COVID-19 End of Week Update + Memorial Day & Eid al-Fitr 5/24/20

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

This Memorial Day holiday weekend, we honor and remember our veterans who we lost in service and their families. We also celebrate the festival of Eid al-Fitr, as the fasting month of Ramadan comes to an end. As the Governor reminded us on Friday, please be careful and respect the virus.

Do not be afraid to ask for help or to offer help -- we're all in this together.

Warmly,

Liz Malia

MA State Representative, 11th Suffolk

liz.malia@mahouse.gov

To read the Commonwealth’s Command Center daily updates: www.replizmalia.org

To subscribe to these updates: https://www.replizmalia.org/newsletter-sign-up

On Sunday evening 5/24, buildings, bridges, flags and parks will be illuminated in gold to honor Gold Star Families. The Department of Veterans’ Services partnered with MassDOT, building managers, and Veteran service organizations across the state to invite communities to light up prominent structures on the eve of Memorial Day. A list of participating locations can be found here.

On Monday 5/25, The Virtual Memorial Day Ceremony program will stream on mass.gov/MemorialDay and on participating TV stations and digital channels with speakers and musical performers from across the Commonwealth; remarks by Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito, and legislative leaders; and a special “Tribute to the Fallen” by the Massachusetts National Guard.

On 5/18, the state’s Reopening Advisory Board sent a report to the Governor describing the state's Four-Phase plan to re-open our economy. This plan organizes the re-opening of various sectors of industry into four phases, each lasting at least three weeks. If public health data trends are negative, certain industries, regions, or the entire state may return to an earlier phase of the reopening. Any currently open or re-opening business must comply with industry-specific mandatory safety standards (if applicable) and have until 5/25 to do so.

Reopening Update - Phase 1: Start

We are currently in Phase 1. The first step of Phase 1 allows construction, manufacturing, and places of worship to reopen under sector-specific guidance that details necessary safety measures.

The second step of Phase 1 will begin on Monday 5/25 and will allow lab space, office space, limited personal services, and retail to reopen in the coming weeks. The personal services that will be permitted to reopen are hair salons and barbershops, car washes, and pet grooming services.

Remember, the state's phased-in reopening plan is merely a roadmap. As new information about the COVID-19 pandemic becomes available, we may need to adjust course accordingly. Mass.gov/reopening will continue to serve as the centralized webpage for all this information.

Resource Updates

We All Need Help Sometimes

Lots of people are feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed right now.

Talk to someone who can help. Call ‘211’ or visit www.mass211.org, www.frcma.org, or https://massachusetts.networkofcare.org/mh/ for resources regarding parent/family support, clothing/household items, physical health, crisis lines/helplines, food/meals, mental health, substance abuse treatment, housing/utilities or domestic violence situations.

Housing Rental Assistance

Metro Housing announced the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) application process is now simpler and faster.

  • Applicants can now securely upload required documents to the user-friendly online form (rather than mailing them, sending them as email attachments, or dropping them off at Metro Housing’s office). You'll receive an immediate email confirmation when your completed application is received.

  • The process to apply for RAFT, which allows eligible households and individuals to apply for financial assistance (up to $4,000 per 12 month period) that can be used for rent arrears, utility arrears, and other expenses, is now fully electronic.

  • This rent relief program is now accepting applications through a user-friendly online form, easily accessible on all types of devices.

RAFT Policy Changes During COVID-19

The state's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) made some policy changes to the RAFT program to ensure funding is issued quickly and is responsive to the unique and evolving needs of this time.

  • Households who have experienced a loss of income, or who can otherwise prove an inability to pay future housing costs, can apply for help with rent or mortgage payments BEFORE they fall behind.

  • A court summons or foreclosure notice is not longer needed for households to apply for help with rent or mortgage arrears.

  • A shutoff notice is no longer needed for a household to apply for help with utilities.

  • A RAFT screen score, which indicates a household's risk factors for homelessness, is automatically waived.

  • Regional administering agencies will be flexible with documentation requirements, including waiving documentation that cannot be produced due to COVID-19 and accepting self-statements in lieu of third-party documentation.

