Welcome to MLPB's COVID-19 Digital Digest. Our team has created this open-access tool to help workforce colleagues navigate law and policy changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended to provide guidance and problem-solving strategies to address a range of key HRSN needs.

This tool:

  • Distills major federal (nation-wide) themes in resources, benefits and legal protections.
  • Curates high-level, evolving information and identifies expert resources in key domains of HRSN, through the lens of two states – MA and RI – where MLPB does extensive work.

Some guidelines to help you get the most out of this tool: 

  • The Bulletin = pressing, need to know information, often with upcoming deadlines + occasional self-care suggestions.
  • The Basics = MLPB's curation of key developments in law and policy.
  • The Breakdown = MLPB's translation of these developments into plain language interpretations of what these changes mean for areas of HRSN need.
  • The Bottom Line = Based on MLPB’s expertise, the essential takeaways needed to navigate the HRSN domain of interest
  • Last-reviewed Timestamps = MLPB routinely reviews content and updates information as appropriate. 
  • Feedback: Please get in touch! Email Content Lead Franny Zhang at fzhang@mlpboston.org.

Exclaim This information is for educational purposes only; nothing in it should be construed as legal advice. 

© 2020 MLPB, a fiscally sponsored program of TSNE MissionWorks

The Bulletin

 


Click below to navigate to a topic of interest!  

Best Sources General Orders

Court SystemCSIEducation_Childcare  Employment  Food_Income Insecurity Gov ID Health Insurance Housing Instability Immigration  IPV  Mental Health Transportation Needs-1 Utility Needs WTD


 Best SourcesBest Resources

While it can be tempting to rely on the news cycle for information about COVID-19, we recommend using one of the following trusted sites for your updates:


General Orders

Headline: Violations of some emergency orders may result in a $500 fee per violation. The private gathering order and the face covering order have additional information that includes exceptions.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

  • The Baker Administration issued emergency orders that require MA residents and visitors to take precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Phase III of the four-phase approach for reopening businesses began on July 6, 2020. The City of Boston began Phase III on July 13, 2020.

The Breakdown:

Key Resource

MA Info on COVID-19

  • As of August 7, 2020, private indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 8 people per 1,000 square foot, with a 25-person limit for indoor gatherings and a 50-person limit for outdoor gatherings. Everyone at indoor and outdoor gatherings must keep 6 feet of physical distance from others. Face coverings are required for private gatherings of more than 10 people. This does not change the requirement to wear face coverings when unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from others in public. Violations may result in a $500 The private gathering order and the face covering order have additional information that includes exceptions.
  • All travelers entering MA from high-risk states are required to complete a MA Travel Form. If these travelers do not submit negative COVID-19 test results, they must also quarantine for 14 days. They may be fined $500 per day if they do not follow the travel rules.
  • If a business is not following the mandatory safety standards, anyone can report the violation to their local Board of Health and the MA Department of Labor Standards.
  • The MA Department of Public Health issued a Safer-at-Home Advisory.

The Bottom Line:


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Court System

Headline: On September 17, 2020, the MA Supreme Judicial Court updated court guidance. Courts and court offices (e.g., clerks’ offices) are open to the public, but will continue to use telephone and videoconferencing for most hearings and communication.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Court System Response to COVID-19

2. District Court COVID-19 FAQs

  • Mass Courts have a Court Helpline that can be reached by calling 833-91-COURT from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday for non-emergency case questions. For emergency questions, the Courthouse Locator can be used to find the contact information for the appropriate court clerk.
  • On September 17, 2020, the MA Supreme Judicial Court updated court guidance. Courts and court offices (e.g., clerks’ offices) are open to the public, but will continue to use telephone and videoconferencing for most hearings and communication.

The Breakdown: 

The Bottom Line: 

  • Although some policies are the same in every court, courthouses have been updating their policies and procedures to address local needs. It is important to check the policies of a particular courthouse before going in person.
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CSI

Headline: On September 17, 2020, the MA Supreme Judicial Court updated court guidance. Courts and court offices (e.g., probation offices) are open to the public, but will continue to use telephone and videoconferencing for most hearings and communication. In most cases, criminal bench trials (i.e., trials in front of a judge, not a jury) will be held in person. On October 23, 2020, courts will begin hearing some jury trials in person.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

Court System Response to COVID-19

  • On September 17, 2020, the MA Supreme Judicial Court updated court guidance. Courts and court offices (e.g., probation offices) are open to the public, but will continue to use telephone and videoconferencing for most hearings and communication.
  • The DOC reopened visitation at four facilities and plans to continue expanding to other facilities across the state.   

