Month: April 2020

Reopening Advisory Board

Further details on today’s orders and members of the new Reopening Advisory Board


ESSENTIAL SERVICES ORDER: Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public will be extended until May 18th. Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until May 18th.


STAY AT HOME ADVISORY: Governor Charlie Baker announced that the Department of Public Health’s stay-at-home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are strongly urged to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person to person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.


EXECUTIVE BRANCH EMPLOYEE GUIDANCE: The Baker-Polito Administration today also extended the guidance issued to Executive Branch employees on protocol during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure state government can continue to provide key services while protecting the health and safety of the public and the Executive Branch workforce. Under the guidance, all employees performing non-core functions who are able to work remotely should continue to do so until May 18th.


REOPENING ADVISORY BOARD: Today, Governor Baker announced the formation of the Reopening Advisory Board, which will be Co-Chaired by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. The Board brings public health officials together with leaders from the business community and municipal government from across the Commonwealth. This group is charged with advising the administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics. It will meet with key stakeholders and solicit input from a variety of constituencies over the next three weeks to develop a report by May 18th that will include DPH approved workplace safety standards, industry frameworks and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders. This report is due on the 18th, but the administration has made clear that public health data and guidance from health care experts will dictate the timeline of the re-opening process.


The 17-member Advisory Board is composed of three public health officials, including Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, three municipal officials, and eleven leaders from the business community, including MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. Members of the Advisory Board bring a range of perspectives to the table, such as an understanding of workplaces and workforces and insights into key areas like financial markets, education, manufacturing and transportation.


REOPENING ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS:
· Aron Ain, CEO, Kronos Inc & Ultimate Software· Carlo Zaffanella, Vice President and General Manager, Maritime & Strategic Systems, General Dynamics Mission Systems· Corey Thomas, CEO, Rapid 7· Daniel Rivera, Mayor, City of Lawrence· Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital· Girish Navani, CEO and Co-Founder, eClinicalWorks· Joe Bahena, Senior Vice President, Joseph Abboud Manufacturing· Kathryn Burton, Chief of Staff, City of Boston· Laurie Leshin, Ph.D., President, Worcester Polytechnic Institute· Linda Markham, President, Cape Air· Mark Keroack, President & CEO, Baystate Health· Monica Bharel, Ph.D., Commissioner, Department of Public Health· Nicole LaChapelle, Mayor, City of Easthampton· Pamela Everhart, Head of Regional Public Affairs and Community Relations, Fidelity Investments · Stephanie Pollack, Transportation Secretary and CEO· Steve DiFillippo, CEO, Davios Restaurants· Wendy Hudson, Owner, Nantucket Book Partners

Nursing & Congregate Care facilities update:

More details on new measures announced today for Nursing & Congregate Care facilities:

The Baker-Polito Administration today announced a second round of funding up to $130 million for nursing facilities to support COVID-19 response efforts over the next two months, as well as increased funding of $44 million for residential congregate care service providers. This funding will support staffing costs, infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to increased financial support, the administration has implemented required testing for staff and residents of nursing facilities.

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT SERVICES: The Commonwealth will offer support for temporary staffing assistance for all nursing homes in need. This includes clinical response teams of 120 nurses and CNAs deployed in teams of 10 during emergency situations, crisis management support and deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard. These efforts will be supported by a centralized infection control performance improvement center established by the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

INCREASED FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR NURSING FACILITIES: The administration is releasing a second round of funding for two months for nursing homes that meet specific requirements and accountability measures. The funding is dependent on required COVID-19 testing of all staff and residents, regular infection control audits, appropriate allocation of funding and the public release of facility performance and funding use.

Further details about this second round of funding available for nursing facilities include:

REQUIRED TESTING: Facilities must test all staff and residents, and report results to the state. Facilities are also encouraged to identify and pursue testing avenues with area hospitals, EMS or other providers. The state’s mobile testing program is available for those facilities unable to set up testing.

IN-PERSON CLINICAL AUDITS: All nursing facilities will be regularly audited in-person for infection control and accountability, and each will receive a baseline audit during the first two weeks of May. These clinical audits will be conducted using a 28-point Infection Control Checklist, based on DPH, CDC and industry guidance. This checklist includes infection control, PPE supply and usage, staffing, clinical care, and communication requirements.

Facilities will be scored into three ratings: in adherence (green), in adherence but warrants inspection (yellow) and not in adherence (red).

FUNDING ACCOUNTABILITY: Funding release is dependent on accountability measures, including audit ratings and appropriate funding allocation. Facilities must use this funding for staffing, infection control, PPE and other supports that directly benefit staff, including hotels for staff retention and infection control.

