department of Labor data published Thursday. Both the state and national figures were the lowest one-week increases since the week ending March 21, which was the first span where the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on employment became clear.

However, both were once again several times higher than any pre-pandemic levels observed. Total claims since the start of the pandemic represent about 20.5 percent of the country’s labor force in March.

The Department of Labor also reported national numbers on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which Congress created to make benefits available to previously ineligible Americans such as gig workers and the self-employed, for the first time in Thursday’s release. More than 583,000 workers submitted claims for PUA aid in the week ending May 2 among the 23 states reporting data. Last week, state officials reported receiving 171,598 claims for the PUA program between April 19 and April 25. The Baker administration plans to provide an estimate for the most recent time period later on Thursday.

DOL Data May 7th, 2020

Globe Coverage: Another 3.2 Million Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week

Washington Post Poll: 77% of Laid Off Workers Believe They Will Return to Work

AIM Urges Time-Stamping of Re-Opening Guidance in Letter to Governor Baker

Golf Courses Allowed to Reopen Under Strict Rules – The Baker Administration Updated a COVID-19 essential services webpage

Private operators of golf courses may permit individuals access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind, appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly followed, and the business operator and golfers abide by the specific guidelines for golf courses outlined below.

Municipalities may decide to open municipal courses under these guidelines, if they so choose.

The specific guidelines for golf courses are:

  • Security personnel can be delineated by each club (example, a pro and the head starter) and will be present to enforce social distancing. There can be no other employees working at the recreational component of the golf operation.
  • All staff must wear face coverings while on the property
  • Club facilities including but not limited to the club house, pro shop, restaurant, bag room and locker room must remain closed
  • No caddies allowed
  • No golf carts allowed
  • Push carts may be used. Players must either carry their own bag or use a push cart
  • All golfers must maintain proper social distancing of at least six feet at all times
  • Groups of players are restricted to no more than four players at one time.
  • Members-only clubs may allow guests as determined by the security personnel on the golf course
  • Private clubs that allow non-members to make reservations can do so at their discretion
  • Maintenance personnel are permitted to work on the golf course
  • Tee Time Policy must be 15 minutes between groups
  • Golfers must stay in their car until 15 minutes before their tee time and must return to their car immediately following play
  • Online and remote payment options must be utilized
  • All golfers must use their own golf clubs. Sharing golf clubs or rental golf clubs is not allowed.
  • Flag sticks must remain in the hole. Hole liners must be raised so picking a ball out of the hole doesn’t occur
  • Bunker rakes must be removed, and ball washers must be removed or covered.
  • Practice putting green, driving range, and chipping areas must be closed.
  • Facilities must have readily accessible hand sanitizer”

Globe Coverage: Mass golf courses allowed to reopen amid coronavirus pandemic – but with restrictions

State Updates Town-by-Town COVID Data 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health  has published updates on case counts, testing, guidance, and resources regarding our public health response to COVID-19 in the Commonwealth. To learn about all aspects of the Massachusetts COVID-19 response, visit mass.gov/covid19. View today’s current cases in Massachusetts and learn more about COVID-19.

The Clock is Ticking, Yet Widespread Confusion Remains on PPP Spending Deadlines 

The Boston Business Journal: The shifting terms and guidance around the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program are raising confusion about nearly all aspects of the stimulus plan — including when and how long recipients have to draw down their funding.

One thing is clear: Businesses are faced with two important deadlines.

Per one deadline, a business must spend all of its PPP money within eight weeks of receiving it in order to maximize the program’s loan-forgiveness guidelines. But the other is to spend the money on eligible expenses and rehire workers no later than June 30, a deadline established in the first $349 billion PPP round created by the CARES Act in late March. It leaves little time for businesses that are receiving funding in the program’s second $310 billion round, still underway, to reach maximum loan forgiveness.

What remains unclear is how those dual deadlines will work together. That leaves individual businesses to make the call until the SBA sets more definitive terms or revises its requirements.

As currently written, the PPP loan, of which 25 percent may be used for overhead costs with the rest going to payroll, is for expenses incurred from Feb. 15 through June 30 of this year. But it’s unclear whether an eight-week period that starts in the middle of May can run past the June 30 deadline for rehiring workers.

What should a business do? To be safest, it should spend that money by June 30, at least barring any new SBA guidance, per the CARES Act’s stipulation, said David Cole, partner at law firm Holland & Knight LLP, with offices around the country.

Regardless, lending and legal experts are in agreement on at least one aspect of the PPP: It is crystal clear about what those funds can be used for. Anyone who strays from those approved expenses may invite scrutiny from the SBA and certainly won’t be eligible for full forgiveness thereafter, no matter whether the funds are used up before June 30

 Small Businesses Counting on Loan Forgiveness Could be Stuck with Debt

Boston Business Journal: With thousands of businesses preparing to ask for their eight-week loans to be forgiven, banks and borrowers are just now beginning to realize how complicated the program may turn out to be. Along with lawmakers, they are pushing the Treasury Department, which is overseeing the loan fund, to make forgiveness requirements easier to meet.

It is the latest complication for a program that has come under fire for allowing big companies to borrow funds from a finite pool of money aimed at keeping small businesses afloat. More than $500 billion in loans have been approved since the beginning of April, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has repeatedly tightened the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program to try to dissuade large companies from taking money. Mnuchin has said Treasury would review any company that took more than $2 million in loans and would hold firms “criminally liable” if they did not meet the program’s terms.

The Consumer Bankers Association warned on Wednesday that loan forgiveness is the “next shoe to drop” for the program, and the Independent Community Bankers of America raised alarm that struggling borrowers have been misled.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is a requirement that businesses allocate 75% of the loan money to cover payroll costs, with only 25% allowed for rent, utilities and other overhead. That has become more difficult as the economic crisis from the coronavirus drags on and as some businesses face a prolonged period of depressed sales, even once they reopen.

Some businesses are facing smaller payroll expenses because workers have opted to accept more generous unemployment insurance benefits, while only a handful of states have so far allowed businesses to reopen.

The ICBA, which represents smaller banks, asked the Treasury and the Small Business Administration on Wednesday to require only half of the loans made through the aid program to be spent on payrolls and allow the loans to be split evenly between paying workers and covering rent, which remains a substantial expense for many businesses.

Mnuchin indicated last week that while he believed he had the authority to change the payroll requirement rules, he was not inclined to do so given that the intent of the program was to maintain ties between businesses and workers while much of the economy was shut down.

“The objective here is to put people back to work,” Mnuchin said, adding that he did not want to encourage businesses to choose overhead costs over workers.

But that is not how things have unfolded for small businesses. Many laid off their workers to wait out the economic shutdown, intending to rehire as many as possible after it ended.

The SBA said on Tuesday that 5,411 lenders had approved $181 billion in loans since the second round of the program was initiated last week. The program, which began on April 3, has experienced high demand but has suffered from technical glitches that stalled loan processing and poor optics as big, publicly traded companies reported receiving millions of dollars while smaller businesses have been shut out. Backlash over those disclosures prompted Treasury to rewrite rules on the fly.

The Treasury Department issued new guidance on April 23 urging big companies with the ability to access other financing to rethink whether they really needed the money. Mnuchin has given those borrowers until May 14 to return the funds, no questions asked.

Some borrowers believe that in changing the rules after the fact, Treasury has gone against the letter of the law, which waived requirements for businesses to seek funds elsewhere before applying for loans through the SBA.

This week, Zumasys, a small technology company in California, and two of its subsidiaries filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department, Mnuchin, the SBA and Jovita Carranza, the SBA administrator, claiming that the latest guidance was unlawful. The company, which has fewer than 50 employees, received a $521,500 loan that it used for payroll costs and now it fears that it might have to repay that money. According to the complaint, Zumasys had access to other credit sources, but the small business loan was the only option available that would have provided funds that did not need to be repaid.

The uncertainty is emerging as lawmakers and the Trump administration begin debating another economic relief bill. While the initial rounds of funding anticipated businesses needing just short-term bridge loans, the economic devastation from the virus shows no signs of abating, suggesting more help is likely needed.

The next legislation, which will take shape later this month, could include another round of funding for the small business loans but would likely come with changes to the program to reflect the more protracted collapse in business activity.

EEOC Delays Data Collection Requirements

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced today that due to COVID-19, employers will not be required to submit EEO-1 Component 1 data until March 2021. The EEOC will notify businesses of a specific date when it becomes available. You can find today’s EEOC announcement here and a resource on employer responsibilities to prevent discrimination during COVID-19 here.

Massachusetts Health-Care Providers to Get a Pass on Cost Benchmarks this Year

Boston Business Journal: Efforts to keep the annual increase in the state’s health care spending to less than 3.1%, an area of top concern for the past few years under the Health Policy Commission, will take a back seat this year.

During a virtual hearing on Wednesday, executive director David Seltz, said the commission is required by statute to consider factors outside of a health system’s control when weighing whether spending increases have gone over the state’s benchmark. The coronavirus pandemic will be “weighed heavily,” in those future discussions, he said.

Fellow commissioners agreed that the benchmark and the state’s focus on containing health care costs will likely be an afterthought as officials begin to understand the impacts of the health pandemic. But they said they plan to return to that focus in the future.

“(The benchmark) may be a bit fictitious for this one year, with all the differences that occurred,” said Stuart Altman, chairman of the commission. “But the concept of the benchmark is important. It undergirds much of what we do … As we think about what the amount is for this coming year for the benchmark, I think we need to be less concerned about it, and use it as a guide, but the concept of the benchmark needs to be maintained.”

The commission also noted that while they have continued their own work behind the scenes analyzing systems that may have recently exceeded spending limits, they aren’t currently asking hospitals for data out of respect for the work they were doing in the ongoing pandemic.

Instead, the commission is looking at how the crisis might transform the health care sector moving forward. National statistics already show that volume has dropped at health institutions across the board. Through March, hospital revenue was down from 15% to 20%. Discharges, operating room minutes and emergency department visits also all dropped for hospitals across the nation.

 Study- Rents Will Fall at Downtown Office Towers

Globe Report: Rents for office space in downtown Boston could fall sharply this year as companies lay off employees and reassess how and where they work amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a report out Wednesday.

Estimates from Moody’s Analytics project a 12 percent drop in office rents in the city, one of the five steepest declines in the country, as the impact of the pandemic sweeps through the economy, and particularly through dense downtown business districts like Boston’s.

It would mark the end of a long run-up in rents and demand for office space in central Boston, though the study’s author, Victor Canalog, noted a 12 percent drop would be softer than the crashes of the early 1990s and 2001, and about what the region endured amid the broad economic collapse in 2008 and In that context — and given the cratering economy and job market — things could look a lot worse, he said.

Fauci Singles Out Moderna’s Coronavirus Vaccine as Reason for Optimism

Boston Business Journal: FDr. Anthony Fauci, who has become one of the faces of the Trump administration’s pandemic response due to his consistent presence and candid responses at White House press briefings, highlighted Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate as well as another one in development at Oxford University in an interview with National Geographic this week.

While discussing the likelihood that Covid-19 will return in the fall, Fauci said that he believes that the U.S. will have a vaccine ready for general use as early as January — a potentially record-setting timeframe. That’s because of what he called “impressive” preclinical data on Moderna’s drug, known as mRNA-1273. He did not specify what stood out to him in the data, and the NIAID did not immediately respond to questions about Fauci’s statement.

Local Towns Reviewing Commercial Property Values Opening up Possibly for Shift in Business Tax Rate

(The following is a communication from the Massachusetts Deportment of Local Services to every municipality):

Reviewing Options to Shift the Tax Rate

Each year, before the tax rate can be set, the select board, town council or city council hold the Classification Hearing and decide what percentage of the tax burden will be paid by each of the classes of property: residential, open space, commercial and industrial real estate and personal property. A policy choice is made between a single rate (taxing all property owners at the same rate) or a split tax rate (taxing the Commercial, Industrial and Personal Property (CIP) classes at a higher rate than the Residential and Open Space (RO) classes). This shift in the tax burden between classes can only be done within legally defined limits. If the board or council votes for a split tax rate, a decision is made about how much to shift, within those legally defined limits.

It’s not the assessors’ job to make these decisions. However, it is the assessors’ responsibility to provide the select board, town council or city council with the information they need to make informed decisions about tax rates and the effects different shifts in the tax burden between classes will have on the tax rates.

In the coming months, assessors will be analyzing the real estate market and the effects of these changes to prepare the FY2021 property assessments. The pandemic crisis could impact new growth estimates. There could also be changes in assessment levels between classes. There is a tool in Gateway that could help assessors monitor the effects of these changes in anticipation of their responsibilities for the Classification Hearing. Here is an excerpt from a previous City & Town article (October 5,2017).

May 7, 2020

April Tax Collections Plunge by $2.3 Billion

State House News Reporting: State tax collections tumbled in April by more than $2.3 billion compared to last April, another sign of the damage inflicted on the economy and the state’s finances by forced business shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Revenue Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder late Tuesday announced that collections last month totaled $1.981 billion, down 54 percent, or $2.34 billion, when compared to April 2019. Some of the decline stems from the state’s decision in late March to push the April 15 income tax filing deadline to July 15.

April is typically the biggest month of the year for collections. The decline in revenue comes 10 months into fiscal 2020, a budget year where the state had been on track to possibly produce a surplus, before the pandemic struck.

Now, officials are poised to embrace short-term borrowing to offset some of the decline in receipts, with House and Senate leaders showing interest in passing a borrowing authorization bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker in late March.

With hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents suddenly jobless during the pandemic, income taxes last month were down by nearly $2.1 billion, or 65 percent, compared to April 2019, accounting for most of the year-over-year decline for the month.

The state reported Tuesday that the Department of Revenue received 24 percent fewer income tax returns through April 30 than the same period last year.

Globe Coverage of April 2020 Tax Shortfalls

Massachusetts Banks Report No More Backlogs of PPP Applications

Boston Business Journal: Some Massachusetts banks are reporting that they have worked through their backlog of Paycheck Protection Program applications, freeing themselves to work with businesses that have yet to secure the loans.

When the first round of PPP funding dried up in mid-April, many lenders were left with a long list of clients that had yet to win loan approvals. They initially made little progress in whittling down that list when Round 2 kicked off last week, thanks to a U.S. Small Business Administration online portal that moved at a glacial pace.

Since then, however, SBA approvals have picked up significantly in Massachusetts and nationwide, as evidenced by some of the loan totals at Boston-area banks.

Eastern Bank, the state’s largest SBA lender, has won approvals for 7,400 loans worth approximately $1.2 billion since the PPP’s April 3 launch, Eastern President Quincy Miller said Tuesday afternoon. Just under $1.1 billion of those loans have already been disbursed, he said.

More Than 600 Businesses Apply to Make Personal Protective Equipment

Charlie Merrow, a seventh-generation manager of Merrow Manufacturing in Fall River, estimates the company will produce up to four million medical gowns, coveralls and other protective items in the coming months in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Enlisting the help of the Baker administration, Merrow pivoted from making sewing machines and apparel to producing protective gear for hospital workers and others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.

Resources

(Draft) Updated guidance for employers and unemployment insurance regarding offering work and return to work.    

EOHED Essential Business Guidance from April 2020

Massachusetts House Passes Borrowing Bill in First Ever Remote Session

State House News Service reports: “House lawmakers, many of whom watched on computer screens miles from the State House, took an historic and unanimous vote on Wednesday to authorize the Treasury to borrow billions of dollars as needed through June to meet the state’s financial obligations during the ongoing fight against the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, speaking from the House chamber with a mask covering his nose and mouth, said that Treasurer Deb Goldberg may need to borrow as soon as this month to balance the state’s outflow of cash, which is not being replenished as fast as it otherwise might.

“State revenue officials reported Tuesday that April tax collections fell 54 percent compared to the same month in 2019 and missed budgeted estimates for the month by nearly $2.2 billion.

“April is the state’s largest tax revenue month of the year, and Michlewitz called the losses a ‘staggering number.” He and other experts have said a ‘large portion’ of the drop in revenues could be because of the extended income tax filing deadline. If that assumption is correct, it would allow the state to quickly recoup some of the losses in July to begin repaying a large short-term debt by the end of fiscal 2021.

The 157-0 vote marked the first occasion in its nearly 400-year history that the House has used a roll call to pass legislation with most members participating remotely using computers and phones to monitor the proceedings and send in their votes. Remote participation was authorized this week in new emergency rules.”

Masks Are Now Mandatory – Here’s What to Know

Globe Coverage: Governor Charlie Baker’s order that everyone wear a face covering took effect yesterday. It requires everyone in Massachusetts to wear a face covering when they’re in a public place — inside or outside — and can’t distance themselves from others.

The mandate requires everyone to wear a face covering when they are in public and cannot be at least six feet away from others. This includes time spent in businesses, outside, and on public transportation.

Face coverings do not have to be medical masks. In fact, Baker is urging residents not to buy medical masks so there will be enough available for medical workers and first responders. You can use a T-shirt or bandanna as a face covering or create your own homemade mask.

Anyone who has a medical condition that would prevent them from wearing a face covering is exempt. Children under the age of 2 “should not wear face coverings or masks,” state guidance says.

WGBH Mask Coverage

City of Boston announces incremental approach to broadening the allowable categories of construction.  

Effective yesterday, all essential construction projects (as defined by the state, which currently means residential, hospitals, public schools, mixed use with residential, public works and construction related to COVID-19) with approved safety plans and signed affidavits as required under the COVID-19 Safety Policy for Construction will be authorized to prepare the site with project specific COVID-19 safety measures.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh Announces Expansion of COVID-19 Testing

The City of Boston is aiming to reach an average of at least 1,500 diagnostic tests per day to residents, targeting efforts in each neighborhood, while prioritizing populations most vulnerable to the severe impacts of COVID-19. An average of 1,100 tests are currently conducted each day across all available testing sites, up from an average of 680 tests conducted per day the previous week.

As part of the expansion, the city will work to expand the current testing infrastructure that exists to increase the number of community health centers offering testing and increasing their testing capacity by 50 percent in the next month. In addition, the City will partner with two hospitals to expand community-based testing over the next month.

 Facebook to Give Grants to 156 Small Businesses in Greater Boston

Globe Report

Senator Sal DiDomenico: Assisting Small Business

Senator Sal DiDomenico recently published an op-ed on assisting small business.

“Another important resource that is available, especially for our district, is the Massachusetts Equitable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Access Initiative. This initiative is committed to providing timely access to the Small Business Association PPP for underbanked businesses and historically disadvantaged demographic groups, including people of color and women.

“A coalition of banks is committing to making PPP loans directly and a network of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are providing technical assistance with loan applications. If you are a minority-owned business, you are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.”

Trump Administration to Phase Out Coronavirus Task Force

New York Times reporting: Despite growing evidence that the pandemic is still raging, administration officials said on Tuesday that they had made so much progress in bringing it under control that they planned to wind down the coronavirus task force in the coming weeks and focus the White House on restarting the economy.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has led the task force for two months, said it would probably wrap up its work around the end of the May, and shift management of the public health response back to the federal agencies whose work it was created to coordinate.

May 6, 2020

Governor Baker Expands Essential Services Definition and Eases Restrictions on Some Retailers

Updated Essential Service FAQs

Boston Business Journal Coverage: The Baker administration, effective immediately, will allow businesses considered non-essential to bring a few employees into their stores and warehouses to fulfill online and phone orders — a change the state’s retail industry has wanted for weeks.

Previously, only the owner of a non-essential business was allowed on-premises during the pandemic, and then only “to take care of crucial tasks that cannot be done remotely or to retrieve necessary materials or documents.”

Now the guidelines explicitly say that Massachusetts businesses can bring in employees to fulfill orders remotely, as long as they follow a new set of rules that include face-mask and social-distancing requirements, mandatory employee-temperature checks and limits on the number of on-site workers.

The change takes effect right away. The state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development on Monday updated a page on its website to reflect the change.”

State House News Coverage: “The administration quietly updated its essential services guidance to allow a limited number of employees of florist shops and other businesses to re-enter closed stores and warehouses to fulfill and ship orders taken over the phone and online.

The new guidelines require these stores to remain closed to the public and limit operating hours to allow for sufficient off-hour cleaning. Employees must wear face coverings and stay at least six feet apart from one another, and all deliveries must be “no-contact” deliveries to consumers.

The guidelines also limit the number of employees who can work at a given time, starting with three in a business smaller than 10,000 square feet and growing to seven in a facility with more than 30,000 square feet.

Employers must also require workers to self-administer temperature checks before their shifts, and not report to work if they have a fever over 100 degrees.

The updated essential business guidelines also made new allowances for car dealerships, allowing for sales to resume over the phone or online and for dealerships to follow the same remote fulfillment rules as other retailers.

Test drives of vehicles are not permitted, and all processing of documents should be done electronically, if possible, the rules said.

Dealerships must remain closed to walk-in customers, but transfer, delivery and return of new and leased vehicles or trade-ins can be conducted in person by appointment.”

Governor’s Statewide Order Requiring Masks, Face Coverings in Full Effect Beginning May 6

Updated Order

NEPR Report: In many places across Massachusetts, it’s already the norm to wear a mask to the grocery store or pharmacy. This week, it’ll be a statewide order, with violators facing a $300 fine.

As recently as last week, Governor Charlie Baker seemed OK with city and town leaders taking the lead on rules for face coverings.

But then he decided the whole state needed masks. As of Wednesday, the statewide order takes effect.

Masks Required on the T Starting Wednesday

State House News reports that workers will put up signs across the MBTA network informing riders that face coverings will be required on board trains and buses starting Wednesday, but the agency plans to be flexible with those who do not comply.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order requires all Massachusetts residents to cover their faces in some way if they are unable to socially distance in public, but it does not apply to children under 2 or those with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks.

“We’re obviously going to give people the benefit of the doubt if there is a reason why they’re not wearing the face mask,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said during a Monday board meeting.

“However, we want people to comply with this order. This is an important piece both for the riders and our operators of taking care of one another, of keeping each other safe.”

The MBTA has already implemented several other strategies to limit transmission of the highly infectious virus, such as requiring rear-door boarding on buses and street-level Green Line stops.

