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Road to Recovery – Tuesday, 4 /12/2022

Posted on April 12, 2022


Tuesday April 12 

Wednesday April 13 


Baker: COVID Numbers Up, but There are Good Signs

Boston Herald – According to Gov. Charlie Baker the current uptick in COVID-19 cases is concerning but other data shows that Bay Staters continue to do what they can to help mitigate the pandemic.

“This just speaks to the fact that COVID continues to be hard to predict,” Baker said Thursday during his regular appearance on WGBH radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.

Baker said that wastewater data has demonstrated that COVID-19 infections in the state have climbed, but that hospitalizations and deaths have not. According to the governor, that is a good sign.

“We have not seen an increase in hospitalization or deaths since the cases have started to climb,” he said. “And our hospitalization count is really where you learn about severity. Those numbers are at or below where they were a month ago,” he said.

According to Baker, fewer than than 100 people are now staying at hospitals specifically for a COVID-19 infections. The majority of those in hospitals with COVID-19, he said, are patients who arrived for other procedures and discovered they were COVID-19 positive after a routine test.

There were 1,116 new COVID-19 cases in the state on Tuesday and nearly 1,300 on Wednesday. This represents a jump of over 27% in cases from the week before. According to Baker it is the state’s vaccination rate – 78%, more than 12% more than the national average – that is keeping people from the hospital.


The Debate Over Second COVID Booster

Yahoo News – The announcement, made late last month, came amid concerns that an even more transmissible version of the Omicron variant — known as BA.2 — could drive an increase in cases in the U.S., as it has in Europe and parts of Asia in recent weeks.

The second booster means a fourth shot for people who were initially vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines, or a third dose for those who started with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Despite an aggressive campaign by the Biden administration to promote boosters, and strong evidence that they provide a substantial increase in protection, uptake of the initial booster dose has lagged in the U.S. Only about 45 percent of fully vaccinated Americans have received their first booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just under a quarter of the U.S. population hasn’t been vaccinated at all.

At this stage in the pandemic, there’s an enormous amount of data that the vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of severe COVID infections and death, and an initial booster dose ramps up that protection even more. Evidence to support the use of a second booster is much more limited.

A study out of Israel found that a fourth shot did reduce the risk of death among people over 60, but there are questions about how long that extra protection lasts and how much second boosters help younger groups.


More COVID Funding Flowing to Help with Vaccine Equity

MassLive – Community organizations scattered throughout Massachusetts will collectively receive $4.5 million in new COVID-19 funding to bolster vaccination rates and overcome ongoing disparities, the Baker administration announced Friday.

The Massachusetts Vaccine Equity Initiative, with investments tallying more than $51 million so far, is backed by federal assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These trusted community-based organizations know their communities best,” Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke said in a statement Friday morning. “They use their knowledge and relationships to expand the efforts of our Vaccine Equity Initiative by helping address the unique health equity needs of the communities and populations they serve — needs that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.”

The new tranche of funding includes $1.1 million in grants to 26 community and faith-based organizations, including those serving Tribal and Indigenous Peoples.


“Along with 50 other community organizations currently funded, these organizations will provide culturally appropriate outreach and education on COVID-19 vaccination and mitigation as well as host and promote vaccine clinics for priority populations most impacted by COVID-19,” the Baker administration said.


Another $3.1 million will support the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, which aids 42 locations for “critical workforce and equipment needs and outreach, education, and navigation support toward COVID-19 vaccination.”

The remaining $300,000 in new funding is earmarked for three organizations — and in partnership with the New England Rural Health Association — focused on ensuring vaccine equity effort in rural communities. The Baker administration said 143 rural towns should now benefit from this program.


Democrats Push to Address Lack of Affordable Child Care

Boston Herald – As a growing number of companies require employees to return full-time to the office, young parents are facing a new crisis: what to do about their not yet school-age kids when they’re away at work.