The Breakdown:

The Bottom Line

  • Although some policies are the same in every court, courthouses have been updating their policies and procedures to address local needs. It is important to check the policies of a particular courthouse before going in person.
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Education_Childcare

Headline: On August 28, 2020, the Baker Administration asked the EEC to allow childcare programs to create Remote Learning Enrichment Programs and Remote Learning Parent Cooperatives that provide childcare and instructional support for remote learners during regular school hours. Childcare programs must request an exemption from the EEC before providing these services. A list of approved programs will be available on the EEC Remote Learning Policies and Processes website.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. MA Dept.of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE)

2. Dept. of Early Ed & Care (EEC)


The Breakdown:
  • DESE acknowledges that districts may change their learning model throughout the year in response to public health concerns. DESE also made it clear that, regardless of the model chosen by a district, parents and guardians can choose a remote learning model for their student(s).
  • DESE prioritizes in-person education for children of teachers, students with disabilities, English learners, and students who were not able to use remote learning last spring. Students with disabilities, including those with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans, can use the Federation for Children with Special Needs as a resource.
  • On August 28, 2020, the Baker Administration asked the EEC to allow childcare programs to create Remote Learning Enrichment Programs and Remote Learning Parent Cooperatives that provide childcare and instructional support for remote learners during regular school hours. Childcare programs must request an exemption from the EEC before providing these services. A list of approved programs will be available on the EEC Remote Learning Policies and Processes website.
  • MassHealth announced that EI services are now available for eligible children who turn(ed) three between March 15, 2020 and August 31, 2020. These services will be available until October 15, 2020. This does not include children who turned 3 on or after September 1, 2020.
  • People with federal student loans will be excused from making payments until December 31, 2020. It does not apply to private loans. It will not reduce the overall balance owed.

The Bottom Line:

  • Each school district and childcare program must have a safety plan approved before opening. Menu


Employment

Headlines: The US Department of Labor issued new regulations effective September 16, 2020 that clarify who is eligible for paid leave from work under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and what is required of employees in order to get approved for FFCRA leave.

Importantly, a large category of healthcare employees had been excluded previously, and the new regulations make it clear that only healthcare employees who provide direct patient care are excluded.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 1:30pm, September 23, 2020

Paid Leave and Work Safety

Key Employment Resources

1. Fair Employment Project

2. Mass Gov FAQ

3. AG Healey’s weekly worker rights webinars! 

The Basics:

  • Earned sick time is an important form of paid leave still available to many.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides paid leave to ALL covered employees:
    • 2 weeks of pay ranging from 66%-100%, which is determined by the COVID-19-related reason for absence
    • Up to 10 weeks of leave at 66% pay for those caring for a child whose school or day care is closed for COVID-19-related reasons
    • Employed must have been working for the employer for more than 30 days.
    • Note: The US Department of Labor issued new regulations effective September 16, 2020 that clarify who is eligible for paid leave from work under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and what is required of employees in order to get approved for FFCRA leave. Importantly, a large category of healthcare employees had been excluded previously, and the new regulations make it clear that only healthcare employees who provide direct patient care are excluded.
  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance is allowing those in quarantine or unable to work due to COVID-19 to apply for unemployment benefits.
  • MA's new paid leave law does NOT go into effect for employees until January 2021.
  • On July 13, 2020, Governor Baker announced a new website through which people may report businesses or employers that are not following the state’s health and safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic: mass.gov/covidcompliance

 The Breakdown:

  • FFCRA applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees. Larger employer may offer benefits voluntarily but it's not required by law.
  • FFCRA applies to companies with fewer than 50 employees but these businesses may not have to pay for leave caused by school closing or childcare unavailability if they request to be excused (“waiver”), AND the waiver request is approved.
  • Many employees will NOT benefit from FFCRA due to these limitations.
  • While there are still limitations including those referenced above, the new DOL regulations that went into effect on September 16, 2020 include many healthcare employees that might have been excluded previously, because now the exclusion only applies narrowly to workers involved in direct patient care. The new regulations also clarify when employees are required to get permission to take intermittent leave. Leave necessary to care for children when schools implement remote learning on a part-time basis ("hyrbid models") is NOT considered intermittent leave requiring employer permission.
  • WorkLife Law at University of California Hastings College of the Law provides a clear analysis of the benefits and the limits of FFCRA.
  • This COVID-19 and Unemployment Insurance Guide is a useful manual for making sense of regular programs and pandemic programs, eligibility rules, and how to apply.
  • The new website for reporting unsafe business or employer practices does not indicate who may make a complaint, but with a person’s permission, an advocate may be able to file a complaint buffering a worker who fears retaliation. There are two ways to file a complaint – either through a local Board of Health or by call or email to Department of Labor Standards (DLS): (508) 616-0461 x 9488 safepublicworkplacemailbox@mass.gov It remains to be seen whether DLS will respond to indirect reports of unsafe practices.

