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Dear Neighbor: 

I wanted to reach out to you to share a little bit about what I and my colleagues have been working on to address the public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19. While this is a time of uncertainty for many, we are working on your behalf to protect the public and stabilize the economy. Here are some developments from the last couple weeks: 

General Updates 

On March 27th, the State announced that the tax filing deadline will be extended to July 15th to ease the financial burden on taxpayers during this ongoing state of emergency. Those with questions can call the Department of Revenue at 617-887-6367, or send a secure e-message here: https://mtc.dor.state.ma.us/mtc/. I had recently called on the DOR to delay the deadline and am glad that individuals and families will have more time to adapt to this rapidly changing financial reality. 

For emergency childcare information, see here: https://eeclead.force.com/apex/EEC_ChildCareEmergencyProcedure

On March 23, the Governor announced that all non-essential businesses must operate remotely. Grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants (for take-out and delivery) will still be operational. For a complete list of essential businesses that will remain open, see here: https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-essential-services

Our Congressional Delegation was successful in securing a $2 Trillion aid package to bring economic relief to those suffering financially related to the Coronavirus. Included in that package is more than $375 billion in small business relief, including $349 billion for forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees and keep them on the payroll; $17 billion for debt relief for current and new SBA borrowers; and $10 billion in immediate disaster grants. To apply for a disaster grant for a small business, see here: https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/

For information and updates on MBTA service, see here: https://www.mbta.com/covid19

While Boston Public Schools (BPS) are closed through May 4th, please remember that school meals are available for pick up at select sites: https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/Page/8098

Additionally, free wifi can be found at all Comcast Xfinity hotspots nationwide. For a complete list of sites, see here: http://wifi.xfinity.com/

In an effort to reduce exposure and flatten the curve, the Massachusetts Department of Recreation has closed all state skating rinks, courts, athletic fields, and playgrounds. State Parks remain open for individuals to take walks or go running, so long as they maintain proper physical distancing. 

To protect continued services, the State’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU), announced a moratorium on utility shut offs, service disconnections, and other collection related activities during this crisis to make sure that seniors, families, and all residents continue to have access to basic utilities.  

Unemployment Issues

We know workers and businesses are suffering losses. The Legislature passed a bill to suspend the one-week waiting period for unemployment assistance, and the state has opened up the benefits to those who are temporarily laid off, like hospitality workers. The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) may now pay unemployment benefits if a worker is quarantined due to an order by a civil authority or medical professional or leaves employment due to reasonable risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member and does not intend to or is not allowed to return to work. The worker does not need to provide medical documentation and need only be available for work when and as able. To apply for unemployment online, see here: https://www.mass.gov/how-to/apply-for-unemployment-benefits

I have also cosponsored legislation to allow collection of unemployment assistance for an additional 13 weeks beyond the 26-week limit currently in place for those who apply during this public health emergency (HD.4962). These are extenuating circumstances and people need to have support as they are trying to get back on their feet. Additionally, I cosponsored a bill (HD.4958) to expand eligibility for unemployment benefits to tipped workers and independent contractors to ensure that all residents are getting the assistance they need. 

To deal with increased demand, the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) will be holding virtual town halls for claimants to ask questions about applying and benefits. To call in see here: https://www.mass.gov/forms/massachusetts-department-of-unemployment-assistance-dua-virtual-town-halls

Critical Investments

At the onset of this outbreak, my colleagues and I passed an emergency $15 million supplemental budget to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Those funds will support the Commonwealth’s monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts against the novel coronavirus by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), regional and local  boards of health, and other public entities. For up to date info on DPH efforts, see here: https://www.mass.gov/resource/information-on-the-outbreak-of-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

In response to a surge in demand, the Commonwealth announced a $200 million emergency investment  in MassHealth for critical healthcare providers, including community health centers and acute, safety-net providers. These funds will support our front-line medical providers, and make sure less people have to go to the hospitals. 

The state recently announced a $10 million low-interest loan program to small businesses and nonprofits with no payments for the first 6 months.

Healthcare Protections

MassHealth has opened up a special enrollment period for all uninsured residents. To apply, visit https://masshealth.ehs.state.ma.us/StateForms/

To donate goods for use in Massachusetts’ response to the COVID-19 public health emergency: https://www.mass.gov/forms/covid-19-donation-program  ·      

 To provide information about goods you are looking to sell to support Massachusetts’ COVID-19 response efforts: https://www.mass.gov/forms/covid-19-procurement-program  ·       

To adapt your business to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): https://masstech.org/M-ERT·       

To volunteer to assist in public health, health care, and emergency response https://www.maresponds.org/·     

 MA residents who suspect they might have COVID-19 can now use this Buoy Health COVID-19 Web App, which will help to screen them based on a series of questions and connect them to a health care provider via telehealth. https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptom-checker/?configuration=ma_covid&concern=coronavirus

The Massachusetts DPH issued guidance on March 15 that stipulates  that all commercial insurers and the Group Insurance Commission are required to cover medically necessary telehealth services in the same manner they cover in-person services. They also required that hospitals must restrict visitors and cancel non-essential elective procedures.

To protect seniors, DPH issued guidance that assisted living residences are to ban visitors to protect the health of residents and staff. This is in addition to the federal guidance issued on Friday that bans visitors to nursing homes and rest homes.  

I have called on the División of Insurance (DOI) to restrict insurance providers from canceling  coverage due to nonpayment during this crisis. No one should be without health insurance at this critical moment.

Legislative Action

To support low-income families, I have cosponsored legislation (HD.4951) to provide immediate one-time supplemental cash assistance to Massachusetts’ 30,000 low-income families with children and 19,000 elderly residents who currently receive some state benefits. These individuals are at an increased risk from this pandemic, facing immense challenges to meet their basic needs. 

Similarly, I have cosponsored legislation that would restrict evictions and foreclosures. (HD. 4935) No one should be displaced at this critical time. This bill was drafted in consultation with Greater Boston Legal Services, Lawyers for Civil Rights, City Life/Vida Urbana, and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. 

I cosponsored HD.4952 to allocate $10 million to the Massachusetts Emergency Management agency for homelessness services, ensuring that those most vulnerable populations have access to hygenic housing, behavioral health services, and emergency support. 

Recognizing the hardships many restaurants are facing, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) has extended credit terms by 30 days. I called on the ABCC to suspend fees for license holders at this time. I also cosponsored legislation (HD. 4967) to give restaurants, bars, and other on premises-licensees to sell their current unopened inventory of canned or bottled beer, wine and spirits to the general public through pickup or delivery.

As we continue to confront the many challenges that lie ahead of us, this is an opportunity to help this industry and to support our small businesses during these hard times.  I have also called on the Department of Revenue (DOR) to suspend meals tax to give restaurants a boost. 

I have been in constant contact with my colleagues, public health officials, and organizations across my district during this difficult time. As these conversations continue, our sole focus is the medical and economic health and wellbeing of our Commonwealth.  If you have more questions, concerns, or comments, please call the Commonwealth’s hotline at 211, where you can access all the most up to date information on the state’s efforts. Please continue to practice physical distancing, washing your hands, and doing your part to flatten the curve and slow this outbreak. These coming weeks are crucial in that mission. Together, we will get through this and come out stronger than before! 

Sincerely,

Nick Collins