As of Monday, 81 T employees are ill with COVID-19, 56 have recovered from the disease and returned to work, and one died as a result of contracting the virus, Poftak said. Leaders at the transit agency are drafting plans for how the T will operate during the transition out of widespread shutdowns, Poftak said, targeting key questions such as capacity and long-term social-distancing practices. He said the process is “well underway internally and one we’ll be reporting out on shortly.”

“What was a crowded bus two months ago – that definition has changed over time,” Poftak said.

Treasurer’s Office Introduces Small Business Grant

The Massachusetts state treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment (OEE) introduced the Empowerment Grant for Small Businesses in Gateway Communities.  The deadline for applications is May 29. Funding decisions will be made by June 12.

The Empowerment Grant Program aims to support the well-being and continuity of small businesses by providing access to capital and empowerment through engaging in OEE resources.

Grant resources will be focused on small business owners serving Massachusetts Gateway Cities. The State Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment encourages minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, and/or immigrant-owned small businesses located in gateway communities to apply.

House Agrees to Rules for Remote Sessions

State House News Service: “Under the new rules, representatives wishing to speak in favor of or against a particular bill must still notify their division monitor by 10 a.m. on the day of the formal session. Division monitors would then provide a list to the speaker of those wishing to speak in support or opposition to a bill.

After conferring with the minority leader, the speaker would create a final list of members in support and opposition to email out to all members before the session.

Instead of limiting legislators to one chance at oral arguments, the compromise amendment adopted Monday allows the House minority leader, the chair of the committee that released the bill, and the ranking minority member of the committee reporting the bill to be recognized more than once on any question before the House.

After all members who signed up have been recognized to speak on a bill or amendment, the primary sponsor, or their designee, could provide a rebuttal or further explanation. If that happens, a member of the opposing political party could also be recognized and neither could speak for more than five minutes without unanimous consent.”

Nearly 1 Million Unemployment Claims is Just One Troubling Number Spilka Delivered Monday Night to Natick Selectmen

MetroWest Daily News: State Senate President Karen Spilka delivered some sobering news Monday night to Natick selectmen about the statewide financial fallout caused by the coronavirus: Up to $700 million in lost tax revenue in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The culprit is thousands of businesses closing and sheltering-in-place advisories that have kept families pent up at home, unable to spend money that fills state coffers.

In addition, there have been nearly 1 million unemployment claims.

Next fiscal year, which starts July 1, the financial pain could be much worse, with state revenues falling by $4 billion to $6 billion.

“That’s a best-case scenario,” Spilka said during an appearance on a Zoom meeting.

“Frightening” and “uncertain” were among the words the Ashland Democrat used to describe the tough road ahead for state lawmakers as they try to set a budget for next fiscal year.

The uncertainty is tied to many factors, including the unknown dollar figure on state revenues and how much money could arrive from the federal government. Twelve years ago, as the housing bubble burst, Spilka said Washington, D.C. sent Massachusetts a substantial amount of education funds that helped the state weather a crisis. But that can’t be counted on this time around, Spilka said.

The good news is there are no expected cuts to cities and towns this fiscal year in state aid and Chapter 70 education funds.

Paycheck Protection Program Updates Round Two Data

Massachusetts state approved loans: 48,768. Approved Dollars: $4,363,228,611

US Treasury Updates PPP Round 2 Data

US Treasury Updated PPP FAQs

Moulton Seeks UI Relief for Non-Profits

Congressman Seth Moulton filed legislation and submitted a letter to leadership demanding additional non-profit UI relief.   “The group outlined what they’d like to see in the next relief bill: expanding access for non-profits in disaster relief programs including the Paycheck Protection Program, increasing the unemployment insurance reimbursement for self-insured nonprofits struggling to pay furloughed employees, and strengthening tax incentives so more Americans donate to nonprofits in this era of economic uncertainty.

The full text of the letter is available here.

AIM Letter in Support of Non-profit UI Relief

US Chamber of Commerce Letter (AIM Signed On) for Expanded PPP Eligibility

US Senate Back in Session

Globe Coverage: “The Senate reopened Monday in a Capitol largely shuttered by the coronavirus, but prospects for quick action on a new aid package are uncertain with a deepening debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

The 100 senators are convening for the first time since March, while the House is staying away due to the health risks, as the conflicted Congress reflects an uneasy nation. The Washington area remains a virus hot spot under stay-home rules.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell opened the session, defending his decision to focus the agenda on confirming President Trump’s nominees rather than the virus outbreak.”

Poll Reveals Mass. Residents Determined to Socially Isolate and Slow Spread, Despite Economic Struggles

Globe Reporting: The Suffolk University/Boston Globe Poll shows widespread support for Governor Charlie Baker and the restrictions he imposed on daily life more than a month ago.

At the same time, the poll indicated that the road back to economic health is likely to be slow and painful, with respondents expressing reluctance about resuming many activities that were once a normal part of life — going to the movies, riding public transportation, and attending sporting events.

More than seven in 10 residents said they won’t be comfortable engaging in those activities when government restrictions and recommendations are lifted, the poll found. Even if there is an effective treatment but not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, a majority of residents would not be comfortable going to a ballpark or riding the subway.”

Americans Widely Oppose Re-Opening Most Businesses, Despite Easing of Restrictions in Some States, Post-U. Md. Poll Finds

Washington Post Coverage: “Fear of infection, the poll finds, has not abated at all in recent weeks. In the survey, 63 percent of Americans say they are either very or somewhat worried about getting the virus and becoming seriously ill, with 36 percent saying they are either not too worried or not at all worried. In a Post-U. Md. poll two weeks ago, 57 percent said they were worried about becoming seriously ill from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 42 percent said they were not worried.

States are at different points in the cycle of the virus, with some appearing to be past the peak and others still experiencing growth in the pace of infections. Asked their impressions of where their own communities stand in relation to the curves, 31 percent say the worst is behind them. Another 30 percent say the worst is happening now, while 38 percent say the worst is yet to come.”

Baker Administration: Nothing ‘Magical” About May 18 Re-Opening Date

Boston Business Journal: Acknowledging employers’ anxiety and sense of urgency in restarting the economy, as the state grapples with nearly 24 percent of its workforce unemployed, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said May 18 is not a ‘magical’ date.

“Our plan will be released on that date which will outline a phased-in reopening across our commonwealth,” she said. “And phased-in means just that. Some industry sectors will be more ready than others. And even within an industry sector, there might be components of that industry that can begin first and eventually build out to full capacity. So that’s what May 18 is. It doesn’t mean the economy across our commonwealth will just reopen. It’s just not possible.”

Baker said that in coming weeks, state officials will release “concrete plans” on what each phase of the reopening will look like, where industries fit, general business guidance on social distancing and cleaning protocols that all businesses will have to adhere to upon reopening, and industry-specific guidance and protocols for reopening.

The child-care and transportation sectors “will continue to be key enablers to ensure a safe and successful reopening,” according to Baker, who added that the advisory panel is developing “next steps” for those sectors.

The panel has virtually met with representatives from 23 different industry associations and community coalitions, representing 100,000 businesses and 1.4 million Bay State workers, according to Baker. The associations included sectors involving retail, restaurants, travel and tourism, banking, construction and recreation.”

May 3, 2020

Massachusetts House Agrees to Remote Session Rules

State House News reports: “House Democrats and Republicans resolved their differences Monday over a rules package that will allow the House to resume formal sessions with representatives allowed to participate by phone in debates and voting. The House on Monday afternoon passed an amended version of the temporary, emergency rules package.”

Unemployment by the Numbers

Here is updated state UI data as of April 30

  • From April 19 to April 25, Massachusetts had 70,552 individuals file an initial claim for standard Unemployment Insurance (UI).
  • Since March 15, a total of 722,009 initial claims were filed.
  • For the week of April 19 to April 25, there were a total of 527,538 claimants, an increase of 13.8 percent over the previous week. The largest number of claimants include Food and Accommodation with 93,168;Retail Trade at 69,333; and Health and Social Assistance with 66,202.
  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA)is paying standard Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to around 450,000 claimants and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to around 150,000 claimants.
  • Since March 15, nearly 700,000 Massachusetts total claims have been paid amounting to more than $2.3 billion in disbursements to beneficiaries of both programs.

Update on PPP Loan Forgiveness

Will a borrower’s PPP loan forgiveness amount (pursuant to section 1106 of the CARES Act and US Small Business Administration (SBA) implementing rules and guidance) be reduced if the borrower laid off an employee, offered to rehire the same employee, but the employee declined the offer? 

SBA and the US Treasury Department intend to issue an interim final rule excluding laid-off employees whom the borrower offered to rehire (for the same salary/wages and same number of hours) from the CARES Act’s loan forgiveness reduction calculation. The interim final rule will specify that, to qualify for this exception, the borrower must have made a good faith, written offer of rehire, and the employee’s rejection of that offer must be documented by the borrower. Employees and employers should be aware that employees who reject offers of re-employment may forfeit eligibility for continued unemployment compensation.

Globe Coverage: Community banks have been working deep into the night to get loans for their local businesses
Boston Business Journal: PPP’s Round 2 seems to favor smaller Mass. Businesses
Washington Post: SBA Touts More Small Businesses Getting Relief Funds in New Data

State Representative Calls for State to Ramp Up Mask Production 

Daily Hampshire Gazette: Democratic Rep. Mindy Domb on Friday filed a bill that directs the state Department of Public Health to ramp up the production of masks and to make sure that all residents have access to them.

The bill states:

  • The state health department would contract with manufacturers to produce cloth face coverings that it would purchase.
  • Those making the masks must be based in Massachusetts.
  • Priority would go to businesses whose employees have a union contract.
  • Masks must be produced in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Once the production is established, the state health department, in coordination with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, will proceed to distribute cloth face coverings to local emergency management directors or local health officers so that they can be put to immediate use by both municipal employees and residents.

Warren, Schakowsky to Introduce Legislation to Publicly Manufacture Personal Protective Equipment, Prescription Drugs, Other Medical Supplies

Vox Coverage: The bill would set up a new Emergency Office of Manufacturing for Public Health within the US Health and Human Services Department. That agency would be charged with guaranteeing “an adequate supply of drugs, devices, biological products, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and other supplies necessary to diagnose, mitigate, and treat COVID-19 and to address shortages in products used to treat non-COVID conditions and illnesses,” according to a summary of the bill.

The office could enter into contracts with private manufacturers to produce those supplies or it could assume responsibility for manufacturing itself. The bill text authorizes the federal government to construct manufacturing facilities if necessary to perform that work. Separate from addressing supply needs, the bill would also authorize the government to construct facilities that could produce vaccines and other therapeutics as soon as they become available.

Bill Text

Bill Summary 

 Neal Pressing Ahead with Phase Four Relief Package

State House News: “The White House may be trying to pump the brakes on the next round of economic relief being discussed in Congress, but U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said Monday that it’s full steam ahead for House Democrats, who want to provide more aid to state and local governments, as well as hospitals, families and the unemployed.

‘We’re writing it now,’ Neal told the News Service in a phone interview from Springfield on Monday afternoon.

Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he hoped the so-called “Phase Four” relief bill would be ready for consideration in the House next week, despite the White House’s top economic advisor over the weekend talking about the administration’s desire for a “pause” on stimulus spending.

Northeast Governors Banding Together to Buy Medical Supplies

Politico Coverage: Seven Northeast governors are banding together to purchase medical equipment as a unit in hopes of avoiding a mad scramble for supplies if the coronavirus returns in the fall.

The governors — who have said they will coordinate plans as they look to reopen their states — announced the consortium during a conference call on Sunday led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The aim is to give states more sway in the international marketplace, Cuomo said.

“That will increase our market power when we’re buying and we will buy as a consortium, priced as a consortium, for the PPE equipment, ventilators, medical equipment — whatever we need to buy for all those hospitals together,” Cuomo said.

In addition to New York, the group consists of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The idea of purchasing supplies regionally was floated last month, as states were bidding against one another and embarking on international hunts to acquire masks, gowns and ventilators, a competition they said was absurd but necessary in lieu of federal coordination.

Cuomo said the governors estimate they’ll collectively buy about $5 billion in medical supplies this year, with $2 billion of that for New York.”

Boston’s Rental Relief Fund Begins Making Payments

WGBH: The first $15,000 from Boston’s $3 million rental relief fund has been distributed, just ahead of the first-of- the-month, a rental due date for many of Boston hundreds of thousands of renters.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced the fund in early April.

Guidelines issued for seasonal Cape and Islands visitors

Cape Cod Times: “The Cape and Islands legislative delegation, along with the region’s chambers of commerce and hospitals, has issued guidelines for seasonal residents amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, with Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of the summer season — three weeks away. Although the instructions may sound familiar to local residents, they compile in one listing all the restrictions that out-of-state visitors may not be aware of.”

Massachusetts researchers are on front lines of coronavirus antibody testing

Globe: Scientists and doctors across Massachusetts are mobilizing to address two of the most baffling questions of this pandemic: How widely has the coronavirus spread and if you’ve been infected, do you have lasting immunity?

The answers lie in the antibody test — a pinprick of blood that captures the body’s immune response. Researchers say such testing is the foundation upon which policymakers can determine when the commonwealth may safely, fully reopen.

As pilot antibody testing projects launch across the country, Massachusetts is seeing a surge of energy in the front lines of the field — and key results could be just a few months away. One project at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is ramping up to run thousands of antibody tests per day. Other local researchers are examining long-term immunity by testing people’s antibody responses after infection and following them over time to see if they get reinfected.

Sign-ups Surge on Massachusetts Health Exchange

Eagle Tribune: “Enrollment in the Health Connector, which allows people without insurance to sign up for coverage, is up 45,000 over the past two months.

The activity comes as hundreds of thousands of people are jobless and without employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Officials at the Health Connector say they’ve signed up at least 20,000 new people through the online exchange, while another 11,600 people with existing plans who’ve seen their income drop have shifted to MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. At least 12,000 people have moved into another health exchange plan.”

International Developments

Italy Loosens Europe’s Longest Lockdown
With Virus Under Control, Australia and New Zealand May Form a “Travel Bubble.”

AIM Joins others business groups and NAM in support for Liability Protections

AIM signed onto this coalition letter signed by nearly 300 national and regional associations to ensure that businesses are not punished for leading our country’s response to COVID-19, operating in good faith and trying to do the right thing. If this is important to your operation, please contact AIM’s Brad MacDougall.

May 2, 2020

Governor Orders Use of Masks, Face Coverings

The Baker Administration issued an order requiring the use of masks or face coverings in public places where people cannot socially distance from others.

The mask order applies to all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations that are currently open to the public and permitted to operate as COVID-19 Essential Businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail stores.

Instructions on how to make a cloth mask are available from the CDC here.

Essential Workers Conduct Strike

Employees at many online retailers, grocery store chains and package-delivery services conducted labor actions Friday to protest what they describe as unsafe working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while others, put out of work by the disease, are used May Day to demand an end to stay-at-home orders they say are ruining livelihoods and irreparably harming the economy.

IRS Provides Guidance on Deductible Business Expenses and PPP Loans

The US Internal Revenue Service has explained how it will handle the tax treatment of deductible expenses for businesses receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans. To prevent a “double tax benefit,” the IRS will not allow taxpayers to deduct trade or business expenses (e.g., payroll) associated with forgiven PPP loans, which under the CARES Act are not considered as taxable income. Read the IRS guidance here.

Warren Bill Seeks to End Shortages of Protective Gear

Under a new bill from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a new federal agency would take responsibility for eliminating protective gear shortages and other supply scarcities critical to the coronavirus response.  The legislation, to be released on Thursday and shared first with Vox, seeks to remedy the critical supply shortages reported in some Covid-19 hot spots.

If the bill were to become law, the office would be required to begin its work within one month of its passage. Once supplies are produced, the government must provide them to federal, state, local and Native American health programs at no cost. They could be sold to private or international entities at a fair price. The office would also be charged with replenishing the national strategic stockpiles that have been depleted during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Community Health Care Center COVID-19 Testing 

In continued partnership with Quest Diagnostics and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, the Baker Administration announced expansion of COVID-19 testing at additional centers throughout the commonwealth.

The testing expansion builds upon the previously announced increased testing, bringing the total to 18 Community Health Centers. The new facilities that will begin or expand testing include:

  • Lynn Community Health Center
  • Holyoke Health Center
  • North Shore Community Health Center
  • Community Health Center of Franklin County

Here for a full list of Testing Sites including MAP:

May 1, 2020

Jobless Claims in Mass. top 893,000, or 24 Percent of the Labor Force

Globe Coverage: “In the six weeks since COVID-19 restrictions closed thousands of businesses and forced people to stay at home, the state has received more than 893,600 claims for jobless benefits, or almost 24 percent of the labor force before the pandemic.

“Bad as these are, these numbers are likely to increase in Massachusetts as layoffs start to hit the education and government sectors in the months ahead,” said Thomas Kochan, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The state’s unemployment rate, which stood at 2.9 percent in March, could rise to more than 25 percent, according to an estimate by Greg Sullivan at the Pioneer Institute.

Nationally, 3.8 million workers applied for unemployment benefits in the week ended April 25, bringing the six-week total to about 30.3 million, the Labor Department said Thursday. That means more than one in six American workers have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

State Senator Adam Hinds (D – Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden) Op-Ed: The Nation’s Economy Can be Rescued by Rescuing State Economies

Covid-19 Causes Massachusetts Economy to shrink at 6 Percent Pace

Boston Business JournalMassachusetts’ real gross domestic product declined at an annualized rate of 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2020, a steeper drop-off than the country as a whole, according to a new estimate from MassBenchmarks.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis published data on Wednesday that showed U.S. GDP declining at a 4.8 percent pace from January through March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to roil the country and sent the economy into a recession.

The 6.1 percent estimated decline is based on the best information currently available, according to MassBenchmarks, an economic journal published by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The figure fails to “reflect the full severity of the pandemic-induced downturn,” MassBenchmarks editors warned in a note, because it incorporates data that predates the pandemic blossoming into a full-blown economic crisis. The payroll-employment and unemployment-rate data reflected conditions from March 8 to March 14, while sales-tax revenue data reflected February purchases.”

NBC News Update: (National) GDP falls by 4.8 percent, bringing longest economic expansion on record to abrupt halt

“The coronavirus pandemic has slammed into the economy so hard the nation’s GDP has fallen by 4.8 percent, bringing the longest economic expansion on record to an abrupt halt.

AIM Signs on to National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Business Liability Protections Letter 

“Many members who have remained operational during times of legal uncertainty risk becoming the targets of coronavirus-related lawsuits. Congress must act to ensure that such misguided litigation does not derail our recovery.”

Click here to view and sign onto the business association letter urging Congress to protect essential businesses.

NAM plans to deliver the letter to Capitol Hill on Friday, May 1, but the timing could shift

Day-Care Centers Fear COVID-19 Will Close Them Permanently; Request Aid

MassLive ReportingDaycares United, a coalition for child-care facilities across Massachusetts, addressed a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday requesting assistance because many are unsure they’ll be able to reopen after the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter provides the governor with three specific methods to help aid day-care centers with rent and other costs. Daycares United said federal Paycheck Protection Program loans have acted as lifelines to those facilities that received approval. But many haven’t received aid.”

Biggest Hurdle to Bringing People Back to the Office Might be the Commute  

Wall Street Journal: “The mass transit systems that allowed some of the world’s most densely populated financial capitals to grow and flourish for a century, including New York City and Tokyo, are emerging as a major concern because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Challenges with commuting could keep offices in those locations shut for longer than other places where people can more easily drive to work, human resources and real-estate executives say.

Companies are starting to consider alternatives to mass transit, such as company car allowances, private bus services and leasing smaller office space in suburban locations closer to where many workers live.”

See Which States Are Reopening and Which Are Still Shut Down

New York Times Interactive Map: “After weeks of shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation is beginning to slowly open up.

“Beaches and state parks are reopening to visitors, spurring concerns about overcrowding. The first barbers have returned to work, masks over their faces. Even some restaurants are getting ready to serve customers again.

“The re-openings — which in some cases have gone against the advice of public health experts — are happening piecemeal even as the number of new cases increases or remains steady across many states, leading to both pushback and confusion.”

Guidelines call for 14-day drop in cases to reopen. No state has met them.

NBC Update: “As a handful of states begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions, no state that has opted to reopen has come close to the federally recommended decline in cases over a 14-day period.

“Even as the U.S. hit the grim milestone of more than 1 million cases Tuesday — one-third of the world’s total — Georgia, Minnesota and other states are pushing to reopen businesses, even though new infection rates are still rising.

“Some states, such as Colorado and Kentucky, have reported fewer new cases in the past week. But no single state has had a two-week decline in case numbers.”

WBUR List of Communities in Massachusetts Requiring Face Masks in Public

Main Street Lending Program

The Federal Reserve announced today new details on the Main Street Lending Program. The announcement included key reforms, including lowering the minimum loan size to $500,000 to enable more small businesses to benefit from the program. It also expanded program eligibility to include companies with up to 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenues, limited the application of the facilities’ “specific support” provisions so that fewer companies are excluded and clarified that pass-through businesses’ distributions do not exclude them from the program.

Loans will be offered to small and medium-sized businesses via the Main Street New Loan Facility, the Main Street Expanded Loan Facility and the newly announced Main Street Priority Loan Facility. The maximum loan size will be $25 million for the new and priority facilities and $200 million for the expanded facility, all subject to the borrower’s existing outstanding and undrawn available debt and its 2019 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

The Federal Reserve has provided updated term sheets for the New LoanExpanded Loan and Priority Loan facilities, as well as a comprehensive FAQ document on the program. More information, including the official program launch date and application procedures, will be available on the Federal Reserve’s Main Street page as it becomes available

The Main Street Lending Program is separate from the Paycheck Protection Program, which is primarily designed for companies with fewer than 500 employees. Companies may qualify for both programs. Learn more at the SBA website here.

IRS Provides Expanded FAQs on Employee Retention Tax Credit

The Internal Revenue Service has issued expanded FAQs for the employee-retention tax credit “COVID-19 Policy Action Plan Recommendations.” The FAQs cover employer eligibility, allocation of qualified health plan expenses, interaction with other COVID-19 relief provisions and more.