The Bottom Line:

  • The DOL issued new regulations that are useful for employees seeking to take paid-time off due to COVID-19-related care-giving responsibility – the new regulations clarify that many previously excluded healthcare workers are eligible for FFCRA leave, and they also clarify the process for taking intermittent leave.
  • It is illegal to punish employees for COVID-19 related caregiving responsibility with furlough. The MA Commission Against Discrimination is receiving complaints online and by telephone, and Lawyers for Civil Rights may also be a helpful resource for this issue.
  • Regarding worker safety, MassCOSH has also developed a detailed and regularly updated workplace safety advocacy tool kit to help workers (a) know the relevant safety facts, (b) know their rights, (c) assert their rights, and (d) advocate for improved safety practices in their workplaces.
  • In addition, a coalition of employee rights lawyers recently updated its work place reopening and unemployment eligibility fact sheet to inform people about their Unemployment Benefits rights and responsibilities if they are called back to work and have concerns about COVID-19 risks and/or changed work conditions.
  • As MA continues moving ahead with its phased plan for more businesses to reopen, there may be more conflict between employees concerned about a safe return to work, and employers eager to resume business. Some federal laws offer protection, but the rules have exceptions, and are not easy to enforce. Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) has been advocating for Governor Baker to issue stronger safety standards and enforcement mechanisms as part of the phased reopening of the economy. The state’s new website for reporting unsafe practices - mass.gov/covidcompliance – is one new enforcement pathway.

Unpaid Leave

The Basics:

  • Under federal law, MA workers can receive job-protected unpaid leave to address their own illness or to provide caregiving to a close family member.
  • Employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last year may be eligible for this unpaid time off for personal or family health needs, whether directly or indirectly related to COVID-19, or related to another health issue.

The Bottom Line:

  • Though many employers may benefit from legislation that makes money available to prevent furloughs and layoffs, these disruptions are happening and likely will continue.

Job Loss

The Basics:

  • If a job is lost or an employee has to quit due to COVID-19, Unemployment Insurance is available. Many requirements, including job hunting, have been suspended. However, on August 3, 2020 Reemployment Services Eligibility Assessment (RESEA) notices started again, and will continue to go out to unemployment claimants weekly. While the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) says it has not restarted the policy of reducing or stopping benefits if people don’t meet the RESEA requirements, they still expect people to participate in required RESEA activities, which are all conducted virtually during COVID-19. (These activities include tasks like attending trainings and documenting job search activities). People should pay attention to RESEA notices and communicate with the DUA about any barriers to completing tasks, to avoid possible delays or even loss of benefits.
  • Eligible recipients may receive 3 weeks of Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) added onto their unemployment checks, going back to the last week of July and the first 2 weeks of August, 2020. LWA is an extra $300 each week. Current recipients do not need to do anything to get the LWA supplement. It will be added automatically. Depending whether recipients applied through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), or standard Unemployment Insurance (UI), benefits are expected to be paid between September 5 and September 15, 2020. It is unclear whether additional weeks of LWA benefits will be paid through August and into the fall. It depends on whether more Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding is approved for Massachusetts. Here is information in several languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, English
  • Meanwhile, since as of now the retroactive LWA supplement is a temporary, one-time benefit, the Department of Housing & Community Development considers LWA payments to be “gifts” that public housing applicants or residents do not need to include in income reported to local housing authorities.
  • Employment discrimination based on national origin or race, age, gender, or the perception that one has a disability, is illegal. MCAD, has issued guidance on its COVID-19 processes and complaint can be filed with them, telephonically or electronically.
  • The federal Department of Labor issued a disability and language access Advisory on May 11, 2020, which affirms that Unemployment Insurance agencies must make services available to people in ways that provide equal access regardless of disability or limited English proficiency.
  • The CARES Act passed on March 27, 2020 authorized states to award benefits to self-employed workers: an important and less protected sector of the workforce that includes independent contractors and “gig economy” workers. It also increases the amount of benefits and how long they can last, and all full- and part-time employees are eligible as long as they have worked for the employer for at least 30-days.
  • Scams involving identity theft used for fraudulent unemployment applications is leading to increased demands on claimants to verify identity, and delays in application approval. This slows the process for people who need and have a right to prompt payment of benefits. On June 9, 2020, MA Attorney General issued an Advisory about what impacted claimants can do. The MA Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) provides similar warnings and instructions.

The Breakdown:

  • A useful summary of unemployment benefits can be found here.
  • Since April 20, 2020, independent contractors and “gig economy” workers who have lost work due to COVID-19 have been able to apply for unemployment benefits online! (Before COVID-19 they were not eligible for unemployment.) Applicants should apply retroactively to their first week of full or partial unemployment. Instructions and links to further information are here.
    • Note: Being called an Independent Contractor does not mean a person is an independent contractor! Learn more about who is classified as an Independent Contractor.
  • The additional $600 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit expired as of the week ending July 25, 2020. Meanwhile, the need for FPUC has not expired, and The LWA benefit of $300 a week for several weeks is useful but insufficient. To learn about ways to advocate for lawmakers to extend FPUC, Center for Popular Democracy is an important resource.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is a 13-week extension of benefits to unemployment claimants whose benefits expired on or after July 6, 2019. PEUC is available starting with the week of March 29, 2020, and remains available until the week beginning December 20, 2020 Helpful FAQs are posted here.
  • Employment law advocates are strategizing about how to assure benefits are payed promptly as required by law, despite the impact of the scam on a system already under pressure. Distressed claimants can consider contact resources detailed below, including their state senators. The MA State Senate tweeted about support for claimants needing help navigating the complicated and strained system.
  • The COVID-19-related changes to unemployment rules are complicated, and after administering benefits for a few months, state agencies sought clarification from the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL recently published some answers to these questions, which are linked here.

