Updates from the fifth week of COVID-19 Emergency in Massachusetts

APRIL 11, 2020

Today marks the end of the fifth calendar week where Massachusetts has been under a State of Emergency because of the coronavirus outbreak. With many people in our community celebrating Passover and Easter in new and physically-distant ways this weekend, we want to take a moment to share the latest updates from our virtual State House office.

Senate passes Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium bill; House and Senate bills to be conferenced 

Last week, we were pleased to report House passage of legislation filed by Rep. Connolly and Housing Co-Chair Kevin Honan to impose a moratorium on residential evictions, commercial evictions, and residential foreclosures for the duration of the COVID-19 State of Emergency and for 30 days after the emergency ends.

This week, our top priority was continuing to work with House Leadership, our Senate partners, housing justice organizers, and legal services advocates to ensure similarly strong eviction and foreclosure moratorium legislation was considered by the state Senate and then reconciled with the House bill in a positive fashion.

When the week started, there were serious concerns regarding the potential content of the Senate bill. As one Boston Globe headline put it: "Block evictions during the crisis, or just delay them? Lawmakers must decide."

In response, Rep. Connolly took to twitter to reframe the question as follows: The choice right now isn’t “block evictions or delay them.” The choice is “block all steps of the eviction process or push people out in the middle of a pandemic.” It’s a choice between life or death.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Somerville's Senator Pat Jehlen and other Senate progressives who listened to our concerns and the concerns of housing justice advocates, we are very grateful to report the Senate passed a strong moratorium bill on Thursday afternoon, one that does take considerable steps to block evictions.

This means that both the House and Senate have now each passed bills that will:

  • Establish a moratorium on residential evictions.
  • Establish a moratorium on small business evictions.
  • Establish a moratorium on residential foreclosures.
  • Halt all of the key steps of the residential eviction process, from issuance of a Notice to Quit, to the filing of a summary process case, to the levy of execution at the end of the process.
  • Prevent landlords from sending negative reports to credit reporting agencies for tenants who have fallen behind on payments due to COVID-19 related impacts.
  • Prevent landlords from charging late fees for tenants who have fallen behind on payments due to COVID-19 related impacts.
  • Allow video conferencing for reverse mortgage loan consultations.

Late in the day on Thursday, both chambers agreed to send their respective bills to a conference committee, where the final details will be ironed out in the coming days. Rep. Connolly continues to advocate for the strongest possible bill, and we are hopeful consensus can be achieved and a final draft sent to the Governor's desk next week.

Rep. Connolly joins with Sen. Warren to call for Ride-Hailing Driver and other "Gig Worker" protections

On Monday, Rep. Connolly joined with Senator Elizabeth Warren to call for companies such as Uber and Lyft to classify their workers as full-time employees with greater protections in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Rep. Connolly and Senator Warren believe Uber and Lyft are denying basic protections to these workers by misclassifying them as independent contractors, and they join with other labor advocates in calling for all ride-hailing workers to be granted employee status, hazard pay and at least 14 days of guaranteed sick leave.

Rep. Connolly joined with Senator Warren as part of a virtual demonstration organized by the Boston Independent Drivers Guild. More coverage is available via this State House News Service report.

Rep. Connolly joins with Somerville delegation for a virtual Town Hall Meeting

This morning, Rep. Connolly joined with Reps. Christine Barber and Denise Provost and Senator Pat Jehlen for a Town Hall Meeting emceed by Somerville Community Media's Joe Lynch. The 30-minute event aired on Facebook Live and will be re-broadcast on local community access television.

Continued calls to Governor Baker to shutdown all non-essential construction and do more to protect workers

Last week, Rep. Connolly led another effort with state and city officials to call on Governor Baker to take further action to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in Massachusetts by: 1) shutting down all non-essential construction work; 2) creating a process for workers and the general public to request that a certain job or service be removed from the "Essential Services" list, and 3) issuing a stronger Stay-At-Home Order. The effort was covered in this segment on NBC10 Boston and this segment on WFXT 25

To be fair, Gov. Baker has continued to take some positive steps related to each of these areas of concern. Since ordering all non-essential businesses to close on March 24 — and following an ill-advised attempt on March 25 to overrule local construction bans in Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston — Gov. Baker has finally taken steps to somewhat narrow the kinds of construction work considered essential by following evolving federal guidance. Nevertheless, too much non-essential construction work is still happening in Massachusetts, including the construction of luxury housing, which Gov. Baker continues to deem essential. As a result, this week saw the state's largest construction union call for a walkout of over 10,000 carpenters.  