STAFFING SUPPORTS: The Commonwealth will provide temporary staffing assistance to all nursing homes during the COVID-19 public health crisis, including clinical rapid response teams to provide urgent, short-term staffing for facilities in need, crisis management experts, and the deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard to aid with logistical, environmental and other supports. The state will also contract with staffing agencies to support facilities that are otherwise unable to access staffing agencies.

INFECTION CONTROL PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT CENTER: The Massachusetts Senior Care Association and Hebrew Senior Life, in coordination with other industry providers, will lead an infection control performance improvement center to ensure accountability and provide assistance to facilities that are struggling with infection control capability. The performance improvement center will provide infection control protocols and trainings and PPE supply chain and management support, as well as identify, triage and provide infection control specialist support and intervention.

PUBLIC REPORTING: All performance measures and funding use will be publicly reported using a mandatory reporting template, and the Commonwealth will provide consolidated information in the testing completion status by facility, COVID-19 case counts and mortality of staff and residents, and audit results. These reports will be due shortly after June 30, and the Commonwealth will then compile and deliver a public report.

INCREASED SUPPORT FOR RESIDENTIAL CONGREGATE CARE SERVICE PROVIDERS: THE administration is providing a second phase of increased funding – $44 million – across purchase of service residential congregate care service providers during the COVID-19 outbreak. This funding builds on the $95 million in increased funding announced on March 30, bringing the total funding for these providers to $139 million, and will support increased staffing costs, infection control and PPE.

To mitigate many residential congregate care service providers’ expenses related to the COVID-19 surge, Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) agencies will increase the monthly reimbursement for May and June services for an additional 15%, in addition to the previously announced 10% increase. Further support to address provider needs during the surge include mobile COVID-19 testing expansion and coordination with MEMA to provide PPE to providers.

Updates on loan programs and worker benefits

This edition has important updates on small biz loan programs, unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and other types of assistance. 

PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM (PPP) UPDATE: The US Small Business Administration will resume accepting PPP loan applications on Monday, April 27 at 10:30 AM from approved lenders on behalf of any eligible borrower. Congress appropriated an additional $310 Billion for the program and added some new regulations to steer more funds to customers of community banks and credit unions. For PPP loans you apply though your bank and they submit to SBA on your behalf. If you did not already start the process with your bank, you need to act fast as there will be a major backlog. https://www.sba.gov/paycheckprotection/find

SBA EIDL & EMERGENCY ADVANCE UPDATE: The SBA will also resume processing EIDL loans and emergency advances that were previously submitted online. They have not yet announced whether brand new applications will be accepted. If you already applied (loan or advance) and got a confirmation code that begins with the number 3 then you should not need to take any further action and you should get an emailed response within approximately three weeks of the date of application. See: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/economic-injury-disaster-loan-emergency-advance

IRS STIMULUS CHECK PAYMENT TOOL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Treasury announced Sunday that they have made some upgrades to their stimulus check website and the ‘Get My Payment’ tool function that allows individuals to input their information or track their payment. See: https://sa.www4.irs.gov/irfof-wmsp/notice

EMPLOYEE RETENTION TAX CREDIT (ERTC). The CARES Act includes a good alternative to PPP for some businesses. This ERTC is not a loan or advance that you have to apply for, but rather a direct tax credit that you can deduct from your business taxes and in some cases get refunded directly by the IRS. It’s up to $5,000 per employee and businesses and non-profits of any size are eligible. It does require that your business have experienced a significant loss in revenue or a partial/full shutdown. Details on the IRS page: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/employee-retention-credit. A more user friendly summary is available from the U.S. Chamber: www.uschamber.com/ertc

UNEMPLOYMENT FOR SELF-EMPLOYED & GIG WORKERS (PUA). The new federal PUA program provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to many not eligible for regular or extended unemployment benefits. This includes self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and those with limited work history. Applicants can learn more and apply at www.mass.gov/pua.

UNEMPLOYMENT VIRTUAL TOWN HALL: If you need help applying for unemployment benefits I recommend you sign up for one of the Virtual Town Halls hosted by DUA. They are held daily. Sign up form is here: https://www.mass.gov/forms/massachusetts-department-of-unemployment-assistance-dua-virtual-town-halls

ARTS & CULTURAL GRANTS. Sharing news of another grant opportunity for cultural groups, museums, libraries, archives, & other nonprofit organizations. Beginning May 4 you can apply for grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 through Mass Humanities, the state affiliate of NEH. Details here: https://masshumanities.org/Cares-Act/