New CDC Guidance on Re-Opening

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday released new re-opening guidance that is universally applicable to the broad U.S. population, including manufacturers and other businesses. The CDC webpage provides a general framework for cleaning and disinfection practices. The new guidance underscores the importance of the development, maintenance and constant reevaluation of cleaning and disinfection plans for businesses, workplaces and facilities.

April 30, 2020

The Small Business Administration Requests Public Comments on the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) Regarding the Rules for Forgiveness.

AIM members may either submit their own comments directly to the SBA or can contact AIM’s Brad MacDougall with feedback.

Boston Banks Face Another Payroll Protection Plan Slog

The Boston Business Journal reports: “Round 1 was awful. Round 2 was atrocious,” Eastern Bank CEO Bob Rivers said. “The system just keeps kicking the applications back. It can’t accept them.”

Eastern, the state’s largest SBA lender, has about 3,000 applications ready to submit to the agency, according to Rivers. By day’s end, it was only able to knock off a fraction of that, he said, though bank employees planned to keep working through the night.

Rivers is concerned that this round, customers of small banks will lose out to those of bigger banks. During the PPP’s first round, smaller banks fared comparatively well. While they started processing applications manually soon after the PPP launched, big banks attempted to automate the application process, to mixed results.”

No Virtual House of Representatives Formal Session, After All

State House News Service Reports that an attempt by House Democrats to push through emergency rules allowing for remote formal sessions stalled out after Republican action ended Wednesday’s House session – a move that drew a strong rebuke from the House speaker and an equally strong rebuttal from the House GOP leader.

“House Minority Leader Brad Jones’ move derailed House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s plans to hold a remote formal session on Thursday to advance a borrowing bill to tide the state through pandemic-related revenue shortfalls. After disagreements reached a tipping point, Jones objected and ended the session for the day by doubting the presence of a quorum, which was not present in the House.”

The House will meet on Thursday at 10 am in an informal session“The bill House leaders wanted to take up on Thursday is a House Ways and Means report on legislation (H 4593) that allows the Treasury to borrow an unspecified amount this fiscal year and pay it back by the end of the next fiscal year. Governor Charlie Baker previously said the legislation is needed “to protect the state’s budgetary and cash balances during a public health emergency.”

As Re-Opening Task Force Forms, Other States Explore Options

Baker’s Reopening Task Force Forms

Commonwealth Magazine Coverage:

“Colorado – Gov. Jared Polis is allowing retail shops to open on Friday as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines and require employees to wear face coverings and gloves. Under his order, real estate showings can resume, as can elective surgeries.  Hair salons and massage parlors can reopen as long as the provider and customer wear masks and no more than 10 people are allowed inside the business at one time. Office-based businesses may resume operations May 4, but employees must be tested daily for fever, meetings of more than 10 people are prohibited, and social distancing must be maintained. Not allowed to open at this time are restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, concert halls, casinos, and off-track betting facilities.

Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott said on Monday he is allowing the state’s stay-at-home order to expire on Thursday, allowing businesses to reopen on a phased basis. According to Abbott’s order, the first phase would allow retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums, and libraries to open Friday. They will only be allowed to operate at 25 percent of their allowed capacity. Assuming no spike in coronavirus cases occurs, Abbott would start the second phase on May 18, allowing businesses to expand to 50 percent of their allowed capacity.

Tennessee – The Tennessee Pledge is Gov. Bill Lee’s blueprint for reopening the state, starting with restaurants and retailers. The pledge limits customers to 50 percent of the restaurant’s seating capacity, with tables at least six feet apart and no more than six people per table. Employees must wear masks and gloves at all times. No buffets and no live music. Customers at a minimum should be asked about their recent health history upon entering, but the pledge says best practice would be taking the temperature of everyone who enters. The rules for retailers are almost the same, except retail customers would also be required to wear masks.

Georgia – For salon and spa owners, Georgia required the facilities to clean and disinfect their establishments before opening, remove all reading materials, and regularly disinfect all tools, shampoo bowls, pedicure bowls, and workstations. Employees are required to wear masks at all times and use face shields, gloves, and capes that can either be thrown away or washed after each use. Employees are also required to arrive at work showered and wearing clean clothes, and then change clothes before leaving the salon for the day. The Georgia guidelines recommend that customers wait outside the shop until the attendant is ready for them, maintaining a distance of six feet from other customers outside and inside the building. Customers are urged to wear masks while receiving services. The guidelines recommend taking the temperature of employees each day and every customer who enters the shop.”

CNN Map – This is Where All 50 States Stand on Reopening

Reopening Rhode Island Website

Poll Finds Support for Restrictions

A Washington Post Poll: Nearly 2 in 3 Americans say the restrictions on restaurants, stores and other businesses in their states are appropriate, with another 16 percent saying they are not tight enough. Just under 2 in 10, or 17 percent, call the limits on business activity too restrictive.

About 7 in 10 (72 percent) Democrats and 6 in 10 (62 percent) Republicans say their state’s current restrictions on businesses are appropriate. Republicans are more likely to say their state is too restrictive on businesses, though fewer than 3 in 10 say this (27 percent), compared with 17 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats.” 

Businesses Seek Sweeping Shield from Pandemic Liability Before They Reopen

New York Time Coverage: The biggest push, business groups say, is to give companies enhanced protection against lawsuits by customers or employees who contract the virus and accuse the business of being the source of the infection.

The effort highlights a core tension as the economy begins to reopen: how to give businesses the confidence they need to restart operations amid swirling uncertainty over the virus and its effects, while also protecting workers and customers from unsafe practices that could raise the chances of infection.

Administration officials have said they are examining how they could create some of those shields via regulation or executive order. But lobbyists and lawmakers agree that the most consequential changes would need to come from Congress — where the effort has run into partisan divisions that could complicate lawmakers’ ability to pass another stimulus package.

Republicans are pushing for the liability limitations as a way of stopping what they say are overzealous trial lawyers and giving business owners the certainty they need to reopen. Democratic leaders say they oppose any moves to undermine worker protections.

Leaders of labor unions say limiting business liability will reward companies that are not taking adequate steps to ensure the safety of their workers and consumers.

In announcing that the Senate will return on May 4, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Monday there was an “urgent need” to enact legislation to shield businesses from pandemic-related legal liability if they reopen, citing the risk of “years of endless lawsuits” arising from “a massive tangle of federal and state laws.”

If you have questions regarding this legislative issue, please contact AIM’s Brad MacDougall with feedback.

Trump Invokes Defense Production Act to Classify Meat Processing Plants as “Essential”

New York Times Reports: “In an executive order issued late Tuesday, Mr. Trump said recent closures of meat processing facilities “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”

The president said his administration would “take all appropriate action” to ensure that meat and poultry processors “continue operations” consistent with federal health and workplace safety guidance.”

CDC and OSHA Interim Guidance  

April 29, 2020

Governor Extends Non-Essential Business Closures; Announces Re-Opening Board 

Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday extended the essential-services emergency order to May 18 and launched a Reopening Advisory Board that will produce a plan by the same date.

Governor also announced that the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Stay-At-Home Advisory remains in effect and gatherings of 10 or more people remain prohibited until May 18th.

  • Essential Services Order – The emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public will be extended until May 18.  Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until May 18.
  • Stay at Home Advisory– The Department of Public Health’s stay-at-home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are strongly urged to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person to person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

The Reopening Advisory Board will be Co-Chaired by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy.

The Board brings public health officials together with leaders from the business community and municipal government from across the commonwealth. The group is charged with advising the administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics.  It will solicit input from a variety of constituencies during the next three weeks to develop a report that will include DPH-approved workplace safety standards, industry frameworks and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders.

The administration has made clear that public health data and guidance from health care experts will dictate the timeline of the re-opening process.

Reopening Advisory Board Members:

  • Aron Ain, CEO, Kronos Inc & Ultimate Software
  • Carlo Zaffanella, Vice President and General Manager, Maritime & Strategic Systems, General Dynamics Mission Systems
  • Corey Thomas, CEO, Rapid 7
  • Daniel Rivera, Mayor, City of Lawrence
  • Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Girish Navani, CEO and Co-Founder, eClinicalWorks
  • Joe Bahena, Senior Vice President, Joseph Abboud Manufacturing
  • Kathryn Burton, Chief of Staff, City of Boston
  • Laurie Leshin, Ph.D., President, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Linda Markham, President, Cape Air
  • Mark Keroack, President & CEO, Baystate Health
  • Monica Bharel, Ph.D., Commissioner, Department of Public Health
  • Nicole LaChapelle, Mayor, City of Easthampton
  • Pamela Everhart, Head of Regional Public Affairs and Community Relations, Fidelity Investments
  • Stephanie Pollack, Transportation Secretary and CEO
  • Steve DiFillippo, CEO, Davios Restaurants
  • Wendy Hudson, Owner, Nantucket Book Partners

Baker Signs Virtual Notarization Bill as Chapter 71 of the Acts of 2020. 

Governor Baker Signs Virtual Notarization Bill as Chapter 71 of the Acts of 2020. 

According to the State House News Service: “Videoconferencing may be used by notaries public to accomplish important business transactions while avoiding face-to-face meetings during the COVID-19 state of emergency, under a bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday.

“Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the law, which includes a series of checks and balances to ensure the integrity of the process, will make it easier to notarize wills, trust, health care proxy statements, and real estate documents. Real estate closings and other notary procedures can be executed in a timely way under the law, according to Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association Executive Director Deborah Sousa, while affording people opportunities to ask questions and get answers, but in a safe way.”

MassLive Coverage

Massachusetts House Dems Plan Teleconference on Emergency Rules

State House News Service reports: “The Massachusetts House on Wednesday plans to take up historic temporary rule changes aimed at facilitating formal sessions with lawmakers participating and voting remotely. The proposed rules, which would remain in effect through the state of emergency and include fiscal 2021 budget deliberations, was the focus of a closed teleconference caucus of House Democrats on Tuesday.

Speaker Robert DeLeo is hoping the rules can be adopted on Wednesday, enabling a formal session on Thursday where Democrats are hoping to pass a bill (H 4593) giving the state until June 30, 2021 to pay back short-term borrowing needed to bridge a gap in fiscal 2020 revenues created by a postponed tax-filing deadline and cratering tax collections in the pandemic.”

Click here for a draft of the Rules Change.

Commonwealth Magazine Coverage – House Plans Votes by Phone

Joint State Budget Proposal Surfaced as Possibility

State House News Service reports: “Bill Bell, the education department’s senior associate commissioner for administration and finance, told the board Tuesday that education officials have ‘had some informal discussions’ with the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, and said it looks like lawmakers are looking for “a better sense of how we’re going to get out of (Fiscal Year) 2020 from a revenue perspective” before forging ahead with the fiscal 2021 budget.

“He raised the possibility of a joint budget proposal coming from both the House and Senate committees, rather than individual versions from each branch. ‘We’re not clear exactly what they’re going to be able to do as it relates to the FY’ 21 budget release,’ Bell said. ‘There’s been discussions, based on timeline, that both bodies might join together, not sure yet.’ Bell said he is ‘not anticipating any reductions in funds made available through the state budget’ in the final few months of the 2020 fiscal year. ‘My understanding is right now the commonwealth does not believe it will need to reduce spending, between revenues that will come through tax receipts to a certain date as well as relief coming out of federal revenue streams,’ he said.

“It’s also ‘quite likely,’ Bell said, that the state will use one-twelfth budgets for the beginning of the new fiscal year. The mini-budgets have been used in recent years when a full state budget has not been signed into law by the July 1 start of the fiscal year.”

Activists Seek LGBTQ+ Coronavirus Data

LGBTQ+ activists sent a letter to legislative leaders seeking additional data on how COVID-19 has effected the LGBTQ+ community. The push for more data comes after the state began collecting and sharing coronavirus statistics on race and ethnicity earlier this month. The letter is signed by representatives from the Bay State Stonewall Democrats, Fenway Health, PFLAG National and the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, among others.

Delta Donation Puts Massachusetts Dental Society Over Fundraising Goal

State House News Service reports: “The state’s largest dental insurer has committed $2 million to a recovery fund set up to help community dentists around the state, fulfilling a fundraising goal for the effort. The Massachusetts Dental Society set up its COVID-19 Recovery Fund on April 21, making a $300,000 seed donation and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million from other donors. Delta Dental’s commitment of $2 million put the fund over the top. ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Massachusetts dental offices to close, except for emergency care. This not only limits patients’ access to non-urgent care, it creates significant financial and business challenges for dentists and other oral health providers,’ said Dennis Leonard, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Massachusetts and Treasurer of AIM.

“Like many health care providers who have been hurt financially by the cancellations of all elective procedures and the postponement of many well visits, dentists have been forced to transition, delivering only emergency care only. The Massachusetts Dental Society will determine how to disperse the money from the recovery fund.”

Pandemic Opens Policy Opportunities, Spilka Says

Endorsing the idea of a “phased in” reopening of the state’s economy, Senate President Karen Spilka told business leaders on Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic could present opportunities to begin repairing transportation infrastructure and to elevate early education and child care as policy priorities.

  • Before the coronavirus, the Massachusetts Legislature was engaged in discussions about how to improve the state’s transportation system, and the House of Representatives passed legislation to raise the gas tax and borrow $18 billion to support investments in infrastructure.
  • Spilka said the Senate still plans to pass the borrowing part of that transportation package, and she has asked Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore to work with House Co-chair Rep. William Straus to host a virtual oversight hearing with experts to explore plans to “open” the state’s transportation systems.
  • With fewer people driving, Spilka said now is the time for the House to pass the Senate’s climate-change bill to capitalize on momentum toward achieving the state’s emission reduction goals.
  • With millions of parents working from home during the public health crisis, Spilka said it also has become clear how difficult it can be for a single parent or a household with two working adults to juggle jobs and child care. She said she has spoken with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren about the fact that child care is as important as public transit, roads and bridges in getting people to work.
  • “To be clear, the state will not have the capacity to fully fund universal early education and care on our own given our current budget situation, no matter how much we may want to. So, in the same way that we have partnered in the past on issues of importance to all of us, including transportation, climate change and mental health, I am hoping that we can begin a conversation on convening a public-private partnership to address our early education and care needs,” Spilka said.
  • While the Legislature and governor over the past five years have built up the state’s “rainy day” fund to $3.5 billion, Spilka said she’s hopeful that the state can get through the final two months of fiscal 2020 without tapping those reserves or making cuts to spending.
  • She said that by “making some changes and using Medicaid funds,” state budget officials may be able to wait until fiscal 2021 to start using the reserve money.
  • The top Senate Democrat also said Massachusetts was going to need more support from the federal government to get through the economic meltdown and health impacts from the pandemic.

Cambridge and Lawrence Join Somerville, Enforcing Fines on Residents Who Don’t Use a Mask in Public

Cambridge on Monday issued an order requiring people over five years old to wear face coverings in all public places, businesses and common areas of residential buildings. Violators could face fines of up to $300

Lawrence followed suit on Tuesday with its own order that comes with a $300 fine for people not complying. The city’s board of health issued the executive order requiring masks or facial coverings in public, Mayor Daniel Rivera’s office said.

NBC Coverage

April 28, 2020

Paycheck Protection Program Reopens

The US Small Business Association (SBA) announced that the second round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is now available through approved lenders and federally insured credit unions.

The first round of the funding was included in the third COVID stimulus package known as the CARES Act signed into law on March 27. The original $350 billion funding for the program was depleted in its second week, after which Congress and the president approved an additional $310 billion in PPP funding on April 24.

Eligibility requirements for the loan program, created to incentivize businesses to keep employees on the payroll, remains the same. However, of the $310 billion in new funding, $30 billion has been set aside for banks and lending institutions with assets less than $10 billion; another $30 billion is reserved for lenders with assets between $10 and $50 billion. The change is intended to prompt more small lenders – and thereby more small businesses – to take advantage of the federal funds.

More on Paycheck Protection Plan Round Two

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (HED) has published this list of institutions that provided loans to Massachusetts companies during the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program. The list includes all entities that appeared on the SBA’s approved lenders list, which was last updated on April 13, 2020.

Language Translation Services for PPP – The Mass Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) provides translation services for PPP applicants in 19 languages.

Centers for Disease Control List New Virus Symptoms

Chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell have been added to the list of coronavirus symptoms, according to New England Public Radio. 

Baker Administration Announces New Funding for Nursing Facilities

The Baker Administration announced a second round of funding up to $130 million for nursing facilities to support COVID-19 response efforts over the next two months, as well as increased funding of $44 million for residential congregate-care service providers. The funding will support staffing costs, infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to increased financial support, the administration has implemented required testing for staff and residents of nursing facilities.

The funding is dependent on required COVID-19 testing of all staff and residents, regular infection control audits, appropriate allocation of funding and the public release of facility performance and funding use.

Read more here.

The Commonwealth will offer support for temporary staffing assistance for all nursing homes in need. This includes clinical response teams of 120 nurses and CNAs deployed in teams of 10 during emergency situations, crisis-management support and deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard. These efforts will be supported by a centralized infection control performance improvement center established by the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

The increased funding for service residential congregate-care service providers builds on the $95 million in increased funding announced on March 30, bringing the total funding for these providers to $139 million. The money will support increased staffing costs, infection control and PPE. Read more.

Updated List of US Department of Labor COVID-19 Resources 

Advocates Pressure State Leaders for Small-Business Assistance

Boston Globe business columnist Jon Chesto reports that “[M]embers of the newly created Small Business COVID-19 Response Coalition fear many of the smallest businesses, particularly those in lower-income communities or owned by minorities, will be left out in the cold. Again.

“That’s why this coalition of roughly 80 advocacy and local business groups sent a request to Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday. The ask: $40 million for grants that would help small businesses, either directly or through community organizations that would provide counsel, and another $110 million that would be distributed in the form of low-cost loans.

“Spilka offered a brief statement, saying she looks forward to working with federal partners to identify gaps in available programs — namely, the newly replenished PPP — and to advocating for small businesses. Senator Eric Lesser, co-chair of the Legislature’s economic development committee, said he’s interested in helping. He suggested some form of small-business assistance could be included in an economic development bill under consideration at the State House.”

Wear Your Mask in Somerville

“Officials announced on the city’s website Monday that Somerville residents will be required to wear face masks both inside and outside when in public places. The city previously had an advisory about face coverings in place, but it will now become mandatory for anyone over the age of 2. The order, which goes into effect on Wednesday, will have a one-week grace period before it’s enforced by police. After that period, people will face anything from a written warning to a $300 fine, officials said.

April 25, 2020

Administration Files Medicaid Waiver for MassHealth Flexibility

Massachusetts is filing two waiver requests with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that will give the state and its Medicaid program, MassHealth, flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. If allowed, the waivers will build upon the two previously submitted waivers.

Through these waiver requests, the commonwealth is seeking flexibility to address key areas of need:

  • Expand Medicare telehealth coverage to include services provided by phone and video, increasing access to health care for seniors and individuals with disabilities without readily accessible video technology. This expansion is consistent with telehealth coverage currently provided by MassHealth and commercial plans.
  • Allow MassHealth to waive the requirement that certain applicants and members spend down to qualify for coverage in cases of financial hardship.
  • Extend retroactive coverage for individuals who qualify for MassHealth to allow individuals to be covered up to 90 days prior to submitting their application.
  • Provide flexibility for federal provider payment limits to enable MassHealth to provide critical stabilization funds to health-care providers.
  • Ease provider requirements that could result in unnecessary administrative burdens or barriers to care.

State Issues Update on New Unemployment System

Massachusetts on Monday became one of the first states in the nation to successfully implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program established by the federal CARES Act. PUA provides benefits for individuals who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits, but who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

The platform launched 10 days ahead of schedule. The PUA system has so far processed more than 100,000 claims and benefit checks, which include an additional $600 as part of another federal CARES Act benefit implemented by the administration.

 State Introduces Weekly Unemployment Claims Data

The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development introduced new weekly UI claims data.

About 653,000 Massachusetts residents have filed unemployment claims in the past five weeks, and more than 200,000 others applied under the PUA for self-employed and gig workers who did not previously qualify.

Massachusetts had 80,153 individuals file an initial claim for unemployment insurance from April 12 to April 18. The number represented a decrease of 22 percent over the previous week.

The largest number of claims, 41 percent, came from the retail, food/accommodation, and health- care industries. Industry filings included:

  • Retail Trade with 12,669 or 16.8 percent
  • Food and Accommodation at 9,564 or 12.8 percent
  • Health and Social Assistance with 9,249 or 11.8 percent

American Hotel and Lodging Association Impact Report

House Approves Bill Seeking More COVID-19 Data

The Massachusetts House approved a bill seeking detailed COVID-19 data. State House News Service reports that the bill would require the Department of Public Health to publish detailed demographic data about COVID-19’s impact and would convene a task force to recommend strategies for eliminating barriers to care.

Congress Passes Language to Restart the Paycheck Protection Program

Legislation passed by the US House on Thursday includes $310 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.  The Small Business Administration issued an updated FAQ document for PPP lenders and borrowers to provide guidance on application submissions, secondary sales of PPP loans and eligibility for businesses with large company ownership.

CNBC Coverage: US issues new guidance for small business loans, pressures public companies to return funds.

The guidance makes it “unlikely” that big, publicly traded companies will be able to access the next round of funding. Companies applying for relief funds must certify that the loans are necessary and that they cannot tap other sources of funding and public companies have access to the capital markets.

For instance, Shake Shack returned the $10 million it got through the PPP after it sold $150 million in new shares. “It is unlikely that a public company with substantial market value and access to capital markets will be able to make the required certification in good faith,” the SBA said.

The SBA indicated that large public companies who tapped the PPP before the rule change can avoid scrutiny by returning the relief loans in two weeks.

Organizations Offer Translation Services for Loan Program

Massachusetts organizations will partner to provide translation services to help small business owners with limited English proficiency apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans.

The effort, organized by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, will open 49 technical assistance providers to businesses to help translate applications into more than a dozen languages.

Cities of Boston and Somerville Allow Restaurants to Provide Groceries

Globe Coverage – April 24

“On Friday, Mayor Martin Walsh announced that the City of Boston will begin allowing restaurant owners to sell groceries out of their storefronts for delivery, curbside pickup, and takeout, offering eateries another financial lifeline during the coronavirus shutdown.