With inflation reaching a 40-year high and the price of staples, such as gasoline, increasing by 50% year over year, many American families don’t have the luxury of keeping one parent at home. And the old-fashioned solution—asking the grandparents to step in as caregivers—is only tenable for about 20% of working mothers, according to a 2013 study. Which leaves professional child-care providers holding the bag.

But that’s the problem: the COVID-19 pandemic all but gutted the child-care industry, which has shed nearly 1 in 9 jobs since March 2020. Daycare operators’ attempts to rebuild in recent months have been complicated by both rising wages and the ongoing national labor shortage, which make it difficult to recruit and retain staff.

Child-care workers earn an average wage of just $13.31 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some 460,000 families now say they have unreliable access to childcare, per a recent report by Wells Fargo economists.

Health Care

Baker’s Last Health Spending Wish: Shift the Focus

State House News – Passing health-care legislation on Beacon Hill is a complicated exercise, as policymakers look for buy-in from an array of stakeholders with sometimes-competing priorities, including patients, different types of providers, public and private insurers, drug companies, and individual legislators with their own concerns.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s bid to get his health-care reform package onto the books in his last year in office faces another challenge: the short window of time remaining for lawmakers to reach consensus on his multi-pronged bill before formal legislative sessions end for the year on July 31.

“It’s almost the end of April. There’s an enormous number of things on the plate of the Legislature,” Sen. Cindy Friedman, the co-chair of the Health Care Financing Committee, told Baker as her panel held a hearing on his bill.

“This bill has really important things in it that I know that we care very, very much about, both the Legislature and the executive branch. If we are limited in what we are able to do, are there things in this bill that you believe are of such high priority that you would say, ‘We gotta do this?’ ”

In broad strokes, the governor’s bill (S 2774) aims to inject more resources into behavioral health and primary care, target health care cost drivers and boost access to care.

Baker said the current health-care system “rewards those providers that invest in technology and transactional specialty services at the expense of those who choose to invest in primary care, geriatrics, addiction services and behavioral health” and that he is proposing reforms “designed to address the underlying challenges the system faces.”

Like legislation he first proposed in 2019 – one of many bills whose path through the legislative process was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic – the bill Baker filed in March would require providers and payers to increase their spending on primary care and behavioral health by 30 percent, while still keeping their overall spending growth within targets created under a 2012 cost control law.

It would also penalize drug manufacturers for price increases deemed to be excessive, establish new oversight for pharmacy benefit managers, bring Massachusetts into a multi-state physician licensure compact, and require licensing for urgent care services, among other measures.

Responding to Friedman’s question, Baker referred to the need to prioritize investments in primary care and behavioral health. He said that without “flipping the paradigm” on a Medicare fee schedule that has led to less investment in those areas, “there’s not a lot else that’s going to get us where we need to go, because that fee schedule is just baked into the marrow of everything that goes on in health care generally.”

Drug Manufacturers Call Baker Plan “Dangerous”

State House News – As Gov. Charlie Baker made his case directly to lawmakers Monday on the latest version of a health-care bill he first filed in 2019, the pharmaceutical industry is out with a campaign knocking the bill as “dangerous.”

Baker and his health and human services secretary, Marylou Sudders, testified at a noontime Health Care Financing Committee hearing on his bill (S 2774) that aims to inject more resources into behavioral health and primary care, target health-care cost drivers and boost access to care.

Among other components, Baker’s office has said the legislation aims to increase accountability for drug manufacturers and address year-over-year pharmaceutical spending growth in part by imposing penalties for “excessive” drug price increases and establishing new oversight on pharmacy benefit managers.


The trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which has previously said it welcomed additional oversight of PBMs but charged that the bill’s “dangerous price controls” would threaten medication access and development, targeted the bill with a full-page ad in Monday’s Boston Globe directing readers to a website where they can email Baker or tweet at other elected officials to voice concerns with the bill.


Like PhRMA’s earlier statement, the ad and website both describe Baker’s bill as “dangerous.”

“Massachusetts makes breakthrough medicines. Charlie Baker makes them harder to get,” the ad says. The website,, says that “government price setting schemes” undermine innovation and that “90 Massachusetts life sciences companies are developing new tests, therapies and vaccines.”