HEALTH CONNECTOR ENROLLMENT: The Health Connector is offering an extended enrollment period through May 25. This is a good option to look at if you lose your employer sponsored health insurance and are not eligible for Mass. Health. See: https://www.mahealthconnector.org/

PANDEMIC EBT FOR FAMILIES: All families with school aged children who qualify for reduced lunch are eligible for Pandemic EBT benefits. Households will receive $5.70 per eligible student per day, or $28.50 a week. If receiving DTA benefits, your P-EBT benefits will be added to your EBT card. If not actively receiving DTA benefits, you will receive a P-EBT card for each eligible student in your household. The money will carry over from month to month. Benefits that are not used for over a year will be removed from the card. See: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/pandemic-ebt-p-ebt

FACEBOOK MICRO GRANTS. Facebook is offering cash grants of $2,500 plus $1,500 in optional ad credits for small businesses with 2-50 employees in operation one year or longer. Application window for Boston regional area now open: https://www.facebook.com/business/boost/grants

VERIZON SMALL BIZ RECOVERY FUND. Offering Small Business Relief Grants in the amounts of $5,000, $7,500, and $10,000. Priority will be given to “entrepreneurs of color, women- and veteran-owned businesses and other enterprises in historically under-served places.” Applications must be submitted by Tuesday, April 28 at midnight. https://www.research.net/r/LISCreliefgrant

New protections for homeowners and tenants

Gov. Baker signed legislation into law to protect homeowners and tenants from eviction and foreclosure. An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 emergency ensures housing stability for residents and families. Here is a brief summary courtesy of Mass. Association of Realtors”

Protections for Homeowners: The bill provides two important protections for homeowners:

  1. A moratorium on foreclosures for the sooner of 120 days from enactment or 45 days after the end of the state of emergency, and
  2. 180 days of mortgage forbearance for homeowners experiencing a financial impact from COVID-19. MAR advocated in support of including this important provision which appeared in the Senate but not the House bill. Our arguments focused on the need to protect homeowners in order to prevent short sales and foreclosures and to provide residential rental property owners with additional protections in order to help prevent displacement even if tenants are unable to pay rent during the state of emergency.

Protections for Tenants: The bill provides several measures aimed at protecting residential and small business renters. The following provisions are in effect for the sooner of 120 days after enactment or 45 days after the end of the state of emergency. The bill also gives the Governor the ability to extend the deadlines in 90-day increments.

  1. Landlords are prohibited from: 
    1. Imposing late fees or reporting to credit agencies for non-payment of rent.
    2. Terminating tenancies or sending notices including notices to quit or vacate property unless the tenant is engaged in criminal activity or a violation of their lease terms that create a health and safety risk. MAR and GBREB opposed the prohibition on notices to quit, arguing that they are an essential procedural step towards accessing settlement and programmatic assistance for both parties.
  2. Courts are prohibited from accepting filings or scheduling court events related to non-essential evictions and tolls the deadlines of currently pending cases.
  3. Law enforcement officials are prohibited from executing non-essential evictions.

Protections for Landlords: The bill extends some protections to landlords. The mortgage forbearance covered above provides some relief, though it is limited to owner-occupied properties with four units or less. The bill also permits landlords who have received rent in advance, such as a last month’s deposit, to spend it on expenses such as mortgage payments, utilities, and property maintenance.

COVID 19 Update for Friday

Gov. Baker just wrapped up his press conference, here are the highlights:

8750 tests yesterday, largest number on any single day. 4 Million pieces of PPE delivered across commonwealth to date, more to do. 18,000 beds statewide.

• Effective today MEMA is distributing respirator masks to all police/fire/sheriffs/university police. 200,000 distributed State-wide.

• Setting up regional isolation sites for homeless, MEMA opens 5 hotels across state for care and shelter. Homeless shelters can request PPE. Municipality can apply for grant to reimburse 75% for quarantine/isolation practices for personsexperiencing homelessness. Foster Parents: additional 100$ per child reimburse for April to June

• DOMESTIC VIOLENCE UPDATE: DPH shared guidance for domestic violence service providers for information about other shelters to stay at. Use SAFE LINK Hotline if you need resources for domestic violence: 877 785 2020

• POTUS put forward a template on how to reopen states and left decision up to states. Still seeing increase in cases, but working with businesses to formulate plan to return to normal. For now we need to continue to socially distance.

• FOOD RESOURCE UPDATE: SNAP Benefits: prior to COVID-19 1 in 9 used SNAP. Increase by 400% since March. You can received approval to bring max benefits for SNAP users who are not receiving max benefits. No more in person interview, allowing for faster approvals and there is no backlog at this time. Connect with DTA online/on phone. Can check eligibility in about 10 seconds
https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov/

• WIC: Additional food items added to eligibility list
Mass will be submitting waiver to Fed’s for EBT vendors to allow online purchasing/pick up groceries from delivery. 4 states have already submitted application to pilot, Massachusetts should have app in next week.
Standing up a centralized task force at Command Center for all state resources for food security.