  • Federal CARES Act economic impact payments and $600 weekly additional unemployment payments will be excluded from applicants' gross income.

Unemployment Updates

On Monday 5/25 the unemployment assistance telecenter will be closed in observance of Memorial Day. They'll resume normal hours of operation on Tuesday 5/26. Please be advised that payments may be delayed since banks are also closed on Monday.

Beginning 5/21, UI claimants, who are eligible for extended benefits under Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), will be able to claim through the UI Online system.

PEUC provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits to an individual who has exhausted all rights to any regular unemployment compensation and who meets other eligibility requirements of the CARES Act. Claimants may be eligible for these federal benefits now available through UI Online.

Having Issues Applying

If you continue to struggle to secure a successful unemployment claim or call back, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office by email liz.malia@mahouse.gov with the following information:

Full name: Address: Phone: Email: Last 4 SSN: Last Employer: Claimant ID: Details: Ask:

Returning To Work Guidance

The Department of Unemployment Assistance posted information on returning to work as it relates to unemployment insurance. You can find guidance for workers here and for employers here.

Town Halls

The Department of Unemployment Assistance continues to offer virtual town halls that provide information on how to apply for unemployment assistance.

Health Insurance - Extended Enrollment Period Through 6/23/20

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, an extended enrollment period is available now through June 23, 2020 for qualified Massachusetts residents who are uninsured (without needing a qualifying life event).

If you do not have health insurance, or if you have health insurance that was bought somewhere other than the Health Connector, now is a good time to look at options to see if you can find a more affordable plan. May 23, 2020 was the deadline to select and pay for health insurance coverage through the Health Connector for coverage effective June 1, 2020. Any enrollment after May 23, 2020 will result in coverage effective July 1, 2020.

The bulletin providing more information on this extension can be found here

Virtual District Office Hours Pilot will continue per our usual office hours schedule: on the 2nd and 3rd Fridays of each month from 9-10:30 AM. If you live in the 11th Suffolk district (check here: wheredoivotema.com), sign up for a 15 min slot on either 6/12 or 6/19.

Federal Updates

The IRS established a special phone line for taxpayers with questions about their Economic Impact Payments. The phone number to call is 800-919-9835.

On 5/21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced they'll allow MA to participate in a pilot program that will allow households that receive SNAP benefits to buy groceries online with their electronic benefit transfer cards.

On 5/22, our congressional delegation announced that MA public housing authorities will receive nearly $4.9 million in vouchers through the CARES Act.

On Monday 5/25, the U.S. Census Bureau, federal, state and local health officials will begin dropping off 2020 Census questionnaire packets at the front doors of 69,300 MA households. Field staff are trained to observe social distancing protocols, will be wearing personal protective equipment, and will provide contactless delivery of the questionnaires.

State Updates

5/18 - DPH updated the Stay at Home Advisory, replacing it with a new, “Safer at Home” Advisory. The new Safer at Home Advisory instructs everyone to stay home unless they are headed to a newly opened facility or activity. It also advises those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions to stay home with the exception of trips required for health care, groceries, or that are otherwise absolutely necessary. All residents are REQUIRED to continue to wear a face covering in public when social distancing is not possible, and individuals are advised to wash their hands frequently and be vigilant in monitoring for symptoms. Restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remain in effect.

5/18 - The Departments of Early Education and Care and Public Health are developing guidelines that balance families' need for child care with health and safety. The initial reopening plan will focus on families who have no safe alternative to group care by increasing emergency child care capacity, which has remained open and accessible to children of essential employees. If you are looking to identify child care for your workplace or staff returning to work, you can fill out the EEC Emergency Child Care Application by clicking here.

5/19 - RMV announced that select MA AAA offices will begin to reopen to members by appointment only. Members will be able to schedule appointments up to two weeks in advance and in some cases, curbside service will be available.

5/20 - Attorney General Maura Healey released an online form for employees to report unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19. Click here for the form.

5/20 - The Governor provided an update from Symmons Industries in Braintree. He discussed the positive case trend and the metrics the state is using to make decisions regarding reopening.