The Bottom Line:

  • There may be further extensions, but people should plan around the current projections for COVID-19-related unemployment benefits and job protections.
  • A new pro bono initiative has been launched at Lawyers for Civil Rights, which may be able to help some workers with this new benefit application process.
  • Though many employers may benefit from legislation that makes money available, furloughs and layoffs are still happening and likely will continue.
  • It is illegal to punish employees for COVID-19 related caregiving responsibility with layoff. It is also illegal to use COVID-19 layoff processes as a pretext (excuse) for other kinds of intentional discrimination (for example, sexual orientation/gender identity), or to lay off people because they belong to a group (for example, age, disability, national origin, race) that the employer may believe is higher risk for COVID-19 exposure or severity. The MA Commission Against Discrimination is receiving complaints online and by telephone, and Lawyers for Civil Rights may also be a helpful resource for this issue. Menu


Food_Income Insecurity

Headline: The Grab & Go Meal program for kids ages 0-18 has been extended to December 31, 2020. Some families with school-aged children will also qualify for additional P-EBT benefits. Most SNAP recipients can expect additional emergency benefits in October.

 Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Dept. of Transitional Assistance (DTA)

2. Women Infants & Children Nutrition Program (WIC)

3. Project Bread

  • DTA offices are closed to the public. Information about SNAP applications and additional service can be access by calling DTA at 877-382-2363 or visiting the DTA Connect website.
  • WIC offices are closed to the public. All services are available by phone at 800-942-1007.
  • The Grab & Go Meal program has been extended to December 31, 2020 for kids ages 0-18. Find locations and other food resources through the FoodSource Hotline at 800-645-8333 or Project Bread.

 The Breakdown:

  • DTA has begun mailing paperwork to families whose SNAP interim reports and recertifications were delayed. The forms will have a new due date and can be completed at DTA Connect.
  • Unless rescheduled by calling the Hearing Division at 617-348-5321, all appeal hearings will be held by phone on the previously scheduled date and time. Work requirements are still on hold. Visit the DTA COVID-18 FAQ website for additional information.
  • Most families received additional emergency SNAP payments from April to Some families who were not already receiving the maximum SNAP allotment also received emergency supplemental SNAP payments from April to September. Additional emergency payments will be made in October. Call the DTA Assistance Line at 877-382-2363 for additional information.
  • Families who qualify for free or reduced lunch should have received $28.50/week per student in P-EBT benefits to cover March to June school closings. In September, these same families may be eligible to receive additional benefits. Families will be able to use the same P-EBT Card from the spring. Families can apply for free and reduced lunch by contacting their local school district.
  • WIC has added approved stores and approved foods.
  • SNAP recipients can use their EBT card for grocery delivery through Amazon or Walmart. Delivery fees are not covered by SNAP.

The Bottom Line:

  • Sharing reliable, up-to-date information about the changing resource landscape with families is key to reducing hunger and increasing food security. Menu

Financial Assistance

The Basics: 

The Breakdown:
  • TAFDC reevaluations that were due March 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020 had their due dates extended for 6 months. Starting on July 1, 2020, reevaluations will be done by phone. Call a local office or visit DTA Connect for more information.
  • TAFDC recipients should have received a clothing allowance of $350 for each eligible child. Call a local DTA office for more information.
  • Work requirements and the 24-month time limit are still on hold. Funeral and burial assistance is available. For additional information, see DTA’s program outline.
  • Veterans and their families may also qualify for “chapter 115” financial assistance. Additional information can be found on the Mass Vets Advisor website.
  • Adults who receive certain social security and VA benefits should have automatically received a one-time $1200 Economic Impact Payment (EIP). These same adults have until September 30, 2020 to use the non-filer tool to request an additional $500 EIP for each of their qualifying children. If they miss the deadline, they will have another opportunity to file in January 2021.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a guide for individuals who have not yet received their EIP.
The Bottom Line:
  • Sharing reliable, up-to-date information about the changing resource landscape with families is key to optimizing household income. Menu

Gov ID

Headline: In September 2020, the RMV is dedicating Wednesday license renewal appointments at the Watertown, New Bedford, Danvers, Leominster, Springfield, and South Yarmouth locations to anyone who is 74 years of age or older. Seniors can make an appointment on the RMV website.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:001m, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

RMV COVID-19 Page

The Breakdown

  • MA Driver’s Licenses and ID Card renewals that are made through the Online Service Center between June 12, 2020 and the end of the State of Emergency will be automatically updated to a REAL ID at no additional charge.
  • Many MA Driver’s Licenses and ID Cards have been given an automatic extension. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire between March 1, 2020 and May 30, 2020 will now expire in September 2020. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire in June 2020 will now expire in October 2020. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire in July 2020 will now expire in November 2020. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire in August 2020 will now expire in December 2020. For updates visit the RMV website.

