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EXTERNAL: A Note on COVID Accommodations
On Saturday, July 16th, Acting Governor Polito signed legislation extending these flexibilities (including provisions for remote open meetings, remote corporate meetings, and virtual notarization) until March 2023. Please be advised that businesses may resume conducting meetings with these flexibilities in place.
The full text of this legislation can be found here. We anticipate it will be codified as Chapter 107 of the Acts of 2022.
Please let us know if you have any questions!
EXTERNAL: Boston.com: City encourages indoor masks as Boston’s COVID cases rise nearly 40 percent in past week
COVID-19 cases in Boston rose nearly 40 percent and hospitalized cases jumped nearly 25 percent in the past week, prompting the city’s health officials on Friday to encourage the public to mask-up when inside crowded indoor spaces.
The Boston Public Health Commission said cases rose 38.9 percent and hospitalized patients admitted with the contagious virus jumped 24.6 percent over the past seven days.
Hospitals are now averaging 151 new COVID-related admissions a day.
The BPHC attributed the spike largely to the rise of the BA.5 variant of the virus, which is now propelling most new cases across Massachusetts.
The variant can more easily evade immunity built up by those who have already had COVID-19, though it is unclear whether the latest variant prompts more severe illness than previous variants.
In the past two weeks alone, virus infections have jumped by 6 percent across the country, hospitalizations by 17 percent, and deaths by 13 percent as the new variant sets in.
Now, Boston public health leaders are reminding residents to take precautions amid the pandemic’s latest evolution.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Lawmakers strike deal for $52 billion budget, including more cash for embattled MBTA
More than two weeks after their fiscal year started, Massachusetts legislative leaders on Sunday unveiled an agreement on a $52 billion state budget bill they said would dedicate hundreds of millions of additional dollars to the MBTA, sock away more cash in the state’s savings account, and includes $1.8 billion more in spending than either the House or Senate initially approved.
The $51.9 billion spending plan, which lawmakers expect to pass and send to Governor Charlie Baker on Monday, reflects the state’s heady fiscal times, with tax revenues flowing far above estimates and lawmakers simultaneously racing to pass a separate $1 billion tax relief proposal by month’s end.
The proposed budget does not include any broad-based tax increases, Democratic leaders said, and the bulging state coffers prompted negotiators to rely on a rosier fiscal forecast for the current fiscal year.
As a result, legislative leaders beefed up spending across the budget, including setting aside $150 million more for a trust fund to help cover the cost of a $1.5 billion school funding law passed in 2019. They also estimated that the plan would push the state’s savings account to $7.35 billion by the end of the fiscal year.
The investments, Democratic leaders said, are intended to take advantage of the prosperous year of unexpected surplus, and ready the state for rainier days ahead.
EXTERNAL: Telegram: City health officials urge vigilance as highly contagious new COVID-19 subvariants spread
With the highly contagious COVID-19 omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 on the rise across the country and the state, city health officials are encouraging residents to wear face coverings, being up to date on vaccines and booster shots, and getting tested when exhibiting symptoms.
In addition, the city said in a release late Friday, individuals over 50, or who are immunocompromised or have other health risk factors, are advised to wear a mask whenever they are in public for the next two to four weeks.
The guidance comes as for four consecutive weeks, the seven-day daily average of new positive COVID cases in the city has plateaued in the mid-30s.
Although lower than the late April and early May uptick in cases, the positivity rate has lingered at a level higher than March’s lows.
As of Friday, Worcester’s seven-day daily average of new positive COVID cases stood at 35, the city reported.
Forty-one inpatients at the city’s hospitals are COVID-positive, with five in intensive care units. Both counts remain at half their volume from May, although they have also generally plateaued over the past four weeks.
The city’s test positivity rate is 5.26%, and COVID-19 levels in wastewater saw a spike in recent days, hovering around 1 million copies per liter of sewage at the beginning of the month, before jumping to over 4 million in the most recently reported sample collected July 11.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Mass. House approves wide-ranging economic development bill that offers tax relief, health care investments, earmarks
The Massachusetts House Thursday night passed a massive, wide-ranging economic development bill that infuses $4.2 billion into the state economy in the form of tax relief, investments in health care and environmental programs, and support to businesses, as well as a slew of policy changes and earmarks for local projects and programing.
The bill would be paid for by a combination of $2.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars and expected state surplus money, and $1.4 billion in money the state borrows through bonds.
Much of the spending is meant to target “communities that were hardest hit by the pandemic,” Representative Aaron Michlewitz, a North End Democrat who is the House’s budget leader, said while presenting the bill Wednesday morning. “This is a well-rounded spending package that will help support major sectors of our economy and help us be more competitive with other states.”
In a two-day process of amending the bill, House members dispatched nearly 900 amendments by bundling some and leaving others out behind closed doors, then publicly passing multiple mega “consolidated” amendments. The amendments totaled $468 million in added funds.
The legislation serves as a vehicle for tax reform and relief, which was born out of pressure to help residents being squeezed by record-high inflation during “unsettling times,” Michlewitz said. The bill would give potentially millions of middle-income taxpayers a one-time stimulus check of $250 or $500 for joint filers, but only for those who reported at least $38,000 in 2021 income, a caveat that has drawn scrutiny.
The Massachusetts House passed legislation late Thursday that could clear the way for Robert Kraft to build a long-sought soccer stadium for the New England Revolution on a waterfront property steps from the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett.
Without floor debate or public input, lawmakers added language to a wide-ranging, multibillion-dollar economic development bill Thursday evening that would exempt the 43-acre industrial property straddling the Everett and Boston line from a slew of environmental requirements so it could be developed as a “sports, recreation or events center.”
Two people briefed on the legislation said the amendment is designed to aid Kraft’s pursuit of a soccer stadium after more than a decade of searching, but repeatedly failing to secure a new home for the Revolution in or around Boston.
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said in a phone interview Friday that he’s had “informal” conversations with the Krafts about the site, currently home to a power plant fronting on the Mystic River. DeMaria also said that officials at Encore have been pursuing potential partners to join them in redeveloping the property as something that’s “very complementary to their site.”
“We are looking for something that’s spectacular,” DeMaria said of the property, whose owner Constellation Energy has agreed to put a large portion of it up for sale.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald: Boston, teachers union reach contract
Boston and its teachers union have a reached an agreement, bringing the largest public-workers union in the city under contract.
“Just yesterday we were able to reach a tentative agreement,” Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang told the American Federation of Teachers convention on Thursday.
The contract includes significant changes around special education as the district looks to improve services and integrate them into all schools, rather than just those called “inclusion.” The agreement, both sides said in a press release, includes new positions aimed at helping kids with individualized education programs, or IEPs.
The three-year contract includes 2.5% raises each year, plus an additional 2% bump over the course of the contract.
This follows Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration striking a contract with the school bus divers this past spring, a contract that the city touted as enabling reforms in what has for years been a troubled busing system.
“I’m proud of an agreement that supports our educators and takes concrete steps towards building a special education and inclusion model that will help us make Boston a city for everyone,” Wu said in a statement.
Transportation and special ed were two of the key areas the state had cited as it mulled taking over the district. Ultimately that didn’t happen, as Wu and the state struck a deal to keep local control — but an agreement that included requirements the city will have to meet in various areas in the long-troubled district.
Wu and Tang announced the
EXTERNAL: WBUR: Mass. insurers will cover abortion travel costs for members
The state’s biggest health insurers are promising to pay for members to cross state lines for abortion care if they live in places where abortion is restricted.
Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care said they will cover airfare, rental cars, and hotel stays for people who can’t get abortions where they live. This follows a similar move from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Their expansion of travel benefits follows the Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn federal abortion protections. The ruling has resulted in a patchwork of abortion policies across the country. Some states are banning abortion, while others like Massachusetts have reaffirmed or expanded abortion rights, and are welcoming patients from other parts of the country.
Doctors in Massachusetts and other states that allow abortions are bracing for a potential flood of new patients seeking care.
Dr. Claire Levesque, chief medical officer for commercial products at Point32Health, the parent company of Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim, said the health plans want to provide equal coverage to members across the country.
“It’s a very important health equity issue,” she said. “Vulnerable individuals are caught in this trap right now and have more difficulty finding a way to travel to get the services.”
And as a doctor, Levesque added, “I just feel that this is getting in the middle of physician-patient privacy. The physician and the patient should be able to make a private decision about treatment.”
The health plans may be taking a legal risk by staking out this position, since some states have laws that allow for lawsuits against anyone helping to provide an abortion.
Still, Levesque said, the health plans want to do “the right thing” by providing abortion access.
Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim — which are based in Massachusetts but have members across the country — also will pay travel costs for members who need gender-affirming surgeries and live in states where those services are banned.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, has about 800,000 members who live outside Massachusetts, a number that’s likely to grow as remote work becomes more popular.
EXTERNAL: WBUR: Advocates urge crowd funding, not couch surfing, to help people traveling for an abortion
In a comment on Reddit, Diane Rhyee appears to be an outdoor enthusiast. She pledges to welcome anyone camping near her home in the Worcester area and advises that, “Massachusetts is camper friendly.”
But Rhyee isn’t actually reaching out to give campers support. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, “camping” has quickly become a code word for traveling to have an abortion. Rhyee’s messages are an offer of temporary housing and empathy to those seeking abortions.
“I would let people come stay with me. I would transport. I would feed them,” she said in a recent interview. “I would hug them if they wanted a hug.”
Experts predict that in the post-Roe world more people will travel across state lines to get an abortion. That’s prompted some people — like Rhyee — in states that guarantee abortion access to open their homes to those from places where restrictions are taking effect.
But as these informal offers spring up on social media, so have stern warnings not to accept — or propose — such help. In some cases, the warnings are pitting abortion rights supporters against one another.
‘My Way To Try And Make The World Better’
While abortion rights opponents say they would prefer to limit the ability of people from out of state to come to Massachusetts for abortion care, others who disagree see an opportunity to help safely bring people in need here. Rhyee said she made the offer to host with her 15- and 16-year-old children in mind.
EXTERNAL: Axios: Massachusetts’ 988 funding, oversight still in flux
In the months leading up to the rollout of the 988 hotline, legislators, advocates and others asked whether the call centers could withstand the demand for mental health assistance.
What’s happening: Kathy Marchi, CEO of Samaritans in Boston, says that so far, they can.
They had no problems, and found the volume manageable on Saturday when 988 went live, Marchi told Axios on Sunday.
Yes, but: No one can predict what the volume will look like weeks or months from now, and call centers like Samaritans run rely entirely on volunteers.
When asked what would help, Marchi simply says: more volunteers and more funding.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature are negotiating bills that, among other things, would codify the 988 system into law and create a commission to set funding and legislative recommendations.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has a separate 24-7 helpline in the works staffed by clinicians, who would help callers set routine appointments, urgent visits or crisis interventions with a local provider. It’s supposed to go live in January.
Lawmakers implemented and funded the this helpline in the compromise 2023 budget bill filed Sunday night, which sets aside $20 million for a behavioral health access trust fund.
But neither the pair of behavioral health bills nor the budget proposal addresses how the public should use the different numbers.
What they’re saying: “The Help Line will be an additional resource when individuals call 988 for support, should they need it. There will be no wrong door to care,” Kayla Rosario Munoz, spokesperson for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, told Axios in a statement.
What’s next: The House and Senate have until July 31, when the legislative session ends, to finalize a compromise on their behavioral health care bills.
EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Oil, gas exec sees energy landscape changing
CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATES and environmentalists would be quick to point out that Mike Sommers is not exactly a neutral observer when it comes to energy policy. As CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, Sommers is paid to advance the interests of the fossil fuel industry that is held up as a prime driver of climate change.
But with no secret about his angle on the issues, Sommers paid a visit this week to Boston and offered up what he might call an inconvenient truth: He said the nation’s rapid transition away from fossil fuels has been “mugged” by the energy reality of high gasoline prices and the war in Ukraine.
Sommers, who met with local energy industry officials and House Speaker Ron Mariano on Wednesday, said President Biden’s visit this week to Saudi Arabia dramatically illustrates the changing landscape.
When he campaigned for president, Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia pay the price for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi “and make them in fact the pariah that they are.” But now, with world oil markets tight and prices high at the gas pump, the president is going to Saudi Arabia to make nice.
“The conversation has really shifted over the course of the last year from one where we were talking a lot about how we’re going to transition from oil and gas to more renewables to now being focused more on energy security. And that’s an appropriate discussion for us to be having right now,” said Sommers/
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: The legislature is closing in on a major climate bill. Will real estate developers stand in the way?
As the state legislature enters the home stretch on a major new climate bill, a familiar battle line is being drawn, pitting real estate developers and climate advocates against each other on a crucial question: Should communities be allowed to ban fossil fuel hook-ups for new buildings?
That question concerns just one aspect of a wide-ranging bill. The measure will would reconcile an ambitious House bill focused on developing offshore wind with a Senate bill that includes a broader array of climate provisions, including measures to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road, make public transportation greener, and pour money into the development of clean energy.
But in the final days of negotiating the bill before it goes to the governor’s office, a contentious debate has arisen over a provision in the Senate bill that would allow 10 communities to ban fossil fuel hookups in new buildings.
It’s an issue that has dogged the state for years, since Brookline first attempted to ban new fossil fuel hookups in 2019. Attorney General Maura Healey subsequently advised that such a step violated state law. Since then, several communities have attempted to pass so-called “gas bans” via home rule petitions, but none have been implemented.
EXTERNAL Wall Street Journal
Europe Fears Widespread Economic Fallout if Russian Gas Outage Drags On
Closing the Nord Stream gas link could send shortages rippling through industries including petrochemicals, steel, ceramics and plastics
and Jenny Strasburg
As a deadline approaches for Russia to resume supplying natural gas to Germany this week, European officials and executives are growing concerned about a cascading economic fallout that would spread across the continent should Moscow keep the tap shut.
The Nord Stream pipeline that ferries gas from Siberia to Germany closed last Monday for annual maintenance that is expected to last 10 days. Many in the West fear that Moscow might prolong the closure, possibly permanently, and deprive Germany, Europe’s industrial powerhouse, of a key ingredient for its and its neighbors’ factories.
European leaders blamed Moscow for using gas as a weapon when flows along the pipeline began to ebb last month. Moscow blamed that shortfall on technical issues related to Western sanctions.
According to the annual maintenance schedule, Nord Stream goes back online this coming Thursday, meaning that gas flow should resume the following day.
Complicating the calculus, officials and executives say it might not be easy to determine whether Russia is restoring gas flows fully. Under one scenario, Moscow could switch the pipeline back on but with lower volumes, as it already has, citing technical problems linked to the sanctions.