Pressley Files Legislation to Fund Long COVID Care


Boston Herald– Researchers estimate that eight million Americans are suffering from long COVID, facing symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain and breathing trouble, to name just a few. To begin addressing this pandemic-induced pandemic of its own, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley is hoping to better fund long COVID care.


“Because there is no federal program focused on providing multidisciplinary treatment and care for folks with long COVID, for many of our long haulers, their physical and mental anguish has only worsened,” she said. “Our first-of-its-kind bill, the Treat Long COVID Act, would address that head-on by investing heavily in creating and expanding long COVID clinics across the country.”


The bill would invest federal funds into several local-level COVID treatment initiatives. It would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants up to $2,000,000 to health care providers, including community health centers, to treat long COVID, and would invest grant funds into new multidisciplinary long COVID clinics to treat the symptoms of the condition, with an emphasis on traditionally underserved populations.


Pressley developed the bill in consultation with the growing long COVID community nationwide, who expressed the importance of staffing these clinics with medical professionals who understand the complexities of long COVID. These clinics would also not deny anyone treatment based on insurance coverage, date or method of diagnosis or previous hospitalization.


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion


Commonwealth Magazine – The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday passed a bill that takes significant steps toward helping minority entrepreneurs and those affected by prior enforcement of drug laws break into the legal marijuana industry, which has so far been dominated largely by big companies and White business owners.

“Massachusetts became the first state in the country in 2017 to include explicitly an equity mandate in its adult use cannabis law,” said Senate Cannabis Policy Committee chair Sonia Chang Diaz, a Boston Democrat running for governor, in an interview. But, she said, “There’s just a huge gap between the express intent of the law and what we’re seeing in real life.”

Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, in introducing the bill on the Senate floor, said, “This legislation builds upon the goals we’ve always had for marijuana industry in the Commonwealth, not to be measured only in revenue dollars but through how we protect consumers, support small businesses, facilitate a competitive industry, and promote social equity.”

The bill passed unanimously, 39-0.

State and Federal Update

Big Tech’s Antitrust Ad Blitz

The Lever – A Big Tech lobbying group is running a massive ad blitz around the country opposing landmark antitrust legislation designed to make tech giants stop favoring their own products on their platforms over other sellers.

The marketing campaign claims the bill will “break” Amazon Prime – the retail giant’s subscription program offering free, fast shipping and streaming content – plus harm the overall economy.

The multi-million-dollar ad campaign shows that in the public relations fight to protect Big Tech monopolies, the industry is betting big on American consumerism. They believe they can capitalize on people’s want of instant gratification in order to mobilize the public against legislation that would make it easier for people and small businesses to sell products and services in the online economy.

The ad campaign was launched by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a corporate lobbying group whose members include Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. CCIA reserved $8.4 million worth of TV ads in March and April and another $200,000 in digital ads, according to data from AdImpact. It’s a staggering sum for an organization that typically raises about that much per year, according to its recent tax returns.


Sustainability, Climate and Energy

The Air Traffic Controller of Electricity

Gordon van Welie, the president and CEO of ISO-New England, says there are four pillars that support the regional power grid his organization oversees, and all four are showing signs of stress.

Pillar number one is renewable energy. With clean electricity the key to decarbonizing the transportation and heating sectors, van Welie says New England needs to produce or procure a lot more renewable energy. “It’s clear we’re not going fast enough,” he said.

Pillar number two is transmission, the ability to move electricity from where it is produced to where it is needed. Van Welie said transmission is adequate at the moment. But with power generation needing to double or triple over the next few decades to electrify the economy and deal with climate change, transmission is looming as a major hurdle. The decision by Maine voters to scrap a transmission line carrying hydro-electricity from Quebec into New England is a sign of the emerging problem.