The Bottom Line

  • Access to government identification will likely be disrupted by limited access to services.
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Health Insurance

Headline: While MassHealthConnector’s special enrollment period due to COVID-19 has ended, many people are still eligible to enroll in health insurance any time of year: more information for those in need of health insurance now, is available here.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00pm September 9, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Healthcare for All MA

2. Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS)

3. BCBFMA - MLRI resource on stabilizing MassHealth coverage during COVID-19

  • While MassHealthConnector’s special enrollment period due to COVID-19 has ended, many people are still eligible to enroll in health insurance any time of year: more information for those in need of health insurance now, is available here.
  • MassHealth is allowing early refills and 90-day suppliesof medications. Find additional information on the MassHealth
  • All health insurance carriers are required to provide medically necessary testing, treatment, and telehealth services. This must be provided without a copay, use of coinsurance or deductible.
  • USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) has made it clear that the new public charge rule will not apply to testing, treatment or preventive care for COVID-19.
  • There are now dozens of CVS drive-thru COVID-19 testing locations in or bordering Massachusetts, by appointment only. CVS is planning to announce other testing options throughout Massachusetts and in other states, too. Click here for testing information.
    • Additional test-site information has been posted here.
  • MassHealth and the Health Connector committed to protecting coverage for all people approved for Medicaid as of March 18, 2020, and all who are approved for coverage during the national emergency

The Breakdown:

  • More people will be able to enroll in health coverage and access care including medication and testing.

The Bottom Line

  • MassHealth applied for a Waiver on March 20, 2020 to get federal permission to innovate care delivery in many flexible ways, ranging from non-traditional sites of care, streamlined approval for out-of-state clinicians to practice in MA, and presumptive eligibility for MassHealth. If approved by the federal government, this will expand the healthcare system’s toolbox for delivering care when and where it’s needed during catastrophe.
  • The federal government’s initial response is here. Its additional response on May 8, 2020 is here and on June 16, 2020 is here. Some flexibility has been approved, for example non-traditional/unlicensed sites of care, and affirming the state’s latitude to waive Medicaid “prior authorization” requirements, and confirming how waivers apply to CHIP (Child Health Insurance Program).
  • These kinds of flexibilities may ease up bottlenecks in access to in-person care, medication, and medical equipment. There may be ongoing communication between the state and the federal government.Menu

Housing Instability

Headline: The National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a nationwide eviction moratorium protecting most tenants experiencing financial hardship, that took effect September 4, 2020 through at least December 31, 2020!

The COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law in Massachusetts has been extended to October 17, 2020. The provisions of this more protective moratorium are still in effect. However the CDC Eviction Moratorium is currently scheduled to last longer. For multilingual information about the tenant declaration that will be required for federal eviction moratorium protection, click here.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 2:30pm, September 23, 2020

Eviction Moratorium

The Basics:

Key Housing Resources

1. Effective July 1, 2020 - Housing Court Standing Order

2. Housing Court FAQ (Spanish FAQ) (Portuguese)

3. Mass Gov

4. National Housing Law Project (NHLP)

5. AG Healey's webinar series

  • Recognizing that the CARES Act protections expired, the CDC has issued a nationwide eviction moratorium protecting most tenants experiencing financial hardship, scheduled to take effect September 4, 2020 through at least December 31, 2020! Details about the CDC Eviction Moratorium are in the above link. The provisions of even more protective moratoria, such as in MA, are still in effect. 
  • As of April 20, 2020, there is now a full Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium in MA under Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020.
    • In residential properties, the new law prohibits enforcing old evictions or starting new eviction cases, except in safety emergencies.
    • The moratorium will remain in effect either until October 17, 2020 or 45 days following the end of the state of emergency, whichever is sooner.
    • CARES Act protections are still relevant in Massachusetts: unlike the state Eviction Moratorium, CARES Act may entitle some tenants to dismissal of cases filed between March 27 and April 20, 2020
    • The City of Boston opened a rental relief fund on April 6, 2020: The fund is to support tenants who are not protected adequately or at all under other relief programs, such as unemployment benefits.
  • The CARES Act, which created a 4-month moratorium nationwide on filing NEW eviction cases for NON-PAYMENT in federal subsidized housing – including tax credit and Section 8 housing, expired July 24, 2020. However, the MA moratorium still provides protection so long as it remains in effect. Also, HUD is encouraging landlords to continue working with tenants to the extent practicable
  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium assures a longer period of narrower protection through December 31, 2020.
  • Housing court judgments entered for failure to appear between March 1, 2020 and May 4, 2020 can be removed if a motion is filed. Court clerks are available to answer questions about status of specific cases.
  • The most recent Housing Court Standing Order went into effect July 1, 2020. For more detail on court operations see the Court Systems section of this Digital Digest. While the Housing Court will continue to conduct most business “virtually”, effective July 13, 2020 the housing court has reopened and will consider hearing some cases in person at court if it would be more efficient and effective to do so. Housing Court Specialists remain a useful resource to resolve cases through mediation. All agreements will be reviewed to assure they comply with the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium. The Housing Court’s contact information is listed here.
  • The most recent District Court Standing Order 8-20 went into effect on July 13, 2020. For more detail on court operations see the Court Systems section of this Digital Digest. Even though court operations will start to involve more in-person events, “Motions for Stay of Execution” (requests to delay a forced move-out after losing an eviction case) and “Motions for Temporary Restraining Orders” (requests to make a landlord stop doing something or start doing something – like fix a leak) will continue to be heard virtually. The District Court will only hear cases that honor the boundaries of the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium.
  • Housing discrimination – including eviction or refusal to rent – based on national origin or race, age, gender, or the perception that one has a disability, is illegal. If discrimination is experienced for these or other reasons, one option is to file a complaint with the MCAD telephonically or electronically.
  • DHCD has issued Guidance urging state subsidized housing providers to suspend non-essential evictions and temporarily suspend subsidy terminations.
  • Additional homelessness prevention funds (RAFT and ERMA) have been released, with more flexible application and eligibility requirements.

