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This Week in Massachusetts – November 22, 2022

Posted on November 22, 2022

Thanksgiving Dinner Costs 20 Percent More this Year

Boston Herald – Just like everything else these days, your Thanksgiving feast will gobble up more of your wallet as inflation and other factors trigger major price hikes.

The average cost of this year’s classic Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people will be $64.05, which is a 20% jump from last year’s average of $53.31, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual survey released on Wednesday.

The Thanksgiving feast cost has spiked 37% since 2020’s dinner price of $46.90.

Turkey costs are up 21% on average — $28.96 for a 16-pound bird, or $1.81 per pound.

The Farm Bureau cited general inflation as “a significant factor contributing to the increase in average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.” Inflation has been running 7% to 9% in recent months, while the most recent Consumer Price Index report for food consumed at home reveals a 12% increase over the past year.

“Other contributing factors to the increased cost for the meal include supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine,” said AFBF Chief Economist Roger Cryan. “The higher retail turkey cost at the grocery store can also be attributed to a slightly smaller flock this year, increased feed costs and lighter processing weights.”

Locally, fresh turkeys at Bob’s Turkey Farm in Lancaster cost 16% more this year. The price has increased from $4.29 per pound to $4.99 per pound.

“That was a really big jump for us,” Jennifer Brezniak of Bob’s Turkey Farm said on Wednesday. “It wasn’t easy for us to do at all.

Healey Administration Must Tackle Workforce Crisis, Policy Analyst Says

MassLive – The incoming Healey Administration should better coordinate scalable workforce development programs that remain disjointed across state government agencies to combat a long-term crisis, a leading Beacon Hill policy analyst advised Wednesday.

Existing infrastructure is not equipped to retrain 300,000 people as identified in a Future of Work Report released by the Baker administration last year, said Doug Howgate, the executive vice president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Healey, in turn, must build off the workforce development initiatives prioritized by the Baker administration and look beyond “a lot of pockets of excellence, small things we do well,” Howgate said during a webinar Wednesday morning hosted by strategic communications firm Rasky Partners.

“Right now, the budget has like 26 workforce programs governed by 12 different agencies. That’s not going to work if we need to really upskill and train hundreds of thousands of people,” said Howgate, who will serve as the next president of the Taxpayers Foundation.

Health care and early education sectors are both experiencing significant workforce challenges, though similar issues persist in “many other places” and industries, Howgate said. Workforce training programs are also siloed within individual sectors, such as varying initiatives across hospitals and community health centers, Howgate pointed out.

Finance is Fading as Cornerstone of Massachusetts Economy 

Boston Globe – For 20 years, Greater Boston’s once-storied financial services industry has been slowly fading, losing its luster and clout compared with the region’s high-flying tech and life sciences sectors.

And that has become particularly noticeable as the economy bounces back from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of all the major industries in Massachusetts, the finance-and-insurance sector is the only one that hasn’t grown over the past year, amidst a broader employment boom. Even as the state added 131,000 private-sector jobs in the 12 months that ended in October — a 4 percent jump — the number of people working in finance and insurance remained flat at 173,000, according to the newest monthly data released by the state on Friday.

Obama to Announce Expansion of Young Leaders Program to US

Boston Globe – An Obama Foundation program that has trained hundreds of young leaders across Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Europe is being expanded to include the United States.

Former President Barack Obama is expected to announce the new program during a two-day democracy forum the foundation is co-sponsoring in New York City.

The Obama Foundation Leaders United States program is a six-month leadership development program for emerging leaders between the ages of 24 and 45. The program will serve more than 100 leaders from the U.S. in its first year. Participants will be chosen through a competitive application process.

In remarks prepared for delivery at the forum, Obama cites “consistently high interest” in the foundation’s programs as a reason for the expansion.

“The creativity, determination and passion of these leaders are already making an impact — in lives saved, environments restored, children educated,” he says. “They’re creating new models for clean energy generation and poverty alleviation. It’s remarkable and inspiring — and a little humbling, since I sure wasn’t making such an impact at their age.