Pillar number three is the need for balancing resources, electricity that can be called on as backup when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. “The problem in New England is we don’t have a very predictable input source into the electric grid, particularly in the wintertime when the gas pipelines are constrained,” he said. “I really see [natural] gas as the only option for balancing the system at the moment.”

Van Welie says other options for balancing fuels could be pursued, including clean hydrogen. But he sees little effort to seek out alternatives. “I don’t see any focus on that problem in the region,” he said. “We’re just relying on essentially season by season spot purchases of imported fuels and eventually we’re going to come up short with that strategy. “

$40 Million Natural Gas Pipeline Roasted by Area Groups

MassLive – Nearly 200 people from nearly 60 different organizations gathered in front of the federal courthouse on State Street Saturday to protest a proposed natural gas pipeline from Longmeadow to Springfield, a gas pipeline that owner Eversource said is redundant, probably won’t be needed and could cost as much as $44 million.

The company website calls the pipeline a “reliability project,” to ensure the flow of natural gas in the event the company’s primary pipeline is disabled. But some of the protestors said the only reliability coming from the project is profit for Eversource stockholders.

Senate Climate Bill Ups Electric Vehicle Rebates

Commonwealth Magazine – Senate leadership unveiled a prescriptive $250 million climate change bill on Thursday that would direct Gov. Charlie Baker and his successor to boost rebates for zero emission vehicles, allow a small group of municipalities to ban the use of fossil-fuel infrastructure in new construction, and set aside $100 million for investments in clean-energy infrastructure.

With the filing of the Senate legislation and the debate expected on the bill next week, the stage is set for Beacon Hill to do some serious horse-trading on climate change over the next few months as the legislative session winds down. Baker has proposed using $750 million in federal aid to capitalize a clean-energy investment fund. House legislation would steer millions of dollars in tax credits and money raised from assessments on customer utility bills primarily to offshore wind development.

The Senate bill relies on state surplus funds and/or federal aid to capitalize trust funds from which money would be doled for clean-energy infrastructure ($100 million), for bigger rebates for zero emission vehicles ($100 million), and for a statewide charging system for electric vehicles ($50 million).

Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport, the Senate’s top budget official, indicated the chamber’s funding approach is more reasonable than what the governor has proposed and would push money out the door more quickly than the House measure, which depends on annual assessments on customer utility bills. House officials take a longer-term approach in their bill, creating a funding stream for offshore wind similar to the funding stream the state provides for life sciences.

Massachusetts Clean-Energy Jobs Still Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

State House News – For the first time since the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center started its annual count in 2010, Massachusetts saw a decrease in clean-energy jobs in 2020, though MassCEC officials said gains in 2021 show the underlying strength and potential of the industry.

The clean-energy industry ended 2019 with 113,968 workers. But the onset and early months of the pandemic led to the loss of 19,800 jobs, about a 17 percent drop, and by mid-2020, the industry’s workforce here had fallen to about 94,168 workers, MassCEC said in its annual industry report for 2021.

The second half of 2020 saw the return of about 7,000 jobs, resulting in a net loss of 12,800 clean-energy jobs or about 11 percent of the workforce in 2020, MassCEC said. At the end of 2020, there were 101,208 people working in the industry in Massachusetts. Last year saw that rebound continued, but at a slower pace than statewide job growth. The clean energy sector added about 4,000 jobs in 2021 and ended the year with an estimated 105,180 jobs.

“While a full recovery has been delayed in part due to ongoing pandemic uncertainty and supply chain and labor-shortage constraints, the state did see some modest gains in wind energy, electric vehicles, and energy storage,” MassCEC CEO Jennifer Daloisio said. “Significantly, the early estimates of data through December 2021 show this recovery continuing, underscoring the resilience of the state’s clean energy industry.”

Employment Law and Workforce Development

State Supreme Court Mandates Treble Damages for Any Late Wage Payments

Seyfarth Shaw – On April 4, 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court adopted an employee-friendly approach to damages for Wage Act violations in the Bay State.  In Reuter v. City of Methuen, No. SJC-13121 (Mass. April 4, 2022), the SJC held that all Wage Act violations trigger treble damages, regardless of whether the employer remedies the violation prior to the employee filing suit.