“According to the proposal, restaurants would have to apply for permits through the city’s Inspectional Services Department and follow all state and federal guidelines with regard to sale of products. As part of the application, restaurateurs would need to submit a health, safety, and operations plan to ensure the safety of their workers, and an outline of the list of goods they intend to sell.”

Municipalities such as Somerville and Arlington are also cutting  red tape and making it easier for bars and restaurants to sell items like meat, produce, and toilet paper. Some restaurants have been doing it on their own since the Massachusetts Restaurant Association reminded members that their licenses allow them to sell prepared meals and provisions. Panera Bread, for example, recently rolled out Panera Grocery, allowing customers to buy items like a gallon of milk, a bag of grapes, and avocados.”

City of Boston Updates

Warren and Markey Request Additional Provider Relief Funding for Massachusetts from Federal Office of Health and Human Services 

The new Provider Relief Fund, intended to help hospitals, health-care facilities and health-care providers deal with financial issues created by the coronavirus pandemic included inadequate funding for Massachusetts, according to the senators’ letter.

“The initial formula did not account for the extreme impact in coronavirus hot spots. Although Massachusetts represents 4.7 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases and 3.6 percent of all U.S. deaths (as of April 17, 2020), Massachusetts received only 2.8 percent of the $30 billion initially distributed,” the senators wrote in their letter.

“And although the funding Massachusetts received amounted to $44,000 per reported COVID-19 patient in the state, other states such as Minnesota, Nebraska, West Virginia, and North Dakota received more than $300,000 per reported COVID-19 case.”

Massachusetts received $841 million when the federal government released the first $30 billion from the $100 billion Provider Relief Fund, created under the CARES Act. The senators told Azar that the first round of funding “is a tremendous help and a necessary first step” and that they appreciate that HHS based the allocations on 2019 fee-for-service Medicare reimbursement data.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) Releases Remote Learning Comparison Tool

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) released a tool that monitors data on remote learning from the state’s 20 largest school districts. The application will be updated regularly.

“The data make it clear that the deployment of remote learning in Massachusetts, at least in its design, is highly inconsistent at this time, raising concern that such disparities could broaden achievement gaps across and within districts while also complicating efforts to develop a cohesive return-to-school strategy,” MBAE said.

The initial version of the database contains information on the 20 largest school districts by total student enrollment, which collectively educate 29 percent of Massachusetts’ public school students.  The information comes from school districts’ websites and public communications to students, parents, teachers and community members.

MBTA Board to Accept Live Remote Testimony

State House News Service reports that members of the public who wish to weigh in on topics before the MBTA board will be able to testify remotely without violating social-distancing practices.  The Fiscal and Management Control Board will use the GoToWebinar digital platform to queue up speakers and call on them to address members remotely.

Those interested in testifying using the new method should first ensure they can get GoToWebinar to run on a computer or phone and then sign up online by 11 a.m. Monday.

April 24, 2020

Massachusetts Sees More Than 3,000 New Coronavirus Cases in Single Day
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Suggests 4-6 More Weeks of Social Distancing

Globe Coverage

House passes $484 Billion Coronavirus Aid package and Legislation Creating select Coronavirus Oversight Committee

The House on Thursday gave resounding approval to a $484 billion coronavirus relief package to restart a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, and moved to increase oversight of the sprawling federal response to the pandemic.

President Trump said he was “grateful” for the action to refill the loan program and indicated he would sign the measure as early as Thursday evening.

The package passed on Thursday was an interim step after enactment of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law. It emerged after a flurry of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration after funding lapsed for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business loan program created by the stimulus plan that had been overwhelmed by demand as soon as it began.

Governor Baker Seeks $1.2 Billion Loan to Pay Jobless Benefits

State House News Service reports: “In the midst of five straight weeks of surging unemployment claims, Gov. Charlie Baker asked the federal government for a $1.2 billion loan to help Massachusetts meet unprecedented needs and ensure that people do not suffer through payless paydays.

Baker wrote to U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia on April 6 requesting the funding, an administration spokesperson confirmed. In his letter, obtained by the News Service, Baker estimated that Massachusetts will need to supplement its coffers with an advance of $900 million from Washington to pay unemployment benefits in May and another $300 million for June.

In need of a cash infusion soon, the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund balance has dropped by more than half, down to about $750 million, since the start of March amid record levels of applications.

Governor’s Letter to US Dept of Labor Secretary

Globe Coverage – 4.4 Million More Americans File for Jobless Claims

Local Initiatives Support Corporation Recovery Grant Program

LISC will offer grants of up to $10,000 to address immediate financial peril, limit layoffs, avoid gaps in employee benefits or insurance, mitigate economic instability and increase the likelihood of business survival. Launched with seed funding provided by Citizens, the Small Business Recovery Grant Program is part of the LISC Rapid Relief & Resiliency Fund for Massachusetts.

The link to the application will close on Friday, April 24 at noon.  Sign up to receive updates here.

Private Student Loan Relief

Massachusetts House Passes H.4672, An Act addressing COVID-19 data collection and disparities in treatment.  

Legislature Sends Public Health, Virtual Notarization Bills to Governor

Two bills are heading to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk after both branches of the Legislature enacted them during day-long informal sessions:

  • One bill deals with strengthening local and regional public health systems (H 4503)
  • A second would allow virtual notarization via video conferencing(S 2645

AIM Supports Remote Notarization
 AIM 30 on Thursday Webinar | Communicating During Times of Turmoil

Webinar Recording

April 23, 2020

State Expands COVID-19 Testing at Community Health Centers

In partnership with Quest Diagnostics and the Mass League of Community Health Centers, the Baker Administration announced efforts to increase COVID-19 testing through community health centers.

Community health centers in areas of high need that can increase testing capacities will be prioritized.

  • Since Friday, Quest has sent more than 2,255 kits to community health centers in Boston and Brockton.
  • Quest shipped additional COVID-19 test kits yesterday and will send more today to 12 community health centers, with a commitment to add health centers.
  • By Friday of this week, Quest has committed to ship an additional 5,000 COVID-19 test kits to the 12 community health centers.

WiFi Hotspots Expanded

Cities and towns throughout Massachusetts that do not yet have a completed “last-mile” broadband network will receive expanded access to high-speed Internet.

  • The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech, KCST and local internet service providers (ISPs) will offer communities new WiFi hotspots, building off the commonwealth’s MassBroadband 123 fiber-optic network.
  • This program will be offered free of monthly charge to eligible communities until September 1.
  • MassBroadband is providing support to local ISPs as needed, and is tracking these hotspots as they come online and posting them online here.

Division of Banks Joins Effort to Help Student Borrowers

The Massachusetts Division of Banks (DOB) has joined a multi-state initiative to secure payment relief options for Massachusetts student loan borrowers. The Division issued a Consumer Advisory with important information and resources for private student loan borrowers, building on the federal CARES Act, which provided relief for students with federal loans, including the suspension of monthly payments, interest and involuntary collection activity until September 30, 2020. The advisory also follows the recently announced Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s deferment of payments in its No-Interest Loan Program until August 1.

Under this initiative, eligible borrowers must:

  • Have commercially owned Federal Family Education Program Loans or privately held student loans;
  • Be struggling to make their payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Borrowers in need of assistance must immediately contact their student loan servicer to identify the options that are appropriate to their circumstances. Relief options include:

  • Providing a minimum of 90 days of forbearance
  • Waiving late payment fees
  • Ensuring that no borrower is subject to negative credit reporting
  • Ceasing debt collection lawsuits for 90 days
  • Working with borrowers to enroll them in other borrower assistance programs, such as income-based repayment.

Additional information, including a full list of participating private student loan servicers, are included in the Division’s Consumer Advisory.

Governor Encourages Residents to Participate in Contact Tracing Effort

Governor Baker said the state’s contact and tracing program is reaching out to individuals to inform them regarding any risk and next steps they may need to take.  The Governor encouraged residents to not block these calls and to answer those phone calls.

WBUR Coverage on Massachusetts Contact Tracing from April 18th includes the following:

  • Massachusetts has secured two prefixes for all contact tracing calls: 833 or 857. Ideally, the incoming caller will show up as “MA COVID Team”;
  • Massachusetts is asking Sprint, Verizon and others to waive caller ID fees and hoping phone owners will activate that feature.
  • As the first week of calls draws to a close, contact investigators reached 765 Massachusetts residents who’ve tested positive as of the end of the day on Thursday.Those 765 people have identified more than a thousand close contacts, meaning someone they spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of during the three days before their positive test. Contact tracers have reached 626 of those people.

Department of Revenue (DOR) Issues Guidance Allowing for Electronic Signatures

This DOR directive outlines for taxpayers and tax practitioners guidance for the practices and procedures concerning acceptance of electronic signatures on various administrative forms submitted to the department. It does not affect the acceptance of electronic signatures during the electronic tax return filing process.

The directive addresses forms including, but not limited to, Form A-37, Consent Extending the Time for Assessment of Taxes; Form B-37, Special Consent Extending the Time for Assessment of Taxes; Form DR-1, Office of Appeals Form; and Form M-2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative. The DOR has indicated that for other forms not listed herein, that the department will work with taxpayers to confirm the parties’ declaration of intent to sign electronically.

Representative Pignatelli Proposes $75 Million Nonprofit Relief Fund Legislation
before the Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee

State House News Service reports that Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, wrotein a column published Wednesday that directing aid to cultural centers will keep them afloat and “allow them to hit the ground running” once the state emerges from the COVID-19 emergency.

“Once the dust settles and we are allowed to once again meet in person, we will all crave the contact with one another that has been deprived of us during this time of social isolation,” he said.

Last week, the Massachusetts Cultural Council reported that the cultural sector has lost more than $264 million in revenue since the start of the outbreak based on a survey of member organizations. Almost 700 organizations replied to the council’s questions, and 91 percent said they had canceled programming and events amid the social-distancing.

About 62 percent reported layoffs, furloughs or reducing employee hours and wages to cope with financial hardship, which the council said would impact more than 15,000 Massachusetts workers

The bill Pignatelli co-filed with Rep. John Barrett III (HD 5017), which the House on Tuesday sent to the Tourism Committee, would offer $75 million in grants to nonprofit cultural organizations “experiencing financial distress as a result of COVID-19.”

New Partnership Links Essential Workers, Early Educators

State House News Service also reports that the Executive Office of Early Education and Care will connect essential workers who need child care with out-of-work early educators who can provide skilled in-home care. The partnership, announced Tuesday, is in addition to the emergency drop-in child care programs that will continue to operate while traditional, non-emergency programs remain closed until June 29.

“While childcare services are not typically free of charge, the Massachusetts portal also enables early educators to waive their fees and volunteer as caregivers, should they be able to do so, providing additional support to essential workers” Care.com officials said in a press release. Eligible families and child care workers can receive free 90-day premium memberships to the service.”

AIM Supports Health-Care Worker Liability Protections

AIM expressed support for the Healthcare Worker Liability Protections Bill.  The legislation was signed by Governor last week as Chapter 64 of the Acts of 2020.

April 22, 2020

Massachusetts K-12 Schools to Remain Closed Through Academic Year

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order extending the closure of all public and private schools through the end of the school year, and the closure of all non-emergency child care programs until June 29, 2020 in an effort to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

  • The order expands the March 25 order suspending normal educational operations at schools and non-emergency child care programs. The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) established a process to approve Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs to serve families of first responders, medical personnel and essential workers.
  • Emergency child-care programs approved by EEC will continue to operate. There are 523 emergency child-care programs statewide serving families of essential workers. Weekly attendance averages about 2,500 children in these programs.
  • EEC will continue to pay subsidies to child-care providers based on their pre-COVID-19 enrollment, in order to support the workforce.
  • The order does not apply to residential special education schools.

K-12 School Order Link Child Care Program Link 

  • Baker signed a law on April 10 allowing Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to vacate MCAS testing for the year and instructing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive graduation requirements.
  • Several other governors have shuttered schools in their states into the summer, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

State Revises Crisis Standards of Care; Plans Equity Advisory Group

Revisions to the state’s crisis standards of care (a set of voluntary guidelines intended to help hospitals allocate limited resources) include clarifications aimed at preventing unfair discrimination, according to the Department of Public Health.

Commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel, will also convene an advisory group on health-care equity and disparities.

At the same time, a public-health order is issued requiring mandatory reporting, oversight and monitoring of any hospital that implements crisis standards of care as well as the convening of an advisory group to advise on disparities and inequities.

Globe Coverage 

Click here for a full list of guidance and directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), and other state agencies related to COVID-19.

Department of Revenue Issues Emergency Regulations on Telecommuting

On April 21, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) issued emergency regulation 830 CMR 62.5A.3: Massachusetts Source Income of Non-Residents Telecommuting due to COVID-19.

Emergency regulation 830 CMR 62.5A.3 sets forth the sourcing rules that apply to income earned by a non-resident employee who telecommutes on behalf of an in-state business from a location outside the state due to the COVID-19 state of emergency in Massachusetts and explains the parallel treatment that will be accorded to resident employees with income tax liabilities in other states that have adopted similar sourcing rules. The regulation is effective for the period beginning March 10, 2020 and ending on the date on which the governor gives notice that the state of emergency declared in Executive Order 591 is no longer in effect.

For additional guidance regarding Massachusetts telecommuting tax regulations click here for RSM client alert.

DOR Issues Additional Guidance on Remote Working

TIR 20-5:  Massachusetts Tax Implications of an Employee Working Remotely due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The DOR also issued Technical Information Release (“TIR”) 20-5 to describe the Massachusetts personal income tax, withholding, and corporate excise implications of an employee working remotely in a state other than the state where the employee previously worked, solely due to the 2019 novel Coronavirus pandemic.  It also explains the application of the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave program where an employee is working remotely in a different state. The rules are being adopted to minimize disruption for employers and employees during the state of emergency. They are effective for the period beginning March 10, 2020 and ending on the date on which the governor gives notice that the state of emergency declared in Executive Order 591 is no longer in effect.

Please contact Brad MacDougall, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at 617-262-1180 if you have any questions.

New Law – Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures Impacting Residential and Small Business

Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation yesterday to protect homeowners and tenants from eviction and foreclosure. The law may be read here. It was signed as Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020.

The law provides temporary protections for both residential tenants and small businesses that are unable to pay rent, in an effort to stabilize homes and commercial spaces during the COVID-19 crisis. The law also prohibits proceedings on residential foreclosures during the COVID-19 crisis.   

 

While this bill does not relieve a residential or commercial tenant of their responsibility to pay their rent or mortgage, it does offer protection for those who are unable to make these payments as result of the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

 

Under this legislation, a landlord may not file a complaint in court to evict an eligible small business for a non-essential purpose (i.e. a purpose that does not pose a health or safety risk). Eligible small businesses are businesses which operate only in Massachusetts, have 150 or fewer employees, and are not publicly traded. This moratorium will last for either four months following the bill’s signing on April 20, 2020, or until 45 days after the emergency declaration expires (whichever is sooner, and unless extended by the Governor).  

 

The new law does not eliminate or reduce an obligation to pay rent. Businesses that can pay rent should continue to do so and should work collaboratively with their landlords when they are unable to pay rent due.  

 

Under this legislation, landlords may not apply late fees or negatively report to credit bureaus if the tenant sends a timely notice that the non-payment of rent was the result of a financial hardship caused by COVID-19. Evictions may still proceed when a tenant’s lease violation creates a health or safety risk for others. 

 

Eligible small businesses can use the Form of Notice – COVID-19 Hardship – Small Business Tenant and the Documentation of Financial Hardship – Small Business Tenant forms to provide the required notice to their landlord of their inability to pay rent found here. 

AIM Supports Remote Notarization

The legislation was engrossed by the Massachusetts Senate yesterday.

The proposed legislation would authorize notaries to use communication technology for remote notarization throughout the duration of the state of emergency declared due to COVID-19. AIM and our members believe that an emergency law is necessary to allow for remote notarization –by the broadest definition of notary –in order to enable these financial transactions to occur remotely and avoid in-person transactions to abide by social distancing, avoid spread and mitigate the significant backlog that will be created without an emergency legislative response.”

Globe Coverage

Deal Reached on Interim Stimulus Package: 

Senate passes bill, House expected to vote on Thursday. (CNN Coverage)

Additional Sources:

April 18, 2020

State Distributes PPE to Emergency Responders

The Baker-Polito Administration announced the distribution of approximately 200,000 respirator masks for all local law enforcement officers and firefighters to ensure they have protective equipment during the COVID-19 crisis. These FDA-approved respirator masks will be distributed to all local law enforcement officers, including sheriffs and college and university police, and firefighters through a coordinated effort by the COVID-19 Response Command Center and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers are continuing to receive these types of masks and other PPE.

Daily distribution of PPE data can be found here.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program Depleted

Bloomberg Coverage – “About 100 members of Congress signed a letter Thursday to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza with concerns about the EIDL program, saying they would strongly back a request for more funding. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters he supports adding money to the program, and a Senate Democratic bill floated last week included money for it.”

Cambridge-based Biotech, Moderna, Receives Millions in Federal Funding for Continued Vaccine Research (Globe Coverage)

AIM signs on to US Chamber 501(C)6 Letter to Congress

The Paycheck Protection Program does not currently accept applications from all non-profit organization. The Program leaves out 501(c)(6) chambers of commerce.  Business organizations have a letter urging Congress to quickly make changes to the law to enable all non-profits to obtain access to these funds.  

The deadline to sign is Thursday, April 23, 2020 at 4 p.m.  Click here to read and sign the letter

Registry of Motor Vehicles Furthers Extensions 

Registry of Motor Vehicles Furthers Extensions to Expiring Licenses, Permits, Motor Vehicle Inspection Stickers, and Passenger Plate Registrations 

All non-commercial driver’s licenses, ID cards, and Learner’s Permits that expire in May 2020, will now expire in July 2020 and do not need to be renewed at this time. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 credential was already extended by 60 days. The specific expiration date typically coincides with an individual’s birth date. Customers holding a license marked “Limited-Term” that has expired or will expire between March 1 and May 31, 2020 should visit Mass.gov/RMV for more information and to check the validity of their credential.

All Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) and Commercial Driver’s License Permits (CLP) that expire in May 2020, will now expire in July 2020 and do not need to be renewed at this time. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 credential was already extended by 60 days. The specific expiration date typically coincides with an individual’s birth date. The RMV also recently introduced an online renewal option for CDL holders if they are self-certified in the Non-Excepted Interstate (NI) category for medical certification.

In accordance with updated guidance from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), all CDL Medical Certificates expiring between March 1 and April 30, 2020, will also now not expire until June 30, 2020 and do not need to be renewed at this time. Extensions to CDL Medical Certificates are intended to prevent license downgrades and elective medical visits, as well as alleviate demand on medical providers, during the State of Emergency.

The annual motor vehicle safety and emissions inspection stickers that expire on May 31, 2020 will now expire on July 31, 2020. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 inspection sticker was already extended by 60 days. Annual motor vehicle inspection stickers typically expire on the last date of the month. While automotive repair and maintenance facilities continue to remain open as “essential services” and inspection stations may operate at their discretion, these annual inspections do not need to occur at this time.

All passenger plate registrations that will expire in May 2020, will now expire in July 2020. This extension will also apply to those whose expired March 2020 passenger plate registration was already extended by 60 days. Registration renewals can continue to be performed online at Mass.Gov/RMV during this time. Customers seeking to do so in-person will not be able to make an appointment and should delay their visit to a Service Center at this time.

Professional credentials for School Bus Certificates, School Pupil Transport Licenses (7D), Inspector Licenses, Inspection Station Licenses, Driving Instructor Licenses and Driving School Licenses that expire in May 2020, will also now be extended for 90 days after the State of Emergency is lifted and do not need to be renewed at this time.

AIM Member Sullivan Provides Alert regarding SEC Disclosure Guidance for Public Companies

This client alert provides an overview of recent disclosure guidance provided by the Securities and Exchange Commission for public companies impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 – essentially all public companies to greater or lesser degree have been impacted and must carefully evaluate their upcoming disclosures. For additional updates, please subscribe to the SEC Pulse blog.

April 17, 2020

President Announces Three-Phase Guidance for States to Re-Open

President Trump gave governors a road map Thursday for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out “a phased and deliberate approach” to restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, the Associated Press reported.

The new guidelines are aimed at easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations. They make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak. And they largely reinforce plans already in the works by governors, who have primary responsibility for public health in their states.

Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools:

  • In phase one, for instance, the plan recommends strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided and nonessential travel is discouraged.
  • In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume.
  • Phase three envisions a return to normalcy for most Americans, with a focus on identification and isolation of any new infections.

Governor Updates COVID-19 Medical and Economic Statistics

Department of Public Health Provides Town-by-Town Breakdown of COVID-19 Numbers – This resource will be updated weekly by 4 pm every Wednesday.

Testing – 131,023 tests have been conducted to date with peak in new cases expected later this month.

  • Mobile testing at 279 facilities with over 5,000 tests completed to date.
  • Self-test kits have been sent to 103 facilities for almost 11,000 tests.
  • Mobile testing at state operated large congregate care settings.

PPE – The state has distributed 3.8 million pieces of PPE to date: 2.2 million gloves, 850,000 masks, 370,000 masks from aircraft delivery, 180,000 gowns and 380 ventilators.

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending nearly 1 million pieces of PPE, including masks and suits.
  • A daily summary of PPE inventory and distribution is posted at mass.gov/covid19

Hospital Capacity – 9,600 beds are available statewide as of Tuesday: 6,000 acute-care beds, 2,500 Intensive-Care Unit beds, and 750 beds at field hospitals with additional field beds coming on line. Hospitalizations have increased during the past few days.

  • Field hospitals at Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the DCU Center in Worcester are functioning.
  • Bourne, Dartmouth, Lowell field hospitals are opening within the next week.

Unemployment – 570,000 Massachusetts residents have applied for unemployment insurance since March 15. Some 100,000 have applied in the last week.

  • State typically sees 7,000-10,000 people file each week.
  • As of last week, claimants began receiving an extra $600 from the federal CARES Act.
  • Massachusetts is still making progress on system for those who are new to the UI system – self-employed and gig economy workers.

Paycheck Protection Program Depleted

The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) have tapped the initial $349 billion in funding based on an announcement from the SBA.  The SBA is not accepting new applications for the PPP.