5/22 - The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced that the unemployment rate rose to 15.1% for the month of April, up from 2.8% in March. 623,000 jobs were lost in the month of April.

5/22 - The RMV extended renewal timelines for expiring motor vehicle inspection stickers, passenger plate registrations, professional credentials, and driver's licenses and learner's permits. Find these new extension dates on the RMV's COVID-19 information page here.

5/22 - The Administration plans to submit its medium-term and long-term testing strategy to the federal government in the coming days, a step necessary to access funds allocated in relief legislation Congress passed in April. On Monday, MA Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders indicated the plan would be filed by 5/24 and then made available.

5/22 - Roxbury Community College released their 2020 Commencement Video. To the Class of 2020 at RCC, we recognize your hard work and commend all of you on your accomplishments in your final semester. CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Legislative Updates

On the Gov's Desk

This week, the Legislature sent to the Governor's desk a bill extending the maximum length of jobless benefits and easing premium impacts on businesses forced to lay off workers. An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System builds on UI legislation already signed into law waiving the one-week waiting period to receive benefits. The bill will provide additional Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief to low-income families, non-profit institutions and employers.

The components of the bill are as follows:

  • Protection for Employers. Employers who participate in UI pay contributions based on their layoff experience. Like other forms of insurance, employers that are more likely to have workers use unemployment compensation are asked to pay more in the system. The system does not anticipate a situation where employers across a number of sectors have been forced to significantly reduce their workforces due to situations outside of their control. This bill prevents layoffs related to coronavirus from negatively impacting employer’s future UI contributions.

  • Extending Unemployment Benefit Period. The number of weeks of unemployment compensation available in Massachusetts is tied to unemployment rates around the state. This trigger did not anticipate a situation, however, in which unemployment grows rapidly in a very short period of time. This bill ensures that the 30-week benefit period is triggered by a significant uptick in weekly unemployment claims.

  • Lifting the Cap on Dependency Allotment. This bill eliminates the 50% cap for the dependency allotment providing additional benefits to low-income families. This increase will be in addition to the $600 per week benefit add-on provided for in the CARES Act for all workers eligible for state or federal benefits. This provision is effective for 18 months after the end of COVID-19 emergency and the end of enhanced federal benefits. Currently, UI recipients are entitled to an additional $25 per week for each child in the family, capped at 50% of a recipient’s base allotment. The result is that workers with particularly low allotments, such as low wage workers, can easily be capped out of receiving these additional amounts.

  • Non-Profit Contribution Grace Period. Presently, many non-profits self-insure for unemployment claims. This means that when layoffs in the sector occur, non-profits pay the cost of those benefits dollar for dollar at the next billing period. This bill provides a 120-day grace period for non-profits to make these contributions. This delay will allow the state to review additional changes that are warranted to mitigate the impact on non-profits. The CARES Act provides 50% reimbursement for self-insured benefit payments during the Coronavirus crisis.

State Budget

During "normal" times, at this point in the legislative session, the MA House and Senate would be heading into conference committee to come up with a compromise budget for the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. This year, however, July 1 is the new deadline for the House Ways and Means Committee to propose an annual budget, and depending on what happens at the federal level, it could be months before we're able to compose and agree upon a final budget. In the meantime, interim spending bills will likely be used to keep services running and bills paid.

Public Testimony Wanted

Emergency Paid Sick Time - 5 PM FRIDAY 5/29

H.4700 Donato / S.2701 Lewis

The MA Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, on which I serve, is accepting public testimony through 5 p.m. Friday 5/29 on two bills granting emergency paid sick time during states of emergency to all MA employees. I've heard from MANY of you about this pending legislative proposal and encourage you to submit public testimony through this Google Form.

If passed, employees who work 40 hours or more per week would receive a minimum of 80 hours of emergency paid sick time, while employees who work fewer than 40 hours per week could take at least as many hours as they work in a 14-day period. These proposals seek to allow the time to be used for caring for oneself or a family member sick with a communicable illness related to a public health emergency -- such as COVID-19 -- and would require the state to reimburse employers for the costs of the time off.