This week, our letter to the Governor garnered an additional 21 signatories; we now have some 54 state and city officials on board. We plan to re-send our letter to the Governor one more time on Tuesday morning. We hope the Governor will finally agree to shutdown all non-essential construction and take the other steps we are calling for — at least until we make it past the anticipated "surge" of COVID-19 cases and are able to make coronavirus testing and Personal Protective Equipment available to all who need it. 

It's also worth noting yesterday marked the one-month anniversary of the COVID-19 emergency in Massachusetts. Back on March 16, when Rep. Connolly first started prominently calling on Gov. Baker to take stronger action to limit the spread of the virus, he warned that Massachusetts was on track for 10,000 cases of COVID-19 by April 1. At the time, there were only 197 confirmed cases in the state. Regrettably, as of April 3, the official count did in fact exceed 10,000. And yesterday, the official count surpassed 20,000 cases. As discussed above, Gov. Baker has taken important steps to limit the spread — but he has consistently been one to two weeks late in doing the things public health experts and local leaders have requested. So we are making progress, but this progress cannot come soon enough, and in an emergency situation, there needs to be strong leadership at the top.

MCAS Test is cancelled this year

Last week, Rep. Connolly expressed solidarity with teachers' unions and all concerned parents and students who have been calling for the cancellation of MCAS testing this year, and the House of Representatives passed legislation to help facilitate the cancellation of the test.

This week, we are pleased to report the House and Senate have agreed on final legislation that will in fact cancel the MCAS this year. This is the appropriate and obvious decision given the circumstances. As someone who is skeptical of high-stakes testing to begin with, Rep. Connolly welcomes this step. More coverage is available via this Massachusetts Teachers Association update.

Policy Updates

  • In accordance with CDC guidance, constituents are encouraged to wear face coverings when leaving home.
  • Grocery stores have been ordered to operate at 40% capacity to further facilitate social distancing guidelines. Constituents are encouraged to plan ahead for longer grocery store trips.
  • The MBTA will update the bus schedule for several routes that directly serve health care communities including Longwood Medical in Boston. Daily bus service schedules will also start earlier and/or frequency will be increased on bus routes where high ridership has been observed in an effort to increase social distance, protecting the health and safety of riders and the MBTA’s operators. These changes are specifically intended to meet the needs of the health care community and are intended to result in less crowding for the MBTA’s bus operators. See the MBTA website for more information on COVID-19 related schedule changes.
  • Health care providers must make every reasonable effort to collect complete demographic information, including full name, date of birth, sex, race and ethnicity, address, and telephone number on patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and must include such information collected when ordering a laboratory test for the disease.
  • For individuals currently collecting unemployment benefits, an additional $600 per of benefits from the federal CARES Act is being implemented by the Department of Unemployment Assistance. The additional $600 will be added to unemployment benefits retroactive to March 29, 2020 and will begin being disbursed to claimants this week. Eligible claimants who are already receiving UI do not need to do anything for the additional $600 to be added to their weekly benefit amount. This benefit will be available for all new claimants filing for regular Unemployment Compensation as well, which can be done at here. DUA is awaiting federal guidance on how to implement so called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for those not typically eligible (self-employed, gig economy, contract and other workers). If you fall into that category check the DUA website next week for updates.
  • The administration issued an order mandating that insurers cover all medically required costs of COVID-19 treatment in out-of-network hospitals and/or other medical facilities with no cost to the patient.