On Monday, utility Uniper SE, Germany’s biggest buyer of Russian gas, said it had received a letter from Russia’s state-owned Gazprom PJSC that claims force majeure—a legal declaration that exempts the company from fulfilling contractual obligations due to circumstances outside its control—to justify past and current shortfalls in gas deliveries.
Uniper said it had rejected the claim as unjustified. Gazprom didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Germany is highly dependent on Russian gas, and it also acts as a transit hub for gas headed to Austria, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. German industry also makes raw materials and components, from glass to plastics and other chemicals, that are crucial to other manufacturers across Europe and beyond.
For a host of reasons, Russia has already stopped supplying gas to France, Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. It recently reduced supplies to Germany and Italy, blaming Western sanctions for the cuts.
Should Nord Stream remain empty after Thursday, Berlin said it would declare a state of emergency, using new legislation to take control of the energy market. And should the cut result in a shortage of gas, it could ration fuel.
This past Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron of France warned that the European Union had to “prepare for a scenario where we have to switch entirely from Russian gas.”
The same day, Shell PLC Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden told an energy conference that Europe might need to ration energy and faces the prospect of sharply escalating prices, as the continent gears up for a “really tough” winter.
Berlin insists it won’t cut exports to its neighbors. EU countries have agreements—one of them called the SOS directive—designed to prevent one nation from hoarding fuel in such a scenario, and Germany has pledged solidarity with several neighbors if Russian gas stops flowing.
EU Energy Commissioner Thierry Breton traveled to Berlin earlier this month. A key aim of EU officials is ensuring there is no repeat of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when some member countries hoarded medical and protective equipment.
European manufacturers in gas-hungry industries have been switching to alternative fuels like oil and coal where possible, and stockpiling chemicals and other crucial ingredients ahead of winter, when gas is in higher demand, according to business and trade officials. But those steps will go only so far. Industry executives and economists say a gas shortage severe enough to force rationing in any one European country—especially in Germany, the bloc’s largest economy—would inevitably be felt across the continent.
Such an event would disrupt pan-European supply chains, particularly in the petrochemical sector, which depends on gas and petroleum as a raw material, said Günther Oettinger, a former EU energy commissioner and German politician. The production of steel, copper and ceramics would also be severely affected. German legislation gives households and institutions such as hospitals priority for gas supplies, making it more likely that industry would be first to face rationing in case of a shortage. Given how tightly integrated the continent’s economy is, such a move would quickly ripple outward.
“The whole EU stands to suffer if any single economy enters into a sharp and long-lasting recession,” as a result of an interruption in gas supplies, German insurer Allianz SE wrote in a recent report.
More than 60% of chemicals imported by Germany, not including pharmaceuticals, comes from other EU countries, according to the German Chemical Industry Association, or VCI, which includes many of the country’s largest chemicals and pharmaceutical companies. Germany, in turn, sends the majority of its chemical exports to industrial customers within the EU.
Plastics and other materials made in the Netherlands can rely on German-produced ammonia or acetylene, a compound used in welding and as a chemical building block for batteries, cables and other products. Those and other plastics can travel across another border for molding, or to go into the making of automobile seats, drug packaging, electronics or construction materials, trade-group officials say.
Acetylene also has medical uses. Chemical-industry groups and companies are gaming out how European officials will give priority to natural gas for production deemed crucial to making lifesaving drugs, or for fertilizers that maximize crop yields—a key consideration at a time of rampant food price inflation.
“We are putting a lot of effort into explaining that if there has to be a prioritization for gas, we in the fertilizer industry have to be a priority,” said Jacob Hansen, director general of Fertilizers Europe, a trade group representing the majority of European fertilizer producers.
He said most plants run 24 hours a day for all but a few weeks of the year. Most need to run at sustained 75% capacity or more to maintain the heat and pressure involved in the manufacturing process.
Should Germany start rationing gas, the government would have discretion to decide which sector gets hit first or hardest and which is spared. Companies and business associations have been lobbying Berlin hard for their sectors to be classified as critical.
“Our most important goal is to ensure that there is no gas shortage in the EU at all,” said a spokesman for the VCI, the German chemical association, whose members make up Germany’s largest consumers of natural gas and account for more than 30% of its industrial gas use, according to the association. The VCI says other European countries might be able to absorb some German chemical manufacturing if their natural-gas supplies are holding up better. Still, high prices for gas and other ingredients and the complexities of transporting goods—including highly flammable gases—threaten to worsen already-painful price inflation, the spokesman said.
In one scenario, a shortage of gas hurting plastics manufacturing could stall the production of automobiles or even athletic sneakers, said Ruud Schmeink, an Amsterdam-based partner at consulting firm Deloitte, who focuses on industrial supply chains. “A shortage of supplies cascades down the value chain, but it gets worse and worse and worse.”
The threat to Russian gas supplies could be compounded by other variables. U.S. producers of liquefied natural gas have promised to increase supplies to Europe, but tropical storms, common at this time of year, could disrupt these plans while also complicating shipments of other goods, trade experts say.
“You’re going into hurricane season, which always causes supply-chain issues in the U.S.,” said Guy Bessant, president of Stolthaven Terminals, part of Oslo-listed chemical-tanker company Stolt-Nielsen Ltd., which ships and stores bulk chemicals and other products globally. He and others said existing European gas pipelines can handle some redistribution of fuel, and rail and other freight lines can reshuffle some chemical supplies to other countries—but at a cost.
“The market is hot at the moment,” Mr. Bessant said. “And there’s not a lot of spare capacity for chemical storage.”
EXTERNAL: WGBH: Boston area rivers get decent grades on water quality, but trouble spots remain
Major rivers in the greater Boston area got their annual water quality report cards Friday. The good news is the Charles, Mystic, and Neponset rivers all boast some As and Bs.
But there were troubling spots on the 2021 Three Rivers Report Card, like the Mystic Watershed’s tributary, Alewife Brook, with the lowest grade for a major stretch of any of the three river systems — a D.
Andy Hrycyna, the watershed scientist for the Mystic River Watershed Association, said the spotty grades on some parts of the report cards for the three rivers tend to be on small tributaries that are disproportionately polluted.
“In particular, sewage pollution,” Hrycyna said, “believe it or not, in the 21st century in our urban areas.”
Hrycyna said Alewife Brook is an example of that, where there’s something called “combined-sewer overflow” going on at times.
“These are situations where very old urban infrastructure directs both rainwater from the stream and sewage from our houses to the same pipe that’s going to the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant,” Hrycyna said. “But in really heavy rainstorms, that pipe can get overloaded, and, instead of backing up into our houses or onto the streets, it’s literally designed to overflow into the nearest waterbody, which includes Alewife Brook, and includes parts of the Charles, and includes the Mystic River as well.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: African Americans have enriched Massachusetts for centuries’: Mass. lawmakers approve Negro Election Day holiday
Decades before the country’s founding, some Black Americans in Massachusetts could participate in a limited form of self-governance. And on Thursday, Massachusetts lawmakers backed a new state holiday to honor that long tradition of civic power.
The bill, which still needs Governor Charlie Baker’s approval, would set aside the third Saturday in July as Negro Election Day, recognizing the adoption of the first Black voting system in Massachusetts in 1741 — when Black people could still be held in bondage by white slaveholders.
The legislation comes as Salem held its annual celebration of the tradition Saturday at Salem Willows Park, where members of the region’s Black community have gathered for generations to commemorate their rights as Americans with parades, music, and festivities.
And that longstanding experience with political expression must have broader recognition, advocates said Saturday.
“Black Election Day should be more widely known and celebrated in the state of Massachusetts because it raises awareness of Black people’s quest for equality, for full and equal participation, and the long struggle for justice,” said Northeastern University’s Kabria Baumgartner in an e-mail. “It shows that African Americans have enriched Massachusetts for centuries.”
Kibibi V. Mack-Shelton, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Boston, hailed the legislation and the community celebration.
“Today, acknowledging this history of Negro Election Day celebrates both an era of early Black participation in politics and an era showing the willingness Blacks had to select and choose their own spokesperson or leader” by voting, she told the Globe in an e-mail Saturday.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Center plans to give W. E. B. Du Bois and other Black Berkshirites the credit they’re due
Tucked in among the downtown’s commercial buildings is an old, shingle-style church with peeling white paint and a 30-foot tower out front.
Its dilapidated condition belies its historical importance. The Clinton AME Zion Church served as a gathering place and spiritual home for Black Berkshirites for nearly 130 years, a refuge from discrimination, its pulpit a platform for pastors’ antilynching campaigns, and its basement hall a venue for social events. A National Register of Historic Places landmark, the church closed in 2014 and fell into disrepair.
But now, its former members and other supporters have come up with an ambitious plan to give it new life as a heritage and cultural center honoring both local Black history and the church’s most famous congregant, the civil rights activist and intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois.
“This is how we can carry on the foundation they provided,” said Dennis Powell, president of the NAACP Berkshire County branch.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Family child-care network will be key to Boston’s pre-K ambitions
The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the economic hardships facing child-care providers and created additional challenges for working families, reinforcing the urgency for increasing the affordability and availability of quality child care. The recent announcement of increased funding for Boston’s universal pre-K program is welcome news for those of us who continue to advocate for additional support for this under-resourced sector (“Boston to spend $20 million to expand its pre-K program,” Metro, July 7).
In 2017, United Way partnered with the City of Boston and the Barr Foundation to increase the number of high-quality early-child-care seats, analyzing the existing supply and demand and assessing the costs and quality of programs throughout the city. This led to the adoption of the current mixed-delivery pre-K model, wherein children in community-based settings learn the same high-quality curriculum taught in BPS classrooms.
Mayor Michelle Wu is bringing the family child-care sector into the fold. Family child-care entrepreneurs, primarily Black and Latina women, are an integral part of the early child-care system. Though they often share the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the children in their care, they do not receive the business training that other entrepreneurs do.
EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Final budget deal boosts revenue by $2.66 billion
LEGISLATIVE BUDGET writers vastly increased their estimate of how much tax revenue the state will get next year in order to fund the priorities of both the House and Senate in a $52.7 billion fiscal 2023 state budget that was released from conference committee Sunday evening.
The House and Senate could vote on the budget as soon as Monday, sending it to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. The fiscal year began July 1, and lawmakers are under time pressure to give Baker ten days to review the budget while still allowing themselves time to override any potential vetoes before formal legislative sessions end July 31.
In fiscal 2022, the state ended the year with an estimated surplus of more than $3 billion due to higher-than-expected tax revenues. That allowed the conferees to increase the amount of revenue they used to build the 2023 budget by $2.66 billion. The budget that emerged from the committee of House-Senate negotiators was $52.7 billion, higher than the initial budgets that were passed by the House and Senate, both of which were a little under $50.5 billion.
All six members of the conference committee – four Democrats and two Republicans – signed off on the compromise.
EXTERNAL: WHAV: House Economic Development Bill Includes $400,000 for Haverhill’s Dutton Airport Redevelopment
Plans to redevelop the former Dutton Airport into Haverhill’s newest business park received an unexpected boost last week when the state House of Representatives approved setting aside $400,000 for public portions of the project.
As WHAV reported last week, Rep. Andy X. Vargas secured $8 million to pay for public portions of Lupoli Companies’ $160 million downtown housing and retail development plan, and $300,000 for local economic development recovery efforts. Vargas told WHAV Friday that before the House recessed, it approved another Vargas amendment for Dutton Airport redevelopment.
The economic development bill still must be approved by the Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker.
At a Haverhill City Council meeting in May, Haverhill Economic Development and Planning Director William Pillsbury Jr. gave an overview of plans.
“The new business park would be on the north side of Route 110 where we will create a new roadway entrance with a signalized intersection across from Elliot Street. And, I want to point out very clearly, this will be the only entrance to the business park. There will be no access from Route 108,” he explained.
EXTERNAL: The Lowell Sun: Beacon Hill Roll Call: House votes for $4B for economic development and tax cuts
Beacon Hill Roll Call records representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of July 11-15.
$4.2 billion economic development package and tax cuts
The House, 154-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $4.2 billion economic development package. The bill provides $500 million one-time tax rebates to an estimated 2 million eligible people. A $250 rebate would go, by Sept. 30, to individual taxpayers and a $500 rebate to married taxpayers. Eligibility will be determined by annual income reported in 2021, with the minimum income required to be $38,000, and the maximum $100,000 for individual filers and $150,000 for joint filers.
Beginning in 2023, several permanent tax reductions would take effect including increasing the Child and Dependent Care Credit from $180 per child to $310 per child, as well as eliminating the current cap of $360 for two or more children; increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit from 30% to 40% of the federal credit; increasing the Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit from $750 to $1,755; increasing the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $4,000; and increasing the estate tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million.
The measure would break new ground for the Massachusetts Lottery by allowing it to sell some of its products online. Some of the revenue collected from online sales will go to fund an Early Education and Care Fund.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Mass. lawmakers promise one of Beacon Hill’s largest packages of tax relief in a generation. It mirrors much of what Baker pitched in January.
With just three weeks left in their legislative session, top Massachusetts Democrats on Monday unveiled a multibillion-dollar economic development package that pledges more than $1 billion in tax breaks and rebates, including increases to the credits that seniors, low-income workers, and parents can claim.
The sweeping bill would realize one of the largest tax relief measures in Massachusetts in a generation, and offers a response to calls for Beacon Hill to ease the burden on taxpayers at a time of sharply spiking consumer prices and overflowing state coffers.
In all, the $3.8 billion package House Democrats released Monday includes $524 billion in permanent tax breaks, as well as $510 million in one-time rebates that would be distributed to potentially millions of taxpayers by October.
Many of the proposed tax breaks hew closely to a plan Governor Charlie Baker released months ago, and leaders in the House and Senate say they have agreed to the “framework” of the tax changes, helping ease it pass before the formal legislative session ends on July 31.
The House bill would also spend more than $2.5 billion from a state budget surplus — which is expected to range in the billions — and the state’s remaining share of federal stimulus money, including doling out hundreds of millions of dollars for hospitals, infrastructure projects, and the state’s unemployment trust fund.
EXTERNAL: WGBH: Lawmakers announce $250 and $500 one-time payments for some Massachusetts residents
Legislative leaders announced Thursday that lower- and middle-income Massachusetts residents will receive tax rebates aimed at defraying the increased cost of living.
“Whether it is the rising price of gas, groceries or summer clothes for kids, the Massachusetts Legislature has heard loud and clear that increased costs due to inflation have cut into family budgets,” House Speaker Ron Mariano, Senate President Karen Spilka, House Ways & Means chair Aaron Michlewitz and Senate Ways & Means chair Michael Rodrigues said in an emailed statement.