“And the good news is, we’re just scratching the surface of what this next generation is capable of,” Obama says.

The Next Steps for the New Massachusetts License Law

Axios – Now that voters have approved a ballot question keeping a law that lets undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses, Massachusetts transportation officials are updating regulations before the new law takes effect in July 2023.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles released draft recommendations this week and announced a Dec. 2 meeting to discuss changes underway from the new law.

In keeping with the legislation, the RMV recommends having driver’s license applicants without legal status prove their identity by submitting two documents from a host of options, including consular IDs and marriage certificates.

The recommendations also require that applicants share their Social Security Number (if they ever had one), proof of being denied an SSN or a notarized attestation declaring they never received a number.

The draft recommendations clarify that undocumented immigrants seeking driving privileges in Massachusetts aren’t eligible for commercial driver’s licenses or credentials to drive school buses.

Harvard Doctors Warn of Viral Triple Threat for the Holidays

Boston Globe – As Americans gather for the holidays, Harvard doctors are warning that three dangerous respiratory viruses are circulating — and threaten to become unwelcome guests at the festivities.

“We are in the midst of a true triple-demic,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

First there’s RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which is most threatening to young children. This common, seasonal infection has arrived early this year and has proven unusually severe. RSV is typically mild in healthy adults but can send a baby to intensive care.

RSV cases seem to have plateaued, and doctors are hopeful they will start to decline, said Dr. Lael Yonker, a pediatric lung specialist at Mass. General for Children.

But coming hard on its heels is influenza, another seasonal illness that typically peaks in February but this year seems to have shown up in force early. Based on flu cases that have occurred in the South, “it sounds more invasive and more aggressive” than in the past, Yonker said.

And then, of course, COVID-19 has not gone away; indeed, it continues to kill at a steady rate, and spawn new variants.

“I don’t want to say, ‘Cancel Thanksgiving,’ ” said Lemieux, speaking at an online press briefing Thursday by the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness. “I also don’t want to say, ‘Don’t worry about respiratory viruses.’ “

If you’re feeling sick, even if it’s just a cold, doctors say it’s more critical than ever to stay home. This is especially true if the people you’re visiting include elderly folks or young children. It’s a good idea to test for COVID-19, but even if the test is negative, keep in mind it won’t rule out RSV or other infections.

Starbucks Workers in Boston Join Red Cup Rebellion

Boston Herald – On more days than not, a line of Starbucks patrons seeking chai lattes, hot chocolates and other beverages goes out the door and onto Beacon Street in Brighton due to the coffeehouse’s tight space.

That was not the case during Thursday’s Red Cup Rebellion, when the store’s roughly 20 staffers went on strike. Those looking to get in on Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day — one of the company’s busiest days of the year when it gives free reusable cups to customers who order a holiday drink — were turned away.

Staffers at the popular Brighton location, near Cleveland Circle station and Chestnut Hill Reservoir, joined those at more than 100 Starbucks across the country on the picket line, the largest labor action since a campaign to unionize company stores began late last year.

Five other stores across Greater Boston and one in Gardner also held strikes, with staffers calling on Starbucks corporate to come to the bargaining table to address an underpaid and understaffed workforce.

Roughly 14 stores in the region are unionized, said Taylor Dickerson, a Starbucks barista at Brookline’s 874 Commonwealth Ave. location, who helped coordinate the area strikes.

Willow Montana has been a shift manager at the Beacon Street location for three years. Her store has been unionized since April, but it’s still waiting to begin contract negotiations with corporate, she said.

After Voters Rejected Question 3, Where You Can Buy Beer Will Be Up to the Legislature

Boston Globe – The voters have spoken on Question 3. But what did they actually say? Well, that depends on whom you ask.

Because 55 percent voted against it last week, the political hot potato of where a retail chain can sell alcohol gets tossed back to the State House. There, legislative leaders may try to parse some sort of meaning out of the results on Election Day.

Good luck with that.