Public Health Updates

  • According to the Massachusetts Tracking Site, 102,372 tests have yielded 20,974 cases of COVID-19 as of April 10. This site is updated daily at 4pm. This includes 209 in Cambridge and 206 in Somerville. Please note, due to testing capacity, the number of true cases is likely higher. For the latest National case counts and other pertinent information, visit the CDC website.
  • A new rapid testing site in Lowell has been deployed which will enable on-the-spot COVID-19 testing and results as fast as ten minutes at no cost. The new CVS site in Lowell will use the new Abbott ID NOW™ COVID-19 test. As always, call your doctor first if you have questions or are displaying symptoms. To register for a test slot, click here.
  • Last week the administration announced the creation of the COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. This initiative is a collaboration between the administration and Partners In Health, and is the first of its kind in the nation. The initiative will focus on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, and builds on the efforts already underway from the Command Center to leverage public health college students to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health. Click this job posting if you would like to apply.
  • Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and District Attorney Marian Ryan have announced steps the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction has taken to reduce spread and protect vulnerable populations. The facility has seen a 15 percent reduction in incarcerated persons. You can read more about decarceration and other efforts the Middlesex Sherrif's office is taking here.
  • The Administration Wednesday released Crisis Standards of Care guidelines for the Commonwealth’s health care facilities. The guidelines, which are not mandatory, are designed to: help health care institutions and providers make consistent decisions about the use and allocation of scarce medical resources; ensure that critical resources are conserved and distributed efficiently, equitably and ethically across the health care system; promote transparent decision-making and public trust in the fairness and equity of the system; protect those who might otherwise face barriers to accessing care; and assure patients and their families that they will receive fair access to care under the circumstances regardless of where they live in the Commonwealth.
  • To facilitate anticipated demand for more medical personnel, graduates of international medical schools who have successfully completed at least two years of postgraduate resident medical training in the US to be eligible for licensure in the Commonwealth. Additionally, nursing school graduates and students in their final semesters of nursing programs can practice nursing in advance of receiving a license, provided that they are directly supervised by other licensed medical professionals.

Cambridge Updates 

  • The Cambridge Public Health Department has shared Tips for Staying Safe While Exercising and Playing Outside as well as a list of recreational areas that are open around the region
  • Cambridge Arts River Festival cancelled due to COVID-19
  • To support residents in applying to the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund, the City will launch an online application process on April 13, that allows applicants to complete their application and upload necessary documentation.
  • The Broad Institute in partnership with the Cambridge Public Health Department will initiate pilot screening to identify any possible infection among residents and healthcare workers in the seven nursing homes and assisted living facilities located in the City, with the goal of providing an early-warning system.
  • The City of Cambridge is preparing to open an overflow shelter for people experiencing homelessness at the War Memorial gymnasium at CRLS. However, the plan, which is said to feature cots spaced just six feet apart, is now coming under criticism by some city councilors as described in this recent DigBoston column by Cambridge resident Jason Pramas.

Somerville Updates 

  • Property tax bills, which would otherwise be due on May 1, may now be paid by June 29 without interest or penalty. For excise tax and water bills, the City’s Treasury Department will not charge any interest or penalties for bills with a due date of March 10 or later, as long as they are paid by June 29.
  • Somerville-sponsored public events or events permitted by the City are now officially canceled through June. Community members are also reminded that Governor Baker has ordered that through May 4th no social gatherings of more than ten people may occur. 
  • The City of Somerville’s 311 Constituent Services Division launched a new initiative to provide constituents with access to one-on-one expert guidance during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Call if you need help navigating the increasingly diverse sources of financial assistance, food access, and other supports needed to address COVID-19 impacts. Click here for the full announcement.

Resources

  • For questions, real-time COVID-19 information, resources, and referrals in multiple languages dial 211.
  • To receive updates from the State on your phone, text COVIDMA to 888-777.
  • If you need help with medical insurance call the Health Care for All Hotline at 1-800-272-4232.
  • For help making healthcare decisions regarding COVID19 based on any symptoms you might be exhibiting, visit this tool from Buoy - please note this should not act as a substitute in case of emergency.
  • To apply for unemployment benefits visit this website, then give us a call. Step by step instructions can be found here in English and here in Spanish. The Department of Unemployment Assistance will be offering virtual town halls, to sign up and see the latest schedule click here.

Ways to Help

  • The Department of Public Health is seeking volunteers with any level of medical, or allied medical support experience. If you would like to sign up, click here.
  • Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets are urged to make an appointment.
    to donate blood or components as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-
    800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
  • To donate goods for use in Massachusetts' response to the COVID-19 public health emergency click here.
  • To provide information about goods you are looking to sell to support Massachusetts' COVID-19 response efforts click here.
  • To adapt your business to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) click here.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. We are always available via phone at (617) 722-2060 or email at Mike.Connolly@MAHouse.gov. Please be advised our State House office line is being forwarded to our work-from-home spaces.