City Updates

Mayor's Update 5/21/20

Case numbers:

  • As of Wednesday, May 20, in Massachusetts: 88,970 cases and 6,066 deaths.

  • As of Thursday, May 21, in Boston: 12,239 cases, 599 deaths, and 5,627 recoveries.

Importance of physical distancing during Phase 1 of the State’s reopening plan:

  • Phase 1 of the State’s reopening plan began this week and some of the City’s precautions go further than the State’s. For more information about Boston’s approach to Phase 1 of reopening, go to Boston.gov/reopening.

  • The Mayor issued a reminder that the Statewide “Safer at Home” advisory is in effect, which directs residents to continue staying home except for healthcare, essential errands, and other activities permitted by Phase 1 guidelines. All residents should remain vigilant and continue physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and wearing face coverings whenever they leave home and are around other people.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

  • The City has been working to make sure frontline employees have PPE, and help as many essential organizations as possible, including nursing homes and long-term care facilities, especially those with limited resources.

  • With Phase 1 of the State’s reopening plan beginning, more workers will need these items. For small businesses, it’s an issue of both public health and economic equity. The Mayor stated that he wants to make sure that every worker has access to the equipment they need to stay safe, and that no small businesses get shut out of reopening because they don’t have supply chain connections.

  • The City is launching a resource to help at boston.gov/business-ppe. It has guidance on what type of PPE businesses and organizations need, how to procure it and avoid scams, and lists of trusted vendors.

  • The Mayor stressed that it is the responsibility of the employer to provide protective gear for all of their workers, but he hopes that this City resource will help them meet this responsibility and keep their workers and customers safe.

New grants awarded through the Small Business Fund:

  • The City of Boston’s Small Business Relief Fund has now given out nearly $4 million in grants to over 1,100 small businesses in every neighborhood across the City of Boston. These are grants, not loans, so they don’t create debt.

  • They are from the industries most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including restaurants, hair salons and barbershops, arts and recreation facilities, retail stores, childcare and home care providers, and more.

  • 95% of these businesses have 15 or fewer employees, 52% are owned by people of color, 49% are women-owned, and 46% are immigrant-owned.

Updates on meeting the demand for food:

  • As of Monday, the City of Boston and its partner organizations have distributed over 1 million meals to young people at 65 meal sites across Boston.

  • The Boston Public Schools have distributed more than half of those meals. They have also delivered over 200,000 meals directly to the homes of students with special needs.

  • The City has completed nearly 5,000 door-to-door grocery deliveries for people who have reached out in need. 50% are to seniors referred by the Age Strong Commission, and the City has increased Meals on Wheels deliveries by 40% as well.

  • The Mayor thanked the many individuals and organizations that have played an integral role in this work, including the City’s Office of Food Access, the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, the Boston Housing Authority, the Greater Boston YMCA, the Greater Boston Food Bank, Jonathan Greeley and the BPDA, 160 volunteers at meal sites, and delivery drivers from the Boston Police Cadets and BCYF centers.

  • Information about food resources for all ages is available at boston.gov/covid19foodmap.

  • The Mayor discussed a new report by the Greater Boston Food Bank that shows that the number of households they served in April was up 69% compared to a year ago; and the number of children they served is up 81%. The Mayor reiterated the importance of investing in food security, and assured that the City will continue to focus on food access. So far, the Boston Resilience Fund has distributed more than $9 million in grants to local food providers, and the Fund will continue to focus on food access as a top priority area.

New grants awarded through the Boston Resiliency Fund:

  • The Mayor announced 19 new grantees, which will receive a total of $880,000. Consistent with the City’s equity focus, 58% of the organizations are led by a person of color and 58% are women-led organizations.

  • These grants focus on helping seniors who are homebound, people experiencing homelessness, and building on some of the early food grants that were distributed in the past two months.

  • The Mayor highlighted a few of the grantees:

  • The Chinese Golden Age Center will provide meals-on-wheels to seniors across the city.