The head of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, Question 3′s main proponent, views the vote as a show of support for his small-business membership and, by implication, limits on chain stores selling alcohol — even though he technically lost the campaign. Meanwhile, national liquor giant Total Wine & More, which poured nearly $3 million into defeating Question 3, interprets the result in the opposite way: that Massachusetts shoppers want more competition, not less.

And many neutral but not disinterested observers, such as convenience store chain Cumberland Farms and the supermarkets in the Massachusetts Food Association, saw an additional lesson: Question 3 was simply too confusing.

It’s easy to see why. Start with the up-and-down language. Question 3 would have expanded the number of places where a single company can sell beer and wine to 18 shops from the current cap of nine, over the course of a decade. But it also would have trimmed the number of stores where a single company could sell spirits from nine to seven. Then there were a few rules reforms thrown in for good measure, such as allowing out-of-state IDs for age confirmation and banning automated checkouts for alcohol purchases.

EXTERNAL: MBTA Says Ridership Won’t be Back to Normal within the Next Five Years

Commonwealth Magazine – The MBTA is not expecting ridership to return to pre-COVID levels within the next five years, even with the addition of new services like the Green Line extension and South Coast Rail.

Under the T’s most optimistic ridership scenario, fare revenue will only reach 93 percent of pre-COVID levels by the end of fiscal 2028.

The latest projections suggest ridership growth is slowing. When the T released a similar analysis a year ago, it projected fare revenue would reach 93 percent of pre-COVID levels in fiscal 2027 under the most optimistic scenario and 78 percent under the most likely scenario. Now those estimates have just been pushed out another year,

Ridership and fare projections are important to the MBTA’s financial health, but they also have broader ramifications for the state’s efforts to fight climate change and bolster the economy.

The fare revenue projection was included in an initial pass at a five-year budget outlook for the MBTA that was presented on Wednesday to a subcommittee of the T board of directors.

The outlook indicated federal and state aid should be enough to push off the transit authority’s financial day of reckoning a couple more years. Officials said the MBTA should be able to make it through the current fiscal year and the following two (fiscal 2024 and 2025) with no shortfall or a small one.

But starting in fiscal 2026 (July 2025), the T’s operating budget is projected to fall into a deep hole, as one-time revenues run out and expenses continue to mount.

Earlier, the T had forecast the hole would emerge in fiscal 2024 – thus the postponed day of reckoning.

Health Care

Voters Signal Support for Medicare for ll

Eagle Tribune – More than 16 years after Massachusetts started requiring every citizen to carry health insurance, advocates say they’re building support to again transform the state’s health care system.

In the midterm elections last week, voters in 20 House districts signaled their support for proposals to create a single-payer health care system by approving non-binding referendums asking their elected representatives to support it.

Backers of the proposal say the support from voters and recent polls suggest that most Massachusetts voters support a single-payer system.

“The majority of commonwealth residents support Medicare for All,” said Stephanie Nakajima, executive director of MassCare, a group advocating for a single-payer system. “This is an important message to our legislators, who need to fight for patients at the State House.”

The referendums were overwhelmingly approved in all 20 House districts where it appeared on the ballot, in some cases winning more than 80% of the vote, according to preliminary data.

Organizers behind the referendums targeted House districts occupied by top legislative leaders, including the 3rd Norfolk District held by House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, but also open districts that will be sending freshman legislators to Beacon Hill next year.

In the 1st Essex District, which includes Amesbury, Newburyport, Merrimac and Salisbury, Question 5 was approved with 63% of the vote.

Health Care Staffing Shortages May Be Here to Stay, Baker Says

NBC Boston – Staffing shortages in health care might be here to stay, and the industry needs to reimagine how it delivers care, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday morning.

“There’s this giant staffing problem running across the system, but that staffing problem is doing significant damage to the normal process by which the system works,” Baker said at a Massachusetts Association of Health Plans conference at the Seaport Hotel. “People really need to think differently about how all the pieces of the system are organized.”

The governor partially attributed the staffing shortages to a swath of Baby Boomers retiring earlier than they otherwise might have if not for COVID-19, taking “a huge chunk of big-time talent out of your staffing models.”