  • Globe Coverage
  • Washington Post Coverage
  • Senate adjourns on Thursday without reaching a consensus for replenishing the loan program. t funding to municipalities and regional planning agencies that help small business address fixed debt, payroll, accounts payable, lost sales, lost opportunities, and other working capital expenses incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General’s Office Launches Small Business Relief Partnership Grant Program 

The grants, which are funded by money the attorney general’s office secured through settlements, direct funding to municipalities and regional planning agencies that help small business address fixed debt, payroll, accounts payable, lost sales, lost opportunities, and other working capital expenses incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grants will be issued in varying amounts up to $500,000, and individual requests may not exceed $50,000. None of the money may be used to defray administrative or operational costs.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Introduces the Save Small Business Fund 

Qualifying businesses must employ between 3-20 people, be negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and be located in an economically vulnerable community.

April 16, 2020

Baker Administration Announces Funding, Mobile Testing, PPE Initiatives

Governor Charlie Baker announced new funding for nursing facilities, expanded mobile testing and an update on the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • $130 Million In New Funding – In early April, the Administration announced a 10 percent MassHealth rate increase (approximately $50 million) across the board for all nursing facilities. Facilities that create dedicated COVID-19 wings and units and follow necessary safety protocols will be eligible for an additional 15 percent rate increase, or a net increase of 25 percent (approximately $50 million). These funds support additional staffing, infection control and supply costs throughout the state of emergency. An estimated $30 million will support facilities that established dedicated skilled nursing facilities.
  • Expanded Mobile Testing – The Commonwealth’s mobile testing program, a partnership between the Department of Public Health, the National Guard, and the Broad Institute, has improved access to testing for nursing home, rest home, and assisted living facilities to test more people.As of April 14, more than 4,500 tests have been collected at 264 facilities. As of yesterday, 77 facilities had requested more than 8,600 test kits.
  • PPE Distribution – Since the beginning of March, the Command Center has distributed nearly 1.3 million masks, almost 200,000 gowns and over 2 million gloves to long-term care facilities.

Experts Predict Plummeting State Revenues at Virtual Consensus Revenue Hearing 

Department of Unemployment Assistance Issues Notice to Employers

The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) issued a notice to employers about filings and payments for the first quarter of 2020:

  • In order to maintain the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance system and continue paying claimants, it’s critical that employers file quarterly wages by the standard April 30, 2020 deadline. Not filing quarterly wages by April 30 may result in delays to benefit payments to claimants.
  • Employers severely impacted by COVID-19 who are not able to file and pay by April 30, 2020 may submit a written request by email for a 60-day extension on company letterhead, specifying how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19. For employers who have prepaid with a third-party administrator, we expect those payments to be sent in a timely manner so that we can keep the Unemployment trust fund solvent and healthy in order to pay claimants who have had their lives devasted by this pandemic.
  • Please email extension requests to Enforcement@detma.orgno later than April 30. Approved requests will be relieved from first-quarter 2020 interest and penalties through June 30, 2020. Even if you are approved for an extension to pay, the state encourages employers to file wages as soon as possible.
  • Private Contributory Employers will not be charged for COVID-19 claims.
  • Contributory Government will only be charged for 50 percent of COVID-19 claims.
  • Government and Non-Profit Reimbursable Employers will only be charged for 50 percent of COVID-19 claims.

Check the Status of Your Stimulus Payment through the IRS

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) launched the Get My Payment tool for Americans to check the status of their Economic Impact Payment stimulus checks, a minimum of $1,200 each for single filers with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less.

New guidance is also available for non-filers.

Beware of Stimulus Check Scams

Attorney General Tells Debt Collectors that Stimulus Payments are Off Limits

According to new guidance, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has determined that emergency funds that will be issued to consumers starting this week through the CARES Act are exempt from seizure or garnishment by creditors under Massachusetts law.

The AG’s office also signed onto a multistate letter to the U.S. Department of the Treasury asking the agency to protect CARES Act payments like other government relief programs and ensure that the funds go to individuals and families, where they were originally intended.

Attorney General Launches Web Site for Front-Line Workers

The site includes extensive COVID-19 resources compiled by the AGO.

US Chamber of Commerce Explores a Path Forward

The chamber outlines key considerations in a letter to its members, including the need for general health screenings and COVID-19 testing for workers, personal protective equipment, resolving legal and regulatory issues around liability, safe workplace issues and health privacy, and support for businesses dependent on high-density gatherings.

AIM Member Highlight 

Eversource to Suspend Disconnections and Late Fees During Pandemic

April 15, 2020

Baker Joins Northeast Coalition to Restore Economy

Governor Charlie Baker is joining a multi-state council “to restore the economy and get people back to work.” The council will feature one health expert, one economic development expert and the respective chief of staff from each state – New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The council seeks to develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift the states’ stay-at-home orders without triggering renewed spread – including testing, contact tracing, treatment and social distancing – and will rely on the best available scientific, statistical, social and economic information to manage and evaluate those tools.

Globe Article

Governor Announces Expanded COVID-19 Response Reporting

To support ongoing preparations for a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Baker Administration announced the expansion of COVID-19 response reporting to include statewide hospital capacity and distribution data for personal protective equipment.

  • Testing: Daily test reporting data, including number of positive cases, can already be found at this linkat 4 pm each day.
  • Hospital Capacity: At 4 pm each day the Command Center will report hospital bed occupancy and availability as reported by Massachusetts hospitals at this link
  • PPE Distribution: PPE distribution reports will be posted each day by 4 pm, and may be found here.

30  on Thursday

Thursday, April 16, 2020, 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Free for AIM Members & Non-members
Register to attend

Join us as Bill Gagnon of GAGNONtax tackles the state and federal tax implications of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) and the significant tax provisions and other measures available to assist impacted individuals and businesses.

Boston Mayor Announces First Tests for General Public

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said that testing for the novel coronavirus is now being offered to all Boston residents. The Whittier Street Health Center, in Roxbury, is offering scheduled rapid testing for the general public, Mondays through Saturdays. The clinic asks residents to schedule tests by phone.

April 14, 2020

Baker Administration Issues Further Public Health Guidance, Expands First Responder Testing Sites to Include Grocery Store Workers 

  • Department of Public Health advisory, consistent with CDC guidance, recommends that all residents wear a mask or face covering in public when social distancing is not possible.
  • Grocery Store Worker Priority Testing: The Administration and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security expanded access to the free, priority COVID-19 testing sites for first responders to include grocery store and supermarket workers. Beginning Saturday April 11, grocery store and supermarket employees may schedule an appointment to receive COVID-19 testing at the sites located at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and the Big E fairgrounds in West Springfield. All appointments must be made in advance by the worker’s supervisor or manager, and personnel do not need to be symptomatic to be eligible.

Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (M-ERT) Portal Open to Help State Manufacturers Produce Needed COVID-19 Equipment

The M-ERT’s Mission is to mobilize, organize, and operationalize critical-path work streams necessary for Massachusetts manufacturers to pivot their operations to produce needed materials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the M-ERT include the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), MIT, MIT Lincoln Labs, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP), Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), and multiple industry partners.

Unemployment Insurance Expansions

The US Department of Labor has published updated guidance/regulations that permit employees on Workshare to receive the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.  AIM has been helping members learn about and access this option.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Unemployment Assistance is working with new federal CARES Act guidance to implement new programs that will extend unemployment benefits for certain claimants; temporarily increase weekly benefits for all claimants; and allow additional categories of people to claim unemployment benefits.

State Division of Banks Issues Guidance for Paycheck Protection Program

The Division of Banks issued guidance that is intended to help lenders implement the Paycheck Protection Program and share expertise on administering Small Business Administration programs. The guidance relieves some state-level regulatory pressure and encourages lenders to collaborate in making this important resource available to our businesses.

And More Information on the Paycheck Protection Program

Employers can read more about the program and loan terms by visiting the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program landing pageand the Fact Sheet on the PPP.

This program is offered through lenders located throughout the Commonwealth; if a business does not have an existing relationship with a lender, they should visit the SBA’s website and use the Find A Lender tool to find an eligible lender in their area. Businesses can also consult the SBA Massachusetts District Office’s list of participating Paycheck Protection Program lenders

Finally, business owners with questions about the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan or Loan Advancedebt relief for existing or new SBA loans, or Express Bridge Loan programs can work with an SBA resource partner to understand which program is a fit for their business. These resources partners include Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), SCORE mentors, Centers for Women and Enterprise, and others. Find a resource partner near you by using the SBA’s Find Local Assistance tool.

State Schedules Additional Unemployment Virtual Town Halls  

Massachusetts officials have scheduled additional unemployment virtual town halls:

  • Tuesday, April 14 at 1:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 15 at 1:40 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 16 at 1:50 p.m.
  • Friday, April 17 at 1:50 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 18 at 1:50 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 19 at 2:00 p.m.

Administration Launches Spanish Language Unemployment Application

In the Media

Senate President Karen Spilka discusses the crisis on WBZ 

AIM Senior Vice President Brad MacDougall speaks with State Representative James Arciero

April 11, 2020

Governor Updates Hospital Surge Capacity

The commonwealth has worked to make approximately 14,500 treatment beds available ahead of the surge: 

  • 11,000 beds could be available for Intensive Care Units (ICU) and acute care in the existing hospital system. The total includes roughly 9,400 acute-care beds and 1,500 ICU beds.
  • Approximately 3,500 new beds are coming online for ICU and acute care – approximately 2,500 new hospital beds coming online from hospital surge planning, and 1,000 beds coming online though field hospitals.
  • As of April 10, hospitals report that 8,100 beds are occupied statewide, or approximately 55 percent (including hospitalizations for non-COVID-19 patients). Some 6,400 beds are currently available for both ICU and acute care, or roughly 45 percent.
  • Five Field Hospitals will serve as an alternative site for hospitals to treat patients, particularly individuals who need acute care. They are being built around the state to ensure all residents have access to this emergency care.

Mask / Face Covering Advisory 

The Department of Public Health will issue a Public Health Advisory that, consistent with CDC guidance, recommends that people wear a mask or cover their face in public when they cannot safely socially distance. Members of the public will be advised to wear something to cover their face in public places like supermarkets and pharmacies.

Federal Reserve Bank Unveils Main Street Lending Program

As part of the $2.3 trillion funding the Federal Reserve announced yesterday to aid in the economic response to coronavirus, the Main street Lending Program will be available to small businesses beginning next week.

The Main Street Lending Program is a four-year loan for businesses with fewer than 10,000 employees and revenues of less than $2.5 billion per year. Qualifying businesses may receive funding from both the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program and the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program.

The Treasury Department has asked Congress for another $250 billion in funding for small business loans and Congress is expected to address this request in the coming weeks.

April 10, 2020

Massachusetts Announces Initial Implementation of New Federal Unemployment Benefits from CARES Act

Federal Reserve to Provide up to $2.3 Trillion in Loans

The Federal Reserve will provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support American households and businesses, as well as local governments through a Main Street Lending Program authorized by the economic relief bill pass by Congress last month.

The objectives:

  • Bolster the effectiveness of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by supplying liquidity to participating financial institutions through term financing backed by PPP loans to small businesses. The PPP provides loans to small businesses so that they can keep their workers on the payroll. The Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility (PPPLF) will extend credit to eligible financial institutions that originate PPP loans, taking the loans as collateral at face value.
  • Ensure credit flows to small and mid-sized businesses with the purchase of up to $600 billion in loans through the Main Street Lending Program. The Department of the Treasury, using funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) will provide $75 billion in equity to the facility.
  • Increase the flow of credit to households and businesses through capital markets, by expanding the size and scope of the Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities (PMCCF and SMCCF) as well as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF). These three programs will now support up to $850 billion in credit backed by $85 billion in credit protection provided by the Treasury.
  • Help state and local governments manage cash flow stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic by establishing a Municipal Liquidity Facility that will offer up to $500 billion in lending to states and municipalities. The Treasury will provide $35 Billion of credit protection to the Federal Reserve for the Municipal Liquidity Facility using funds appropriated by the CARES Act.

AIM 30 on Thursday Expert Panel Q&A Recording and Slides

CDC Issues New Employer Guidelines on Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 Exposure

Employers should implement the recommendations in the Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 .

Critical Infrastructure workers who have had an exposure but remain asymptomatic should adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:

  • Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • Regular Monitoring: If the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a Mask: The employee should always wear a face mask while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • Disinfect and Clean workspaces:Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

Baker Administration Announces Field Medical Station Details, New Support for Health- Care Workforce and Additional Resources 

  • Easing licensing restrictions for foreign-educated doctors to allow medical practice in the Commonwealthspecifically allows graduates of international medical schools who have successfully completed at least two years of postgraduate resident medical training in the US to be eligible for licensure in the Commonwealth.
  • Expediting licensure of nursing students and graduatesallows nursing school graduates and students in their final semesters of nursing programs to practice nursing in advance of receiving a license, if they are directly supervised by other licensed medical professionals.
  • Ensuring access to in-patient servicesmandates that insurers must cover all medically required costs of COVID-19 treatment in out-of-network hospitals or other medical facilities with no charge to the patient, including co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance payments. Health care providers and medical facility insurers must accept the following rates for out-of-plan treatment: If insurers have a contract with a provider or facility: contracted rate even if the patient is not in a network that covers the provider or facility. If insurer has no contract with a provider or facility: 135 percent of the applicable Medicare rate. Insurers may not balance bill, or charge, patients for amounts above the above specified payments.
  • COVID-19 Demographic DataThe Department of Public Health (DPH) issued an order designed to expand COVID-19 demographic reporting data, including race and ethnicity, to address disparities in the virus’ impact and support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response efforts. This order mandates all health care providers and labs to collect and report complete demographic information of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients.

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton Urges Governor to Designate Grocery Store Workers as Emergency Personnel

After a Market Basket employee in Salem died from coronavirus, Rep. Moulton wrote to Governor Baker saying: “This designation would provide them access to priority testing, personal protective equipment like masks and gloves as well as other workplace protections necessary to keep them and the general public safe and healthy.”

Moulton wants President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to expand access to personal protective equipment.

Grocery Stores Outline Own Measures to Keep Shoppers and Staff Safe

April 9, 2020

Massachusetts Jobless Rate Could Hit 25 Percent

The Pioneer Institute reports that 8.6 percent of the state’s civilian workforce made an unemployment claim during the week ending March 28, ranking Massachusetts sixth in the nation for new UI claims. In February, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the MA unemployment rate was 2.5 percent (106,526 people).

The research cites a prediction from a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economist that the number of unemployed Americans will rise from 5.76 million (in February) to 52.8 million in June. In this case, Massachusetts would be home to about 975,000 unemployed residents – or 25 percent.

Governor Baker Files Legislation to Protect Health-Care Workers from Civil Lawsuits

Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation to extend liability protection to health-care workers during the pandemic. The bill would protect medical workers from lawsuits while caring for patients in unique settings, like the state’s new field hospitals at the DCU Center in Worcester or the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston.

The governor also issued a directive to maximize protections for health-care workers under the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (“PREP Act”) during the state of emergency by ensuring that health-care workers and facilities that distribute and administer testing, drugs and medical devices for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 are protected from suit and liability to the maximum extent possible.

The Massachusetts Nurses’ Association has been calling for such legislation and a similar measure was signed into law in New York State on April 3.

State Issues New Orders for Grocery Stores

Governor Baker has issued a new order to prevent food store overcrowding by imposing new restrictions making grocery stores to 40 percent capacity.  The new order will be enforced by local boards of health relative to the number of people in store.

The Department of Public Health’s March 25 order required grocery stores and pharmacies to set aside at least one hour per day for adults age 60 and older to shop; close any self-service food stations; mark “social distancing lines” beginning six feet away from checkouts; provide alternative assignments for employees who are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus; instruct employees who are sick to stay home; and offer sanitation options, like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, to clean shopping carts and other frequently touched surfaces. Municipal governments, too, have had their eyes on supermarkets and other food stores.

State and Local Tax Updates

  • On April 3, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) issued TIR 20-4covering information about tax filing and payment relief for personal income taxpayers (including fiduciary income taxpayers), and corporate excise taxpayers affected by COVID-19. Included in the TIR is information about changes to due dates for personal income tax filings and payments that were originally due April 15, 2020 and are now due July 15, 2020.  In addition, the department will waive any late-file and late-pay penalties that apply to corporate excise returns and payments due April 15, 2020 that are filed and paid by July 15, 2020. The TIR also explains the relief provided with respect to individual estimated tax payments. Please see the COVID-19 Coronavirus Response Update from DOR webpage for additional updates.
  • Changes have been made to deadlines and penalties for some vendors responsible for Sales and Use Taxes – including Meals Tax, and Room Occupancy Excise. Detailed information is available on the DOR information page.
  • Relief is available for several compliance actions to ease the burden on those currently facing tax or child-support issues. Please review the changes related to appeals, audit, collections, and litigation on theDOR information page.
  • Refunds are being issued. Taxpayers who are owed a refund should file as soon as possible. Taxpayers should file electronically and request direct deposit for the quickest turnaround. Filing on paper, or requesting a mailed paper check, will likely delay refunds.
  • The electronic filing of returns and electronic payments continues without interruption. Direct deposit refunds will also continue without interruption.
  • The best way to get information to DOR when it’s requested is to upload it throughMassTaxConnect under “Submit documentation.” If you need help submitting your documents, call us at 1-617-887-6367.
  • Customer service telephone contact centers are up and running and available for questions. Please choose the self-service optionson the DOR website or contact DOR by email or phone for information. Walk-up counters, for both tax and child-support assistance, are temporarily closed. Tax kiosks are also closed.
  • Many of the physical sites for tax preparation services for low income, ESL and senior taxpayers are temporarily closed. Checking in with theseorganizations is recommended to see what services are being offered.
  • Visit theImportant COVID-19 Coronavirus Response Update from DOR page now for detailed information on filing and payment extensions and penalty relief. You will also find information on tax and debt resolutions. The DOR website will be regularly updated with important information.
  • Local Tax updates: The Division of Local Services issued Municipalities
    Bulletin 2020-03, an addendum to Bulletin 2020-2.  The new bulletin explains alternative procedures for notification to taxpayers when local options are exercised under sections 10 and 11 of  2020, c. 53, including extending property tax bill due dates or exemption filing application due dates. Instead of mailing notice to taxpayers, notification in Bulletin 2020-02 may be posted on official municipal website and other official electronic media.

April 8, 2020

Govenor Baker Announces New CVS Rapid-Testing Site and Additional $800 Million Healthcare Investment

The Baker Administration and CVS announced the launch of a new rapid-testing site in Lowell, which will enable on-the-spot COVID-19 testing and results at no cost. Massachusetts is the third state where CVS has launched rapid-testing sites, joining Georgia and Rhode Island.

CVS Health will halt COVID-19 testing at the original Shrewsbury pilot site and transition its efforts to support COVID-19 testing in Massachusetts to the Lowell location, a site that allows for up to 1,000 patients to be tested per day and receive results on-site so they may quarantine or seek treatment as appropriate. Patients need to pre-register in advance online at CVS.com in order to schedule a same-day time slot for testing.
State Directs Money to Health-Care Providers

Governor Charlie Baker announced yesterday an infusion of $800 million in critical stabilization funding at MassHealth to support health-care providers impacted by and responding to COVID-19, including:

  • More than $400 million to hospitals. Most of the funding will support 28 safety net and high-Medicaid hospitals to address lost revenue and increased costs at the front lines of treating patients with COVID-19. The infusionincludes a 20 percent rate increase for COVID-19 care, as well as a 7.5 percent across-the-board rate increase for other hospital care
  • More than $80 million for nursing facilities.Fifty million dollars will be dedicated funding for all nursing facilities across the state. Facilities and units within nursing homes that are designated COVID-19 sites of care will receive approximately $30 million in additional funding to support their capacity to care for COVID-19 patients.
  • More than $300 million for other health care providers that are delivering medical care. The sum includes more than $50 million for community health centers;$30 million for personal-care attendants; funding for ambulance providers, physicians, community behavioral health providers, and home health agencies; and funding for certain long-term services and day programs such as adult day health or day habilitation programs that have converted from group programs.

AIM COVID-19 Webinars

Q and A for Employers on COVID-19
Thursday, April 9, 2020, 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Free for AIM Members & Non-members
Register to attend

State & Federal Tax Implications of COVID-19
April 16 @ 11:00 am
Reserve your seat.

Updates on Paycheck Protection Program

On Monday, April 6, 2020, the U.S. Treasury issued additional guidance in the form of frequently asked questions regarding the Paycheck Protection Program created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The FAQ provides guidance on eligibility of businesses and lender obligations.

US Department of Labor Issues Guidance on Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

The CARES Act was designed to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The measure includes a provision of temporary benefits for individuals who have exhausted their entitlement to regular unemployment compensation (UC) as well as coverage for individuals who are not eligible for regular UC (such as individuals who are self-employed or who have limited recent work history).  These individuals may also include certain gig economy workers, clergy and those working for religious organizations who are not covered by regular unemployment compensation, and other workers who may not be covered by the regular UC program under some state laws.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to qualifying individuals who are otherwise able to work and available for work within the meaning of applicable state UC law, except that they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to one of the COVID-19 related reasons

The highlights of this program include:

  • The program provides benefits for unemployment going back to the weeks beginning on and after January 27, 2020. This reach-back provision is tied to the point at which the impact of COVID-19 was recognized as a disaster, but also makes it more difficult to determine eligibility retroactively in a timely way.
  • For weeks of unemployment beginning on or after March 27, 2020, and ending on or before July 31, 2020, individuals eligible to receive PUA are also eligible to receive FPUC (Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation) which provides an additional $600 per week.

April 7, 2020

Governor Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker Announce New $13 million Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Find

First Lady Lauren Baker and the One8 Foundation are teaming up with philanthropists, business leaders, Eastern Bank, The Boston Foundation, and the Foundation for Business Equity to launch the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund to support those across the state most impacted by this health crisis. The Fund will work in concert with regional non-profit leaders, community foundations, leaders on the ground and at the state level to understand the response and relief landscape to fill in where gaps are pronounced. The mission is to ensure essential needs are understood in real time and provide resources for interventions that are effective and impactful.”