  • Elevate Boston will continue delivering hot meals, groceries, toiletries, and PPE to thousands of families and seniors out of the Breakfast Spot in Roxbury.

  • African Community Economic Development of New England (ACEDONE) will deliver meals to Muslim families in need, as they conclude the Ramadan month of fasting and prayer. (The City will also be supplying community care kits.)

  • The Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, which will use a grant in its work with Procter & Gamble to supply hand sanitizer to every shelter in Boston.

  • In total, the Boston Resiliency Fund has raised a total of $30.8 million from nearly 6,000 donations, and distributed $18.5 million to 200 organizations. To learn more, donate, or request grant funding, go to Boston.gov/BostonResiliencyFund.

Virtual Commencement Ceremony for the BPS Class of 2020:

  • The Mayor announced that on Saturday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m., a citywide graduation event will be broadcast for the Boston Public Schools on WCVB, Channel 5. Speakers will include Mayor Walsh, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, and former US Education Secretary John King, Jr.

  • The event will feature the voices and stories of BPS graduates, and will pay tribute to their journeys through the Boston Public Schools.

Memorial Day:

  • Monday, May 25 is Memorial Day. It recognizes the members of our Armed Forces who gave their lives in the service of our country, from the American Revolution up to the present day.

  • The Mayor acknowledged that most of Boston’s long-standing Memorial Day traditions cannot go on as normal this year. The City is working with volunteers to make sure every veteran’s grave is marked by a U.S. flag, as they do all year round. He also encouraged residents to join him in participating in virtual Memorial Day events that will be happening on Monday and through the weekend.

  • He also asked residents to show their appreciation for service members who have given the ultimate sacrifice by decorating the outside of their homes with flags and patriotic symbols. He suggested asking children and neighbors to get involved in a neighborhood show of support.

  • Mayor Walsh concluded by thanking Boston’s entire military community, and reminded them that the City’s Office of Veterans Services remains fully operational and that veterans and their families can call 617-241-VETS (8387) or email veterans@boston.gov if they are in need of assistance or counseling.

Mayor's Update 5/19/20

Case numbers:

  • As of Monday, May 18, in Massachusetts: 87,052 cases and 5,862 deaths.

  • As of Tuesday, May 19, in Boston: 12,050 cases, 588 deaths, and 5,121 recoveries.

Updates on testing:

  • The Mayor provided an update on Boston’s COVID-19 testing progress, to provide context for how the City moves forward.

  • Last week, the citywide positive test rate was 13.9%. This was a new low and brings the city’s cumulative positive test rate to 27%, down 2 percentage points from the week before. The City has continued targeted outreach and testing in neighborhoods seeing the most cases, and as a result, those communities’ positive rates continue to go down.

  • The City also continues to build a citywide strategy for increased testing, which includes an effort that starts next week to test all first responders.

  • Overall, the data tells us that we have been moving in the right direction on new cases, positive test rates, and hospitalization for about 3 weeks.

  • He also said every data trend gives a reason for caution, in terms of how gradual our progress is, how necessary our precautions have been, and how much potential there is for new outbreaks if we don’t keep doing the right things.

  • He urged everyone to continue:

  • Staying home and working from home as much as possible—especially older residents and those at high risk for illness.

  • Washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces.

  • Covering your face when outside the home.

Implementing Phase 1 of the State’s Reopening Plan in Boston:

  • On Monday, May 18, the Governor launched Phase 1 of a statewide reopening plan.

  • The Mayor stressed that reopening does not mean “back to normal”—it means bringing caution and a commitment to stopping the spread of COVID-19 into workplaces and community spaces.

  • Boston will continue to meet the needs of families, seniors, and small businesses, as well as continue to follow the science and public health guidance, while monitoring the data at the city and state levels.

  • The Public Health Emergency declared on March 15 in the City of Boston remains in place until further notice. The same applies to the guidelines for physical distancing and face coverings, as well as the citywide recommended curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

  • The Mayor noted that Boston is one of the most densely populated cities in the country, which is home to a very diverse population, and doubles in size as a regional workforce enters its workplaces every weekday. Special precautions unique to Boston will need to be taken into account.

