COVID-19 Massachusetts State House Update 4-10-2020

April 10, 2020

  • As of Thursday afternoon, 503 people in Massachusetts had died from COVID-19, at least 1,747 had been hospitalized, and a total of 18,941 had tested positive for it.
  • More than 600 state employees are now working to field a record level of unemployment claims, and the Baker administration will soon launch a Spanish-only application to remove language barriers some applicants face.
  • With almost 470,000 new claims for jobless benefits filed in the past three weeks, the constituent service team in the Department of Unemployment Assistance has grown from 50 people about three weeks ago to more than 600 handling calls remotely.
  • More than 250,000 claimants in Massachusetts are receiving compensation as of Thursday, with more still pending in the application process. The Governor acknowledged that some in need have struggled with the website portal or are frustrated while they wait for calls back from the department, and he pledged that the administration is “working this one hard.”
  • Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito announced an expansion of the confidential SafeLink hotline, which typically connects domestic violence survivors to services. It will now also triage calls to local rape crisis centers and provide support for sexual assault survivors. The hotline is available through the 2-1-1 line, or by calling the toll-free number 877-785-2020, or 877-521-2601 for people who are hearing-impaired.
  • Governor Baker said Thursday he would be open to reducing signature requirements to qualify for the ballot, particularly for county and federal office-seekers.
  • Governor Baker announced three new executive orders aimed at boosting the healthcare workforce.  The text to all three is attached.
  • One will allow nursing school graduates and final-semester students to practice, under direct supervision, before they receive their license.
  • Another makes graduates of international medical schools eligible for licensure in Massachusetts if they have completed at least two years of postgraduate resident training in the U.S. Advocates and lawmakers have been pushing for the state to ease licensing requirements for foreign-trained doctors.
  • Baker’s third new order mandates that health insurers cover all medically required costs of COVID-19 treatment, with no charge to the patient. He said the new field hospitals might be considered out-of-network facilities under normal circumstances.
  • EOHHS Secretary Sudders also announced a new website hosting job opportunities and applications for COVID-19 temporary care sites, including field hospitals and dedicated skilled nursing facilities. She said those “surge sites” are hiring for a variety of health care and human services roles, including respiratory therapists, nursing aides, and housekeepers.
  • The suspended superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home pushed back Thursday on Governor Baker’s suggestion that the home did not properly inform his administration about the issues there.
  • Bennett Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave and the facility put in the hands of an outside administrator and a clinical command team last Monday after the deaths of 11 residents became public. The governor and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse previously suggested that Walsh and the Holyoke home did not inform the state of problems there until it was too late, and on Wednesday the governor said there was a “lack of follow-through on standard protocols with respect to reporting” at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.
  • In a two-page statement released through an attorney Thursday, Walsh detailed the instances in which he said he informed the state of veterans showing symptoms of COVID-19 and was denied assistance by the administration.
  • Unable to agree on emergency eviction and foreclosure protections for people at risk, the House and Senate on Thursday formed a six-member conference to try to hammer out a consensus approach.
  • The two bills (H 4615 and S 2631) will be negotiated by Sens. Brendan Crighton, Michael Rodrigues and Bruce Tarr and by Reps. Kevin Honan, Aaron Michlewitz and Peter Durant. Conference committee meetings are open but negotiators frequently vote to close their talks to the media and the public.
  • Under another bill (H4616) that the House and Senate sent to Governor Baker’s desk on Thursday, State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley would be required to waive MCAS requirements for the current academic year.
  • The bill also permits the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive high school graduation competency requirements to address the disruptions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has forced schools to close.
  • The legislation also contains measures aimed at giving the MBTA relief from budgetary deadlines and enabling applicants for housing assistance to obtain benefits without in-person verification.
  • The bill would give the authority’s board until May 15, rather than March 15, to approve a preliminary budget, and give the T until June 15 to submit a final budget to its advisory board, rather than April 15.
  • The House and Senate are off for the weekend, with the next sessions scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m.
  • On Tuesday Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan and the Joint Ways and Means Committee chairmen plan to connect with a group of economists and others involved with state budgeting to get a better idea of the ramifications that the shutdown of the economy in response to COVID-19 will have on state revenues and budget planning for next year, as well as effects this fiscal year.
  • Massachusetts regulators are urging all the state’s automobile insurance companies to at least consider joining several that have announced plans to give partial rebates or discounts to policy-holders amid a sudden decline in driving brought about by COVID-19 restrictions.

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