According to the statement, individuals who reported between $38,000 and $100,000 of annual income in 2021 will receive a one-time payment of $250 through the newly created Taxpayer Energy and Economic Relief Fund, while joint filers who earned up to $150,000 will receive $500. The statement also said payments will be issued prior to Sept. 30.
Mariano and Spilka have previously said that reducing the state’s gas tax — an idea pushed by the Legislature’s small contingent of Republican lawmakers — is the wrong way to provide financial relief to residents, because there’s no guarantee savings would be passed down to consumers.
Thursday’s statement reiterated that belief, asserting that a gas-tax cut would benefit “large oil companies that continue to profit off economic uncertainty and international conflict.”
The statement also said the Legislature will “continue to work on potential changes to the tax code with the goal of providing additional relief,” a strong indication that additional tax reductions will be a focus as the lawmakers approach the July 31 close of their current session.
Last week, the Legislature advanced a series of structural changes championed by Governor Charlie Baker, but balked at Baker’s proposed reduction in the short-term capital gains tax.
The statement did not specify how many Massachusetts residents will be eligible for the one-time payments. Rodrigues told State House News Service that the total cost of the one-time relief payments would amount to “about $500 million” and would come from the state’s budget surplus.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Drop in funding is a warning to startups
For the first time in three years, startup funding is dropping.
The numbers are stark. Investments in US tech startups plunged 23 percent over the past three months, to $62.3 billion, the steepest fall since 2019, according to figures released Thursday by PitchBook, which tracks young companies. Even worse, in the first six months of the year, startup sales and initial public offerings — the primary ways these companies return cash to investors — plummeted 88 percent, to $49 billion, from a year ago.
The declines are a rarity in the startup ecosystem, which enjoyed more than a decade of outsize growth fueled by a booming economy, low-interest rates, and people using more and more technology, from smartphones to apps to artificial intelligence. That surge produced now-household names such as Airbnb and Instacart. Over the past decade, quarterly funding to high-growth startups fell just seven times.
But as rising interest rates, inflation, and uncertainty stemming from the war in Ukraine have cast a pall over the global economy this year, young tech companies have gotten hit. And that foreshadows a difficult period for the tech industry, which relies on startups in Silicon Valley and beyond to provide the next big innovation and growth engine.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Employers deserve a break on the cost of waiving unemployment overpayments
Remember the fiasco when the state paid $4.3 billion on more than a half-million jobless claims and then told recipients they might have to pay the money back?
When my colleague Shirley Leung and I started writing about the issue in January, Governor Charlie Baker tried to downplay the financial hardship caused by the repayment demands, which were largely triggered by problems verifying the legitimacy and accuracy of federal pandemic unemployment filings. The administration also did a lousy job explaining what was happening and what recipients of the so-called overpayments could do.
But the state eventually did the right thing, announcing in April a three-pronged plan to resolve most of the outstanding overpayments — those that weren’t the fault of recipients — through full or partial waivers made under expanded eligibility criteria.
Problem solved. Or so it seemed.
Now, a July 18 deadline looms for making permanent the emergency rules the Department of Unemployment Assistance used to begin granting waivers. But approval of the permanent regulations by a little-known panel called the DUA Advisory Council has been held up amid a tussle over how to recoup the forfeited funds, raising the possibility that the waiver program could stall.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald: Price of stamps going up in response to inflation
As with everything, the price of stamps has fallen victim to inflation and went up Sunday.
“The proposed prices, approved by the Governors of the U.S. Postal Service, would raise First-Class Mail prices approximately 6.5%,” the U.S. Postal Service warned in June.
They were quick to point out it could be worse, since everything else seems to cost even more.
“(This) is lower than the Bureau Labor Statistics annual inflation rate of 7.9% as of the end of February. The price changes reflect a judicious implementation of the Postal Service’s pricing authority,” they wrote.
But purveyors like Siegel and others on the North Shore are breathing a slight sigh of relief this weekend after the state relaxed some of its restrictions on harvesting local soft shell clams in Essex. The harvesting restrictions were implemented there — and along other areas of the state’s coastline — last month.
Shellfish with red tide, also known as paralytic shellfish poisoning, can cause illness or death in humans if consumed. It occurs when algae grows out of control, producing toxins in their waters that are harmful for humans and animals. Those toxins can accumulate in shellfish like mussels, oysters and clams. As the name suggests, it can also turn the surrounding water red.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald: North Shore restaurants breath sigh of relief as some red tide restrictions are lifted
But purveyors like Siegel and others on the North Shore are breathing a slight sigh of relief this weekend after the state relaxed some of its restrictions on harvesting local soft shell clams in Essex. The harvesting restrictions were implemented there — and along other areas of the state’s coastline — last month.
Shellfish with red tide, also known as paralytic shellfish poisoning, can cause illness or death in humans if consumed. It occurs when algae grows out of control, producing toxins in their waters that are harmful for humans and animals. Those toxins can accumulate in shellfish like mussels, oysters and clams. As the name suggests, it can also turn the surrounding water red.
Restrictions are put in place to stop the harvesting of shellfish in areas where high toxins are detected.
Siegel says when these restrictions are in place, he buys seafood from out of state, which impacts him and his customers’ wallets.
“It also raises the price of the substitutes that we have to get typically from places like Maine, so it hurts everybody,” said Siegel.
EXTERNAL: WBUR: In the Berkshires, a bold experiment with local currency goes digital
At The Magic Fluke in Sheffield, rows of wooden string instruments line the wall: ukuleles, violins, and a triangular instrument called the fluke.
“The look is different, the sound is a little different,” said Dale Webb, who designed the fluke. “It’s got a richer, fuller sound.”
Dale and Phyllis Webb co-own this shop, where a basic instrument runs about $250. Since most customers don’t carry that much cash, most opt to use their credit cards. That comes with a fee for the business.
“If somebody spends money at our store mostly with credit cards, I’m paying anywhere from 2.7% to 3%,” Phyllis said.
A sign hanging by the instruments inside the shop reminds customers there is another way to pay: a local currency called BerkShares. It can help business owners like the Webbs avoid the fees that accompany credit card transactions.
“Those dollars through Visa, MasterCard, Discover, do nothing for our community,” Phyllis said. “They just whisk away into the atmosphere to some other place that couldn’t care less about the Berkshires.”
EXTERNAL: State House News: Budget Uncertainty Puts Jobs in the Balance
The new fiscal year is 10 days old, and Massachusetts is still without an annual state budget as lawmakers continue to negotiate a final spending bill.
While government is operating on an interim budget with enough money to cover operations through July, providers of services to victims of violent crimes are feeling the squeeze of another late budget from Beacon Hill.
The Massachusetts Office for Victims Assistance, which administers grants to programs using federal dollars from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), says grant funding to 124 victims’ assistance programs has been cut by an average of 22 percent, with some programs seeing a reduction of up to 46 percent in their funding.
MOVA Executive Director Liam Lowney told MASSterList that the uncertainty has prompted many providers to stop filling vacant positions, while others are tapping their unrestricted funds generated through fundraisers and other non-federal VOCA sources to keep people on payroll. As many as 220 jobs hang in the balance.
“Everybody’s trying to hold out for the state budget,” Lowney said.
VOCA funding to all states has been in decline for years, but under a law signed by President Joe Biden last summer the fund is expected to be replenished by fiscal year 2026. To bridge that gap, Gov. Charlie Baker requested $60 million from the Legislature to support victims’ assistance programs over the next three years. The House included $20 million for one-year in its fiscal 2023 budget proposal, while the Senate did not include any bridge funding for MOCA.
As programs wait for the final outcome of budget negotiations, Lowney said spending on non-personal costs has slowed or stopped, eliminating financial support for many victims who received help paying for things like T passes, rent or utilities.
“This could not be a worse time for funding reductions,” according to Lowney, who said MOCA served over 100,000 crime victims in fiscal year 2021 as the agency saw the biggest surge in demand during the pandemic in its history.
Lowney also said that while MOCA will be “grateful” if the Legislature comes through with $20 million this year, a failure to fully fund the three-year bridge would force his agency to make decisions about which programs it can afford to fund moving forward when it goes through a new round of grant applications this fall and makes awards in the spring.
“My concern is that folks will think we solved the problem and we will not have solved the problem and the reduction will be worse next year and the year after. We really need the $60 million over three years and the flexibility to budget for those years,” he said.
EXTERNAL: Mass Live: Abortion after Roe: Democratic Massachusetts AG candidates outline strategies to protect abortion, reproductive health care
Just as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey became known for relentlessly taking on former President Donald Trump on the national stage, her successor in the wide open race could similarly set the tone for reproductive health care protections across the United States, especially as the commonwealth becomes a critical safe haven for abortion services.
And with Massachusetts voters still largely undecided about their top choice to replace Healey — the only major Democratic candidate for governor — the three Democratic attorney general hopefuls should seize this moment of national turmoil to carve out points of differentiation and legal ingenuity as steadfast abortion rights protectors, said Erin O’Brien, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
“What the Supreme Court did with Roe has just opened the floodgates for the AG position and others to have influence in national policy via the states,” O’Brien said. “Maura Healey softened the ground for an activist AG nationally and any one of these three individuals need to show this … How are you going to fight to expand the right to abortion nationally?”
In separate interviews with MassLive, all candidates — Quentin Palfrey, Shannon Liss-Riordan and Andrea Campbell — pledged to crack down on crisis pregnancy centers and formulate paths to renewed abortion access for people living in states where certain reproductive care services are now outlawed.
EXTERNAL: AP News: Biden says he’s mulling health emergency for abortion access
President Joe Biden said Sunday he is considering declaring a public health emergency to free up federal resources to promote abortion access even though the White House has said it doesn’t seem like “a great option.”
He also offered a message to people enraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that ended a constitutional right to abortion and who have been demonstrating across the country: “Keep protesting. Keep making your point. It’s critically important.”
The president, in remarks to reporters during a stop on a bike ride near his family’s Delaware beach house, said he lacks the power to force the dozen-plus states with strict restrictions or outright bans on abortion to allow the procedure.
“I don’t have the authority to say that we’re going to reinstate Roe v. Wade as the law of the land,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision from 1973 that had established a national right to abortion. Biden said Congress would have to codify that right and for that to have a better chance in the future, voters would have to elect more lawmakers who support abortion access.
Biden said his administration is trying to do a “lot of things to accommodate the rights of women” after the ruling, including considering declaring a public health emergency to free up federal resources. Such a move has been pushed by advocates, but White House officials have questioned both its legality and effectiveness, and noted it would almost certainly face legal challenges.
EXTERNAL: State House News: Senate Plans Reproductive Rights Bill Debate On Wednesday
The Senate is set to consider reproductive rights legislation on Wednesday after following the House in taking up the measure as a standalone bill on Monday.
It was a split from the Senate’s initial approach – launched before the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v Wade – of including abortion access measures in the fiscal 2023 state budget, which is still stuck in private talks 11 days into the new fiscal year.
Senators have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file amendments to the new Senate version (S 2996) of the bill, which did not emerge from a particular committee but was filed individually by Sen. Cindy Friedman, who co-chairs Health Care Financing and is the vice chair of Senate Ways and Means.
The House on June 29 passed its version (H 4954) which deals with abortion access, patient supports, and protections for providers and patients in the Bay State.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Europe labels nuclear and natural gas as sustainable investments.
The European Union said on Wednesday that it would label some nuclear power and natural gas plants, under certain conditions, as “transitional” green investments in order to drastically cut the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The landmark legislation is “a signpost for private investment” and an “important step in the transition to a climate-neutral economy,” said Mairead McGuinness, the bloc’s commissioner for financial services. “As governments and public authorities we cannot do this alone; we need the private sector to play its full part.”
The move, which can be blocked if enough member states or lawmakers in the European Parliament oppose it, is expected to steer private and public investments into new nuclear plants and gas-fired power stations.
Proponents say nuclear power and natural gas must be supported as “bridges” until renewable technologies — like solar, wind or eventually hydrogen — can generate enough power to replace fossil fuels.
But critics, including many members of Parliament, say that it promotes energy sources that are harmful for the environment, and that the new rules smack of greenwashing.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, which published the measure Wednesday, said the classification was critical to meeting the legally binding target to become climate neutral by 2050. Addressing the criticism, Ms. McGuinness told reporters on Wednesday: “Today’s act might be imperfect, but it is a real solution.”
The plan caps months of fierce political debate. The aim of the so-called taxonomy regulation has been to create “a gold standard” to guide private and public investors, but it became a proxy battle for the future of Europe’s energy mix.
The bloc has been struggling in recent months with skyrocketing gas and electricity prices, but under E.U. law, national governments are tasked with regulating energy, and their policies vary immensely. The legislation published on Wednesday is an attempt to find a compromise between several countries: those that back the use of nuclear power, led by France; gas-dependent Eastern European nations; and countries, including Germany and Luxembourg, that oppose the proliferation of nuclear power stations.
Under the plan, nuclear and natural gas plants are labeled “transitional” green energy sources if they meet certain conditions. National governments would need to guarantee safe disposal of radioactive waste, and nuclear plants must undergo regular safety updates, with newly built plants labeled sustainable only until 2045. For natural gas plants, only those that replace coal facilities and meet specific emissions criteria would be classified as sustainable investments.
A draft of the plan, published by the commission on Dec. 31, provoked a broad wave of criticism from some member nations, experts and lawmakers, who said the consultation period was too brief and denounced the timing of the release during a holiday period. Compounding the confusion surrounding the new rules, the commission did not publish the final legislative act until one hour into a news conference on the topic.
The Platform on Sustainable Finance, a group of green finance experts that has been advising the commission, objected to the plan.
“The taxonomy was supposed create a steady flow of green investments,” said Henry Eviston from the World Wide Fund for Nature, which was part of the advisory group. “Instead, we are going to get a tsunami of greenwashing. It penalizes clean technologies. It will stifle innovation and direct billions of euros to investments in ‘business as usual.’”
And some investors and financial institutions may steer clear of the classifications. The head of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, said last week that the complexity of rules would make the investors “drowsy.”
The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, an association of Europe’s asset managers and investors including BlackRock and Goldman Sachs, said in an open letter that including natural gas undermined “the E.U.’s ambitions to set the international benchmark for credible, science-based standards for classifying sustainable economic activities.”
The regulation is not expected to be blocked by a sufficient number of national governments — under the bloc’s rules, at least 15 of the 27 member states, representing at least 65 percent of the E.U. population, would be necessary to stop it. But Austria and Luxembourg threatened legal action if nuclear power was labeled green. Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands urged the commission this week not to include any “fossil gas-based activities” as sustainable.
The plan is also set to face resistance in the European Parliament, although it remains unclear whether a majority of the body’s lawmakers would vote to block it.