  • The City will continue to focus on equity and meeting the needs of vulnerable communities, families with children, seniors, and small businesses.

  • The Mayor thanked the Governor, his Administration, and the Reopening Advisory Board for their work on the statewide reopening plan, and noted that the City had input into the plan and made sure Boston’s economy was understood and our communities were represented.

  • He also noted that the City submitted a letter from Boston’s COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force articulating the need for a recovery that addresses the greater impacts felt in communities of color and low-income communities.

Reopening construction:

  • Under the statewide plan: Construction can start the week of May 18.

  • Boston’s approach: Boston has a phased-in approach with comprehensive health and safety requirements.

  • Starting this week (May 18): Work on schools, hospitals, smaller residential projects, and open-air construction can restart.

  • Starting on May 26: Other work allowed by the state may resume.

  • Contractors must submit a COVID-19 Safety Plan before returning to work. To help sites meet this requirement, the City has hosted virtual safety planning, as well as safety training for inspectors, and produced a video guide along with other reference materials.

  • Already, nearly 2,300 safety plans have been submitted, and the City has trained all our inspectional staff and supplied them personal protective equipment.

Reopening office spaces:

  • Under the statewide plan: Office spaces will be allowed to open with 25% capacity starting on May 25.

  • Boston’s approach: The City will take this step on June 1.

  • This timeline allows the City to work in collaboration with building owners and employers on safety plans that meet robust public health standards.

  • Every employer must create and implement plans for workplaces to minimize the spread of the virus, as outlined by the State.

  • The City is creating guidelines for offices to follow, based on national best practices and expert input.

  • These guidelines include shift scheduling, work-from-home policies, physical spacing, PPE, cleaning protocols, ventilation, employee communication, and more. These guidelines will be shared next week (week of May 25).

Reopening small businesses:

  • Under the statewide plan: Retail stores are allowed to open for curbside pickup on May 25, as well as some services, including hair care and car washes.

  • Boston’s approach: The City is ready to help small businesses create plans that not only meet state guidelines, but go beyond them. However, we are also urging caution.

  • The Boston Transportation Department has helped facilitate safe curbside pickup for essential businesses, and will expand that work as needed. The City is also developing creative public space solutions for pedestrians in business districts.

  • If businesses don’t feel comfortable opening, the City will back them in that decision and continue to make services and resources available to them.

  • The City will provide more information in the days and weeks ahead to help employers and community organizations stay safe and connected. Small business owners can reach out to our Office of Small Business.

Reopening houses of worship:

  • Under the statewide plan: Places of worship are allowed to open starting this week, at 40% capacity and with strict distancing practices and face coverings.

  • Boston’s approach: Places of worship must take a very cautious approach and are urged to not reopen if they have doubts about being able to plan, implement, and monitor strict safety guidelines.

  • The Statewide “Safer at Home” policy remains in place, which advises against people 65 and older leaving home unless absolutely necessary. The Mayor urged seniors to adhere to the advisory and hold off on going back to places of worship, even if services restart. He also asked faith leaders to reach out to their elderly parishioners, to guide them and support them in putting safety first, and keep them connected in other ways.

  • The City has been getting questions about church choirs and hymns. The Mayor says they shouldn’t happen yet, given the added risk of virus transmission from singing in addition to speaking. Face coverings must be worn at all times.

National EMS Week:

  • The Mayor recognized this week as the 46th annual National EMS Week, a time to thank and honor the men and women of Boston EMS and its partner agencies.

  • He noted that in the last 2 months, Boston EMTs have cared for and transported nearly 7,000 patients with COVID-19 symptoms—and over 2,000 of those were confirmed positive. That work is on top of all the typical emergencies they respond to. Every call they take must be treated as a possible COVID case, with additional caution and care. Through it all, they act with compassion and professionalism, while demonstrating true courage in a crisis.

  • He reminded everyone that if they are having a medical emergency of any kind, to call 911. The City’s EMTs and paramedics will respond and provide people with the care they need, and get them to the hospital if they need it.

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