This decision contradicts longstanding lower court precedent holding to the contrary.  Under the SJC’s holding in Reuter, any employee paid late – for whatever reason and even if remedied – is entitled to three times the total amount of the wages in question.  In short:  honest payroll errors and good-faith disputes over what an employee may be owed just got much more expensive.

The Wage Act (M.G.L. ch. 149, § 150) provides that prevailing plaintiffs “shall be awarded treble damages, as liquidated damages, for any lost wages and other benefits and shall also be awarded the costs of the litigation and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”  It also provides that, “[t]he defendant shall not set up as a defen[s]e a payment of wages after the bringing of the complaint.”

Nearly two decades ago, in the first case to address this issue, Dobin v. CIOview Corp., then Superior Court Justice Gants interpreted this provision of the Wage Act to mean that when wages are paid late but before a complaint is filed, the only damages are interest on the delayed payment, trebled.  Since then, Justice Gants’ reasoning has been followed in a number of Superior Court and federal court decisions interpreting this provision of the Wage Act.

But the SJC upended that precedent.  In Reuter, the City of Methuen terminated the plaintiff’s employment after she was convicted of larceny.  Three weeks after it terminated plaintiff’s employment, the City paid the plaintiff for her accrued, unused vacation time (totaling roughly $9,000).

Approximately a year later, having lost her bid to challenge her termination in front of the Civil Service Commission, Plaintiff sent the City a demand letter seeking treble damages for the late-paid vacation – plus attorney’s fees.  When the City sent her a check for the trebled interest instead (consistent with the holding of Dobin), the plaintiff filed the instant action.

Taxation and Budget

Mariano: No Tax Relief in Budget; Maybe Later

State House News – The details of the House budget won’t be fully known until Wednesday, but House Speaker Ron Mariano said Monday that his chamber is not going to propose tax relief or tax breaks as part of its plan for fiscal year 2023.

On the heels of a massive surplus last year and better-than-expected tax collections so far this budget year, Gov. Charlie Baker proposed a nearly $700 million tax relief package aimed at helping parents, low-income workers and seniors. Leaders in both branches have indicated an interest in approving some kind of tax relief this session. Residents have been feeling the pain of sky-high gas prices and historically high levels of inflation in recent months.

But when he was asked Monday whether relief or tax breaks would be included in the House budget that will be fully unveiled Wednesday, Mariano said simply, “no.” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz elaborated.

“No, I think we’re very clear that we feel that the revenue growth that we’ve seen here is an opportunity to reinvest for FY 23,” Michlewitz, a Democrat from Boston’s North End, said after he, Mariano and other representatives toured a child care center and announced the early education investments in the House budget.

“There’s gonna be other pieces of the budget that come out on Wednesday that you’re gonna see of reinvesting in other sectors of our economy.”

Legislative leaders have already punted the deadline for a committee recommendation on Baker’s $700 million tax relief proposal until May 4, after the House budget debate, but Mariano was mum Monday when asked if tax relief could advance through the House in its own piece of legislation.

“It could be, it could be. Maybe,” the speaker said.

Last week, when the Department of Revenue announced that it had collected $427 million more than it was expecting in March, Baker tweeted that “it’s clear that hardworking families, seniors and low-income residents deserve a break” and urged the Legislature to take up his tax relief proposal

Budget Watchdog Says Massachusetts Needs Tax Relief

Boston Herald – If Gov. Charlie Baker’s tax cut proposals aren’t passed, there’s a real danger the state could fail to attract the talent it is going to need for continued growth, according to the head of a nonpartisan tax policy group.

“I think that the proposal is balanced. It provides a lot of help to folks at the lower end of the income spectrum that have been most impacted by the pandemic,” Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said during an appearance with John Keller on WBZ Sunday.

According to McAnneny, in addition to helping seniors and those with very little income, Baker’s proposal would help Massachusetts continue to attract and keep the sort of residents required for the state’s economy to continue growing.

