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

APRIL 20, 2020

Massachusetts has been under a State of Emergency for six weeks now — and today marked an unprecedented Patriot's Day with no Boston Marathon or late-morning baseball game at Fenway Park due to the ongoing (and still very necessary) COVID-19 prevention efforts.

Here are the latest updates from our virtual State House office:

At 3 pm this afternoon, Gov. Baker signed our Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium bill into law. This emergency law will help ensure housing and community stability during the COVID-19 epidemic in Massachusetts by doing all of the following:

  • Stops landlords from attempting to terminate tenancies or sending Notices To Quit for non-payment of rent or no fault evictions.
  • Prevents courts from acting on eviction matters; the eviction moratorium extends to all phases of the legal process, preventing courts from accepting filings, entering judgements or default judgements, issuing executions for possession, or scheduling a court event.
  • Stops sheriffs and constables from enforcing executions for possession.
  • Prevents late fees and negative credit reporting for COVID-impacted tenants; Department of Housing and Community Development will issue documentation to facilitate these protections.
  • Establishes a moratorium on residential foreclosures, for owner-occupied buildings of four units or less; the moratorium forbids creditors or mortgagees from publishing notices of foreclosure sale or exercising any power of sale or entry.
  • Requires mortgage forbearance programs for mortgagors impacted by COVID-19 for up to 180 days. Fees and interest may not accrue while mortgage is in forbearance. Excused payments will be tacked on as additional monthly payments at the very end of the mortgage.
  • Provides landlords with access to last month's rent to cover expenses, without any negative impact on tenants. Tenants will be entitled to interest that would have been earned on last month's rent had it remained in escrow.
  • Establishes a moratorium on evictions of small businesses and local non-profits.
  • Eviction and Foreclosure protections will run for 120 days (until August 18, 2020) or 45 days after the end of the emergency declaration, whichever is sooner. The protections may also be extended by the Governor if necessary. We will closely monitor situation and advocate for extensions as needed.

Yesterday morning, Massachusetts ranked poorly in terms of tenant protections in response to COVID-19. But within hours of our bill being signed by the Governor, the Princeton University and Columbia Law School analysts at the Eviction Lab moved Massachusetts up to the #1 spot in their rankings of COVID-19 Housing Policy.

It’s been gratifying to see the concerns of housing justice organizers and legal services advocates listened to and acted upon by leaders on Beacon Hill, and Rep. Connolly is particularly appreciative of Housing Co-Chair Kevin Honan who worked with him to draft this legislation with the support of 73 colleagues last month, including all of the members of the Cambridge and Somerville delegations. Without question the bill that was signed into law today will help save lives by providing for housing stability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our office will be working to produce a more detailed summary of the new law in the coming days. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Calling for a reconsideration of the Crisis Standards of Care through the lens of equity

Last week, Rep. Connolly signed on to a letter drafted by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus (MBLLC). The letter speaks to concerns by many in the public health and racial justice spheres regarding recent crisis standards of care recommendations promulgated by the Department of Public Health. In those recommendations a patient's comorbidities would be considered in the event resources such as ICU beds and ventilators need to be rationed.

Factoring in such a variable may disproportionately affect communities of color due to longstanding health disparities that exist in the prevalence of such comorbidities, including diabetes and hypertension. To learn more about the concerns Rep Connolly shares with the MBLCC click here for a WGBH interview of Dr. Michelle Holmes, faculty at Harvard Medical School, or click here for remarks made by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

As a result of our collective advocacy, I am pleased to report the crisis standards of care recommendations have now been revised to better address these equity concerns.

Calling for SNAP-EBT benefits to be used for online purchase and delivery of groceries

Rep. Connolly also signed on to a letter requesting our Congressional delegation include a provision in their next stimulus package to allow SNAP-EBT benefits to be used for online purchase and delivery of groceries. This is an essential policy for enabling residents to stay at home, helping us all to remain as healthy as possible during the surge in coronavirus that is now in progress. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service launched a successful pilot of this program in 6 states. The aforementioned provision will enable Massachusetts to benefit from this pilot. 

Live Town Hall with Somerville's Senator Pat Jehlen

Last week, I participated in another live Town Hall Meeting with Somerville state Senator Pat Jehlen.

The conversation was moderated by Joe Lynch of the Somerville Media Center.

Live Town Halls to be broadcast on Cambridge Community Television

This week, CCTV will be rebroadcasting my recent Town Hall Meetings with Sen. Jehlen and Reps. Barber and Provost as produced by Somerville Community Media. The broadcasts will be on Channel 22 in Cambridge at the following times:

  • Monday 4/20 at 3 pm
  • Wednesday 4/22 at 5:30 pm
  • Thursday 4/23 at 2 pm
  • Sunday 4/26 at 5:30 PM

Live chat Progressive Massachusetts talking Housing Justice

Last Friday, moments after the final language of our Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium bill was enacted by the House and Senate, I joined with Jonathan Cohn of Progressive Massachusetts, Etel Haxhiaj of the Central Mass Housing Alliance, and Kelly Turley of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless for a live conversation about Housing Justice work in our state. 

We talked about the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium bill, the urgent needs of people who are experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to build the movement for guaranteed Housing for All.