Paul Tang, a center-left member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, said the plan “diverts resources towards energy sources that are not sustainable.”
But Pascal Canfin, a French member of the European Parliament from the centrist Renew political group, the party of President Emmanuel Macron, called the proposal “a good compromise.”
“What we are after is relocation of market capital and public money to what can be useful in the green transition,” he said, “as long as you have the transparency requirement, and as long it is in the transition category.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Massachusetts doesn’t have a state climatologist. Here’s why that matters.
It’s not often that Massachusetts ranks behind Texas when it comes to climate, but on this matter it does: Massachusetts is one of the few states in the country that lacks a state climatologist.
State climatologists, usually climate scientists with a public-facing role, have taken on more expansive purviews amid intensifying concern about the climate crisis, leading education efforts and supplying data and analysis to an array of state and local entities. Though Massachusetts is still a leader among states when it comes to taking action to mitigate climate change, some experts worry the government’s unwillingness to fill the climatologist spot, which has gone vacant since its creation was proposed in 2014, is a missed opportunity.
“It’s an embarrassment,” said Matthew Barlow, a climate science professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell. “Hundreds of billions of dollars and people’s livelihoods are at risk. It’s a glaring omission to not have this basic position.”
There are already many climate jobs in Massachusetts government, including positions focused on climate adaptation, carbon sequestration, climate leadership, and more. But experts say a state climatologist would still have a distinct function, serving as a single point of contact for government, business, media, and the public, and facilitating the collection and communication of climate data.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Climate envoy John Kerry sees peril and opportunity as fuel prices bog down green energy push
A sweeping climate bill that collapsed in the Senate. An invasion that sent energy prices even higher, sparking calls for even more drilling. And, just weeks ago, a Supreme Court ruling curbing the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollution.
It has been a punishing six months for the effort to decarbonize the economy and stave off the most disastrous effects of climate change. And John Kerry, President Biden’s top climate-focused diplomat, expressed concern in an interview with The Boston Globe that time is running out.
“I have absolutely zero doubt whatsoever that we are going to get to a zero carbon, low carbon economy. … My question is, are we going to get there fast enough to avoid the worst consequences of the crisis? And that I’m not convinced of right now,” Kerry said. “This can work if we make the right decisions, if we move fast enough. But if we don’t, it’s clear what’s coming at us.”
Moving fast was exactly the goal when Biden tapped the former secretary of state to a new Cabinet-level climate envoy role in 2020, hoping to turbocharge efforts to restore US leadership on combating climate change. Biden immediately reentered the US into the Paris Climate Agreement that former president Donald Trump had withdrawn the country from, and Kerry tapped into his well-honed diplomacy skills to secure commitments from countries and corporations alike to cut fossil fuel emissions at a major UN climate summit in Glasgow.
EXTERNAL: WGBH: Mental health, wealth gap rises among top issues impacting Black men at inaugural community listening session
A few dozen people gathered in a conference room of the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Roxbury on Wednesday for a historic meeting as the city’s Black Men and Boys Commission held its first public listening session, and first formal public appearance, in the organization’s history.
Wednesday marked the first time the panel opened itself to the public since its 21 members were appointed by Mayor Michelle Wu in May.
Unlike other government meetings, where officials tend to do a lot of the talking, Wednesday’s meeting was centered around listening to what people had to say. Besides a few comments to keep the discussion on track, the members of the committee stayed mostly quiet as they heard from residents.
“We structured this for the community to have the first voice, the most important voice,” Commission chair Tito Jackson said. “And in the beginning, there was some uncomfortability with that. But when it comes down to it, we realize the 21 individuals… we realize that we’re nothing without our community.”
At $1.8 million, the Office of Black Male Advancement has one of the largest new line items within the city’s operating budget.
With that money came expectations from community members who were looking for positive change. Among the many issues brought up, including a need to offer programs and initiatives to prevent violence, preparation for climate change, education and housing, was a consistent theme of the need to support measures to improve mental health and wellness.
“The basis of much of that was hit on when people spoke about the economic wealth gap and the real need for people to be elevated, not only with jobs but through entrepreneurship,” Jackson said. “And when we look at the massive city budget, the manner in which those contracts are partitioned and whether or not people of color, and in particular Black men, have an opportunity to be at the table for those contracts. Which then means they’re going to hire folks from these communities, right?”
EXTERNAL: Boston Herald: Elizabeth Warren wants to expand youth voting, her bill would require states to have pre-registration for those 16, 17 years old
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is pitching a bill that would allow young people in every state to pre-register to vote when they’re 16 years old, along with requiring colleges and universities to have on-campus polling places.
Warren on Monday, along with Georgia U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, are introducing the “Youth Voting Rights Act,” which would expand youth access to voting.
The legislation would require states to establish pre-registration voting processes for 16 and 17 year olds, and let states expand their pre-registration processes to youth younger than 16.
The bill would also mandate that colleges and universities have on-campus polling places and order that states accept student IDs to meet voter-identification requirements in federal elections.
Other provisions of the bill include:
Expanding voter registration services at public colleges and universities.
Extending the Voting Rights Act’s protections against durational residency requirements and absentee voting limitations to all federal elections, and codifying the right to vote from a college domicile.
Creating a grant program for states to encourage youth involvement in elections, including through pre-registration, updated civics curricula, and a paid fellowship for young persons to work with state and local officials to support youth civic and political engagement.
Requiring the federal government to study voter registration, absentee voting, and provisional voting trends by age and race to inform efforts to improve youth involvement in elections.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: How have Massachusetts school districts spent their $2.5 billion in federal COVID funds? Mostly, they still haven’t.
Rich or poor, there has long been at least one constant among school districts in Massachusetts: They all say they need more money to fulfill their education needs.
But despite an influx of more than $2.5 billion in coronavirus aid funds over the past two-plus years, most of the bigger school districts in the state have been slow to put that money to work. The reasons range from drawn-out community engagement processes to the same economic forces that have bedeviled private businesses during the pandemic, including labor shortages and supply chain problems.
Among the 78 Massachusetts districts and independent charter schools that have received over $5 million, the Atlantis Charter School in Fall River stands alone as the one to have spent more than 90 percent. Only five others have spent even half.
The money comes from three tranches included in the March 2020 CARES Act, a supplemental relief bill in December 2020, and the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. The third and largest segment must be spent by September 2024 — although the federal government may grant extensions for projects that are contracted by the deadline.
EXTERNAL: Stater House News: Senate Passes Bill To Embark On Major Early Ed Changes
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 7, 2022…..Senators voted unanimously Thursday on a sweeping reform bill aimed at aiding child care and early education providers, fortifying the pipeline of workers entering that field, and helping more families access a costly service vital to their economic success.
After a string of speeches laser-focused on the importance of connecting more Bay Staters with quality, affordable care, the Senate approved a bill (S 2973) seeking a years-long expansion of subsidies for early education, pay and benefits for workers in the field, and permanent grants for child care providers.
“Very few bills we debate have the potential for impacts as great as this bill,” said Education Committee Co-chair Sen. Jason Lewis.
The legislation senators sent over to the House would over several years more than double the income eligibility to receive some degree of aid to pay for early education and child care, a step Lewis said would make services more affordable for hundreds of thousands of families.
Under current law, only households who earn 50 percent or less of the state median income — equivalent to about $65,626 annually for a household of four — qualify for subsidies. The bill would eventually raise that threshold to 125 percent of the state median income, a level representing about $164,005 annually for a household of four.
Top Senate Democrats portrayed the bill as an early education-focused counterpart to the Student Opportunity Act, a 2019 law that laid out a seven-year plan to overhaul K-12 public school funding with $1.5 billion in additional support.
Unlike that bill, though, the exact price tag and timeframe on the early education and care bill remain unclear. When they rolled out the bill last week, Senate leaders pointed to a special commission report estimating it would cost “upwards of $1.5 billion annually over time” to implement its recommended changes.
EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Budget surplus could reach $3.6 billion
After dire warnings early in the pandemic, COVID-19 has proven to be an economic boon to Massachusetts, primarily because of federal largesse. Congress’ COVID recovery packages have funneled billions of dollars into the state, through government aid and aid to individuals and businesses, which translates into higher tax revenue.
On Wednesday, the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation provided the latest stunning figures. The organization estimates that for the fiscal 2022 year, which ended June 30, Massachusetts will have a budget surplus of nearly $3.6 billion.
The initial fiscal 2022 budget was around $34.5 billion, and collections have come in nearly $6 billion above that, according to MTF. Some of that extra money was eaten up by additional spending and required deposits into the rainy day fund, the MBTA, and the School Building Authority, leaving an estimated $3.6 billion available.
That is a huge figure, even in comparison to the prior fiscal year, where there was a $1.5 billion surplus.
The reason this is important is as lawmakers finish up the two-year legislative session this month, they will have to make some major spending decisions. If lawmakers do nothing, the entire surplus will be deposited in the rainy day fund. But with that fund already at a record high, more likely they will look to spend a large chunk of the money.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Baker says he would sign Legislature’s no-strings $250 rebate to taxpayers. But he hopes to see way more relief.
Governor Charlie Baker on Friday said he’d sign a proposal that would send potentially millions of taxpayers a one-time $250 rebate to help offset the rising costs of food, gasoline, and other consumer goods, calling the proposal “a welcome piece of relief.”
However, he expressed hope the Legislature will pass more direct aid before lawmakers break for their summer recess on July 31.
“If this makes it to my desk, I would certainly sign it,” Baker told reporters at an unrelated event in Roxbury. “But I hope that it would be the start of a series of initiatives between now and the end of session, where we do some of this other stuff that I think would actually return resources to a lot of low-income folks.”
The proposal, which was announced by legislative leadership Thursday, still has to pass both legislative branches and be signed by Baker to take effect. While legislative leaders pitched it as an initial step, they still caught criticism for excluding many of the state’s poorest taxpayers.
Dubbed the Taxpayer Energy and Economic Relief Fund, the proposal would provide $250 to taxpayers who file an individual return and $500 for married taxpayers filing jointly. Those eligible would have to have reported a minimum of $38,000 in 2021 income, and not more than $100,000 for individual filers or $150,000 for joint filers.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald: Weed, sports betting, abortions and mental health on Massachusetts lawmakers’ minds with budget overdue
It will be a busy week at the State House as Monday marks the first of 15 remaining business days until the end of the legislative session, with lawmakers still waiting to pass this year’s budget and decide the fate of billions in surplus revenue.
“We’re certainly waiting on the final numbers from June, but I wouldn’t say that is what’s the definitive answer on us finishing up the FY23 budget,” House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said last week. “We’re certainly knowing we’re going to be in some type of increasing-revenue standpoint, but we just don’t know yet exactly what that number is.”
The fiscal 2023 budget, a week overdue, will cost about $50 billion under either chamber’s plan, though neither body was previously prescient enough to account for what may be $3 billion in excess revenues, a task that now falls almost entirely to the joint conference committee finalizing the spending plan.
About $500 million of that was earmarked for spending Thursday, when the leaders of the Legislature and both Ways and Means Committees announced they would seek to send $250 rebate checks to individuals and $500 to couples within certain income limits and in lieu of a suspension of the state’s gas tax.
“These rebates represent the Legislature’s commitment to delivering immediate financial relief directly to residents of the Commonwealth, rather than to large oil companies that continue to profit off economic uncertainty and international conflict,” the lawmakers said Thursday.
Part of the rest of that excess money may be destined toward some of Gov. Charlie Baker’s January proposal to cut taxes in the state by about $700 million annually.
Baker’s plan to cut taxes for renters, seniors and low income families and to change the estate and capital gains taxes was dead in the water until April’s tax revenue came in $3 billion over the last year and a full $2 billion more than expected.
EXTERNAL: CBS BOSTON Massachusetts lawmakers announce $500M in tax relief proposals
Legislative leaders in Massachusetts announced plans on Monday for a $500 million tax relief package that includes increases in credits available for older residents, lower-income workers, as well as parents and others with dependants.
The package was announced at a time when residents are under pressure from high inflation.
“With the shared goal of providing necessary economic relief to our residents this session, we are pleased to announce that House and Senate leaders have agreed to a framework for structural changes to our tax code that will reduce income inequality, make Massachusetts more competitive nationally, and lessen the crippling impact of rising prices, inflation, and economic uncertainty,” Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano, Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz said in a statement.
All are Democrats.
The statement did not provide details, but said the proposal also offers assistance to renters and eliminates the most “punitive and archaic elements of our estate tax.”
The tax proposals in conjunction with the economic relief payments for middle class residents announced last week, bring the Legislature’s taxpayer relief package to $1 billion, the statement said.
The legislative session ends July 31.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Massachusetts Republican lawmakers lead renewed push to suspend gas tax
Republican state lawmakers, joined by a handful of Democrats, are renewing their push for a temporary suspension of the gas tax, citing “record-breaking” prices that spiked to more than $5 a gallon this week.
Twenty-nine reps and senators — 25 Republicans and four Democrats — signed onto a letter sent this week to Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano, begging legislative leadership to take immediate measures to provide some relief at the pump.
The letter calls for the inclusion of a gas tax suspension in an anticipated tax-cutting bill, with a push for a gas tax holiday to be considered as well, according to a statement released by members of the Senate Republican Caucus.
“Today, we face a crisis that we have yet to mitigate — rising gas prices,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Despite efforts to thwart the effects of outrageous prices at the pump, we have failed to act.”
The lawmakers cited action taken from bordering states Connecticut and New York, which have opted to suspend their own gas tax through the end of the year, saying that the “impact is felt by those driving across state lines to purchase gas and the Massachusetts gas stations trying to keep business local.”
“State revenues are wildly exceeding what we need to operate and the resources are present to support tax relief for those who work every day to pay the bills of the state government,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said in a statement. “Gas prices impact those families with the lowest incomes the most, but they are a burden for us all.”
The effort marks the latest Republican-led attempt to temporarily suspend the 24-cent gas tax. A vote to do so failed in the Senate in March, by a 29-11 vote. Another push by the three Senate Republicans to include the suspension in the state budget failed in May, by a 30-10 vote. This time, seven Democrats voted in favor, one fewer than in March.
Mariano told the Herald he continues to oppose a gas tax suspension, saying that there is no evidence to support that it would put more money in the pockets of those paying at the pump. Rather, he said, a suspension would likely give oil companies an opportunity to pocket the difference between what the gas tax and price at the pump is.
He said the result of Connecticut’s vote to suspend the gas tax has proved consumer savings to be a “myth” as their average gas prices are only “seven cents” lower than Massachusetts.
