COVID-19 Massachusetts State House Update 3-31-2020

March 31, 2020

  • At his Monday press briefing the Governor highlighted that they are anticipating a surge in new cases between April 7th  and 17th and stressed the need to prepare for additional health care capacity.
  • The Federal Government is sending more than 1,000 ventilators to Massachusetts and they are expected by week’s end.
  • The Governor outlined plans to designate some nursing homes specifically and only for the care of patients with COVID 19.
  • EOHHS Secretary Marylou Sudders ordered the Massachusetts Health Connector to delay many coverage terminations that would normally result from administrative issues such as lack of documentation.
  • The Governor also announced that he planned to offer an update Tuesday on an order that non-essential businesses must close and would provide more information later this week on efforts to trace contacts of those who contracted the virus.
  • There is widespread speculation that the Governor will extend his order closing non-essential businesses beyond April 7th.
  • Massachusetts has been granted major disaster declaration status which will provide additional federal reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses including the expansion of unemployment insurance payments.
  • The Massachusetts Democratic Party will vote to cancel their May 30th nominating convention and declare incumbent US Senator Ed Markey the endorsed party nominee over challenger US Rep Joe Kennedy based on caucus results.
  • The House and Senate both held informal sessions on Monday.
  • The Senate on Monday amended the latest COVID-19 response bill, a municipal governance bill that includes an extension of the state personal income tax filing deadline to July 15 and permission for restaurants to sell take-out beer and wine, but the bill did not return from the House by the time the Senate adjourned late in the afternoon.
  • The Senate’s changes would also allow corporate and nonprofit boards to meet remotely, and allow use of video conferencing for legal actions that require notarization.
  • The House on Monday further amended a Senate version of the bill that had passed that chamber earlier in the day and sent the legislation back to the upper branch, which is scheduled to meet next on Wednesday morning.
  • Senate leaders are hoping on Wednesday to finish the bill, which includes a personal income tax filing extension and permission for restaurants to sell take-out beer and wine.
  • House legislators also dealt with a number of extension orders giving committees extra time to review legislation.
  • On Monday a new bill was introduced by Representative Jim Arciero (D-Westford) relative to public safety personnel and first responders who are incapacitated or unable to work because of COVID-19 infection or exposure
  • The Senate will meet again on Wednesday at 11am and the House will meet on Thursday at 11am.
  • Sessions continue to be live streamed.
  • On Wednesday the Senate is preparing to advance a bill that would expand unemployment insurance benefits for workers beginning next year, and shield employers from being penalized for their workers taking advantage of the unemployment insurance system as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  The bill text is attached.
  • Other details on the legislation include:
  • The bill would expand the unemployment benefit period from 26 weeks to 30 weeks beginning in 2021 following any week in which more than 100,000 claims have been filed.
  • It would also lift the limit on unemployment benefits for a worker’s dependent children.
  • Currently, a worker can only receive 50 percent of their own weekly benefit to support a dependent child. That limit would be suspended for the next year, or six months after the end of the state of emergency.
  • The bill would also exempt employers from the rating impacts of unemployment claims being filed by their former employees as a result of COVID-19 or Gov. Charlie Baker’s public health emergency, which he declared on March 10. Employers that pay into unemployment insurance often have to pay higher rates if a large number of their workers tap into the UI system.
  • The bill further states UI benefits paid to an employee who loses their job as a result of the coronavirus or the state of emergency declaration shall not have those benefits charged to their accounts if they are paid for with federal funding.
  • Finally, the bill would give non-profits a 120-day extension on their next payment in the unemployment insurance system.
  • The Center for State Policy Analysis, a research group affiliated with Tufts University, is warning of a dramatic collapse in state revenue, estimating the tax revenue shortfall of between $1.8 billion to $3 billion over the next 15 months.  In a report being released today they attribute the revenue gap to immediate declines in tax revenue combined with emergency spending increases on health and economic supports associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The Massachusetts Lottery Commission is meeting remotely this morning and will report February sales data.  Lottery sales typically contribute more than $1 billion to local aid to cities and towns across the Commonwealth.
  • As of Monday night, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts has climbed to 5,752 with 453 being hospitalized and 56 deaths attributed to the virus.

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