  • 100 percent of donations will serve people and families most in need;
  • The Fund will work in partnership with community foundations and local non-profit organizations providing critical, essential services in local communities throughout Massachusetts;
  • Get dollars out quickly and with transparency;
  • Monitor progress and provide updates on needs;
  • Continue to provide support throughout the crisis;
  • All donations are unrestricted.

The fund will support:

  • Frontline health-care professionals, first responders, and other essential workers;
  • Households disproportionately affected by COVID-19;
  • Immigrant and undocumented populations;
  • Food security;
  • People with disabilities;
  • Homeless populations

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Recommends Curfew and Masks

Mayor Marty Walsh has recommended a citywide curfew be in place between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. starting Monday, April 6 and running through May 4. He has also asked individuals always use a mask or “cloth face covering,” while outdoors.  The city will also sporting facilities at Boston parks, including basketball courts.

CDC Updates Guidance on Wearing Cloth Masks in Public 

On Friday April 3, CDC issued new recommendations about wearing cloth face coverings in public settings. The recommendation was made after considering recent studies that have shown individuals with the virus who lack symptoms can transmit the virus to others.

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings including places where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (such as grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.  The mask recommendation does not replace social distancing, stay-at-home measures and hand-washing recommendations that remain in effect. Social distancing, staying at home except for essential travel, and hand hygiene remain vitally important to slowing the spread of the virus. The recommendation is considered a voluntary public health measure, and the CDC offers a primer on simple face cloths here.

Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) Issues Guidance on Individual and Corporate Excise Tax Returns and Payments

On Friday April 3, the DOR issued an extension of the 2019 state individual income tax filing and payment deadline from April 15 to July 15 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and announced that the Department of Revenue (DOR) will waive any late-file and late-pay penalties for corporate excise returns and payments due April 15 that are filed and paid by July 15.

The guidance does not remove “interest” penalties.  The waiver of penalties applies to corporate excise returns and payments with an original due date of April 15, including those of certain S corporations and non-profits that file on a fiscal-year basis and have tax returns and payments due April 15.  This income tax relief is automatic, and taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms to qualify. To read the Technical Information Release, click here.  Should you have questions about this, please contact Brad MacDougall at bmacdougall@aimnet.org or 617-262-1180.

April 4, 2020

Governor Baker Announces COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative

The COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) is a collaboration between the administration and Partners In Healthand is the first of its kind in the nation. The initiative will focus on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, and builds on the efforts already underway from the Command Center to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health.

Contact tracing will be combined with the state’s efforts to increase testing, provide support to people in quarantine in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, and support the Baker-Polito Administration’s ongoing efforts to expand bed capacity, increase personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and provide resources for health care providers and patients.

The Collaborative will deploy nearly 1,000 contact tracers throughout the state to connect with COVID-19 patients and their contacts to support Massachusetts’ efforts to track and contain the virus.

Partners In Health will provide staff and contribute technical expertise in community tracing. The Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority (CCA) will stand up a virtual support center and maintain connectivity, while the Massachusetts Department of Health (DPH) will maintain data, guides and processes.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Announces Small-Business Relief Fund

The Small Business Relief Fund, administered by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (OED), has been established to assist Boston’s small businesses most directly impacted by closures, policies, or general loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligible small businesses – for-profit entities with fewer than 35 employees and less than $1.5 million in annual revenue, registered and operating in Boston – will apply through a single application and be considered for one of three grants based on the size of the business.

OED has created a Financial Relief Handbook and FAQ document, both of which are continuously updated. Small-business conference calls will continue every Tuesday at 3 p.m. to communicate policy updates, answer questions, feature relevant City of Boston departments, and troubleshoot the ecosystem of funding available from the state, federal, and private industry. Any business interested in joining these weekly calls may email smallbiz@boston.gov.

Legislation to Address Challenges Faced by Massachusetts Cities and Towns Signed into Law; Includes Provisions for Corporate, Non-Profit Boards

Public Corporation Remote Shareholder Meetings. Allows, for the declaration of a state of emergency issued by the governor on March 10, 2020 and 60 days thereafter, a public corporation to conduct an annual or special meeting of the shareholders solely by means of remote communication.

Non-Profit Organization Remote Meeting Participation: Allows, for the declaration of a state of emergency issued by the governor on March 10, 2020 and 60 days thereafter, participation by remote communication at any non-profit corporate meeting of the members to constitute presence at such meeting if certain conditions are met.

Restaurants: The bill allows an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic beverages or only wines and malt beverages on-premises, during the state of emergency declared by the governor on March 10, 2020, to sell wine or malt beverages only for off-premises consumption subject to certain conditions, including:

  • The wine or malt beverage shall not be sold to a person under 21 years of age; any delivery of wine or malt beverages for off-premises consumption shall not be made without verification that the person receiving the order has attained 21 years of age.
  • The wine shall be sold in its original, sealed container and the malt beverage shall be sold in a sealed container.
  • The wine or malt beverage shall be sold as part of the same transaction as the purchase of food
  • Any order that includes wine or malt beverages shall be placed not later than the hour of which the establishment is licensed to sell alcohol or 12:00 midnight, whichever time is earlier
  • A customer shall be limited to 192 ounces of malt beverage and 1.5 liters of wine per transaction.

Federal Government Issues Unemployment Insurance Guidance for States

In a 13-page letter the U.S. Department of Labor outlined for states the aspects of the federal coronavirus stimulus bill – the CARES Act – that deal with the administration of, and eligibility criteria for, state unemployment insurance (UI) programs, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance meant to benefit workers who would not typically be eligible for UI, like gig workers.

During the week ending March 21, 148,452 Bay State residents submitted initial unemployment claims, roughly 20 times as many as the 7,449 who submitted such claims in the week ending March 14. The sweeping $2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package expanded eligibility for workers who are self-employed or contracted and previously did not qualify, though states had been waiting for federal guidance on making the new aid available.

Best Practices for Employers of COVID19-Positive Employees 

Quarantine: Employers should work with the employee and the employee should work with his or her local board of health (in the town they reside) to do contact tracing – soon to be expanded through the commonwealth’s new partnership with Partners in Health. Once that is done, it can be determined who from the workplace should be quarantining due to close contact with that positive COVID-19 case.

Sanitation: After an employee tests positive, assuming the employee had been in the workplace prior to be diagnosed, the workplace should do a “deep clean” of the workplace. CDC Cleaning Guidelines.

April 3, 2020

AIM’s Thirty on Thursday Webinar: Small Business Administration Loans 

Watch the Webinar Recording

Follow Along with Webinar Slides

SBA Paycheck Protection Program

The recently passed federal CARE Act includes up to eight weeks of financial assistance for small businesses under the US Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Money from the program may be used to cover overall payroll costs if businesses retain employees. Small businesses and sole proprietorships may apply as soon as April 3 through any existing SBA lender. Self-employed and independent- contractor applicants may apply beginning April 10.  A full list of lenders is available on www.sba.govBusinesses must employ 500 or fewer individuals. Non-profits and veterans’ organizations are eligible to apply, and total payroll costs will be capped at $100,000 per employee on an annualized basis. Payroll costs include salary, wages, healthcare premiums, commission, vacation time, retirement benefits, and sick leave time.

Feds Issue Key Forms for Paid Sick or Extended Family and Medical Leave

Form 7200 is the Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19 Form that has been referenced in the US Department of Labor Regulations.  (Download document Form 7200 and Instructions for 7200).

Private sector employers that provide paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave required by the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act (FFCRA) are eligible for reimbursement of the costs of that leave through refundable tax credits. If you intend to claim a tax credit under FFCRA, retain appropriate documentation for your records. Consult applicable forms, instructions and information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the procedures to claim your credit, including any substantiation required.

You are not required to provide leave if materials sufficient to support the applicable tax credit have not been provided.

If one of your employees takes expanded family and medical leave to care for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed, or whose child-care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19, you may also require your employee to provide additional documentation in support of such leave, to the extent permitted under the certification rules for conventional FMLA leave requests. The documentation could include a notice that has been posted on a government, school, or day-care website, or published in a newspaper, or an email from an employee or official of the school, place of care, or childcare provider.

Baker Administration Outlines COVID-19 Surge Modeling

The administration’s COVID-19 Response Command Center has been working with its advisory board of medical experts and epidemiologists from Harvard University, the University of Guelph and Northeastern University to refine models related to the expected surge of COVID-19 cases. These efforts include modeling the surge’s timing, number of cases, necessary bed capacity, and search for facilities to meet overfill capacity. The model’s projections are based on the experience of Wuhan, China, but Massachusetts’ trajectory could differ due to lower population density, lower smoking rates, and earlier social distancing measures. The Command Center has also been comparing to experience in other states and around the world.

The administration seeks to find or build an additional 750 – 1000 beds in field medical hospitals and other alternate-care sites to reduce strain on hospitals. Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito visited the first of these Field Medical Stations at the DCU Center in Worcester yesterday.

The state has secured a contractor who can build out sites once a health-care partner has been finalized.   The Command Center is also securing 1000 beds for step-down care options in nursing facilities for stabilized COVID-19 positive patients who can be transferred out of the hospital to make room for those with higher medical need.

State Beach Parking Areas Closed 

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all coastal beach reservation parking areas managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to close effective noon Friday, April 3 to reduce concentrations of people at beaches during the COVID-19 outbreak.  DCR will open select seasonal state parks early and expand access at other parks to provide open-space opportunities for residents to enjoy. Coastal parkways that provide access to state beaches will also be closed to both parking and dropping off passengers. State beaches will remain open and available to pedestrians for transitory use only (walking, jogging, biking, solitary fishing). A link to find specific parking and traffic restrictions may be found here.

Eviction ban passes House, picks up speed on Beacon Hill

Stimulus Checks to Individuals and Families Likely Arriving Next Week

  • According to the Washington Post the Treasury announced late Wednesday that Social Security beneficiaries who typically do not file a tax return will automatically get the $1,200 payment. The announcement is a reversal from earlier in the week when the Internal Revenue Service said everyone would need to file some sort of tax return in order to qualify for the payments

April 2, 2020

Senate Homeowner and Renter Legislation Advances

The Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee late Tuesday approved emergency legislation providing temporary protections for renters and homeowners during the COVID-19 emergency. The measures are intended to ensure housing security while people are being advised to stay home to achieve collective public health goals.  The Senate Ways and Means committee proposal provides for protections against eviction and foreclosures.

Additional details provided by State House News:

  • Under the bill, courts would be prohibited from entering a default judgement for a plaintiff for possession of a residential dwelling in a non-essential eviction action, or from scheduling a court event in such an action. The bill also prohibits a landlord from imposing a late fee for non-payment of rent, or furnishing rental payment data to a consumer reporting agency related to the non-payment of rent, if the tenant provides documentation to the landlord not more than 30 days after the missed rent payment that the non-payment was due to a financial impact from COVID-19.
  • The restrictions would remain in place for 90 days following the bill’s passage, or until the COVID-19 emergency is terminated, whichever is sooner.
  • To protect homeowners, the bill under the same time limitations, prohibits a mortgagee, for the purpose of foreclosure of a residential property, from causing notice of a foreclosure sale to be published; exercising a power of sale; exercising a right of entry; initiating a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process; or filing a complaint to determine the military status of a mortgagor.
  • The bill also includes language to assist people applying for a reverse mortgage, enabling them to receive counseling via real-time video conference rather than in person, an apparent effort to facilitate the social distancing measures that public officials say are critical to slowing the virus’ spread.
  • The bill was approved as House leaders continue to work on bill with a similar goal and amid reports that tenants and homeowners, despite assurances from Gov. Charlie Baker, are growing anxious about the consequences of missing April 1 payments due to job and income losses stemming from the pandemic.
  • According to members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, a portion of a $2 billion pot of aid included in the new $2 trillion CARES Act is aimed at helping to prevent evictions.

IRS Provides New Guidance on Family Leave and Tax Credits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released new guidance on tax credits authorized in the “phase two” COVID-19 bill to help small businesses offset the cost of new paid leave requirements. Click here to learn more about how to implement these policies.

April 1, 2020

Essential Services Order Extended

Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public will be extended until May 4. Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people until May 4.

Travelers Instructed to Self-Quarantine

Beginning March 27, all travelers arriving to Massachusetts are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. The guidance will be displayed as posters at service plazas along 1-90 eastbound, distributed as flyers at major transportation hubs, including Logan International Airport, and on posted on highway message boards. Visitors are instructed not to travel to Massachusetts if they are displaying symptoms. Health care workers, public health workers, public safety workers, transportation workers and designated essential workers are exempt from this requirement.

State Updates Essential Services List

The state today updated the list of COVID-19 Essential Services based on federal guidance that was updated earlier this week. The new list will go into effect April 1, at noon.

While these businesses are designated as essential, they are urged to follow social distancing protocols for workers in accordance with guidance from the Department of Public Health (DPH).

Some updates to the essential services list include:

  • Clarity around the supply chain that supports other essential services
  • Adding health-care providers like chiropractors and optometrists
  • Expanding the types of workers providing disinfectant and sanitation services
  • COVID-19 Essential Services FAQs

State Offers Guidance for Hotels, Motels

As part of the updated essential business list, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) issued new guidance today around hotels, motels, inns, beds and breakfasts and other short-term residential rentals. Based on this new guidance, hotels, motels, and short-term rentals may only be used for efforts related to fighting COVID-19, like front-line health workers or individuals, or for Massachusetts residents who have been otherwise displaced from their residences.

Stay-at-Home Advisory Remains in Effect

The Governor announced today that the Stay-at-Home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person-to-person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

Unemployment Virtual Town Halls 

The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) continues its series of virtual town halls to aid applicants in submitting UI claims over the phone or online. This week’s schedule is as follows:

  • Wednesday, April 1, 2020 at 2 pm
  • Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 2:10 pm
  • Friday, April 3, 2020 at 2 pm

Virtual Electronic Signing

The law firm of Sullivan and Worcester issued a client alert about virtual and electronic signing.

“In these uncertain times, trade finance and other transaction parties may face logistical challenges when signing documents in person.  One option available to the transaction parties is to sign documents ‘virtually’ by signing a hard copy of a document and sending a scan of the signature page to the other side. This method of signing will be familiar to most people who have entered transactional documents with an international counterparty.

“Parties are also increasingly turning to the possibility of utilizing electronic platforms for signing documents, called e-signing or electronic signing.  But can electronic signing be a valid form of signing an agreement? Sullivan looks in detail at the options available to those signing agreements.

Manufacturing Partnership on COVID-19

Listen to MassMEP President, John Killam address COVID-19

March 31, 2020

Governor Permits Virtual Shareholder Meetings 

Governor Charlie Baker today issued an order adjusting the requirement that public companies hold a meeting in a physical space by permitting public companies to hold annual or special shareholder meetings completely by means of remote communication, until 60 days after the end of the state of emergency.

Governor Urges Self-Employed and 1099 Workers to wait for State Alert through Massachusetts COVID-19 Unemployment Resource Page 

Governor Baker urged that certain individuals wait for a state alert before applying for unemployment insurance.

Since the passage of the federal CARES act, self-employed and 1099 workers, in addition to individuals who have exhausted their original state unemployment insurance benefits, will be able to apply for unemployment insurance. Governor Baker indicated that individuals should apply when Massachusetts receives federal guidance and subsequently notifies the public that the claims can be made.

States must await federal guidance before they can update their state unemployment benefits system to accept new individuals who have previously never been eligible for unemployment payments.

Government Issues Updated Advisory on Essential Workers

The advisory document updates the original March 16 advisory regarding “Essential Workers.”

Governor Baker indicated that additional state guidance on essential business and updated social distancing guidelines will be coming Tuesday.

State Order Provides Financial Relief to Care Providers

Governor Baker today issued an order providing the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) administrative flexibility to extend financial relief to providers of critical health care and social services who serve EOHHS clients, including members of MassHealth. These measures will be subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. This will allow EOHHS to extend critical financial support to:

  • providers facing extraordinary demand due to the COVID-19 emergency while having lost significant revenue because they have had to cancel other procedures and appointments.
  • providers who are necessary to keep vulnerable individuals safe in their homes.
  • Human-service providers who have been forced to respond to the unanticipated circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic by altering the hours, delivery and scope of these services.

U.S. Department of Labor Adds to Guidance on Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Benefits Under Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Questions and Answers addressing critical issues such as the definition of a “healt- care provider,” and the scope of the small business exemption/exclusion from the provisions of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, as well as whether public sector employees may take paid family and medical leave.

Small Business Provisions of Importance/ Resources for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID19 via Small Business Investor Alliance (SBIA)

CDC Provides Helpful Resources for Employers

The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a helpful checklist for employees and individuals preparing their households for COVID-19.  The checklist covers various things that Human Resource departments and individuals can use as a starting point.

March 30, 2020

List of all Massachusetts state orders by Governor Baker.

Small Business Relief Resources

Join AIM on Thursday, April 2 to learn more about SBA Economic Injury Loan Information and private institutional loan offerings. Register Here

US Chamber of Commerce – Click here for 4 page summary and the U.S. Chamber’s Coronavirus Emergency Loans Small Business Guide and Checklist.  Resources to help small businesses understand recently approved legislation and resulting financial relief opportunities.by Congress to respond to the ongoing pandemic.

Small Business Administration – The Disaster Loan Assistance portal has been revamped and the process has been more simplified.  You are now required to upload only two (2) forms to initiate the process:

If you already submitted an application and want to check on status, please call customer service at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Blood Shortage

Governor Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker visited the American Red Cross of Massachusetts headquarters in Dedham on Saturday to urge residents to donate blood. The Red Cross is facing a critical shortage of blood products due to cancellations of blood drives during the COVID-19 outbreak. The governor has deemed blood and plasma donors and the employees of the organizations that operate and manage related activities as an essential service. Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets are urged to make an appointment to donate as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). To schedule a new blood drive contact Bill Forsyth at (617) 699-3808 or email William.Forsyth@redcross.org.

Baker Administration launches online portal for personal protective equipment and volunteer efforts

The portal allows individuals and companies to donate or sell personal protective equipment (PPE). It also provides volunteers an opportunity to support the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts. The effort will ensure that front-line responders get the protective equipment they need to stay and push for more trained volunteers to join the response.  Details are here: COVID-19 PPE Procurement and Donation Program

PPE and donations needed include:

  • N95/N99 masks (respirators)
  • Facemasks with integrated shields
  • Goggles
  • Protective suits/gowns
  • Headcovers
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Surgical/procedure masks
  • Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPR)
  • Gloves
  • Booties/shoe covers
  • Hand sanitizer

Call for volunteers:  There is an immediate need for respiratory therapists and public health nurses, and the administration is asking health care professionals interested in volunteering to sign up by clicking here. Since launching the initiative, more than 1,000 people have already registered.

March 27, 2020

President Signs $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill after It Is Approved by the US House.

Fact Sheet prepared by the House Small Business Committee

Fact Sheets prepared by the House Ways and Means Committee

Massachusetts Announces State Income Tax Filing Deadline Being Extended to July 15

Today’s announcement will move the state income tax filing deadline to match the July 15 deadline for filing federal individual income taxes. Legislation will be filed in the near future to finance the extension and accompanying administrative changes will be implemented through the Department of Revenue. The legislation will authorize the Commonwealth borrowing flexibility to manage deferred revenue this fiscal year and repay it in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2020.

Individuals with questions or concerns regarding taxes may contact the Massachusetts Department of Revenue at (617) 887-6367 or send a secure e-message through MassTaxConnect.

Telehealth – Buoy Digital Platform

Buoy has entered a partnership with Massachusetts to promote telehealth services and provide residents with additional tools to assess their risks for COVID-19. The Baker Administration announced the launch of Buoy Health’s new online resource for residents to check their symptoms and connect with the appropriate health-care resource. The tool does not replace emergency medical care, but may be used as a support for residents during the COVID-19 outbreak to connect them. Buoy Health’s online 24/7 tool is free for Massachusetts residents and uses current COVID-19 guidance from the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Visit Buoy.com/mass to learn more and use the tool.

Travelers Coming into Massachusetts Advised to Self-Quarantine for 14 Days

Beginning March 27, all travelers arriving to Massachusetts are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. The guidance will be displayed as posters at service plazas along I-90 eastbound, distributed as flyers at major transportation hubs and on posted on highway message boards. Visitors are instructed not to travel to Massachusetts if they are displaying symptoms. Health- care workers, public health workers, public safety workers, transportation workers and designated essential workers are exempt from this requirement.

Early Medical School Graduation

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel have coordinated with Massachusetts medical schools to facilitate early graduation of their qualified fourth-year students to allow graduates to support the health care workforce during the COVID-19 response.

This coordinated effort includes Boston University School of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.

Emergency Limited Medical Licenses

The Board of Registration in Medicine will provide medical school graduates who have matched as an intern, resident or fellow with a board-approved Massachusetts health-care facility or training program with Emergency 90-Day Limited Licenses to practice medicine during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

To qualify, medical residents must fill out an application to be approved by the program or facility. Once approved, residents will receive the emergency license and be able to start when their program begins. This Emergency Limited License will allow medical staff to provide support while the regular screening progresses, and it is not a substitute for the regular Limited License process.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs):

The administration has issued a public health order to provide Advanced Practice Registered (APRNs) in good standing with greater flexibility in their prescribing practices. This order includes the following updates:

  • Certified nurse midwives will be allowed to continue to prescribe as already authorized.
  • Authorized APRNs who have at least two years of supervised practice experience will be able to prescribe without physician supervision.
  • Authorizes APRNs with fewer than two years of supervised practice experience to prescribe with physician supervision, but without the normally required written guidelines.
  • Read the order here.

MassHealth Waiver:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved, in part, the Baker-Polito Administration’s 1135 waiver to fast-track MassHealth enrollment, streamline administrative requirements for providers and better deliver critically needed health care services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. CMS has approved the following items of the waiver.

  • Enrollment of out-of-state providers and easing other provider requirements when enrolling in MassHealth.
  • Allowing providers to be reimbursed for care in alternative, unlicensed settings.
  • Suspension of prior authorization requirements and extending pre-existing prior authorizations through the emergency.