“I’m not going to cut the gas tax so that more money goes to big oil companies,” said Mariano. “That’s not going to help you at the pump. There’s no guarantee that any tax cut on gas is reflected in a downward price at the pump.”
AAA Northeast said Monday gas prices are up eight cents this week, and now average $5.04 a gallon. Prices as of June 13 were 57 cents higher than a month ago and $2.10 higher than the same date last year, when the average price was $2.94.
Prices in Massachusetts this week are slightly higher than bordering states Connecticut and Rhode Island, which averaged $4.98 and $5.02 per gallon, respectively, as of Monday, according to AAA.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: ‘It’s really a mess’: The growing split between workers and bosses on returning to the office
There’s a new turf war shaping up at work: managers who want everyone back in the “real” office vs. employees who prefer the one at home. And that standoff is leading to some irreconcilable conflicts.
Naomi Baruch and her coworkers were required to return to their downtown Boston office two days a week starting Jan. 1, despite the crippling Omicron surge at the time. There was no explanation given, she said, no attempt to make their presence more purposeful.
“It really felt pointless/punitive/‘We just like things the way they were,’ ‘‘ she said.
So when Baruch launched a job search recently, being fully remote was a high priority. And she got her wish.
For some office workers who’ve grown accustomed to the flexibility and commute-free lifestyle of remote work — and the feeling, as Baruch put it, of not being just “a cog in a machine” — the surge of back-to-office mandates is driving a wedge between them and their bosses.
At least one notable employer has resorted to threats. Elon Musk said he would fire Tesla employees who weren’t back in the office at least 40 hours a week, saying success doesn’t come by “phoning it in.” A number of major companies, including Goldman Sachs, are tracking workers electronically to make sure they are coming into the office as required. Starbucks chief executive Howard Shultz said he’d been “unsuccessful” at getting the company’s office workers to return: “I’ve pleaded with them. I said I’ll get on my knees. I’ll do push-ups.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Updated COVID shots are coming. Will they be too late?
Roseann Renouf, 77, has grown tired of the current generation of coronavirus shots. Having “never been one for a lot of vaccination,” she decided to forgo the latest round of boosters after watching vaccinated friends contract COVID-19, even though the doses offer a critical extra layer of protection.
“It’s just taking another same booster,” said Renouf, a retired nurse anesthetist from Fort Worth, Texas. “They haven’t done anything different with them to cover new variants.”
But her gripe about the COVID-19 vaccines may soon be settled. US regulators committed last week to updating the 2020 vaccine recipes for this fall’s booster campaign with new formulas meant to defend against the ultra-contagious Omicron subvariants, offering Renouf and other holdouts a fresh reason to change their minds.
The Biden administration is betting that the new formulas, the centerpiece of an effort to drastically speed up vaccine development, might appeal to the half of inoculated Americans who have spurned booster shots, a key constituency in the fight against future COVID-19 waves.
Vaccine updates are becoming more urgent by the day, many scientists said. The most evasive forms of Omicron yet, known as BA.4 and BA.5, appear to be driving a fresh surge of cases across much of the United States. The same subvariants have sent hospital admissions climbing in Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, and Israel.
EXTERNAL: Americans Tap Pandemic Savings to Cope With Inflation
Families have used about $114 billion of their pandemic savings so far, according to a Moody’s Analytics analysis of government data.Photo: Amir Hamja for The Wall Street Journal
Americans are starting to dip into the huge pile of savings they accumulated over the first two years of the pandemic.
From the start of the pandemic to the end of 2021, U.S. households built up $2.7 trillion in extra savings, according to Moody’s Analytics. Covid-19 lockdowns kept people at home with nowhere to spend money, and three rounds of stimulus payments boosted their incomes.
The personal saving rate, a measure of how much money people have left over after spending and taxes, reached 5.4% in May. That figure is below the average of the last decade and far below the record of 34% in April 2020, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Families have tapped about $114 billion of their pandemic savings so far, according to Moody’s Analytics, which analyzed government data.
“Most households have a cash cushion to navigate through the very high inflation,” said Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics chief economist. “This is allowing consumers to stay in the game.”
Stimulus checks and expanded child-tax-credit payments helped Shannon Houston and her husband cover major expenses, including daycare. “It was just enough buffer to make things easier month to month,” said Ms. Houston.
The child tax credit gave families up to $300 per child each month in the second half of 2021, but that ended in December. The federal government’s last stimulus checks were sent more than a year ago.
Each month this year, the Connecticut couple has drawn on their savings, which includes money from the child tax credit as well as prepandemic savings. Higher prices are forcing the family to spend more on gas and groceries for their two children, Ms. Houston said.
Ms. Houston, 37 years old, works part time as a freelance communications specialist for nonprofit organizations but is considering returning to work full time when her son starts kindergarten in the fall. “We don’t want to completely squander our savings,” she said.
Americans’ checking-account balances jumped after they got their pandemic stimulus payments, bank executives have said. While customers have spent some of that money, balances still remain markedly above where they were in 2019, said Chris Wheat, co-president of the JPMorgan Chase Institute, the bank’s in-house think tank. At the end of March, balances of families with the lowest incomes were 65% above 2019 levels.
Still, they used to be higher. In March 2021, around the time of the third round of federal stimulus checks, balances for those families were up 126% from 2019 levels.
JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon last month said U.S. consumers still had between six and nine months of spending power remaining in their bank accounts.
Americans Are Taking on Record Debt in 2022. Are We in Trouble?Play video: Americans Are Taking on Record Debt in 2022. Are We in Trouble?
Americans have sharply increased the amount of credit they have taken on this year. With prices expected to continue rising, this could be flashing a warning sign about the economy. WSJ’s Dion Rabouin examines these trends and explains what they tell us. Photo composite: Elizabeth Smelov
Darius Palmer built up an investment account of more than $5,000 by stashing away money from his paycheck and some earlier pandemic stimulus payments. But he turned to his credit card to cover costs for trips this year to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., when they were more expensive than he anticipated.
The 24-year-old industrial engineer is weighing different options for paying off the $2,000 balance. He plans to cancel a meat-subscription service that costs around $150 a month and buy fewer books. If the North Carolina resident can’t cover the payment with his income, he plans to dip into his investments.
Mr. Palmer is also concerned about the potential end of the student-loan payment moratorium. The government paused payments on federal student loans in the spring of 2020, though borrowers might have to start making monthly payments again this fall.
“I know what it’s like to have to tighten the belt,” Mr. Palmer said.
The bottom 20% of earners was the only income group that didn’t draw on their pandemic savings in the first quarter of the year, Moody’s Analytics found. “These are folks working in leisure, hospitality, retail, healthcare,” Mr. Zandi said. Strong wage growth has allowed many of these workers to continue to save.
Eric Cullen was laid off from his job at AmeriCorps at the start of the pandemic. Over the following months, he was able to save about half of his federal stimulus checks and unemployment payments.
The 27-year-old continued to increase his savings after he took a job at an upscale New Orleans restaurant in spring 2021, where he initially earned about $500 a week as a busser and food runner. A staff shortage helped him get promoted to a waiter position, where he sometimes brought home as much as $1,500 weekly.
Mr. Cullen recently moved back to his hometown near Albany, N.Y. He noticed gas prices going up steadily on the drive north from Louisiana. “I was initially taking this summer off,” he said.
EXTERNAL: Ed States Are Winning the Post-Pandemic Economy
The pandemic has changed the geography of the American economy.
By many measures, red states—those that lean Republican—have recovered faster economically than Democratic-leaning blue ones, with workers and employers moving from the coasts to the middle of the country and Florida.
Since February 2020, the month before the pandemic began, the share of all U.S. jobs located in red states has grown by more than half a percentage point, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the Brookings Institution think tank. Red states have added 341,000 jobs over that time, while blue states were still short 1.3 million jobs as of May.
Several major companies have recently announced moves of their headquarters from blue to red states. Hedge-fund company Citadel said recently it would move its headquarters from Chicago to Miami, and Caterpillar Inc. plans to move from Illinois to Texas.
To track each state’s progress toward normal since the pandemic began, Moody’s Analytics developed an index of 13 metrics, including the value of goods and services produced, employment, retail sales and new-home listings. Eleven of the 15 states with the highest readings through mid-June were red. Eight of the bottom 10 were blue.
Behind those differences is mass migration. Forty-six million people moved to a different ZIP Code in the year through February 2022, the most in any 12-month period in records going back to 2010, according to a Moody’s analysis of Equifax Inc. consumer-credit reports. The states that gained the most, led by Florida, Texas and North Carolina, are almost all red, as defined by the Cook Political Report based on how states voted in the past two presidential elections. The states that lost the most residents are almost all blue, led by California, New York and Illinois.
Analysts who have studied the migration attributed much of it to the pandemic’s severing of the link between geography and the workplace. Remote work allowed many workers to move to red states, not because of political preferences, but for financial and lifestyle reasons—cheaper housing, better weather, less traffic and lower taxes, the analysts said.
There is no data on what role, if any, political preferences have played in migration decisions. Some researchers have reported that pandemic restrictions played a role for some people who moved. It is too early to know whether the Supreme Court decision on abortion also might affect migration patterns.
The movement is already starting to affect state economies and finances. Florida is on track to register a record budget surplus for the fiscal year that ends June 30, which it attributes in part to new residents. The state is putting most of the extra money into a reserve fund to protect state agencies and residents during the next downturn, while investing in school construction and raising teacher pay, a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Over the 30 years that preceded the pandemic, globalization and technology had fueled a “knowledge economy” dominated by college graduates who clustered in big city metropolitan areas in the West and Northeast. Property values soared in those areas, while lagging behind in other areas.
The Covid-19 pandemic changed that dynamic.
“I almost feel like the pandemic differs from any other time I’ve seen. There’s definitely a flight to lifestyle,” said Chris Camacho, chief executive of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, a private consulting group that recruits businesses to Arizona. “Individuals were choosing where to live.”
In a recent survey led by researchers at Stanford University, the University of Chicago and the Mexican university ITAM, about 16% of workers said they plan to stay fully remote, and another 31% plan to adopt a “hybrid” schedule of working in the office part-time and at home the rest. Most of those remote workers are well-paid, white-collar college graduates, according to the research.
“I always had to go to where the job was,” said Sankeerth Bommi, a 40-year-old technology worker from India who emigrated to the U.S. in the early 2000s. When the pandemic hit, Mr. Bommi was living in Los Angeles and commuting to the Pasadena offices of financial-technology company Green Dot Corp., where he is a senior director on a product team. Within weeks, the company told its 900 employees they were free to permanently work from anywhere.
Mr. Bommi moved to Austin, Texas, to be closer to cousins in Oklahoma and Texas, and for cheaper housing. He just bought his first house, where he plans to work once it is built. “This is the first time I’m able to go to the city I really wanted to go to,” he said, as opposed to where his job took him.
In the end, his employer made the same move. The company last year moved its headquarters to Austin, slashing its real-estate and business-travel costs, due to Austin’s central location.
After closing its offices in March 2020, Green Dot routinely surveyed employees about work-from-home policies. More than two-thirds said they didn’t want to go back to the office, said Chief Executive Daniel Henry. The company has just 25 people working out of its new location. The rest are scattered across the country.
In Austin and Houston, office occupancy has recovered faster than in the nation as a whole, with more than half of offices occupied, according to swipe-card data by the security firm Kastle Systems. In the business districts of San Francisco and San Jose, by contrast, only about one-third of office space is occupied, and in Los Angeles, about 40%.
One big reason so many people moved during the pandemic has been a desire for less expensive housing, according to an April report from the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank. By analyzing county-level census data, it found that large urban areas with high shares of commuters lost residents in the 12 months through July 2021. Among that group, large urban counties with the highest median home values experienced the biggest declines.
Small and medium-size cities, suburbs and rural areas—all of which tended to have less expensive housing than large urban areas—all gained residents.
It remains to be seen how many of those moves turn out to be permanent, and whether many recent migrants eventually move back to more urban areas. In recent months, some companies have been urging remote workers to return to the office.
In the 10 states that gained the most people from moves between April 2020 and June 2021, the typical home cost 23% less than the typical home in the 10 that lost the most residents to moves, according to an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
The states that gained the most migrants levied an average maximum income-tax rate of 3.8% on individuals. Four—Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Nevada—charged no income tax at all. The 10 states that lost the most residents to moves have an average tax rate of 8.0%.
Now that more employees are leaving expensive blue regions or working remotely, employers themselves have more freedom to move to lower-cost areas.
“I can’t force people to move. You can’t do that anymore,” said Chris Rouland, chief executive of Phosphorus, a privately held cybersecurity firm.
He started the company in 2017 and opened small offices in Atlanta and Carlsbad, Calif. When the pandemic hit, he said, his 14 employees began working remotely—many moved from California to lower-cost states—and soon told him they wanted to do so for good.
Mr. Rouland gave them that option. Last year, he moved the company’s headquarters to Nashville, to take advantage of lower taxes and a higher standard of living, he said, while allowing most employees to work remotely.
“They started to think about where they’d actually like to live based on quality of life, based on taxes,” Mr. Rouland said. “And for us, we looked at where we wanted our business to be and, honestly, where I wanted to live. For me, it was literally the first time in my life I chose to work someplace”—as opposed to having to move to an employer. Earlier in his career he had moved to New York City to work for Lehman Brothers and to Atlanta to work for a tech startup.
Mr. Rouland has closed the California and Georgia offices and now employs 40—seven in the Nashville office with the rest spread around the country. Yet over time, he said, he has become less enthusiastic about remote work, and he has begun urging workers to consider moving to Nashville and returning to the office.
Tennessee’s economy has benefited from such moves. Its unemployment hit an all-time low of 3.2% in April, according to federal data dating from 1976. Its workers saw some of the biggest gains in weekly earnings among all states last year. Its economy grew by 8.6% last year, leading all states. Corporate and sales tax revenues are rising.
Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, has proposed increases in teachers salaries, freezing tuition at state colleges and hiring more state troopers.
People who moved during the pandemic tended to go to areas with fewer pandemic-related restrictions, such as school and office closures and event cancellations, according to a paper from researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
In general, red states were less likely than blue ones to impose mask or vaccine mandates, social-distancing restrictions or remote schooling. Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools fell nationally during the pandemic, but the sharpest drops occurred in school districts that had more days of remote learning, according to a recent American Enterprise Institute study.
California’s public-school enrollment has fallen 4.4% since the pandemic, according to American Enterprise Institute. In Oakland, the school board recently voted to close schools because of declining enrollment.
Florida saw a surge in new residents, many from the Northeast, where Covid-19 related restrictions such as school closures were stricter.
At the Ohana Institute, a private school in Florida’s Panhandle, for kindergarten through 12th grade, the waiting list for students grew from 95 just before the pandemic to 393 last fall, Executive Director Lettye Burgtorf said.