The staffing issues are also affecting health care payments, he said. Rehabilitation and long-term care facilities that are understaffed are unable to take in new patients from hospitals, leading to patients staying longer in hospital beds waiting for a spot in their next treatment facility to open up.

“If you look at the average time to stay in a hospital right now, not just in Massachusetts, or many places around the country, it’s about a day and a half longer than it used to be,” Baker said. “So now you have a situation where hospitals are providing a lot of care for which they are not being paid.”

In October, the Massachusetts Health & Hospital administration estimated Massachusetts hospitals had about 19,000 full-time vacancies.

Primary Care, Behavioral Workers May Soon Apply for Loan Repayments

MassLive – Some Massachusetts primary care and behavioral health-care workers could soon receive tens of thousands of dollars in loan repayment awards through a new program the Baker administration announced Thursday to address persistent staffing challenges in those sectors.

Applications to a $130 million loan repayment program will open next month for health-care workers based at community health centers, community mental-health centers, psychiatric units at acute care hospitals, in-patient psychiatric hospitals and substance use treatment programs, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said.

Eligible roles include social workers, primary care physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, substance use recovery coaches and case managers.

“The pandemic has exacerbated workforce shortages across the health care and human services sector in both the public and private markets, placing significant stress on our health care providers, their staff and our Massachusetts residents seeking care,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Through this program, we are providing tangible support to sustain them in this high demand work.”

Loan repayment award recipients can expect between $12,500 and $300,000, depending on their job and academic degree level, among other factors.

Officials said government loans made by federal, state, county or city agencies qualify for repayment under the program parameters. Also eligible are commercial loans from banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, insurance companies, schools and other financial or credit institutions, officials said.

Taxation and Budget

The Tax-Relief Measures Readers Say They Want from Gov.-Elect Maura Healey

MassLive – Strained by high inflation and home-heating costs, Bay Staters have a lengthy tax-relief wishlist for Gov.-elect Maura Healey, who vowed to provide assistance on her first day of taking office this January.

Some Massachusetts residents expressed specific demands for the incoming leader in a recent MassLive survey: Suspend the gas tax, slash the sales tax, and overturn the income surtax that voters narrowly approved at the polls last week, among other pleas.

But such requests are unlikely to see traction from Healey, a Democrat who struck a notably moderate tone on the campaign trail. Healey, for example, does not support temporarily halting the gas tax, a spokesperson for the governor-elected told MassLive Thursday.

“Eat the gas tax for now like Georgia and some other states,” Mary Murray of Ludlow wrote, invoking a proposal to ease pain at the pumps that top state lawmakers have rejected multiple times.

“Eliminate the recently passed millionaires tax,” Steve Richardson wrote in the survey, referring to Ballot Question 1, also commonly known as the Fair Share Amendment. “You’re going to have successful businesses leaving the state.”

“She ‘vowed’ to give tax cuts but supported the millionaires tax hike,” Michael Sullivan of Westfield wrote. “I don’t believe her. Actions speak louder than words.”


Changes Possible in State Education Policy

Baystate Banner – With just five months left in Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, Baker and Education Secretary James Peyser made a move that raised eyebrows, replacing two members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the body that votes on state policy and decides who will serve as commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Both of the outgoing members, Amanda Fernandez and James Morton, had terms that had expired, but politicians commonly leave government positions unfilled in the months before a new administration takes over as a courtesy.

Their replacements, management consultant Farzana Mohamed and Tricia Canavan, CEO of an economic development nonprofit, both come from the business world.

Baker and Peyser’s move in July effectively put the outgoing administration’s stamp on state education policy for at least the next few years, lessening Governor-elect Maura Healey’s ability to influence critical decisions such as whether to retain Baker appointee Jeff Riley as education commissioner — a power that rests in the hands of BESE members.

“If Baker and Peyser had been gentlemen, they would ignore the fact that [the board members’] terms had expired,” said American Federation of Teachers President Beth Kontos.