Office of the Attorney General (AG) Issues Emergency Debt Collection Regulations

Effective March 26, a new emergency regulation became effective upon the filing of the regulation by the Office of the Attorney General to address debt collection.  The emergency regulation will remain in effect for 90 days or until the state of emergency ends, whichever comes first.

The new regulation, 940 CMR 35.00 contains protections that apply to all creditors and prohibits them from deceptive practices in pursuing the payment of a debt during the COVID-19 emergency, including:

  • filing any new collection lawsuit
  • garnishing wages, earnings, properties or funds
  • repossessing vehicles
  • applying for or serving a capias warrant
  • visiting or threatening to visit the household of a debtor
  • visiting or threatening to visit the place of employment of a debtor
  • confronting or communicating in person with a debtor regarding the collection of a debt in any public place.

The AG’s emergency debt collection regulation also prohibits debt collection agencies and debt buyers from making unsolicited debt collection telephone calls to Massachusetts consumers for the next 90 days, unless the state of emergency ends before that time.

AG Resource Page – COVID-19 resources page for information about how the office can assist you during this crisis.

SBA Announces Express Bridge Loan Program to Bridge Long-Term Financing

Click here for The Small Business Administration’s Express Bridge Loan Program to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The program authorizes SBA Express Lenders to provide expedited SBA-guaranteed bridge loan financing on an emergency basis in amounts up to $25,000 for disaster-related purposes to small businesses who have applied for and await long-term financing (including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program)

US Department of Labor (DOL) Frequently Asked Questions

Click here for DOL FAQs that went live March 26 to provide answers to a lot of common employer/employee questions including intermittent leave.

REAL ID Deadline Moved

Americans will now have until Oct. 1, 2021 to get the Real ID Act compliant identification needed to board commercial flights, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Thursday. The original deadline was October 2020.

March 26, 2020

State Extends Tax Filing Deadline

Governor Baker Requests Major Disaster Declaration –

Governor Charlie Baker submitted a written request to President Trump for a Major Disaster Declaration for Massachusetts under the federal Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to allow the state to access additional federal resources.

The request includes access to the following two programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

Three new Department of Public Health Orders:

  • Pharmacy Practice: To ensure pharmacists are able to support the health-care system’s response to COVID-19, this emergency order makes several changes regarding pharmacy practice, including expedited approval for pharmacists licensed in other states to practice in Massachusetts, and allowing the remote processing of prescriptions by pharmacy technicians.  Read the Order
  • Determination of Need: This emergency order exempts health-care facilities from the requirement that they submit a Notice of Determination of Need for certain activities that will support their response to COVID-19. Read the Order|Read the Guidance
  • Nurse Staffing: To ensure hospitals have the flexibility they need to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, this emergency order exempts hospitals from certain nurse-staffing requirements, while requiring that they must ensure that staffing levels remain adequate to meet patients’ needs, and staff is trained and competent to meet the needs of their patients. Read the Order

COVID-19 Essential Services-Related FAQs Supplied by Mass.gov

MassHousing $5 Million to State Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program 

RAFT assists households of all sizes and configurations with financial assistance up to $4,000 per household to help preserve current housing or move to new housing. Funding is distributed by partner Regional Administering Agencies. All offices are operating remotely and are taking applications and questions.

Berkshire Housing Development Corporation
Community Teamwork Inc.
Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority
Housing Assistance Corporation
Way Finders
Metro Housing|Boston
RCAP Solutions
South Middlesex Opportunity Council
NeighborWorks Housing Solutions
Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development
Central MA Housing Alliance

Executive Order Pertaining to Commercial Property Owners

Governor Baker issued an Executive Order to suspend relevant permitting deadlines and extend out the validity of state permits. It applies to a wide range of state approvals and clarifies that all approvals shall toll during the State of Emergency. It shall remain in effect until rescinded or until the state of emergency is terminated, whichever happens first. Update provided by NAIOP Massachusetts.

AIM “30 on Thursdays” Webinar Links

Department of Unemployment Virtual Town Halls

  • Friday March 27 at 9:00AM
  • Saturday March 28 at 12:00PM – Spanish Town Hall

Additional Resources for Employers

National:  3.3 Million have filed for unemployment benefits

US Senate passes CARE Act by a Unanimous 96-0 Vote

  • Unemployment Insurance Highlights – $260 billion for increased unemployment assistance, including up to four months of full replacement wages up to certain limits for individuals who lose a job or are furloughed.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provision would create a new program modeled on Disaster Unemployment Assistance that would provide unemployment benefits to individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation and are unable to work because of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Qualified individuals may include self-employed workers (including gig workers and independent contractors), part-time workers, and those with limited work histories. The changes to increase the size of regular unemployment benefits and make them available for additional weeks will also apply to benefits received through the PUA program. PUA will be state administered but fully federally funded. The program is effective through December 31, 2020.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation would make an additional 13 weeks of federally funded unemployment compensation for individuals who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits available immediately through December 31, 2020.
  • Emergency Unemployment Relief for Governmental Entities and Nonprofit Organizations would reduce the amount by which nonprofits, Indian Tribes, and governmental entities are required to reimburse states for benefits paid to their workers who claim unemployment insurance by 50 percent through December 31, 2020.
  • Emergency Increase in Unemployment Compensation would add $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to every weekly unemployment benefit, effective until July 31, 2020. This $600 benefit will be taxable (like regular unemployment benefits), but it will be disregarded in determining Medicaid or CHIP eligibility.
  • Temporary Full Federal Funding of the First Week of Compensable Regular Unemployment for States with No Waiting Week would allow states to enter into an agreement with the federal government to receive full reimbursement for the total amount of unemployment compensation paid to individuals for their first week of unemployment, provided that the state does not have a waiting week between applying for and receiving benefits, effective until December 31, 2020.
  • Temporary Financing of Short-Time Compensation in States with Programs in Law would provide 100 percent federal reimbursement to states for payments made under qualifying short-time compensation programs (also known as work sharing programs) through December 31, 2020.

State and Local Aid Highlight 

  • Coronavirus Relief Fund provides $150 billion to states for necessary expenditures incurred in responding to the coronavirus outbreak – including building field hospitals and buying ventilators – as well as to offset the cost of other essential government services not budgeted for and incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. The U.S. Treasury must allocate funds to states within 30 days based on a state’s population, although every state will be guaranteed at least $1.25 billion. The bill reserves 45 percent of the state’s total allotment for localities of 500,000 or more. These localities may apply directly to the Treasury for their relative share by population of this amount.

Tax Policy Highlights

  • Employee retention credit- a new temporary refundable 50 percent employee retention credit for employers subject to full or partial business suspension due to the COVID-19 emergency, or for employers whose gross receipts have significantly declined due to COVID-19, to be applied against the employer’s share of payroll taxes. The amount of qualified compensation (including health benefits) eligible for the credit with respect to any individual employee is limited to $10,000.
  • Payroll taxes- Delays in payment of certain applicable 2020 employer payroll taxes from date of enactment through December 31, 2020. Half of the deferred tax is to be paid by December 31, 2021, and the remainder by December 31, 2022.
  • Corporate AMT credit refunds- Accelerates the ability of companies to receive refunds of AMT credits in tax years beginning in 2019. Alternatively, companies could elect to claim the entire refundable AMT credit in tax years beginning in 2018.
  • Section 163(j) changes increase the 30 percent adjusted taxable income limitation to 50 percent for tax years beginning in 2019 and 2020. For 2019, this provision does not apply to partnerships – partners may deduct 50 percent of their distributive share of the partnership’s excess business interest in 2020 without regard to Section 163(j). The provision also allows a taxpayer to elect to use its 2019 adjusted taxable income for its 2020 limitation.

More information: PWC and The Tax Foundation

The stimulus measure now goes to the House of Representatives where it is anticipated there will be strong bipartisan support. The legislation is expected to pass by voice vote, a move that would allow for the House to avoid compelling its members to return to Washington for a recorded roll call vote.  The House will take up the measure beginning on Friday beginning at 9 am.

U.S. Department of Labor provides Additional Guidance Explaining Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Under Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Updates on the Defense of Production Act

In early March the Congressional Research Service updated research and provided Congress “The Defense Production Act of 1950: History, Authorities, and Considerations for Congress.” As of this post on March 26, 2020, President Trump and the administration have not utilize the full powers of the act, but have used it as a means to encourage and seek businesses voluntary efforts to provide items such as masks, ventilators and other personal protective equipment (PPE) among other critical supplies.

Key provisions include:

  • Title I: Priorities and Allocations, which allows the President to require persons (including businesses and corporations) to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services as necessary to promote the national defense.
  • Title III: Expansion of Productive Capacity and Supply, which allows the President to incentivize the domestic industrial base to expand the production and supply of critical materials and goods. Authorized incentives include loans, loan guarantees, direct purchases and purchase commitments, and the authority to procure and install equipment in private industrial facilities.
  • Title VII: General Provisions, which includes key definitions for the DPA and several distinct authorities, including the authority to establish voluntary agreements with private industry; the authority to block proposed or pending foreign corporate mergers, acquisitions, or takeovers that threaten national security; and the authority to employ persons of outstanding experience and ability and to establish a volunteer pool of industry executives who could be called to government service in the interest of the national defense.

March 25, 2020

The US Senate last night unanimously approved the $2 trillion economic stimulus package.

Governor Charlie Baker announced that all public and private schools, and all non-emergency childcare programs will be closed until May 4, 2020

AIM Provides Model Documents on Accrued Vacation Time, Essential Business

AIM has received a number of questions on the HR Hotline about the use of accrued vacation time and documentation of essential businesses. In response to requests by members, we thought it would be helpful to provide two model documents at no cost to help employers through this difficult period.

As a result of recent decisions made by the Massachusetts state government, employers may be faced with two significant decisions regarding situations involving their employees.
The first one involves employee(s) separating from employment and the disposition of the employee’s accrued vacation time, the second one involves how to ensure that someone is identified as an employee of an essential employer.

Department of Public Health Pharmacy Grocery Order  temporarily lift bans on plastic bags

  • Grocery store and pharmacy employees shall not perform bagging of retail products if reusable checkout bags are used and customers at grocery stores and pharmacies shall not use reusable checkout bags until further notice.
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies, food banks and emergency food programs, including those currently subject to municipal ordinances or regulations banning single-use plastic bags, may choose to use recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags or single-use plastic bags.
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies may not assess a charge for recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags or single-use plastic bags.
  • Stores must provide at least one hour per day of shopping for adults over 60-years-old.
  • Stores must offer sanitation options, such as hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, as available, to clean points of frequent contact.
  • Stores must observe appropriate social distancing policies, including a marked “Social Distancing Line,” beginning six feet away from all checkout counters.
  • Stores must close all self-serve food stations.
  • Store employees who are ill must stay home, and stores must accommodate employees who fall in the high-risk category with alternative assignments to limit exposure.

MassHousing to provide $5 Million to the Department of Housing and Economic Development (DHCD) for COVID19 Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) fund. 

Read Additional DHCD Guidance:

Notices and guidance regarding federal and state rental assistance programs:

Department of Banks issues Guidance Regarding Mortgage Loan Borrowers

  • Postpones foreclosures for 60 days
  • Forbeares mortgage payments for 60 or more days from their due dates
  • Waives late-payment fees and any online payment fees for a period of 60 days
  • Requires lenders to refrain from reporting late payments to credit rating agencies for 60 days
  • Offers borrowers an additional 60-day grace period to complete trial loan modifications, and ensures that late payments during the COVID-19 pandemic do not affect their ability to obtain permanent loan modifications
  • Ensures that borrowers do not experience a disruption of service if the mortgage servicer closes its office, including making available other avenues for borrowers to continue to manage their accounts and to make inquiries
  • Reaches out to borrowers to explain the above-listed assistance being offered.

Health Connector Update 

One-page information document for people who have recently been separated from work or lost job-based health coverage on how to get health coverage through the Health Connector, where many people moving onto unemployment may qualify for free or low-cost coverage.

Boston

McChrystal Group helping Boston review and analyze emergency plans.

The Boston Resiliency Fund to provide food and supplies to students and families and support to healthcare workers/first responders surpassed its original $20M goal and is still accepting donations. Grants are being made to organizations including:

Boston Public School students have been supplied with 18,000 Chromebooks for remote learning with more on the way.

Boston Ban on Plastic Bags Temporarily Lifted to curb spread of disease and minimize time in stores.

27 Emergency Childcare Centers open in Boston with contact information provided on the City’s website for each, as well as further information on how to access more in MA through the state website.

Transportation Adjustments

  • Discounted parking rates for medical staff.
  • Greater Boston communities providing 30-day free Blue Bike pass for hospital staff and emergency personnel.
  • Commuter Rail schedule adjustment to help transport healthcare workers to 7AM shifts
  • City of Boston Multilingual Text Servicefor COVID updates

 

March 24, 20202

Governor Files HD4974, An Act to further address challenges faced by municipalities, school districts and state authorities resulting from COVID-19

Full Bill Details Include:

  • Establishments licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption may sell wine and beer by take-out and delivery, provided that the wine or beer is sold in the original sealed container, in the same transaction as a purchase of food and is under certain volume limitations.
  • Local permitting process modifications during the state of emergency.
  • Municipalities may waive late-payment penalties for 4th quarter tax bills, which are due May 1. In addition, municipalities can change their tax bill due date from April 1 to June 1.
  • Municipalities may extend the deadline for property tax exemptions and deferrals from current statutory deadline of April 1 to June 1.
  • The cap on hours and compensation for retired employees collecting a pension are suspended during the state of emergency, allowing municipalities to tap qualified workers.
  • Regional School Districts may suspend required vote on their FY2021 budget and allowing the DESE to certify an amount for the operation of the district until a budget can be adopted.
  • The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may modify or waive the required competency determination for high school graduation. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education may also modify or waive the MCAS testing requirement.
  • The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education may extend the April 1, 2020 deadline for each district to submit its first 3-year plan as per last year’s Student Opportunity Act.
  • E-signatures are permitted for search warrants and criminal complaints.
  • The dates for MBTA to approve a preliminary budget and submit a final budget are extended to align with the state budget process.

Governor Baker announced that his administration will soon be issuing guidance on safe practices for construction work in Massachusetts. The governor also unveiled a new statewide text alert system. Text: COVIDMA to 888777 to receive updates on COVID matters and policies.

Department of Public Health “Stay At Home” Advisory

The first part is directed to those Massachusetts residents who are 70 years and older and those with underlying health conditions to strongly advise them to stay-at-home except for essential trips for food, medicine, and focused time for exercise and fresh air. The second part is directed to the common population.

Department of Insurance Bulletin – Flexibility in the Issuance and Administration of Insurance During COVID-19.

“With restrictions on certain types of activities, the Division is aware of growing stress for policyholders as businesses reduce or suspend operations and how this may impact the payment of all expenses, including premium payment. During this period, the Division believes that carriers should be looking for all ways to be flexible in collecting premiums and find ways to address what the Division hopes will be a short-term disruption in the business environment.”

 Department of Unemployment Virtual Town Halls – To aid applicants in submitting UI claims over the phone or online. This week’s schedule is as follows:

  • Wednesday March 25 at 9 am
  • Thursday March 26 at 11:10 am NOTE UPDATED TIME
  • Friday March 27 at 9 am
  • Saturday March 28 at 12:00 pm – Spanish Town Hall

March 23, 20202

Governor Baker Orders Non COVID-19 Essential Businesses to Close

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public as of Tuesday, March 24th at noon until Tuesday, April 7th at noon. These businesses are encouraged to continue operations remotely.

The Baker-Polito Administration issued a list of designated businesses and other organizations that provide essential services and workforces related to COVID-19 that shall continue to operate brick and mortar facilities during this two-week time period. This list is based on federal guidance and amended to reflect the needs of Massachusetts’ unique economy. While these businesses are designated as essential, they are urged to follow social distancing protocols for workers in accordance with guidance from the Department of Public Health.

Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order.

Restaurants, bars, and other establishments that sell food and beverage products to the public are encouraged to continue to offer food for take-out and by delivery if they follow the social distancing protocols set forth in Department of Public Health guidance. On-premises consumption of food or drink is prohibited.

Due to evolving spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, Governor Baker has directed the Department of Public Health to issue a stay at home advisory outlining self-isolation and social distancing protocols. Residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities during this two-week time period.  Residents over 70 years of age or with underlying health conditions, who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19, should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

The Baker-Polito Administration does not believe Massachusetts residents can be confined to their homes and does not support home confinement for public health reasons.

The Baker-Polito Administration Order also limits gatherings to 10 people during the state of emergency, a reduction from the 25 person limit established in an earlier order.

This includes community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, and any similar event or activity that brings together more than 10 persons in any confined indoor or outdoor space. The order does not prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people in an outdoor space, like a park or athletic field.

Click here for the full list of categories of “COVID-19 Essential Services”

Click here for a copy of the Emergency Order

Click here for a copy of the Guidance of Assemblages

Categories of COVID-19 Essential Services: 

  • Health Care & Public Health
  • Law Enforcement, Public Safety & First Responders
  • Food & Agriculture
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Transportation
  • Energy
  • Water & Wastewater
  • Public Works
  • Communications and Information Technology
  • Financial Services
  • Defense Industry Base
  • Chemical Manufacturing & Hazardous Materials
  • Other Designated Community Based Essential Function & Government Operations
  • News Media

Many AIM members have reached out to us directly to ensure that they are able to remain in operation during the national crisis and have expressed concerns regarding inconsistent or different orders through municipalities.  Many businesses are direct contractors, sub-contractors or critical members of the supply chain for addressing COVID-19 or are essential businesses.  In fact, many businesses have a “Special Responsibility,” under the Guidelines for America to implement and maintain strategies to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus and to help ensure continuity of Essential Critical Infrastructure Sectors, as defined by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Next Steps & Business Recommendations:

  1. Determine whether you are listed as an “essential business.”
  2. If you are not covered, click here to request essential business status or contact biz@mass.gov 
  3. Should you need further assistance or have questions, please contact the AIM hotline at 800-470-6277.
  4. Follow further guidelines and clarifications issued through EOHED website.

Postponement of Special Elections

AIM Testimony in support of the postponement of March special elections and S.2608 to potpone municipal elections and increase voting options in response to COVID19. Bill was enacted by both branches and laid before the governor.

Letter to Congress

Council of State Chambers Letter, supported by AIM, urging Congress to help businesses improve liquidity, expand and streamline loan programs, and create credit facilities to provide loans to those negatively impacted by COVID-19. Support additional temporary benefits, timeframe of legislation should match social distancing guidelines of 8-12 weeks.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, or “Phase 3”

Senate negotiations fell apart. The Senate was supposed to have its first procedural vote on the CARES Act (a motion to proceed) Monday afternoon at 3 pm, but it failed with a 47-47 vote. It is now unlikely that an enacted stimulus will emerge before the latter half of this week. The bill is likely to be bigger than what the Senate has drafted so far – approaching $2 trillion. Speaker Pelosi has announced that the House will introduce its own version of the stimulus.

In conjunction with the one-time rebate checks and paycheck protection, the Senate economic relief package provides much-needed support for American workers by making a significant investment – $250 billion – to expand unemployment benefits.

The bill will ensure that self-employed and independent contractors like Uber drivers and gig workers are able to receive unemployment. It also allows individuals to remain connected to employment by extending eligibility to those who are employed but unable to work due to coronavirus.

The bill would add $600 per week on top of what a state normally pays and provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits. There are also provisions to support state and local governments and non-profits so they can pay unemployment to their employees. Unemployment provisions go through the end of 2020, so they aren’t permanent.

This funding, plus the $500 million in administrative funds Congress provided to state agencies in the first stimulus package, will make a tremendous difference to help keep workers afloat through this crisis and make sure no American worker falls through the cracks:

  • Helps those not eligible for regular unemployment insurance: Creates a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to help those not traditionally eligible for UI, including self-employed, independent contractors, and those who are unable to work as a result of the coronavirus public health emergency.
  • Pays 50 percent of the unemployment insurance costs incurred by state, local and tribal governments and non-profit organizations, not part of the UI system.
  • Provides an additional payment to each recipient – Provides additional $600/week payment to each UI or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance recipient for 3 months.
  • Supports states who pay individuals quickly – Provides funding for the first week of unemployment for states to waive the traditional “waiting week” before benefits begin.
  • Allows for additional weeks of unemployment benefits when needed – Provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment to help those who remain unemployed after weeks of state unemployment are no longer available.
  • Assists states in meeting critical staffing needs to get benefits out quickly – Provides states with temporary, limited flexibility to hire temporary staff or re-hire former staff to quickly process unemployment claims.
  • Helps states maintain and establish programs to prevent layoffs during a downturn. Provides funding to states to help them maintain short-time compensation programs to prevent layoffs, as well as expand these work sharing programs in the future.

March 22, 20202

SBA Modifies Loan Repayment Terms

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has made an important adjustment to the terms of its Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Moving forward, EIDL loans will defer payments for the first year (twelve months) of the loan. This is a change from the initial loan structure, which allowed payment deferral for four months. SBA EIDL loans are for small businesses and private non-profits (of any size) that were previously profitable, but whose revenues have been adversely impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 (since January 31, 2020). Loans can be up to $2 million and have a long-term repayment schedule of up to 30 years. Businesses may apply for the program at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

State Hosts Unemployment Insurance Virtual Town Halls

To help with the increased demand on the unemployment system and the increased volume or your staff, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Unemployment Assistance will host virtual town hall meetings. Presenters will take all who sign up through a step-by-step process of achieving a successful unemployment claim. We will also be taking questions from claimants across the commonwealth. Applicants should file for benefits at https://www.mass.gov/unemployment-insurance-ui-online .

The first virtual town hall will be held today at 3:30pm. Sign up information for the virtual town hall is available at www.mass.gov/unemployment/townhall. A Spanish language town hall will be held on Tuesday at 9 am and additional language town halls shortly thereafter.

To further help claimants through the process of applying for benefits, the state has made web page updates that include the latest guidance for employee qualifications and additional resources like contact forms and a COVID-19 specific unemployment claim handbook.

Child-Care/Day-Care Closures

Under an executive order issued last week, Governor Baker required all early education centers and family child care providers to close, starting tomorrow, Monday March 23rd to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Early Education and Care issued emergency procedures designed to open exempt emergency child care programs to meet the needs of families of emergency personnel, medical staff, and others critical to confronting COVID-19.