Mrs. Burgtorf said the school fielded requests from hundreds of parents around the U.S. who wanted to move to Florida to be closer to the beach. Many were also unhappy that their children’s schools in other states had moved to remote learning. The Ohana Institute went remote for several weeks, then reopened, with mask mandates. “The parents were really like, ‘We cannot educate our kids at home,’ ” Mrs. Burgtorf said.
For years, a real estate boom in coastal cities made many families wealthy because their homes appreciated. Now, that is happening in red states. Florida led all states with a 31% jump in the median home price in the 12 months through January, with prices soaring in the Panhandle.
Such price increases can narrow the cost-of-living differential with the blue states that the migrants are fleeing, and increase living costs for longtime residents who don’t own homes,
These days, Mr. DeSantis’s spokeswoman said, one of the top complaints the governor’s office receives is soaring rent.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: For thrift stores, hard times can be busy times
When everything feels more expensive, it’s good business to be known for bargains. Just ask thrift stores.
“It’s part of our mission to provide affordable goods to the community, and we’re recession-proof,” said Chris Roth, manager of The Thrift Shop of Boston in Roslindale. “There’s always outside economic forces, but at the thrift shop, prices won’t be going up to reflect that.”
At the Bureau Drawer in Quincy, sales have been increasing for months, and while bargain-hunters make up a big chunk of customers, the store has also seen more people coming out of concern about rising prices, said Rick Doane, executive director of the organization that receives the thrift shop’s proceeds.
“We’ve seen more customers talking about feeling the pinch on their wallets, and we’re selling more of everything,” Doane said.
Nationally, thrift stores run by Goodwill Industries International — the sector’s biggest operator — report sales up 4.4 percent year over year through May, compared with the same period last year, said Goodwill’s Bill Parrish.
EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Senate seeks greater public funding of childcare
MASSACHUSETTS SENATE LEADERS on Thursday unveiled a proposal to inject significant sums of public money into the state’s childcare system, which has traditionally been mostly privately funded.
The Senate plan would provide additional subsidies to families, including for the first time middle-class families, in order to make childcare more affordable. It would also pay more to childcare providers as a way to increase the salaries of early educators – a step toward stabilizing the industry’s struggling workforce.
“This legislation, if and when it’s fully implemented, will be transformative to our society here in Massachusetts,” said Senate President Karen Spilka. “In fact, I would say this is the most comprehensive early education and care bill that the Legislature has taken up this century.”
Lawmakers have not yet determined exactly how much the proposal will cost. A report by a legislative commission examining the early education and care system suggested that systemic changes will cost around $1.5 billion annually, and this plan adopts many, though not all, of its recommendations.
“We recognize this is not something we can do overnight, and…if the bill is passed into law, we expect the Legislature would deliver on this over time,” said Senate Education Committee Chair Jason Lewis.
The Senate plans to vote on the bill next Thursday. With only a month left before the end of formal legislative sessions for the current two-year session, it is unclear if the House will even consider the bill, much less if both bodies will be able to get a final version to the governor’s desk.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: With Roe overturned, Congress must act on data privacy
As soon as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a wave of abortion bans were either automatically triggered or swiftly implemented in states in the South and Midwest. In response, a network of groups, ranging from grass-roots organizers to the country’s largest employers, started laying the groundwork to help people who live in those states and are seeking abortions to travel to places where the procedure remains legal.
It’s a far cry from making abortion universally accessible, but it’s better than nothing — that is, unless certain antiabortion politicians get their way. Since the day the landmark decision fell, antiabortion politicians and activists have been drafting model legislation that would not only ban abortions in a given state but also criminalize going out of state to receive one. One of the ways these potential laws would do that is by following Texas’s vigilante system that was imposed last year, which empowers private citizens to sue people who violate the state’s abortion law.
When states begin to criminalize not just the act of providing an abortion but receiving one as well, then women will be at risk of being surveilled and targeted by state governments and antiabortion vigilantes — getting dragged into a courtroom instead of simply receiving the care that they need. It’s yet another reminder that Congress desperately needs to revamp digital privacy laws, in this case to prevent state governments from simply circumventing people’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights and to protect consumers from being harassed by antiabortion activists.
Given the gravity of the Supreme Court’s ruling, it’s time for ambitious legislation, and Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken a big step toward that end. Anticipating the Dobbs decision, she introduced a sweeping bill that would, in effect, ban all sales of location and health data — a move that would dramatically regulate what has become a multibillion-dollar data broker industry.
EXTERNAL: Gazette Net: Senate bill eyes major new early education commitment
Senate Democrats on Thursday added to the end-of-term flurry an early education and child care bill they said would help more families deal with rampant costs, boost provider capacity and increase quality-of-life for a depleted workforce, but with just one month left to wrap up major business, a top House leader is already concerned about the “challenging timeline.”
A trio of top Senate Democrats outlined a proposal the chamber will debate in one week that would more than double the maximum income below which Bay State families could qualify for state child care assistance, create new loan forgiveness and scholarship programs as well as a “career ladder” for employees in the field, and allow subsidized providers to offer free or discounted slots to their own staff’s children.
Taken together, the bill’s wide-ranging provisions aim at a trio of goals: making child care more accessible and affordable, helping providers increase their capacity to care for more kids, and supporting a workforce hamstrung by high attrition and low pay.
The legislation, which Education Committee Co-chair Sen. Jason Lewis called a “policy bill,” would require significant investments but would not itself appropriate any money toward the early education and care field. Instead, senators likened it to the 2019 law known as the Student Opportunity Act, which charted a path toward overhauling K-12 public school funding with $1.5 billion in additional funding over seven years.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Mass. Senate votes to expand access to HIV prevention care
The Massachusetts Senate voted Thursday, the last day of LGBTQ Pride month, to advance a bill that would significantly expand access to preventative HIV care.
The legislation, which passed by voice vote and was sponsored by state Senator Julian Cyr, would allow pharmacies to dispense a 60-day supply of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, without a prescription. The proposal also would require pharmacists to link customers with a primary care physician for ongoing medical care and PrEP oversight.
“PrEP has been a game changer in HIV prevention,” said the Truro Democrat, who says he uses the medication on a regular basis. “We are trying to do everything we can to expand access to PrEP and to create more avenues to reduce HIV transmission. But there has been significant barriers.”
PrEP is a daily pill that reduces the risk of HIV transmission by close to 100 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While Massachusetts has been successful in reducing new HIV infections, the state’s health department says the HIV transmission continued at a rate of approximately 640 new cases per year from 2014 to 2018.
While PrEP is highly effective, advocates say it is underutilized, especially among uninsured or underinsured communities, and communities of color.
EXTERNAL: Eagle Tribune: Abortion clinics prepare for influx of patients
BOSTON — Abortion providers across Massachusetts are bracing for an expected influx of women from states where the procedure is now restricted or outlawed following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal protections.
Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said the group’s network of abortion providers started fielding an increase in calls to crisis hotlines just hours after the high court’s ruling June 24, and said the volume of inquiries hasn’t subsided.
“We’re absolutely seeing an uptick,” she said in an interview. “A lot of that is people, from our state and others, looking for advice and assurances.”
Abortion is legal in Massachusetts under a two-year-old law, but advocates say the state will likely become a destination for women coming from other states that have banned the procedure or tightened their laws following the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Childs-Roshak said the state’s providers have been preparing for the possible overturn of the 1973 Roe v. Wade landmark ruling for several years.
“We’ve been doing a lot of things over the past five years to make sure that our health centers are resilient and able to expand or contract, depending on what is happening,” she said. “We also have lots of providers lined up and ready to see patients.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Tufts to partner with Acadia to build $65 million behavioral health hospital
Tufts Medicine and Acadia Healthcare announced plans to construct a $65 million behavioral health hospital at the site of the former Malden Hospital, an addition that officials say will help address the state’s ongoing behavioral health crisis.
The 144-bed hospital, scheduled to open in two and a half years, will generate 86 additional beds for the state, with Tufts planning to relocate 58 inpatient behavioral health beds from Lawrence Memorial and MelroseWakefield Healthcare, which are both under the Tufts Medicine umbrella.
Tufts Medicine will donate the land to the transaction, 9.5 acres of which will be preserved as community space. Acadia, a Tennessee-based for-profit behavioral health care system, will run and operate the facility. The two organizations will share governance, and Tufts expects to receive 30 to 35 percent of the revenue.
“One of the things we like about Acadia is they serve the Medicaid population,” said David Storto, executive vice president and chief strategy and growth officer of Tufts Medicine. “They are amongst the most accessible [to patients with different insurance plans].”
The behavioral health hospital is one of several similar facilities being planned or opened throughout the state. This week, Cambridge Health Alliance opened a new Center for Inpatient Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, which ultimately will increase its child psychiatric beds from 27 to 69 and add a unit for children with neurodevelopmental disorders. The health system is also in the process of adding more adult psychiatric beds, which will grow from 64 to 86.
EXTERNAL: The Price of Going Green Is Rising for American Companies
Growing demand for clean electricity combined with a higher cost to develop wind and solar has sent prices soaring in the U.S.
Prices are rising for a financial instrument that lets companies say they are using green power such as electricity from this Texas solar farm.
As more companies pledge to neutralize their carbon emissions in response to climate change, securing green power in the U.S. is getting much more expensive.
Surging demand has pushed up the U.S. price of renewable energy certificates, a financial instrument that lets companies say they bought clean electricity from the grid. The price of RECs more than quadrupled at one point last year and is still around triple its level for most of the past decade, data trackers say.
Meanwhile, inflation and supply-chain bottlenecks are driving up costs for another way U.S. companies get their green electricity: by funding solar or wind projects directly in return for their power. Those costs have seen double- or even triple-digit percentage increases, green-energy experts say.
“The market now is tough,” said Misti Groves, vice president of market and policy innovation at the Clean Energy Buyers Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group for green-power buyers.
Companies and governments the world over are increasingly focused on shifting to renewable energy as a way of reducing carbon emissions to help curb global warming. More than 5,000 companies have signed up with the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign, pledging to purchase clean energy and take other measures to help eliminate or offset the greenhouse gases they generate. Some 370 companies including General Motors Co. and Airbnb Inc. have joined a group, RE100, whose members pledge to be 100% powered by renewable energy by midcentury.
How Much Would It Cost to Reduce Global Warming? $131 Trillion Is One Answer
Money is a sticking point in climate-change negotiations around the world. As economists warn that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will cost many more trillions than anticipated, WSJ looks at how the funds could be spent, and who would pay.
In the U.S., renewable energy certificates have long been the cheapest and most common way of procuring green power. The certificates represent the “greenness” of each unit of electricity generated by sources such as solar or wind, and can be bought separately from the power itself. Under current carbon-accounting rules, RECs let companies say they are buying clean energy—and thus have zero emissions—even though technically they are using electricity from a grid that can contain green as well as carbon-emitting sources of power.
For most of the past decade, the price for stand-alone RECs was less than $1 per megawatt hour, data trackers say. But last year, as more companies sought RECs to satisfy renewable-energy targets, the benchmark price rose from around $1.60 per megawatt hour to more than $7 in August, before falling to around $3 recently, according to data from Karbone Inc., a financial services firm that specializes in renewable energy.
“We have definitely seen companies shocked at price increases,” said Maya Kelty, director of regulatory affairs at 3Degrees Group Inc., a firm that helps corporations with climate-change measures.
Some companies are fleeing stand-alone RECs in favor of buying clean electricity through long-term contracts with wind or solar developers, in hopes of getting lower, more stable prices. But the cost of such power-purchase agreements has been soaring, too, pushed by increasing demand as well as supply chain issues, inflation and long wait times to receive necessary approvals to connect new projects to the electric grid.
A report by LevelTen Energy, a renewable-energy marketplace, found that in competitive power markets, prices for long-term contracts for wind and solar-power purchases, which are used to finance new projects, jumped by 15.8% for solar and 41.5% for wind during the first quarter of 2022, compared with the previous year.
The climbing cost of renewable-energy facilities, like this Enel Green Power solar farm in Texas, is making it more expensive for companies to go green in the
Cybersecurity and network-services provider Akamai Technologies Inc., which relies on long-term contracts for its green-power purchases, has seen the cost of buying solar power through those agreements more than double this year versus last, said Mike Mattera, Akamai’s director of corporate sustainability.
But Akamai and other companies, including Alphabet Inc. unit Google and Microsoft Corp., are increasingly asking just how green the power they are securing now really is—a question that could further complicate the cost and pursuit of clean electricity.
Buying RECs doesn’t lessen the overall carbon emissions of the power grid, unless companies fund new wind and solar to replace dirtier sources such as coal, some companies say. Grid emissions vary with weather and time of day as sources such as wind and solar go on and offline. Currently, RECs don’t reflect that, they say.
Akamai is now trying to measure how much its green-power purchases are lowering emissions on the grid each hour and to use that data to calculate its carbon footprint. Buying stand-alone RECs would be cheaper but wouldn’t be as helpful for the environment, said Mr. Mattera.
“We don’t want to greenwash,” he said.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Nuclear Power Gets New Push in U.S., Winning Converts
Driven by the difficulty of meeting clean energy goals and by surging electricity demands, a growing number of political leaders are taking a fresh look at nuclear power — both extending the life of existing reactors and building new ones.
Even past skeptics, largely Democrats, have come around to the idea — notably in California, where the state’s sole remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, is scheduled to close in 2025. The search for clean energy has given nuclear power a spark that has drawn bipartisan support that added billions in funding for existing and new projects.
But critics of the nuclear industry argue that a veneer of clean energy has not changed the concerns about the technology, including aging facilities in need of potentially costly improvements, the challenge of nuclear waste disposal and steep cost overruns for new projects that are years late — if they reach completion.
“The industry knows it does not have a good story to tell,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and the director of nuclear power safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s still plagued by the same issues.”
President Biden wants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the power industry by 2035, and he said a Supreme Court ruling last week limiting federal regulatory authority would not halt such efforts. But the supply chain issues that have hurt wind and solar power development have presented the latest hurdle to reaching that goal.
As a stopgap, the Biden administration has established a $6 billion fund to help troubled nuclear plant operators keep their reactors running and make them more economically competitive against cheaper resources like solar and wind power. The application deadline is Tuesday, though it might be extended and the requirements amended to broaden eligibility.
“The Biden administration has been very clear that we will get to the net zero goals,” Kathryn Huff, assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the Department of Energy, said at a recent conference of the American Nuclear Society. “They’re incredibly aggressive goals, and nuclear is a part of that solution, a very big part potentially.”
In addition to the $6 billion fund, the administration is providing $2.5 billion for two projects meant to demonstrate new nuclear technology, in Washington State and Wyoming.
