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

MARCH 28, 2020

Today marks the end of the third calendar week where Massachusetts has been under a State of Emergency because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Connolly started the week by leading a group of 60 state and municipal officials in calling on Governor Baker to issue a Stay At Home order for the purpose of limiting the spread of the coronavirus. Following the Governor's announcement on Monday ordering all non-essential businesses to close, Rep. Connolly has been focused on ways to improve the Governor's order while also advocating for all the necessary programs and supports that residents and small businesses need in order to make it through the ongoing crisis.

Immediately after a State of Emergency was declared in Massachusetts on March 10, Rep. Connolly started working to lead the effort to advance legislation to halt all evictions and foreclosures for the duration of the emergency. This effort reached a key milestone this week when House Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Spilka announced plans to advance such legislation, and Rep. Connolly is now involved in conversations with House Leaders, progressive colleagues, and housing advocates and organizers regarding the final form of such legislation.

Meanwhile, our staff has been working remotely and helping constituents navigate various state programs such as Unemployment Assistance and emergency childcare. We are always available via phone or email, please see Connolly.house for contact information, and be advised that our State House office line is being forwarded to our work-from-home spaces.

Yesterday saw what was easily the most significant legislative response yet to the COVID-19 emergency, as Congress enacted the CARES Act, i.e. the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. We all owe a debt of gratitude to our Cambridge and Somerville federal delegation, including Senators Warren and Markey and Congresswomen Pressley and Clark for their efforts at securing passage of this desperately needed relief package. To be sure, this package doesn't do everything a progressive Democrat would want it to do — but we also must recognize that Republican Mitch McConnell controls the United State Senate and was advocating for a very different set of priorities.

Some of the Highlights of the CARES Act include:

1. $260 billion for Unemployment Insurance (to supplement existing state unemployment insurance programs)

  • Full Paycheck Replacement: $600 increase for every American, which equates to 100 percent of wages for the average American without a paycheck struggling through the Crisis
  • Extension of Benefits: An additional 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment insurance benefits are immediately be made available.
  • Expanding Access: Allow part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access UI benefits.

2. Direct payments to most working Americans (phased out at higher-income levels)

  • $1,200 direct payment to each working-class American; up to $2,400 for married couples.
  • An additional $500 cash payment is available per child.
  • The full payment is available for individuals making up to $75,000 (individual) and $150,000 (married).
  • The value begins decreasing and then phases out completely for those making over the full payment income cap.

3. $150 billion for a "Marshall Plan for our Health System"

  • Funding immediate equipment and infrastructure needs, including: Personal and protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, new construction to house patients, emergency operation centers and more.

4. $377 billion Small Business Rescue Plan

  • $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses and non-profits to maintain existing workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities.
  • $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs.
  • $17 billion for SBA to cover 6 months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.

5. $150 billion State and Local Coronavirus Expenditures Fund

  • To assist States, Tribes, and local governments that must pay for new expenses related to COVID-19 response.
  • $150 billion, with a small-state minimum of $1.25 billion
  • Tribal set-aside of $8 billion

This is just some of what was included in the new $2.2 trillion spending bill. Senate Democrats released this summary last night.

And here are some of the more significant legislative and policy changes that we advanced in state government in recent days:

  • The deadline to file your State and Federal taxes has been moved from April 15 to July 15
  • The closure date for schools has been updated: schools will open no sooner than May 4. The State has also partnered with WGBH to offer TV and digital distance learning options for students and educators during this time
  • To reduce crowding at RMV locations various steps are being taken including: moving to an appointment only system at the eight open service centers for most services and if your Class D, DM, ID card, or Learner's Permit is due to expire between now and April 30, you will have a 60 day extension on your current expiration date. For a full list of RMV changes, click here. For Cambridge and Somerville constituents, the closest service center is the Haymarket location, reservations and hours can be found here.
  • Effective Tuesday, Governor Baker ordered all non-essential businesses to close and advised residents to to remain at home except for food, healthcare and medicine, essential jobs, or self care walks and bike rides. Click here for a write up of Rep Connolly's efforts as we continue to gather input. The full text of the Governor's order is available here. The full list of "essential services" that will remain open while the order is in effect is available here. If your business has not been deemed essential you can request essential service designation here
  • Travelers entering the state via regional and international transit hubs will be instructed to self isolate for fourteen days upon entry
  • $5 million in additional RAFT funding (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) for eligible households who may face eviction, foreclosure, loss of utilities, and other housing emergencies. Details for eligible households can be found here. Local Housing Authorities and private operators of state-aided affordable housing are ordered to suspend both pending non-essential evictions and the filing of any new non-essential evictions.
    The termination of federal and state rental vouchers has also been suspended indefinitely, and voucher holders now have an additional time to find a unity that will take their voucher
  • An additional $5 million has been granted to local boards of health
  • Additional guidance has been issued to grocery stores and pharmacies: they must be open for one hour a day for exclusively vulnerable patrons and must take steps to enforce social distancing at checkout registers. Reusable bags will not be permitted, and disposable bags will be provided at stores at no cost.
  • Telehealth services have been expanded across state lines, and all medically necessary telehealth services must be covered by insurance 
  • Small businesses will be able to defer their March, April, and May taxes, if you are a small business owner, click here for the State's guidance and resources page
  • Pharmacists will be able to administer methadone to free up nursing capacity
  • The one week waiting period for applying for unemployment has been waived and additional staff have been hired to process claims. To apply for unemployment benefits visit this website, then give us a call. Step by step instructions can be found here. The Department of Unemployment Assistance will be offering virtual town halls, to sign up and see the latest schedule click here. Upcoming sessions  include Saturday, March 28 at 12pm (Spanish) and Sunday March 29 at 12pm
  • As of March 23, daycare centers are ordered closed with the exception of facilities operating to care for the children of emergency personnel including, medical workers, food supply chain workers, and others
  • Physicians Assistants and Nurses in good standing from outside the Commonwealth will be able to practice here by applying for an expedited license, further increasing potential capacity
  • To reduce crowding in the judicial system, courts will be closed to the public March 18 until at least April 6, except for emergency matters such as restraining orders, click here for more information
  • Additional service capacity has been added to the Blue and Green Lines, click here for service updates and usage recommendations. As a reminder you are encouraged to stay home, and only use public transit to fulfill essential functions

Here are policy and resource updates from the district:

  • Cambridge basketball courts, playgrounds, tennis courts are closed to the public until further notice
  • Both Cambridge and Somerville have issued a temporary construction moratorium for all non essential projects
  • Cambridge resident and visitor parking permits need not be renewed at this time
  • The City of Cambridge has put together the following resource guides: Seniors click hereHousing help click hereSmall business click hereFor food assistance click here
  • The City of Somerville resources page can be found here

Additionally:

  • The latest public health information from the CDC is available here. For the latest public health updates in Somerville click here and click here for Cambridge
  • If you need help with medical insurance call the Health Care for All Hotline at 1-800-272-4232 
  • To receive updates on your phone from the State, text COVIDMA to 888-777
  • 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
  • The Department of Public Health is seeking volunteers with any level of medical training, if you would like to sign up, click here

For previous COVID-19 updates, please check our State House blog. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns at mike.connolly@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2060.