• Governor Baker signed Executive Order to allow children in residential group homes who tested positive for COVID-19 to access more resources. Allows Executive Office Early Education and Care to open emergency care facilities, flexibility around licensing etc. Any provider interested may apply on EEC COVID-19 website.

Update on PPE distribution

New info on PPE distribution to first responders:

BOSTON – The Baker-Polito Administration today announced the distribution of approximately 200,000 respirator masks for all local law enforcement officers and firefighters to ensure they have the protective equipment during the COVID-19 crisis. These FDA-approved respirator masks will be distributed to all local law enforcement officers, including sheriffs and college and university police, and firefighters starting today through a coordinated effort by the COVID-19 Response Command Center and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers are continuing to receive these types of masks and other PPE.

To facilitate quick distribution of these masks, MEMA is employing a regional point of distribution (POD) model where communities can pick up their supply of masks at their designated MEMA POD. These POD sites are open today and have already distributed tens of thousands of masks to first responders in the first few hours.

This new distribution will ensure that local law enforcement and firefighters will have five respirator masks each, equivalent to a one month’s supply. Including conservation methods currently being used by some organizations, this will provide each individual a mask per week and a spare, allowing the mask to dry overnight and reuse for up to one week.

The Baker-Polito Administration and its COVID-19 Response Command Center continue to prioritize the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment for front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of yesterday, the Commonwealth has delivered over four million pieces of PPE statewide. This includes over 2.3 million gloves, over 370,000 masks from the “AirKraft” shipment, almost 190,000 gowns and 380 ventilators.

Legislature passes bill to help vulnerable residents, support schools amid public health crisis

The Massachusetts House and Senate on Thursday passed legislation that supports those experiencing homelessness and provides testing and budgetary flexibility to school districts.

“The wide-ranging effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on our schools and communities demand action, and the Legislature took steps to help those most in need and provide flexibility to our schools so that they may operate effectively during this public health crisis,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D – Winthrop). “By providing emergency funding for the homeless, we are protecting those most at risk. I appreciate the leadership of Senate President Spilka as well as the work of Chairs Michlewitz and Peisch in moving these critical provisions forward.”

“This legislation helps a wide variety of entities deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means (D – Boston). “Whether it’s aiding our cities and towns with the needs of their school districts, to helping homeless providers have greater flexibility in protecting those most in need, the Legislature stands ready to help those most affected by this public health crisis.”

“This legislation provides much-needed relief to school districts as they face this unprecedented emergency,” said Representative Alice Peisch, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Education (D – Wellesley). “The bill waives the MCAS requirement while giving the Commissioner and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education the flexibility to modify or waive the competency determination, and requires the Commissioner to delay the due date for the improvement plans required under the Student Opportunity Act. These provisions will allow districts to focus on what is most important – students’ health, safety, and continued learning. I’d like to thank Speaker DeLeo and Chairman Michlewitz for their leadership, and the members of the Education Committee for their hard work and support.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges that require ongoing collaboration at all levels,” said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R – North Reading).  “By addressing education testing, housing assistance and the MBTA budget, the House and Senate are building on the steps we’ve already taken to facilitate municipal governance and make unemployment benefits more accessible. There is still much more to be done, and we must continue to work together to help ease the burden on the Commonwealth’s residents during this public health crisis.”

Student Requirements and District Operations. To address disruptions caused by the closure of K-12 schools due to COVID-19, the legislation waives the MCAS requirements for the 2019-2020 academic year and allows DESE to modify or waive competency determination requirements related to high school graduation.

In order to comply with measures under the newly implemented Student Opportunity Act, the legislation would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner to extend the deadlines for school districts to submit their three-year plans to address educational disparities in student subgroups.  This deadline shall be extended to May 15, 2020, or later, as determined by the Commissioner.

The legislation also provides budgetary flexibility for regional school as a result of COVID-19.

Helping Vulnerable Populations. In keeping with the Legislature’s commitment to protecting vulnerable populations, the legislation repurposes existing homelessness funds that currently support services that can’t be provided due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The legislation redirects funding to address immediate and critical homelessness needs resulting from the public health emergency.

MBTA Budget Flexibility. The legislation also provides the MBTA additional budgetary flexibility amid the COVID-19 emergency.

The bill, which is the latest action by the Legislature to address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its effects on Massachusetts, was signed into law by the Governor on April 11.