A separate bipartisan measure introduced last year is aimed at preserving and expanding nuclear energy in the United States. The bill, whose backers include Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, and Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, would provide financial assistance like tax credits, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax policy organization.
Ms. Capito has argued that coal-fired power plants, which have been closing as the nation moves away from fossil fuel sources, could become sites for nuclear reactors. That would provide benefits for places like her home state, which has produced coal and relied on it as fuel for power generators.
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“Ultimately, you get to a point where you need something that’s not weather dependent, something like nuclear to make the grid reliable,” said John Kotek, who ran the Office of Nuclear Energy during the Obama administration and is now vice president for policy at the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association. “There are other technologies that are candidates to play that role, but if you look at what is available today across the widest scale, that’s nuclear energy.”
The rising costs of other sources of power have made nuclear energy more competitive around the world, including in the United States, which has the largest fleet of nuclear plants of any country. They produce about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and 50 percent of the clean energy.
The United States maintains 92 reactors, though a dozen have closed over the last decade — including, a month ago, the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in Michigan, about 55 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.
The owner, Entergy, decided to shut the plant after a power-purchase agreement with a utility expired. Entergy said it could not find buyers for the plant, and decommissioning has gone too far to bring it back online, even with the money from the federal government.
Diablo Canyon is next on the decommissioning list, but Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed extending its life. The plant, on California’s central coast, supplies almost 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Pacific Gas & Electric, which owns the plant, announced in 2016 that it planned to close it when its licenses expired, saying it would focus more on solar and wind power as renewable energy sources.
Among those backing an extension is Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who had supported closing the plant. To meet clean energy goals while addressing power demands arising from climate change, “Diablo must keep operating, at least for the time being,” she declared in an essay in The Sacramento Bee under a headline that said, “Why I changed my mind.”
A study last year by Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that keeping Diablo Canyon open for 10 years could reduce the California power industry’s carbon emissions by more than 10 percent from 2017 levels and reduce reliance on natural gas. It also could save $2.6 billion in electricity costs and help prevent brownouts.
Brownouts and blackouts are an increasing concern, especially with more extreme weather events. The California Independent System Operator, which operates the electric grid that supplies power to about 80 percent of the state, says this summer could bring the highest load in the system operator’s 24-year history.
PG&E won’t say whether it supports extending the life of the plant, only that it will follow any decision and guidance from the state.
A leading critic of keeping Diablo Canyon open is Arnie Gundersen, the chief engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education, a nonprofit organization focused on the perils of nuclear power. The organization often points to the radioactive leak from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, a disaster that cost public support for reactors.
Mr. Gundersen, a nuclear engineer who once worked in the industry and is a frequent expert witness on utility matters across the country, said he thought Diablo Canyon would need significant improvements to operate beyond 2025.
“To keep uneconomical nukes running will use much more than the $6 billion that Biden has proposed,” Mr. Gundersen said. “That’s chump change for nuclear to remain competitive. I think he’s got some really smart people in his brain trust, yet he’s reaching out for political fig leaves to get the nuclear industry off his back.”
To proponents of nuclear energy, Diablo Canyon represents a pivotal moment. Coupled with solar, wind and hydroelectric power, they say, nuclear power would make 100 percent clean energy possible.
“I can easily see a doubling of nuclear generation in this country,” said Steven Nesbit, a nuclear engineer who spent decades at Duke Energy and is the immediate past president of the American Nuclear Society, an organization of scientists, engineers and industry professionals. “We are solar and wind’s best friend. They just can’t do the job themselves.”
Industry leaders recognize that the age of new large-scale nuclear plants in the United States has passed, chiefly because of runaway costs. Two new units at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Waynesboro, Ga., expected to come online in 2023, are costing about twice the original estimate of $14 billion. A nuclear project in South Carolina drove the utility developing it into bankruptcy.
But many in the industry say smaller reactors that can be expanded over time offer promise of avoiding long delays and high cost. These reactors, they say, can be built in factories and delivered to approved sites. And the reactors’ high-temperature steam could also yield significant amounts of hydrogen, a carbon-free alternative fuel to natural gas.
The project locations can plan for as many as a dozen units but start with just one. But a plant with 12 units would produce half the electricity or even a little less than many other large nuclear facilities.
None of the smaller reactors have been certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves licenses and operations of the nation’s nuclear power plants. But NuScale Power, a company that designs and markets small reactors in Oregon, expects to receive certification of its design by the end of the summer. A developer then would need approval for a license to build and operate the unit.
Thomas Mundy, chief commercial officer for NuScale Power, said his company’s product could be built and put into use in about three years, a fraction of the time it takes to build larger reactor units. And the cost, Mr. Mundy said, is competitive with new natural gas facilities at a levelized cost — the electricity price needed to break even at the end of the plant’s life — of $45 to $65 a megawatt-hour.
By comparison, a utility-scale solar farm costs $28 to $41 a megawatt-hour and a wind farm $26 to $50, according to the latest analysis by Lazard, the investment firm.
Mr. Mundy said his company’s product would be built by BWX Technologies, a manufacturer of naval nuclear reactor cores based in Lynchburg, Va., as well as by companies in South Korea and Japan.
Concerns about safety, cost and construction delays are not going to be the same as with earlier reactors, he said, because the new ones will have fewer components and will have uniform manufacturing processes, reducing the likelihood of the kinds of failures that come with making each plant unique.
“I think those people are not studying the realities,” Mr. Mundy said of the critics of the new reactors. “We need to continue to educate.”
But at least one of those critics, Mr. Gunderson, is unconvinced. “We’re falling for the same mistakes that we’ve fallen for over the last 50 years,” he said. “I will shut up and retire if you can show a nuclear plant that was built at cost and on schedule.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Supreme Court limits EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution
As the world heats up, unleashing frequent floods, fires, and other extreme weather events, the Supreme Court on Thursday sharply curtailed the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, putting that responsibility on a dysfunctional Congress while dealing another blow to the Biden administration’s efforts to fight climate change.
In a 6-3 ruling that environmentalists called a devastating blow to the climate, the court said the Environmental Protection Agency can’t force the national energy market to move to cleaner power sources without express authorization from Congress.
“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’ ” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”
The three liberal justices joined in a dissent written by Justice Elena Kagan that said the majority opinion “deprives EPA of the power needed — and the power granted — to curb the emission of greenhouse gases.”
“And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high,” Kagan wrote. “Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening. Respectfully, I dissent.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: A new state climate plan shows that — even without the federal government — Massachusetts is moving ahead
Hours after the Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to the national climate effort, Massachusetts released an aggressive new blueprint that speeds up efforts to slash emissions by electrifying buildings and vehicles and transitioning the electricity supply rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
The new plan offers a detailed path for what the state must achieve by 2025 and 2030, presenting a vision for accelerating climate action in Massachusetts.
“The Clean Energy and Climate Plan is a comprehensive and balanced plan that will serve as a guide for Massachusetts as we work to achieve ambitious emissions goals and reach Net Zero in 2050 in an equitable and affordable manner,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement.
The state plan calls for cutting emissions to 33 percent below 1990 levels in less than three years’ time, and getting to 50 percent by 2030. As it works toward those goals, the state envisions growing the economy, with modeling showing clean energy projects bringing a net gain of over 22,000 jobs by 2030.
The plan has been a project of the Baker Administration, but it will fall on the next governor, who will be elected in November, to implement it. Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office would help implement plans, and who is a gubernatorial candidate, said her office is looking forward to working with the state.
“The climate crisis is upon us, and this morning’s Supreme Court decision makes it even clearer states need to step up,” she said.
Buildings and transportation are the two largest sources of emissions in Massachusetts. In 2020, transportation accounted for 27 percent of the state’s emissions, while buildings heated with oil and gas accounted for 30 percent, according to the plan.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Black and Latino households got more mortgages than ever in 2020 — but continued to buy houses in only a small number of Mass. communities
More Black and Latino households are buying their first homes in Massachusetts than ever before, though overall they continued to choose only a handful of towns, according to a new report that tracks lending data in the state.
And even while Black and Latino families have picked up their purchasing pace, the percentage of loans for those borrowers in 2020 still remained well below their respective share of the overall state population, according to the report — the first comprehensive look at lending data in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our analysis shows a homeownership market in Massachusetts that, while serving more homebuyers of color than ever before, is still not closing the wide racial homeownership gap in the Commonwealth,” said Carrie Bernstein, research manager and state data center manager at the UMass Donahue Institute, which conducted the analysis in partnership with the Massachusetts Community & Banking Council.
The report was consistent with other recent analyses of the state’s homeownership market, which have found that soaring housing costs across Great Boston have priced many families out of the city, forcing first-time homebuyers to look to buy their dream home in other parts of the state.
That displacement has had a significant impact in Boston’s historically Black communities, as more Black residents are leaving the city and settling in a small cluster of communities along the Route 24 corridor south of Boston, such as Brockton, according to a Globe review in May of statewide lending and census data. Real estate agents point to a range of reasons that first-time homebuyers may choose a certain community: quality of schools, cost of living, the community’s diversity, or business culture. But what is clear is that people buy where they can afford to live.
EXTERNAL: Commonweatlh Magazine: Long to-do list for end of legislative session
IT’S JULY 1, and this month is shaping up to be an enormously busy one on Beacon Hill. There’s one month until the Legislature wraps up its business for the 2021-2022 legislative session and, as is typical, lawmakers have a lot left on their plates. They have billions of dollars in budget and bond bills to consider, bills in final stages of negotiation on priorities like sports betting and cannabis, and responses to national events related to guns and abortion. Several stated priorities – like improving early education and mental health care – remain in flux.
The lofty goals set by legislative leaders were clear in a statement issued by Senate President Karen Spilka on Tuesday which listed among her priorities “transformative reforms to our mental health and health care systems, a commitment to build up our early education ecosystem, providing tax relief to help working families, reaching our net-zero 2050 goals and advancing equity and inclusion in the cannabis industry,” in addition to defending state gun laws and protecting abortion rights.
EXTERNAL: Axios: Massachusetts sees competition to house ARPA-H
Massachusetts has competition in the campaign to host the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), the new federal agency tasked with making breakthroughs in health care and technology.
The agency is expected to focus on innovative solutions, including treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The House approved a bill creating the $1 billion agency as part of the National Institutes of Health. It still needs Senate approval.
What’s happening: Massachusetts’ congressional delegation made their pitch to house ARPA-H in a letter in May, citing the state’s existing prestigious research universities, hospitals, biotech companies and “unmatched reputation as an idea factory.”
The research facility is similar to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was founded under the Department of Defense in 1958.
Why it matters: Greater Boston is already known as a life sciences hub, and hosting ARPA-H would foreground the state’s biotechs, colleges and health care companies in the federal government’s research endeavors.
“We have obviously located here the talent, academia, teaching hospitals, one of the largest biotech clusters in the world,” says MassBio President Joe Boncore, whose organization is leading efforts to bring the agency to the Bay State. “It’s all right here. It’s close by, and it’s easy to access from Washington, D.C.”
Zoom in: The region is home to life sciences companies that are already researching certain diseases, from Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals’ work on Alzheimer’s to Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ treatments for cystic fibrosis.
Massachusetts is also home to Moderna, one of the three big COVID-19 vaccine makers, though Boncore says that some 90 life sciences companies statewide contributed to the vaccine development efforts.
He won’t give any hints as to where in Massachusetts he’d like to see the federal agency located, saying it’s too early to tell.
But he says he isn’t ruling out cities outside of Boston or Cambridge, adding that such companies have taken root in Woburn, Worcester and other cities.
What’s next: The details of ARPA-H’s structure are still in the works, including whether its director needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
The agency was formally created and an interim director named last month, but the timeline of a headquarters decision remains unclear.
For now, Boncore isn’t sweating the competition.
What he’s saying: “To be quite honest, they’re all competing with Massachusetts. When someone asks where ARPA-H should be located, there’s really only one answer, and that’s right here in the commonwealth.”
EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Look at the history: Taxes do make the wealthy migrate
MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS in November will consider a constitutional amendment that would impose an annual 4 percent surcharge on incomes over $1 million. The debate over the surcharge and the merits of the two common types of income taxation—graduated and flat—will likely focus on the “fairness” of tax rates and the “ability to pay.” A related debate will also flare: whether the amendment will drive higher-income taxpayers out of the Commonwealth and into the arms of low-or-no-income-tax states.
Some opponents of the “millionaire tax” argue that high earners are deeply sensitive to tax rates and that even earners under the proposed $1 million threshold will fear that, with the flat tax wall breached, a further graduation of rates will follow. Opponents also argue that, even if high-income residents stay put, their money will not; rather, it will fly on the dauntless wings of capital to friendlier climes. As the voters ponder this “migration” issue, they should note how past migration within Massachusetts by wealthy Massachusetts taxpayers led to the current “flat tax” scheme erected in 1915.
Amendment Article 44 of the Massachusetts Constitution, adopted in 1915, provides: “Full power and authority are hereby given and granted to the general court to impose and levy a tax on income, in the manner hereinafter provided. Such tax may be at different rates upon income derived from different classes of property, but shall be levied at a uniform rate throughout the Commonwealth upon incomes derived from the same class of property. The general court may tax income not derived from property at a lower rate than income derived from property, and may grant reasonable exemptions and abatements.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Sales are off, costs are soaring. For some small-business owners, the recession has already arrived
President Biden and Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell insist the country can avoid a recession, but don’t try telling that to small business owners already facing sliding sales amid soaring inflation. For many of them, the hard times are already here.
Jorge Aurichi, who owns Level Five Painting in Newton, sensed the economy shifting in March when gas prices surged after Russia invaded Ukraine. Even though spring and summer are prime seasons for painting, Aurichi noticed a 20 percent drop in calls from prospective clients compared with last spring.
He expected his business to grow in 2022, but now he forecasts flat revenue for the year, even as costs for labor, paint, and gas soar. One example: A gallon of oil-based primer that two months ago cost $24 is now $33. That’s on top of a nearly 25 percent increase in the price of gas for his fleet of trucks and vans since last year.
Similarly, Leodalys Montero, who owns D’laly’s Beauty Salon in Dorchester and Roxbury, says her business is slowing, with revenue off by 30 percent in May alone. Fewer customers are coming in to get their hair done as they struggle to keep up with the higher costs of groceries and gas. Worried about a downturn, Montero sold her Jamaica Plain shop in May and is paying herself less.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: At Logan, flight cancellations and delays could well be the norm. Here’s why.
Crowded terminals. Canceled flights. Angry passengers.
Delays and frustration could well be the norm at Logan Airport this summer, experts say, as airlines grapple with worker shortages amid a resurgence in travel demand.
Today, “any little problem cascades through the [airline] industry,” said Daniel Findley, an associate director at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education, a research center based at North Carolina State University. “Then all of the issues build up and the system slows down — or shuts down completely.”
Last week from Thursday to Sunday, more than 200 flights out of Boston were canceled, about one-10th of the airport’s scheduled flights, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware and the Massachusetts Port Authority. Nearly all carriers were affected: JetBlue Airways, the biggest of the bunch at Logan, delayed half of its flights nationwide. For Southwest, American, and Delta, it was roughly one-third.
It was no anomaly. Logan has seen bouts of delays and cancellations several times this spring, most notably on Memorial Day weekend when over 1,400 flights were nixed nationwide.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Extreme heat is coming. Boston needs to prepare — now.
As a coastal city, Boston is pretty well attuned to the threat of rising seas. Just a few years ago, we got an unwelcome preview of what’s to come when back-to-back storms washed out the city’s waterfront parks, inundated the MBTA’s Aquarium station, and forced firefighters to patrol downtown streets by boat.
But the climate threat in these parts isn’t just about more frequent flooding. It’s also about extreme heat. And that could pose an even greater threat.
Heat already kills more people in the United States than flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, or cold. And the latest projections for the region are worrisome. A recent study led by University of Massachusetts Boston researchers found that even if the world does an especially good job of curbing carbon emissions, we can expect that, by the end of the century, the area will have about 20 days per year with temperatures above 90 degrees, up from about eight to 10 days now.
The impact would be significant. Soaring temperatures would be a boon to pests, pathogens, and invasive species — and a blow to the region’s cranberry and maple syrup industries. In Boston, one study found, the heat-induced mortality rate is expected to triple over the next three decades.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: As record inflation squeezes families, Healey pitches relief plan
Front-running gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey, leaning into voter concern about inflation and the economy, on Thursday unveiled a $400 million plan to expand state tax credits for children and other dependents, which she said would put more money into the pockets of families.
“This is going to give real money back to families around Massachusetts and families who are struggling,” the attorney general and South End Democrat told the Globe in an interview. “Prices have continued to increase, whether its gas, groceries, household goods. People are really struggling right now with rising costs. It’s all the more important to understand that I’m committed to addressing that.”
Tax credits lower how much certain residents have to pay in personal income taxes. Under her proposal, Massachusetts families could see annual relief of $600 per child or dependent with disabilities, with no limits to how many children or dependents they can claim.
Her plan would combine two existing tax credits into one and more than double the award.
It would also be indexed to inflation and be written directly into the tax code, so it would accurately reflect the economy and automatically benefit the recipients, instead of being funded by the legislature on a yearly basis like other tax relief programs.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Experts expect subvariants to cause ‘substantial’ summer cases of COVID-19
Until last week, Dr. Ali Mokdad expected the United States to have “a very good summer” in terms of COVID-19. Projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, where he works, forecasted falling cases, hospitalizations, and deaths through at least September.
Then, circumstances changed: Researchers discovered that BA.4 and BA.5 — subvariants of Omicron spreading in the United States — are “immune escapes,” adept at avoiding the antibodies the body produces after vaccination or infection to neutralize the virus.
“That has changed our view for what will happen this summer,” Mokdad said. Though he still expects cases to decrease, the decline will be slower and smaller than projected.
Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said he anticipates the subvariants will spawn a summer of “substantial infections,” but low rates of hospitalization and death.
As of the week ending June 18, BA.4 and BA.5 accounted for about 35 percent of cases in the United States, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — figures that experts say should rise in the weeks to come.
“I expect that BA.5 will likely become the dominant virus in the United States this summer,” Barouch said.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Legislation aims to improve diversity among Mass. Educators
There are far too few educators of color in Massachusetts schools, a persistent disparity lawmakers are seeking to address.
Legislation is being pushed this session aimed at increasing diversity and retention among teachers throughout the state.
The Educator Diversity Act would establish alternative certifications for aspiring teachers, an educator data dashboard, and require districts to appoint officers or teams to set plans and “ensure compliance with all provisions.” Additionally, the bill would create an educator diversity grant fund.
“This is an issue that I would say has been around for a very long time. For years I have been aware of the districts talking about the need to have a more diversified educator workforce,” said state Representative Alice Peisch, education committee cochair and cosponsor of the bill. The proposal has received little to no pushback, she said. Her colleagues recognize the “time has come to do something at the state level and not just leave it to the districts.”
“When I was on the school committee back in the 1990s, we talked about the importance of this,” said Peisch, who served on the Wellesley School Committee. “But the needle does not seem to be moving very much.”
EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Baker signs abortion executive order
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday signed an executive order protecting Massachusetts abortion providers from prosecution by other states that have made providing an abortion a criminal act.
The order prohibits executive agencies from assisting another state’s investigation into anyone receiving or providing an abortion. It also bars abortion providers from losing their license or being disciplined based on an out-of-state charge. And it bars the state from cooperating with extradition requests from states pursuing criminal charges against people involved with providing reproductive health services that are legal in Massachusetts.
“I am deeply disappointed in today’s decision by the Supreme Court which will have major consequences for women across the country who live in states with limited access to reproductive health care services,” Baker said in signing the order.
In Massachusetts, where abortion rights are protected by law, here is a sampling of a few of the reactions to the Supreme Court decision from local officials.
Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democratic candidate for governor, said Massachusetts will welcome patients from other states seeking an abortion here.
“We knew this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any less painful, less enraging, or less terrifying for the tens of millions of people who stand to lose access to basic, life-saving care. Today, for the first time ever, the Court has taken away a constitutional right – a right that has been recognized for nearly half a century. But in Massachusetts and other states where abortion will remain legal and accessible, we’ll do everything we can to ensure patients from across the country can receive needed care and to support and protect our providers who are offering that care. The majority of Americans want to keep abortion safe and legal, and I’m calling on Congress to do just that by codifying Roe.”
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Mass. governor, rare pro-choice Republican, signs order to protect health care providers who provide abortion services to out-of-state residents
Governor Charlie Baker, a rare Republican elected official who supports the right to abortion, signed an executive order Friday that he says will “protect reproductive health care providers who serve out-of-state residents.”
The order, signed in response to a Supreme Court ruling that ended constitutional protections for abortion, bans executive state agencies from assisting another state’s investigation into a person or group for receiving or performing abortions that are legal in Massachusetts or extraditing those patients or providers. The order addresses laws imposed in states that criminalize abortions and other services.
His order also protects Massachusetts abortion providers from losing their professional licenses or receiving other professional discipline based on potential out-of-state charges.
Baker, who ran and won in three statewide Republican primaries as a supporter of abortion rights, said in a statement Friday that “the Commonwealth has long been a leader in protecting a woman’s right to choose and access to reproductive health services, while other states have criminalized or otherwise restricted access.”
The Swampscott resident, who is not running for reelection, was one of the only Republican governors in the country to take such a stance in response to the Supreme Court ruling, putting a spotlight on Baker’s brand of socially liberal, fiscally moderate Republicanism — a long-held Massachusetts tradition that appears to be fading away.
EXTERNAL: Boston.com: Rep. Ayanna Pressley calls on Biden to declare public health emergency over abortion rights
Rep. Ayanna Pressley is calling on President Joe Biden to declare a nationwide public health crisis in response to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Abortion in Massachusetts remains legal, despite the court’s Friday decision. But the Massachusetts congresswoman and other members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation are pledging to continue the fight for reproductive health protections.
And it’s not just the state’s Democratic leaders moving to action. On Friday, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order to “further preserve” abortion rights in Massachusetts and protect providers in the state.
In a statement, Pressley called the court’s decision “a devastating confirmation of what Black and brown reproductive justice organizers have been sounding the alarms about for years.”
“This Court will stop at nothing to strip away our reproductive freedom and our fundamental human right to bodily autonomy,” Pressley said. “By obliterating the right to abortion across the nation, this extreme decision will push legal abortion care out of reach for our most vulnerable and exacerbate multiple public health crises, like the Black maternal mortality crisis.
EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Eastern Mass. waste water coronavirus levels declining slowly
The levels of coronavirus detected in Eastern Massachusetts waste water fluctuated up and down in the week ending Tuesday, rather than making a much hoped-for race to the bottom, according to data from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
Officials say waste water virus data can be an important early warning signal, detecting COVID-19 infections before people get tested, and the tests are officially reported. As more people are using rapid at-home tests, whose results are usually not reported to state public health officials, waste water testing has become a key indicator of the virus’s prevalence.
Other pandemic metrics, including cases and hospitalizations, have been on the decline.
EXTERNAL: Medium: 7 Reasons Why Abortion Is a Race Equity and Health Justice Issue
Abortion access is fundamental to the world Community Catalyst and our partners are trying to build–a just society where everyone has what they need to be healthy, where everybody is cherished, where everyone’s happiness matters.
Here’s what to know about #abortion as a race equity & health justice issue:
“The post-Roe reality that folks are afraid of is currently the lived reality of many people here in the South,” shared Oriaku Nijoku, cofounder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, a reproductive-justice-structured abortion fund based in Atlanta.
That’s why some advocates have shifted more focus to reproductive justice and are calling on policymakers to reimagine abortion access, rather than “reinstate the doomed precedent” should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court.
“When we only think about having the right to something, but not having access, then do we really have that right?,” asks Monica Simpson, executive director of the Sister Song. “And so we must think beyond Roe, about how we want to create the reproductive justice necessary for folks to be able to live their lives — most who are already living in a post-Roe world.”
Four days after the MBTA reduced service on the Blue, Orange, and Red lines to comply with a federal safety directive, the agency’s general manager said Thursday that the T has embarked on a “hiring blitz” to address the dispatcher shortages that forced the service cuts.
General Manager Steve Poftak described the agency’s plan to add more dispatchers during a meeting of the T’s Board of Directors, which gathered Thursday for the first time since the Federal Transit Administration unveiled its demands for safety improvements last week.
“We need to correct this as quickly as possible,” said state Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler, who serves on the board.
The FTA, which is conducting a safety audit of the MBTA, found staffing shortages meant that some dispatchers worked 20-hour shifts without adequate time off before they went back on the clock in the control center for the Blue, Red, and Orange lines. The agency is requiring the T to submit detailed staffing schedules for six weeks and turn in a plan next month for resolving worker shortages.
The T began enacting its plans on Monday, when it scaled back service on the three lines by putting its Saturday schedule into effect on weekdays. The reduced service will keep subway dispatchers from working too many hours at a time, Poftak said.
But passengers and transit advocates have panned the service cuts, and their criticism dominated voicemail messages played during the meeting’s public comment period.
Board members didn’t address the criticism. Poftak said the MBTA is addressing the safety problems identified by the FTA, which completed its onsite inspection Friday. The agency plans to release its findings in August. If the MBTA fails to complete the actions required by the FTA, it could lose 25 percent of its federal funding.
EXTERNAL: State House News: SJC Upholds Healey’s Income Surtax Description
The Supreme Judicial Court rejected the latest legal challenge to the blockbuster ballot question asking voters if they support a new surtax on household income above $1 million, ruling Wednesday that the summary Attorney General Maura Healey has prepared for the ballot is fair and suitable to be presented to voters.
The high court’s ruling clears the way for a summary and statements of what a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote would do that were prepared by Healey, a surtax supporter who expects to be on the ballot herself as a candidate for governor, to be printed alongside the question when it is put before voters this November. The surtax is estimated to bring in $1.3 billion a year and the text of the amendment calls for the revenue to go towards transportation and education.
Opponents of the surtax proposal argued that the summary and ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote statements that Healey prepared for Secretary of State William Galvin to include in a voter information booklet and on the November ballot itself were unfair and misleading largely because they do not explicitly state that the Legislature retains the ultimate decision-making power over state spending and theoretically could use money the surtax brings in to supplant existing state funding for transportation and education.
Writing for the court, Justice David Lowy stated simply, “We disagree.”
Healey’s summary reads: “This proposed constitutional amendment would establish an additional 4% state income tax on that portion of annual taxable income in excess of $1 million. This income level would be adjusted annually, by the same method used for federal income-tax brackets, to reflect increases in the cost of living. Revenues from this tax would be used, subject to appropriation by the state Legislature, for public education, public colleges and universities; and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. The proposed amendment would apply to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2023.”
EXTERNAL: The Hill: Warren on proposed gas tax holiday: ‘That’s not the approach I would use’
“But I always remind myself on this that the last time that a barrel of oil cost what it costs right now, that gasoline itself was about a $1.50 cheaper at the pump, so a big part of this is about concentration in the oil industry and price gouging.”
Warren argued that the best way to deal with the high gas prices is to look at “the longer arc of what drives prices” and respond to those individual issues — like price gouging or worker shortages — directly.
“We’ve got a lot of tools at our disposal. Those are the tools we need to be using,” Warren added.
When Berman pressed the Massachusetts senator on whether she would support a gas tax holiday, Warren said that’s “not the approach [she] would use.”
“I would use a more systemic approach,” Warren added.
The senator’s comments come after Biden called on Congress Wednesday to suspend federal and state taxes on gasoline. The federal gasoline tax is 18 cents per gallon, while state gas taxes average about 26 cents per gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
EXTERNAL: CBS News: Keller: State treasurer says Massachusetts has enough revenue to consider suspending gas tax
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the state has “more than enough funding” at its disposal to suspend the gas tax, pass his proposed tax relief plan and still invest in the state. Does state treasurer Deb Goldberg agree with the governor’s assessment?
Goldberg joined WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller.
“(Baker) is absolutely right. I don’t think people realize just how much money we have in the bank,” Goldberg said
The Democrat said the state has greater than anticipated revenue coming out of the COVID pandemic, a feat she called “pretty incredible.”
Goldberg said the state has about $16 billion in the bank, and added she believes now is the time to provide tax relief against inflation and rising gas prices.
“I would say we are in very good shape,” Goldberg said. “I do believe strongly that we need to find relief for people who are really suffering from inflation and the cost of gas.”
The sweeping bill would realize one of the largest tax relief measures in Massachusetts in a generation, and offers a response to calls for Beacon Hill to ease the burden on taxpayers at a time of sharply spiking consumer prices and overflowing state coffers.
Read more in the Boston Globe
For some office workers who’ve grown accustomed to the flexibility and commute-free lifestyle of remote work — and the feeling, as Baruch put it, of not being just “a cog in a machine” — the surge of back-to-office mandates is driving a wedge between them and their bosses.
Read more in Business Insider
like many other small-business owners, has been on a financial roller coaster for more than two years. When COVID-19 shut down the economy in the spring of 2020, he was unable to secure a loan in the first round of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Read More in Boston Globe