The Department of Early Education and Care put procedures in place to quickly review applications for emergency programs, and to conduct expedited background record checks for teachers and staff. Starting tomorrow somee selected sites for emergency drop in services for those that must report to work and critical workers (first responders, medical including grocery store workers).  This should be utilized as a last resort.  Additional details can be found at: bit.ly/echildcare

Municipal Shelter-in-Place/Closure Orders

No shelter-in-place order in Massachusetts as of Saturday, March 21.  The governor indicated that the state is working on setting a framework allowing municipalities to make their own decisions because they know their own communities best. To that end, municipalizes may begin issuing shelter in place orders. On Saturday, Somerville’s Mayor ordered non-essential businesses to close over coronavirus boston.cbslocal.com/2020/03/21/cor… pic.twitter.com/9fKJ6vYEse

Visit the AIM COVID-19 Resource Page for Employers

March 19, 2020

The Baker Administration announced today that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Massachusetts small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19. The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available following a request received from Governor Baker on March 17, 2020. The COVID-19 Resources and Guidance for Businesses webpage includes information on this SBA declaration as well as the Small Business Recovery Loan Fund and other resources and guidance for businesses.

  • The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available in the entire state of Massachusetts; and the contiguous counties in neighboring states.
  • How does this help – Small businesses, private non-profit organizations of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises that have been financially impacted as a direct result of COVID-19 since Jan. 31, 2020, may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred. Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses.
  • The interest rate for private non-profit organizations is 2.75 percent.SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years, and are available to entities without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship.
  • Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call (800) 877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX  76155.

The Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is now open in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts small businesses can now access and apply for Economic Impact Disaster Loans at sba.gov/disaster.

  • Small Business Administration, SCORE, and Women Business Centers will be providing workshops to answer questions and to help small businesses with the loan application process.

The Baker Administration announced administrative tax relief measures for small local businesses that have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, especially in the restaurant and hospitality sectors.

This tax relief includes postponing the collection of regular sales tax, meals tax, and room occupancy taxes that would be due in March, April and May. They will instead be due on June 20. Additionally, all penalties and interest that would otherwise apply will be waived.

  • Businesses that paid less than $150,000 in regular sales plus meals taxes in the year ending February 29, 2020 will be eligible for relief for sales and meals taxes, and business that paid less than $150,000 in room occupancy taxes in the year ending February 29, 2020 will be eligible for relief with respect to room occupancy taxes.
  • The Department of Revenue is currently drafting emergency regulations to implement these administrative relief measures, and they are expected to be finalized before Friday, March 20, 2020.

Governor Activates National Guard

Governor Charlie Baker today activated the Massachusetts National Guard to support the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, representing a significant addition of supply chain resources available to the Commonwealth and its residents. 

Governor Baker’s order authorizes activation of up to 2,000 National Guard members across the Commonwealth, who will be tasked with supporting requests from state agencies for equipment, logistics, warehousing, and related duties. Local cities, towns, and state agencies should submit requests for support through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

AIM sent testimony to Joint Committee on Municipalities on H4572 – An Act to Address Challenges in Town Governance resulting from COVID-19 supporting the bill, which mostly included procedural changes to allow town governments to operate even if they cannot hold their town meetings and enact their budgets by June 30.

AIM also cautioned the legislature that if further legislation is enacted that it not have unintended consequences for critical industries in Massachusetts, including groceries, pharmacies, food processing and delivery, medical equipment, IT, and Transportation Network Companies, as these industries provide vital services, even in a pandemic.

President Signs Economic Relief Bill

Just hours after the Senate voted to approve the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” on Wednesday afternoon the president signed it into law. The measure is the second package that Congress has passed amid growing concerns about the widespread coronavirus outbreak in the United States that has already bludgeoned the economy.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Secretary is working with Congress for “phase three” stimulus package today, which could include $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, $150 billion for other distressed sectors of the economy, two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18, and the creation of a small business interruption loan program. It is unclear if this “phase three” package would include a payroll tax cut.

According to Speaker Pelosi, “solutions include expanding eligibility for Unemployment Insurance which will expedite financial relief for more people.  In terms of helping small businesses, solutions include funds to ensure that workers continue to be paid.  Refundable tax credits including the EITC and the child tax credit continue to be priorities as Members discuss other cash payments in the days ahead.”

Below is a summary of what we believe most employers in Massachusetts need to know the applicable sections of the phase 2 Bill, H.R. 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided by Bloomberg. For a section by section summary of the entire bill, go to:

https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/Families%20First%20Summary%20FINAL.pdf  

Coronavirus Emergency Leave

The agreement would create an emergency paid leave program to directly respond to the coronavirus. Private sector employers with fewer than 500 workers and government entities would have to provide as many as 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employees who have to provide care for child younger than 18 whose school or day care has closed because of coronavirus.

The first 14 days of leave could be unpaid, though a worker could choose to use accrued vacation days, personal leave, or other available paid leave for unpaid time off. Following the 14-day period, workers would receive a benefit from their employers that will be at least two-thirds of their normal pay rate.

The measure also would modify the FMLA to allow individuals to use unpaid leave if they are diagnosed with the virus, caring for a family member, or caring for a child whose school or day care has closed because of a public health emergency through Dec. 31, 2020.

The Labor Department would be authorized to issue regulations to:

  • Exclude certain health-care providers and emergency responders from paid leave benefits.
  • Exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the paid leave requirements.

Workers under a multi-employer collective bargaining agreement and whose employers pay into a pension plan would have access to paid leave.

Emergency Sick Leave

Private sector employers with fewer than 500 workers and government entities would have to provide employees with paid sick time off to:

  • Self-quarantine.
  • Obtain a medical diagnosis or care for coronavirus.
  • Provide care for a family member who has been diagnosed or is in quarantine or for a child whose school or day care has closed due to coronavirus.

Full-time employees would receive 80 hours of sick leave under the new emergency leave program and part-time workers would be granted time off that’s equivalent to their scheduled or normal work hours in a two-week period. Paid sick time wouldn’t carry over from year to year.

Workers would have to be paid at least their normal wage or the federal, state, or local minimum wage, whichever is greater. They would be paid, however, at two-thirds of their regular earning for providing caregiving to a family member.

Employers with similar existing paid leave policies would be required to provide workers with the emergency paid sick time. An employer couldn’t require a worker to use any other available paid leave before using the sick time.

Employers would be prohibited from:

  • Requiring a worker to find a replacement to cover their hours during time off.
  • Discharging or discriminating against workers for requesting paid sick leave or filing a complaint against the employer.

An employer could be subject to civil penalties for a violation of paid sick leave requirements.

Workers under a multiemployer collective bargaining agreement and whose employers pay into a pension plan would have access to paid emergency leave.

Employer Tax Credits

The measure would provide payroll tax credits to employers to cover wages paid to employees while they are taking time off under the bill’s sick leave and family leave programs.

The payroll tax, which funds Social Security, is a 6.2% levy on wages imposed on both employers and employees. Employees’ share wouldn’t be affected by the bill.

The sick leave credit for each employee would be for wages of as much as $511 per day while the employee is receiving paid sick leave to care for themselves, or $200 if the sick leave is to care for a family member or child if their school is closed. The limit would be the excess of 10 days over the aggregate number of days taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters.

The family leave credit for each employee would be for wages of as much as $200 per day while the employee is receiving paid leave, or an aggregate of $10,000.

The credit would be refundable if it exceeded the amount the employer owed in payroll tax.

Employers couldn’t receive the credit if they’re also receiving a credit for paid family and medical leave established by the 2017 tax overhaul (Public Law 115-97). They would have to include the credit in their gross income.

State and local governments couldn’t receive the credit. The credit would be in effect for wages through the end of 2020. The Treasury Department would have to issue regulations or guidance to ensure employers don’t manipulate the credit, to minimize compliance and record-keeping burdens, to waive penalties for underpayments in anticipation of the credit, and to establish a process to recapture credits when there’s an adjustment.

The measure would authorize the transfer of amounts equal to the credit, as well as lost revenue from wages that are exempt from payroll tax, to the Social Security and disability insurance trust funds from the general fund.

Self-Employed Tax Credit

The measure would provide a similar refundable credit against self-employment tax. It would cover 100 percent of self-employed individuals’ sick-leave equivalent or 67 percent if they were taking care of a sick family member or child if their school was closed.

Their sick-leave equivalent amount would be the lesser of their average daily self-employment income, or $511 per day if caring for themselves or $200 if caring for a family member. It would be available for 10 days over the number of days taken into account in preceding years.

Self-employed individuals could receive a family leave credit for as many as 50 days for the lesser of $200 or their average daily self-employment income.

Self-employed individuals would have to submit documentation, as required by the Treasury Department. The measure would establish alternate requirements for self-employed individuals who also receive sick-leave pay from an employer. It would also establish rules for the credit to be provided in U.S. territories.

Unemployment Insurance

Emergency Transfers: The measure would provide as much as $1 billion for emergency transfers to states in fiscal 2020 to process and pay unemployment benefits.

Each state would receive a proportional amount based on the share of federal unemployment taxes paid by its employers.

States would receive half of their allocation within 60 days of the bill’s enactment if they certify that they meet certain requirements, such as ensuring that workers can apply for benefits online or by phone.

States would receive the remaining funds if their unemployment claims increased by at least 10% over the same quarter in the previous year. They would have to waive certain eligibility rules for claimants and charges for employers affected by Covid-19.

States could modify certain unemployment policies, including rules related to job searches and initial payment waiting periods, on an emergency temporary basis to address the effects of Covid-19.

The Labor Department announced guidance March 12 to clarify that states can make other changes to their unemployment policies to cover affected workers. For instance, current law allows states to pay benefits when workers are quarantined, or when they leave their jobs due to a risk of exposure or to care for a family member, the department said.

Extended Benefits

Eligible laid-off workers can receive regular unemployment benefits for as long as 26 weeks in most states. After exhausting those benefits, individuals in states with rising unemployment can qualify for an additional 13 weeks of benefits — or 20 weeks in some states — through the Extended Benefits (EB) program. The bill would waive a state matching requirement and provide full federal funding for the EB program for the rest of 2020. To qualify, states would need to experience a 10 percent spike in unemployment claims over the past year and qualify for a full emergency funding transfer under the measure.

 

 

 

 

Interest-Free Loans

 

The bill would waive interest payments that states owe for the rest of 2020 on federal advances to their unemployment accounts.

March 18, 2020

State Approved for Business Loans

The Baker-Polito Administration announced yesterday that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Massachusetts small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available following a request received from Governor Charlie Baker on March 17, 2020. SBA assistance will be made available in the entire state of Massachusetts; and the contiguous counties in neighboring states.

Baker Unemployment Bill Made Law

The Massachusetts House and Senate enacted legislation the governor presented earlier this week to make the state unemployment insurance (UI) benefit more accessible to individuals affected by COVID-19. Senate Bill 2599 waives the typical one-week waiting period between the submittal of an application and the commencement of weekly benefits for Massachusetts employees who are separated from work due to the outbreak of COVID-19, or as a result of the state of emergency declared by Governor Baker on March 10, 2020. Such individuals will now be able to access their benefits more quickly. The final bill has been signed by the Governor as Chapter 40 of the Acts of 2020.

Business Leaders Issue Unity Statement

AIM President John Regan was among several prominent business leaders to issue a statement yesterday saying that “we have been encouraged to see business leaders from across the Commonwealth and the country step up to take care of their employees, and lift up their broader communities.”

Child-care Operations Set to Close March 23rd

Early education centers and family child-care providers will close beginning Monday, March 23. Emergency child-care programs, regulated and overseen by the Department of Early Education and Care will be exempt to provide care for children of medical professionals, emergency personnel and other persons critical to mitigating the effects of COVID-19. To access the full order please see the following: Early Education and Care Order.

Senate Passes Economic Relief Bill

The US Senate, in a vote of 90-8, approved the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” on Wednesday. The measure, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates will cost $104 billion, is the second package that Congress has passed amid growing concerns about the widespread coronavirus outbreak in the United States that has already bludgeoned the economy. The bill passed by the Senate grants paid sick leave to hourly employees and expands unemployment insurance (UI).

Meanwhile, Republican senators are expected to begin negotiations with Democrats on a trillion-dollar “phase three” stimulus package as early as Wednesday night, which could include $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, $150 billion for other distressed sectors of the economy, two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18, and the creation of a small business interruption loan program. It is unclear if this “phase three” package would include a payroll tax cut. Negotiations are ongoing.

March 17, 2020

Governor Baker announced several additional initiatives on Tuesday

Emergency money for boards of health and Expedited contracts for municipalities

  • $5 million going out today to 14 of the largest municipalities and 15 local public health districts
  • Boston to expects $250,000
  • Bigger cities will get $50,000 to $250,000 each, depending on need.

Department of Public Health emergency orders for licensing to allow health-care professionals to work in other hospital settings and allow out-of-state and retired doctors to get licenses; expedite licensing for RN’s and respiratory specialists

Telehealth and other healthcare mandates

Adjusting ambulance staffing standards – presumably for rural towns that depend on voluntary services.

Small Business Administration loans – The governor has asked the SBA to make a declaration of economic injury in the Commonwealth to meet certain federal funding guidelines.

Unemployment legislation still pending. still pending in legislature. Proposed regulations to relax current claim requirements and legislation to suspend one-week wait period on new claims.

No on-premise food consumption for next three weeks

Lab testing – The focus is on increasing testing capacity with commercial entities and existing labs. The commonwealth could analyze 2,500 daily tests, but is hindered by the amount actual testing kits. State government is working on establishing an agreement with Broad Institute in Cambridge.

Closures – “I believe that people should not engage in nonessential activities; we defined that…but expect the local board of health to enforce that.”

Retail establishments to use best judgement. Grocery stores and pharmacies need to stay open.

Layoffs – “Tremendous amount of activity.” Governor expects a huge spike in Department of Unemployment Assistance activity.

Small-Business Loans

Governor Charlie Baker announced the following measures on March 16:

  • A $10 million small-business loan fun (similar to snow emergency and recent gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley). The fund, which will also include non-profits, is set up through the Massachusetts Capital Growth Corporation. www.empoweringsmallbusiness.org.
  • The MBTA has made schedule changes www.mbta.com/coronavirus
  • Public access to State House will be shut down as of close of business and only “invited guests” allowed.

AIM’s Most Recent Blogs/Resources:

  • AIM Webinar: Webinar: Facts for Employers About COVID-19; Thursday, March 19 | Noon – 1:30 pm REGISTER HERE
  • Government Actions to date and See AIM HR Solutions Employer Guide here.
  • Given the increased concern and circumstances around COVID-19, and in response to Governor Baker’s recommendations to employers, AIM’s John Regan, President & CEO communicated to members that that the association has made some decisions regarding upcoming AIM programs, events and meetings. For instance, the March 20 AIM Executive Forum with Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta has been cancelled. The decision is consistent with Governor Charlie Baker’s recommendations to employers pertaining to COVID-19.

March 16, 2020

Federal Actions

  • US House Legislation – Impacting tax practitioners, HR and operations.  Legislation changes paid sick days, family leave and other employer related provisions.  Of note, the Senate still needs to debate and vote on this – Today (Monday) and this upcoming week will be important to monitor as this legislation moves towards to the President’s desk for his consideration and signature.  AIM Government Affairs teams have been in constant communication with members of the US House and Senate regarding the progress of this legislation.  AIM member audit and law firms have produced great summaries of this legislation. (Text Of Legislation) Summary & Analysis by PWC, Deloitte, FisherPhillips. (If you have analysis to share please forward for future updates) and Littler FAQ, Guide for Business Emergency Preparedness and FoleyHoag.

State Actions

Early morning Sunday, Massachusetts Governor appeared on TV Sunday regarding next steps (Video).  Later on Sunday at a 6pm press conference, Governor Baker issued an order to close all Mass. schools, announced restaurant restrictions, banned gatherings over 25 people in addition to ordering all non-essential state employees to work from home.

Public Health

There is NO shelter in place order.  The order regarding closures prohibiting gatherings over 25 or more, includes faith based activities, fitness centers, private clubs or theaters.  Restaurants, bar may NOT allow people to eat inside on premises. They can allow takeout and delivery only, effective Tuesday, March 17.  Grocery stores and pharmacies are exempt. (See below for additional details). Social distancing has been recommended for any activities outside home, and maintaining a six-foot distance from others. It was also recommended that colleges and universities shift to remote learning.

Massachusetts UI Legislation

On Sunday, Governor Baker announced that he will be filing unemployment insurance related legislation in part will relaxing UI claims process and will waive 1 week waiting period among other emergency regs to be filed to address COVID 19 claims tomorrow. AIM’s Government Affairs team has remained in contact with the administration and legislature.  We will provide specific updates once we have them. In addition to recent actions by legislative leaders regarding events and limiting staff at the State House, see also Senate President Karen Spilka’s Resource Center and most recent public statement by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.  If you have legislative issues and have questions on how to navigate the legislature please contact us.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

The state has started a three week suspension of school operations for educational purposes at all public and private elementary and secondary schools effective Tuesday, and through April 7.  Extended care for breakfast will remain in place to students can access meals in addition to lunch.

Telehealth

All commercial health insurance carrier were ordered to allow providers to deliver services via telehealth to help people avoid trips to medical offices.

Hospitals

Massachusetts hospitals have been ordered to postpone elective surgeries to ensure availability of medical workers and hospital space to deal with COVID-19.

Nursing Homes – Governor issued new restriction on visitations etc.

RMV

Registry of Motor Vehicles is extending renewal timelines for certain credentials to reduce foot traffic at RMV service centers.

Command Center

The Baker-Polito Administration today announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Response Command Center. Governor Charlie Baker has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to lead this cross-secretariat response to the outbreak of COVID-19

Other Actions

The Governor will be filing legislation tomorrow regarding open meeting laws, municipal actions regarding the timing and completion of local budgets and moving the official date of the marathon.

For the Latest Updates

See DPH and Mass211 website for updates that will be helpful and are translated in multiple language to help your particular workforce. Also see Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

Boston Businesses

Mayor Walsh announced several items on Sunday impacting businesses including a City State of Emergency.  In particular, announced the closure of certain venues particularly bars, clubs and certain restaurants.  (Order impacting restaurants, Bars and Clubs in Boston) (Additional City of Boston Details) (Boston Globe) (Summary)

AIM Hotline

Many AIM members have utilized the hotline over the past week and one questions has been related to layoffs and healthcare impacts.  As employers evaluate options regarding operations including unemployment insurance and healthcare, know the Massachusetts Health Connector has initiated a special open enrollment period starting March 12 – April 25.  Should AIM members have questions, AIM encourages you to contact the AIM hotline to review your options and consider best practices.

Other Resources for Employers and Employees

    1. CDC: Family Emergency Preparedness Checklist
    2. See DPH and Mass211 website for updates that will be helpful and are translated in multiple language to help your particular workforce.
    3. Also see Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

President Declares a National Emergency

President Trump today declared a national emergency, a move that will give him authority to use $40 billion allocated by Congress for disaster relief to address the COVID-19 crisis. Mr. Trump invoked the Stafford Act, a law that empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster response and aid state and local governments.

$15 million State Supplemental Budget

The Massachusetts House and Senate passed a $15 million supplemental budget bill (H 4561) that creates a “reserve to support the commonwealth’s monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts against the 2019 novel coronavirus by the department of public health, regional and local boards of health and other public instrumentalities. The bill doesn’t offer direct instructions as to how the money is to be used, but Gov. Charlie Baker said he anticipates a large portion of the money will be directed into communities to fund first responders and local boards of health.

$8.3 Billion Federal Funding Response

  • Small Business Loans
  • States to receive a minimum of $4 million
  • $826 million to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – for the development of vaccines, treatments, and tests.
  • $61 million to FDA to expedite reviews and cover manufacturing disruptions from epicenters such as China.
  • Includes language empowering the US Department of Health and Human Services to ensure vaccines, drugs or tests are “affordable in the commercial market.”

Additional Federal Bill (In Progress)

  • Negotiations continue at this hour between Congress and the White House.

Unemployment Insurance Flexibility

In a major development for companies concerned about lost income for their employees if they shut down or lay off employees due to Covid-19, the U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday a new guidance outlining flexibilities that states will have in administering their unemployment insurance (UI) programs to assist employees affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance is available to read here.

Under the guidance, federal law permits significant flexibility for states to interpret or amend their laws to provide UI benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.

Under the guidance, states will have greater assurance about the circumstances in which they are authorized to extend unemployment insurance benefits to Americans whose employment has been disrupted by coronavirus.

An individual receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave is still receiving pay and is not  “unemployed,” so the individual is ineligible for unemployment insurance. The Department’s Employment and Training Administration will continue to assist any states seeking assistance in implementing these flexibilities.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Baker-Polito Administration are working closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to activate the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program which would provide assistance to eligible businesses and non-profits impacted by COVID-19.

The first step in this process is to meet a minimum threshold of affected businesses within Massachusetts. To do this, affected small businesses and non-profits should download, complete, and submit the SBA EIDL Worksheet and Instructions to expedite activation of the EIDL program.

Completed forms may be submitted by email to Disaster.Recovery@mass.gov or by fax to (508) 820-1401. If submitting by fax, please include an email address.

Governor Bans Gatherings of 250 People or More

Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order prohibiting most gatherings of over 250 people in an effort to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. The order includes, but is not limited, to the following events: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals, and any similar event or activity that brings together 250 or more persons in a single room or single space at the same time in a venue such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theatre, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.

Read AIM’s Employers’ Guide to COVID-19

Register for our March 19 webinar: COVID FAQs for Employers

Questions about managing COVID-19? AIM members may call the Employer Hotline at 1.800.470.6277.

Need to become an AIM member? View our Membership page.

Please contact Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org, if you have any questions regarding legislative actions or want to receive electronic updates regarding state and federal legislative responses to COVID-19. You can also update your AIM communications preferences and sign up for HR updates here – click here to opt-in or out.

The information above was compiled by AIM staff members John Regan, Brooke Thomson, Brad MacDougall, Tom Jones and Christopher Geehern.