“Massachusetts’ economy is based in entrepreneurship and investment in innovation and so we don’t want to make our tax burden so high that we drive people away from Massachusetts, particularly in this era when people can live and move and be anywhere,” she said.


House Leaders Eye $110 Million Jolt for Strained Early Ed Field

 State House News – With more than $110 million for the early education and care sector, including a tripling of funding for provider salaries, House leaders said Monday that their fiscal year 2023 budget proposal will seek to make child care accessible to families in Massachusetts.

Early education and child care appear primed to be a major focus of investment and attention as the House and Senate prepare to debate and pass their own budgets for fiscal year 2023 over the next seven weeks. The importance and vulnerabilities of the state’s early education and care field came into sharp focus when the pandemic closed schools and child-care centers, upending the work routines of many parents, and advocates have said this year represents an opportunity for Beacon Hill to stabilize and reshape the sector.

A report released last month by the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission estimated that $1.5 billion in investments are needed to stabilize the early education and care system and help it meet the needs of families.

House Speaker Ron Mariano and Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz on Monday toured Ellis Early Learning in Boston with colleagues and later announced the House’s initial steps towards implementing the commission’s recommendations.

“The report came through with quite a price tag, one which we could not handle all at once. But we made a commitment … that we wanted to begin immediately,” Mariano said. “We didn’t want to wait. We didn’t want to put off anything that was in that report that we thought could have an impact today.”

Child care has become even harder to find since the pandemic set in. The state’s early child-care sector has lost 1,359 programs (about 17 percent of the total) since March 2020, which translates to 23,395 slots for children, the commission found.

The programs that remain across Massachusetts “are experiencing ongoing financial instability due to unstable and insufficient revenue and a growing workforce shortage,” the commission said.

The report said most programs are stuck in something of a vicious cycle: The cost of tuition is already a significant concern for families, but most providers can’t offer better compensation to their staff to improve the quality of care without increasing charges to families. The dynamic, the report said, becomes “a major reason that compensation levels remain so low in the early education and care field.”

In the budget that will be fully unveiled Wednesday and debated the last week of April, the House will propose $60 million for a rate reserve to increase salaries for teachers and others at subsidized providers, which Michlewitz said is three times as much as has been proposed in previous years.


The House budget will also provide $16.5 million in grants to Head Start programs across the state, make $10 million in grants available for early education providers to defray the costs of child care for their own staff, put $15 million towards child care resources and referral agencies, provide $5 million for higher education opportunities for providers and fund outreach to families with $5 million.

On the policy side, the House budget will propose making permanent a pandemic-era policy under which subsidized programs are reimbursed based on enrollment rather than attendance, a change that providers have said would give them a measure of stability.

Report: Government Choices Shifting College Costs to Students

State Street News – The erosion of government support for higher education over the past 20 years has made obtaining a four-year degree increasingly inaccessible to low-income students in Massachusetts, particularly students of color, as tuition and fees increases have required greater borrowing, a new report shows.

The study, produced by the Hildreth Institute and being published Monday, found that while state funding for public higher education declined 20 percent per full-time student between 2001 and 2020, tuition and fees at four-year institutions rose an average of 59 percent.

Financial aid has also failed to keep pace with rising costs being shifted onto families, falling 35 percent for full-time students from $595 to $386 during a time when median household earnings have climbed 13 percent, the report found.

“After two decades of disinvestment, we’re too far down the road to expect a few reforms will re-chart a new course for our public institutions and students. Years of inaction will force the state to finally decide the role the Commonwealth, which prides itself on being the birthplace of public education, should play in post-secondary public education,” wrote Bahar Akman Imboden, managing director of the Hildreth Institute and the author of the report.

The state this year budgeted nearly $1.2 billion for its higher education campuses, including $577.5 million for the University of Massachusetts, out of a $48 billion state budget. After passing a law before the pandemic reforming the way the state funds K-12 education, lawmakers are now grappling with how to make education more affordable at both the beginning and advanced stages of a student’s educational