The Breakdown:

  • The COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law in MA in MA temporarily protects tenants both from old and new evictions cases, except where there are serious health and safety hazards at stake. If tenants cannot pay their rent due to COVID-19 they cannot be removed from their home while the Moratorium is in effect – and this will last into October or until 45 days after the State of Emergency is lifted (whatever comes first).
  • Only “essential” eviction matters can be processed, which are those thatinvolve or include allegations of criminal activity that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public; or lease violations that may impact the health or safety of other residents, health care workers, emergency personnel, persons lawfully on the subject property or the general public.” 
  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium assures a longer period of narrower protection through December 31, 2020. Click here for more information about it.. Most importantly: be aware that in order for people to exercise their rights under the CDC’s eviction moratorium, tenants must prepare a specific written statement and give it to their landlord. Click here for multilingual information.
  • While there are legal protections that can delay eviction and foreclosure due to falling behind in payments during COVID-19, accessing financial resources to catch up on housing debt is a crucial part of homelessness prevention strategy: RAFT and ERMA are resources in Massachusetts for which people can apply through a more streamlined process than usual, with more relaxed eligibility requirements: including, for example, less strictness about whether the tenancy or mortgage can be sustained after funding is provided.
  • On March 12, 2020, MetroHousing | Boston (a Regional Housing Authority) posted on its website “Many deadlines, including voucher expirations, will be extended
  • DHCD has issued Guidance urging state subsidized housing providers to suspend non-essential evictions and temporarily suspend subsidy terminations. Additional homelessness prevention funds (RAFT) have been released.
  • Under the SJC’s most recently updated Order that goes into effect July 1, 2020, no jury trials will happen before September 8, 2020.
  • Under the SJC’s recently updated order no jury trials will happen before September 8, 2020. Because of potential confusion with repeated updates of court rules, the court has created this document that compares the prior order to the new order that went into effect June 1, 2020.
  • People with court cases relating to housing who do not have a lawyer, may contact the Housing Court "Virtual" Front Counter and Specialists Counter, the Housing Court helpline or the Housing Court for their region to confirm the scheduling and deadlines in their case. Many deadlines are “tolled”, meaning extended beyond the original due date, based on the Supreme Judicial Court’s Order. This is helpful for many people including tenants with eviction cases, but it is confusing to figure out the new due date. This is why it makes sense for people who do not have lawyers representing them to call the court for confirmation.
  • To try to get free legal help with a housing case, click here.
  • IMPORTANT INFO FOR RESIDENTIAL TENANTS: In order to avoid having to pay late fees or receiving a negative credit report, the new eviction moratorium law requires tenants to send a form of hardship notice to their landlord within 30 days of every missed rent payment. One form must be filled out for each month of missed payment. If a tenant is unable to fill out and transmit the form, they can also email or post a letter to the landlord with the same information.
  • IMPORTANT INFO FOR SMALL BUSINESS TENANTS: Small businesses are also not subject to late fees or negative credit bureau reporting if they submit a form of notice to their landlord within 30 days of missed rent payment. Small businesses must submit two forms: A certification of hardship and back up documentation.
  • IMPORTANT FOR ALL LANDLORDS: The law allows the landlord to use last month’s rent to pay for certain expenses including, but not limited to, mortgage payments, utilities, repairs and required upkeep. However, the landlord must send a formal notice to the tenant when doing so.
  • IMPORTANT INFO FOR RESIDENTIAL LANDLORDS:Though the law prevents landlords from sending Notices to Quit (Evict), the regulations allow for sending notice of past rent due (arrearages) provided that each notice must include specific language which can be viewed here. 

The Bottom Line:

  • The COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law in MA affords breathing room to most tenants, but confusion about changes is predictable. In cases where tenants need help from the court to address unhealthy conditions, like serious plumbing or electrical problems, or landlord harassment, the court is available virtually.
  • It is typical to see an adjustment period when new laws are applied. Agencies that enforce the new law often prepare “Guidance” and/or Regulations that clarify what the law means and how it applies, and the Department of Housing and Community Development has issued new Guidance on this topic. Over time, the housing courts may play a role in further clarifying terms like “essential eviction” and “health and safety emergency”. 
  • Lots of work is being conducted by phone, and voicemail boxes are often full. Finding email addresses through colleagues and communities of practice may be important.
  • Frontline workforces at large agencies or companies may need to learn changed rules. Try to have something in writing on hand – like a link to a consumer protection announcement – that indicates a right or eligibility for benefits.
  • Despite the eviction moratorium and other protections, some tenants will still be worried about having nowhere to go, so City Life/Vida Urbana has issued the following alert to metro Boston residents: “ARE YOU WORRIED YOU’LL GET EVICTED SOON? CALL OUR HOUSING HOTLINE. English (617) 934-5006; Espanol (617) 397-7773”
  • On May 29, 2020, some landlords filed a lawsuit challenging the eviction moratorium lawsuit filed at MA’s highest court. On July 15, 2020 the same landlords filed related federal claims in Federal District Court. The MA Attorney General and other advocates, are strongly defending the law – and the public health it was designed to protect -- in both courts.
    • One reported concern landlords’ have is that the moratorium could be extended to the end of the year by the governor. It is unlikely that this lawsuit will shorten the current suspension of evictions through mid-October, and hopefully it the law will not be changed.
    • On August 26, 2020, the landlords’ request to stop the Moratorium right away while the state court case is still going on (a request for “preliminary injuction”) was denied!
  • On July 1, 2020 MA launched a $20 million Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program (ERMA). People earning 50-80% of the Area Median Incomemay be eligible. An example: in the Boston/Cambridge/Quincy area, a family of 3 in Boston, with income between $57,600 and $86,650, could apply for up to $4,000 to help with overdue rent or mortgage payments. While the application is still lengthy, a challenging “Housing Plan” is no longer required (The former Housing Plan document is the last page, here.)
  • People in need are encouraged to apply for RAFT and ERMA because the possibility of eligibility is higher during COVID-19 than during pre-pandemic times when there were more restrictions on eligibility for similar programs.
  • Advocates will need to be poised to respond to the floodgate of foreclosure defense needs that will open when the COVID-19-related protections are lifted. It will be important to advocate for extensions of protections, when there may be pressure to end them before the need for them has passed. It will also be important to start thinking now about systems for addressing needs in order of priority.
  • Relatedly, one way to address landlords’ concerns about their rental business is to help tenants pay rent. The City of Boston has added another $5 million to the rental relief fund it set up to assist tenants who have lost income due to COVID-19 and are falling behind in rent. With the additional funding, new applications can be processed starting Friday, June 5, 2020.
  • Advocates will need to be poised to respond to the floodgate of need that will open when the COVID-19-related protections are lifted. It will be important to urge extensions of protections, when there may be pressure to end them before the need of them has passed.
  • An especially important tip: people who serve as live-in aides to loved ones and are NOT on the lease should consider being added to the lease. This is the only way for the live-in-aide to have tenant rights if something should happen to their loved ones.
  • Another tip: for tenants who received Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) supplement to unemployment benefits, the retroactive LWA payment was a temporary, one-time benefit, so the Department of Housing & Community Development considers it to be a “gift” that public housing applicants or residents do not need to include in income reported to local housing authorities. (For more information about unemployment benefits, see the Employment section of this digest)

Foreclosure

The Basics:

  • HUD again extended until at least December 31, 2020 its suspension of foreclosures only (not evictions) from single family homes that have mortgages issued by the Federal Housing Administration. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) again extended its moratorium on both foreclosure and eviction from single family homes that have mortgages through “Fannie Mae” or “Freddie Mac.” These are positive but narrow protections.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also offer a 12-month forbearance (delay in payments being due, without interest or penalties). Other payment-stabilizing deferral options for eligible borrowers impacted by COVID-19 are available, and it’s easy to look up whether a loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  • The COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law in MA also prohibits foreclosures in 1-4 family owner-occupied The Division of Banks has put out a Frequently Asked Questions document regarding new law, which also has additional provisions that:
    • Require lenders to offer homeowners affected by COVID-19 permission to suspend payments for a period of time ("forbearance") with the unpaid debt added to the end of the loan.
    • Prevent negative credit reporting for homeowners in forbearance

The Breakdown:

  • Foreclosure protections do not create debt forgiveness, but they offer debt delay – still a valuable safety net during this crisis.
  • The COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law in MA has been extended through mid-October or until 45 days after the State of Emergency is lifted (whatever comes first)
  • The law also entitles homeowners who can’t pay their mortgage during the Moratorium due to COVID-19 to add the debt to the end of their loan without any negative credit consequences.
  • Under the SJC’s updated order no jury trials will happen before September 8, 2020. Because of potential confusion with repeated updates of court rules, the court has created this document that compares the prior order to the new order that went into effect June 1, 2020.
  • Those with court cases relating to housing and who do not have a lawyer, may contact the housing court helpline or the housing court for their region to confirm (a) the scheduling and deadlines in their case.
  • Despite these new protections, some tenants and foreclosed homeowners will still be worried about having nowhere to go, so City Life/Vida Urbana has issued the following alert to metro Boston residents: “ARE YOU WORRIED YOU’LL GET EVICTED SOON? CALL OUR HOUSING HOTLINE. English (617) 934-5006; Espanol (617) 397-7773”

The Bottom Line:

  • The COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law in MA affords breathing room to most owner-occupant homeowners, but confusion about changes is predictable.
  • Lots of work is being conducted by phone, and voicemail boxes are often full. Finding email addresses through colleagues and communities of practice may be important.
  • Frontline workforces at large agencies or companies may need to learn changed rules. Try to have something in writing on hand – like a link to a consumer protection announcement – that indicates a right or eligibility for benefits.
  • One way to address landlords’ concerns about their rental business is to help tenants pay rent. The City of Boston has added another $5 million to the rental relief fund it set up to assist tenants who have lost income due to COVID-19 and are falling behind in rent. With the additional funding, new applications started to be processed on Friday, June 5, 2020.
  • On July 1, 2020 Massachusetts launched a $20 million Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program (ERMA). People earning 50-80% of the Area Median Income may be eligible. An example: in the Boston/Cambridge/Quincy area, a family of 3 in Boston, with income between $57,600 and $86,650, could apply for up to $4,000 to help with overdue rent or mortgage payments.
  • People in need are encouraged to apply for RAFT and ERMA because the possibility of eligibility is higher during COVID-19 than during pre-pandemic times when there were more restrictions on eligibility for similar programs. For example, there is less strictness about whether the housing will definitely be sustainable if funding is awarded.
  • Advocates will need to be poised to respond to the floodgate of foreclosure defense needs that will open when the COVID-19-related protections are lifted. It will be important to advocate for extensions of protections, when there may be pressure to end them before the need for them has passed. It will also be important to start thinking now about systems for addressing needs in order of priority.

Homelessness and Shelter

The Basics:

  • DHCD has committed to providing EA shelter residents who are required to self-quarantine appropriate shelter, which may include paid hotel stay.
  • DHCD now has guidance on COVID-19 screening in congregate shelter which allows members of shelter households to quarantine or self-isolate without exposing others. It has responded to concerns expressed by advocates, affirming its commitment to more lenient and protective measures to assure access and safety of shelter guests during a time of emergency.
  • DHCD issued HomeBASE guidance explaining that program participants are still limited to a $10,000 total benefit per year. However, if there is a need to “frontload” some or all of that amount due to COVID-19, agencies should try to honor the request to do so. The guidance also recognizes the unique obstacles COVID-19 imposes on families and therefore creates a presumption that a family who stays in contact with their stabilization worker are making a good faith effort to adhere with their stabilization plan.
  • On March 30, 2020, the Mayor of Boston announced an initiative to mitigate the high risks confronting homeless families: 1,000 units of housing are being prioritized for homeless families in a partnership between Boston Housing Authority and Boston Public Schools.
  • DHCD also announced guidance more generally on COVID-19 issues, including social distancing methods in congregate shelter for both family and individual shelters.

The Breakdown:

  • Families and individuals in shelter both have newly implemented options to isolate and recover without exposing others to COVID-19.
  • Families who receive HomeBASE benefits to stabilize current housing instead of entering shelter may be able to access more funds quickly, up to the cap of $10,000, and can expect flexibility around stabilization plan requirements. However, this means families will need a fall back plan when the funding runs out sooner.
  • Major challenges continue to confront people living in single adult shelter, especially for older adults and immunocompromised persons. Efforts to support physical distancing unfortunately will require creativity and resources.
  • Multiple sites have been repurposed for safe shelter and quarantine, including a Suffolk University Dormitory and the recently closed Newton Pavilion at Boston Medical Center.
  • There is no clear policy statement about families who would ordinarily be “barred” from entering shelter for 12 months because they were found to have “abandoned” shelter.
  • With office closures, families with children seeking to apply for Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter only can apply by phone with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD): 1-866-584-0653. 

Conditions of Disrepair

The Basics:

  • Inspectional Services Department (ISD) in Boston is only providing “critical services”, such as response to utility outages, and mold from plumbing problems or roof/window leaks.
  • ISD in Boston is conducting “virtual” inspections by video and by receiving photographs both to verify violations and progress toward repair. When progress is not made, ISD’s next step is to begin court action, which has become unpredictable (due to variation in court practices).
  • Because critical services/emergency conditions of disrepair during COVID-19 is not defined yet by law, each individual Board of Health may have its own priorities/restrictions. Contact the City or Town Hall for local Board of Health information.

The Breakdown:

  • The Housing Court’s Frequently Asked Questions explain what counts as an “Emergency Matter”. Recognized emergencies include: Lockout, condemnation, no heat, no water, and/or no utilities; conduct and or conditions endangering health and safety; or stay of levy on an execution (48-hour notice/move-out).

The Bottom Line:

  • Frontline workforces at large agencies or companies may need time to learn changed rules. Try to have something in writing on hand – like a link to a consumer protection announcement – that indicates a right or eligibility for benefits. Menu


Immigration

Headline: USCIS can use the new public charge rule to decide legal permanent resident (“green card”) applications in all states.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

MIRA Coalition COVID-19 Page

  • Most USCIS field offices and asylum offices have reopened. Visitors must follow this policy. Naturalization ceremonies have also resumed.
  • Immigration Courts have different operational statuses. Boston Immigration Court reopened for all matters. