On Tuesday, April 21st, the Baker-Polito Administration ordered all MA school buildings to remain closed to students for the remainder of this school year. The order also does not apply to residential special education schools. K-12 schools had been closed until May 4th under the previous order. Remote learning will continue until the end of the school year. This order is aimed at preventing a rebound in COVID-19 transmission once the state emerges from the worst of the outbreak. While young people, such as K-12 students, are generally speaking not a high-risk population for severe COVID-19 cases and deaths, they have the ability to contract and spread the disease to high-risk populations.
All non-emergency childcare programs have also been ordered to remain closed until June 29th. Exempt Emergency Childcare Programs will continue to serve families of first responders, medical personnel, and essential workers. Currently, there are 523 emergency childcare programs statewide. Weekly attendance averages about 2,500 children in these programs across the Commonwealth.
Childcare Program Resources
The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) is reviewing its regulations and funding programs to develop new approaches to incrementally restore childcare capacity for family child care and center-based programs in the coming months. To support families of essential workers and families with children who have special needs, EEC and Care.com have partnered to assist currently unemployed childcare workers and provide skilled in-home care. Care.com is offering both eligible families and childcare workers free 90-day premium memberships, accessible
. Complementing the existing partnership between WGBH and DESE, EEC is launching further collaboration with WGBH to provide resources and activities for parents with young children.
Remote Learning Resources
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will issue updated guidelines for schools to support remote learning efforts through the duration of the school year, including expanded STEM learning, and will prepare recommendations to strengthen summer learning opportunities for students.
- DESE has also launched a Remote Learning Essentials initiative, focused on addressing access to tools, Internet connectivity, and educator training necessary to enhance remote learning during school closures.
- DESE is conducting a survey of school districts to identify barriers that inhibit effective remote learning, including challenges around inequitable access to technology .
- An advisory group of administrators, educators, parents, students, and business leaders will engage external partners to mobilize resources for schools, including philanthropic gifts and in-kind contributions.
- DESE will also solicit input from national and local education vendors regarding the potential to create a statewide online education platform for districts to opt into and customize.
STEM Learning Resources
In partnership with EEC, DHE, the STEM Advisory Council, and Regional STEM Networks, DESE has established online STEM education resources to provide continued support for remote learning opportunities. This includes virtual STEM learning opportunities for both students and teachers, and is accessible here.
Extension of Unemployment Benefits
On Monday, April 20th, the Baker-Polito Administration announced that MA residents who are ineligible for regular unemployment benefits can now apply online for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The new federal PUA program, created in the CARES Act, provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits for those who are unable to work because of a COVID-19-related reason but are ineligible for regular or extended unemployment benefits, such as self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and those with limited work history. Applicants can learn more and apply
On Thursday, April 23rd, labor officials reported another wave of unemployment claims, bringing the total in MA over the past five weeks to more than 650,000. Between April 12th and April 18th, 4.4 million more Americans and 80,345 more MA residents filed initial unemployment claims, according to data released Thursday, April 23rd by the U.S. Department of Labor. Both new figures were the lowest increases since late March, but still several times higher than any pre-pandemic record. New MA claims over the past five weeks alone represent more than 17% of the state's workforce- before the COVID-19 outbreak, the unemployment rate in MA was about 2.9%. MA currently has the 7th highest unemployment rate out of all the states. Nearly 26.5 million Americans have filed for jobless aide since March 15th. All of this information is as of April 23rd. The data can be viewed here:
Federal Loan Request
On April 6th, Governor Baker wrote to US Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia requesting a $1.2 billion loan to help MA meet unprecedented unemployment needs. Governor Baker estimated the MA will need to supplement its account with an advance of $900 million from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits in May and another $300 million for June. The state's unemployment insurance trust fund balance has dropped by more than half, down to about $750 million, since the start of March amid record levels of unemployment applications. Governor Baker's request, if fulfilled, would bring $1.2 billion in federal dollars to help the state fulfill its obligation for unemployment benefits.
Student Loan Relief
The MA Division of Banks (DOB) has joined a multi-state initiative to secure payment relief options for MA student loan borrowers and issued a
with important information and resources for private student loan borrowers. Through this initiative, DOB has secured relief options with 15 private student loan servicers to expand on the protections the federal government granted to federal student loan borrowers. These new options stand to benefit over 182,000 MA borrowers with privately held student loans. This response builds on the federal CARES Act, which provided much needed relief for students with federal loans, including the suspension of monthly payments, interest, and involuntary collection activity until September 30th, 2020, as well as the recently announced
MA Department of Higher Education's deferment of payments in its No-Interest Loan Program until August 1st, 2020.
Under this initiative, borrowers with commercially-owned Federal Family Education Program Loans or privately held student loans who are struggling to make their payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible for expanded relief. Borrowers in need of assistance must immediately contact their student loan servicer to identify the options that are appropriate to their circumstance. Relief options include:
- Providing a minimum of 90 days of forbearance
- Waiving late payment fees
- Ensuring that no borrower is subject to negative credit reporting
- Ceasing debt collection lawsuits for 90 days
- Working with borrowers to enroll them in other borrower assistance programs, such as income-based repayment
Project Bread has created a fact sheet to help better understand the Pandemic EBT program and the benefits that will be made available at the end of April to families with students who qualify for free or reduced price school meals. P-EBT will provide much needed relief for the approximately 500,000 MA students who have lost access to free or reduced-price meals during school closures. Learn more
Paycheck Protection Program
The SBA will resume accepting PPP loan applications this Monday at 10:30AM from approved lenders on behalf of eligible borrowers. Congress passed interim coronavirus relief legislation this past week that includes $322 billion in additional funding for the program. You can see all SBA approved PPP lenders in Massachusetts as of April 13th here.
MA High Technology Council: Economic Re-opening Planning
On April 23rd, the Massachusetts High Technology Council (MHTC) released a framework developed by some of the state's top health and life science business leaders for the state to fully recover from the coronavirus outbreak and begin to open its businesses. The framework centers around aggressive testing and support for new COVID-19 treatments until a vaccine can be developed. With those structures in place, the MHTC envisions a phased reopening starting with sectors that can adequately protect its workers and customers. The council did not address the markers that should be used to determine when it will be appropriate to start the reopening process, but said the state should start planning now. The initiative was led by Steve Pagliuca, co-chairman of Bain Capital and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, with the help of McKinsey and Co.
Women's Commission COVID-19 Recommendations
The MA Commission on the Status of Women (MCSW) created a report outlining recommendations they believe the Legislature should follow to mitigate the impact the outbreak has on women and girls in the Commonwealth. On April 23rd, I participated in a virtual meeting with the MCSW in which they presented the findings of their report and suggested solutions. Increasing the availability of mental health resources, ramping up efforts to collect and report case data by race and ethnicity, expanding access to childcare and emergency shelters, and providing "advance hazard pay" to essential workers are among the recommendations. The report was filed with Governor Baker, Senate President Spilka, House Speaker DeLeo, and the MA Caucus of Women Legislators, of which I am a member, on April 17th and distributed broadly to all lawmakers on April 22nd. Read the full report here.
Food Security Task Force
On April 22nd, Secretary Sudders announced the launch of the COVID-19 Command Center Food Security Task Force. Myself and my colleague Senator Comerford were named as the legislative delegates on the Task Force, which also includes membership from state agencies and other partners such as the Greater Boston Food Bank, Project Bread, MA Restaurant Foundation, the MA Food System Collaborative, the Shah Foundation, and representatives from communities of faith. The Task Force will work to coordinate resources and communication across sectors, stakeholder groups, and government at all levels to ensure food insecurity and issues related to the food supply chain are addressed. The goals of the panel are to:
- Identify immediate needs to be addressed across the state
- Maximize nutrition program access, enrollment, and participation
- Ensure access to food and the resiliency of the food supply chain, including creating and implementing plans that address all regions of the state and their unique challenges in the short and long term
- Explore creative partnerships to maximize resources available in the Commonwealth
The Task Force has multiple daily conference calls and working groups and we will present our initial recommendations to Governor Baker next week.
Strengthening Local & Regional Public Health System Legislation
House Bill 4503, An Act relative to strengthening the local and regional public health system, which I filed with my colleague Representative Garlick, was enacted in the House and the Senate on April 23rd and now heads to Governor Baker's desk for his signature. The legislation
supports collaboration between local boards of health and neighboring municipal public health departments to deliver high-quality and efficient public health services such as disease control, emergency preparedness, restaurant inspection, sanitary code enforcement, and suicide prevention and substance use disorder outreach. Specifically, the legislation seeks to strengthen local public health in three ways:
- Establishes the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) program: A competitive grant program that provides funding to public health departments to increase sharing of services across municipalities, strengthen service delivery capabilities, and improve system accountability and data reporting.
- Ensures the local public health workforce has access to training: Provides boards of health officials and staff with free educational and training opportunities four times annually in regions across the state.
- Sets new statewide public health standards: Department of Public Health will develop a set of minimum standards for foundational public health services to improve the quality of and create uniformity within the public health services of the Commonwealth.
The legislation builds on the work of the Special Commission on Local and Regional Public Health, a 25-member body of public health and municipal experts established in 2016, of which I was a member. The commission released a
identifying ways for municipalities to overcome barriers and provide quality public health services to residents in Massachusetts. The report found that of the 105 towns with fewer than 5,000 residents, 78 percent lacked full-time staff and that more than half had no health inspector. The report also found inconsistencies in training and credentials of local health department staff members and a lack of consistent data reporting across communities.
Virtual Notarization Legislation
On Thursday, April 23rd, the House and Senate enacted House Bill 4668, An Act providing for virtual notarization to address challenges related to COVID-19. The bill would allow notaries to use video conferencing technology to perform some of their duties during the COVID-19 emergency. In order to virtually notarize a document, which would streamline many business transactions during the public health crisis, notaries and signers of the document would have to swear they are physically present in MA and the physical paper would then be delivered to the notary by mail, courier, or other means. H4668 now heads to Governor Baker's desk for his signature.
Long-term Care Facility COVID-19 Reporting
House Bill 4667, An Act relative to long term care and elder housing COVID-19 reporting, was engrossed in the House on April 21st and is now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The bill, filed by Representative Balser, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, would 1) order each long-term care facility covered by the bill to report daily to each resident's health care proxy, emergency contact legal guardian, or legally authorized representative the number of known COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities among both residents and staff, each in its own category, and 2) order DPH to report weekly the number of COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities at these residences to the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means. This reporting would also have to include demographic data of COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities including race, age, and sex of cases and mortalities.
Non-profit Relief Fund Legislation
Legislation before the Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development Committee would create a $75 million emergency relief fund for non-profit cultural organizations, an industry which has already lost more than a quarter of a billion dollars during the pandemic. The bill, House Docket 5017, filed by Representative Pignatelli and Representative Barrett, would provide relief to these cultural organizations experiencing financial distress as a result of COVID-19 and allow them to hit the ground running once the state exits the emergency.
Access to High-Speed Internet
The Baker-Polito Administration announced expanded access to high-speed internet for unserved cities and towns throughout MA that do not yet have a completed last-mile broadband network. The MA Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech, KCST, and local internet service providers will offer communities new WiFi hotspots, building off the Commonwealth's MassBroadband 123 fiber-optic network. The program will be offered free of monthly charge to eligible communities until September 1st, 2020. Citizens who use these hotspots must continue to follow social distancing protocols, and the towns and ISPs will post clear signs with the DPH guidance. MassBroadband is providing support to local ISPs as needed, and is tracking these hotspots as they come online and posting them online here.
Advanced Placement (AP) Testing
At the end of March, College Board announced that due to COVID-19, the 2020 AP tests will be administered virtually so that students will be able to take the exams at home. AP students now have access to free live AP review sessions presented by AP teachers across the country. For the 2020 exams, a secure 45-minute exam is being developed for each course. There will be two exam periods: May 11th-22nd and June 1st-5th. Additional information and regular updates will be posted here.
Face the Nation
Governor Baker appeared on Face the Nation on April 19th. He spoke about the Commonwealth's COVID-19 response and the impact the pandemic is having in MA. He also focused on the Community Contact Tracing Collaborative and how important that initiative will be for the Commonwealth to begin to re-open. Watch the full video here.
COVID-19 Public Resources Map
The COVID-19 Public Resources Map here shows the location of resources available to the public during the pandemic, such as food banks, houses of worship, and Project Bread site locations. Please note the map is not inclusive of all resources, and is only as accurate as the information that has been provided to MEMA.
How You Can Help Locally
Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services:
We are very fortunate to have
Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services, a private, non-profit counseling and social services agency that provides a diverse offering of programs and services that help to strengthen and support youth and families. No one who needs help is turned away, regardless of ability to pay. If you need help, you can reach them at 508-845-6932 or
, or learn more here.
SYFS, like so many other non-profits, has been financially decimated by the pandemic. A significant portion of SYFS revenue is generated from generous donations and sponsorships. The annual gala, the largest fundraiser to support their work, had to be canceled this coming May. Please learn more by
watching the brief video here
and join me in donating to SYFS to help them survive in this critical time of crisis.
Local Food Pantries
: St. Anne's Human Services and the Westborough Food Pantry continue to request the donation of grocery store gift cards that they can provide local residents who need supplemental food assistance.
You can drop off gift cards in the Rectory Mailbox at St. Anne's or mail them to 130 Boston Turnpike Road, Shrewsbury, MA 01545 and you can mail the Westborough Food Pantry at PO Box 502, Westborough, MA 01581 or drop them off gift cards at the Westborough Town Clerk's office at Town Hall.
Reliable Information Sources
For the most up to date case counts in the US and for general information regarding best practices during this crisis, please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
There are several ways, in addition to the ones mentioned previously in this email, to stay informed:
News alert text service
Text COVIDMA to 888-777 to receive updates on the state's coronavirus response. Once you register, and public health officials will be able to send short messages and links to information directly to your cell phone.
They will not overload you with messages. The average so far has been a few texts a day.
husetts residents are urged to use 2-1-1 for information, resources, and referrals regarding COVID-19. Once you choose a language, dial 26 to access the COVID-19 information line. Other dial in options provide information and referrals about critical resources and needs. Operators staff the hotline 24/7 and translators are available in multiple languages. You can also visit the MA 2-1-1 webpage here
Both Shrewsbury and Westborough are providing regular updates on their websites and FB pages.
Contacting my Office
As a reminder, the State House itself is closed to the public and my Legislative Aide Anna Darrow and I are working remotely. We are fully accessible via email and we are constantly checking our office voicemail. You can reach our office number at
, my cell number is
, and my email is
. Anna's email is
and her cell number is
While this email is not exhaustive of all that the Commonwealth is undertaking to battle COVID-19, I hope that the information is relevant and helpful. My prior weekly emails can be found on my website,
in the "Updates from Hannah" section and I will continue to post regular updates each day on my State Representative Facebook page. I remain grateful to all workers who go to work each day to help us through our time of crisis. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I can be of assistance.