Policy Updates

  • As of this morning certain constituents may apply for so called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which is a program open to the following individuals: Self-employed individuals, including gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors, those seeking part-time employment, claimants that have an insufficient work history to qualify for benefits, and claimants that have been laid off from churches and religious institutions and are not eligible for benefits under state law. To apply for PUA, click here. As always, if you need further assistance in applying for this or any other state benefit, please reach out.
  • The Registry of Motor Vehicles will implement further extensions to the renewal timelines for expiring motor vehicle inspection stickers, passenger plate registrations, professional credentials, and licenses and permits, including Commercial Driver’s Licenses and Commercial Driver’s License Permits. If such documents were set to expire a renewal will not be required for an additional 60 day period, on top of the first 60 day extension period the RMV already granted. For more information of RMV COVID19 related changes, including how to make a reservation at a location click here.
  • In Federal news, certain schedule changes have been enacted for the 2020 Census. Field operations won't commence until June 1 and the self response period has been extended through October 31. Even with the extension constituents are encouraged to fill out their census now so the Bureau can better plan for and devote resources toward harder to count communities and individuals. If you are interested in tracking response data by city, click here. Cambridge is currently around 50% and Somerville around 60% responded.
  • Last Thursday, the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) was authorized to establish emergency sites for children and youth living in residential homes that have tested positive for COVID-19 and need to be cared for in quarantine or isolation.
  • The Baker Administration has established an expedited process for homeless shelters to request PPE and other supplies necessary to maintain appropriate cleaning and sanitation practices. As of April 15, Massachusetts has distributed surgical masks, face shields, gloves, partitions, temperature strips, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies to 84 shelter sites. In addition, a new PPE distribution stream has been set up for local law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders.
  • The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) have instituted practices outlined by the CDC to mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks within congregate shelters. Shelter coordinators have implemented health screening procedures during the placement process and have reinforced social distancing and infection control practices for shared spaces. DHCD has increased the state’s scattered site capacity to enable additional depopulation, quarantine, and isolation of families at various stages of COVID-19 exposure. Extended leaves from shelter have also been approved for families that have temporary alternative housing available with relatives. DHCD has developed protocols for shelters dealing with families that have tested positive for COVID-19, especially when some family members test negative. This group has also convened a case team to triage unique circumstances.
  • The Baker Administration has opened five state-operated isolation and recovery sites across the state to provide regional solutions for people experiencing homelessness that need a safe place to isolate and recover after testing positive for COVID-19. Statewide, these sites have a capacity of 550 beds and are staffed with 24/7 security and nursing staff, and are located in Everett, Lexington, Northampton, Pittsfield, and Taunton. These sites augment medical facilities at the Boston Hope field hospital and Newton Pavilion, which offer 732 respite beds for unsheltered individuals. As of April 15, over 160 people experiencing homelessness have been served by a state-operated Isolation and Recovery Site.

Public Health Updates

  • According to the Massachusetts Tracking Site, 169,398 tests have confirmed 39,643 cases of COVID-19 as of April 20. This site is updated daily at 4pm. This includes 544 in Cambridge and 374 in Somerville. The spike in Cambridge cases is due in part to the recent implementation of rapid testing at skilled nursing facilities and assisted living homes. For the latest National case counts and other pertinent information, visit the CDC website. Please note, due to testing capacity, the number of true cases is likely higher
  • As of this past week, the Department of Public Health has begun releasing daily reports on Hospital bed capacity and PPE distribution.
  • The Commonwealth’s Mobile Testing program, a partnership between the Department of Public Health, the National Guard, and the Broad Institute has improved access to testing for nursing home, rest home, and assisted living facilities to test more people. On April 13th, the Administration updated testing guidance to encourage long-term care facilities to conduct widespread testing for residents, even if they have no symptoms, and staff. In addition to the mobile testing program, facilities can conduct their own on-site testing using kits supplied by the Broad Institute.

Cambridge Updates 

  • The City has begun accepting applications for the Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund for COVID-19, income eligible Cambridge residents can apply for funds to assist with rental payments, utility bills, and other household needs. To check eligibility requirements and apply, click here
  • The City and Public Health Department launched a new COVID-19 Data CenterThis new dashboard is in the testing phase as they work to present data to the community in a format that is more mobile and user friendly
  • Field House at the City's Temporary Emergency Shelter has opened.

Somerville Updates 

  • In an effort to both expand resident access to groceries and help restaurants affected by the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Curtatone and the Somerville Board of Health have issued an order allowing restaurants to sell grocery items for the duration of Somerville’s local state of emergency. Restaurants are now allowed to offer pick-up and/or delivery of grocery items, but businesses that have not previously sold direct-to-consumer grocery items must provide a detailed operations and safety plan for the storage and distribution of groceries to the Director of Inspectional Services for review and approval.
  • The start of street sweeping has been delayed to May 4th.
  • Yesterday Mayor Curtatone announced the launch of a $1 million Somerville Small Business COVID-19 Relief Fund to provide financial support of up to $10,000 to Somerville small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funded by existing and pending federal Community Development Block Grant monies, support will be available to food establishments and other small, independent, locally-owned businesses impacted by forced closures during the crisis. 

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.
  • Frontline healthcare workers should check out this new resource from the Attorney General's Office for information and resources like PPE, priority testing, free/discounted meals and housing options. 

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.
  • Donate to the Somerville Cares COVID-19 Relief Fund here.
  • Donate to the Cambridge Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund 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.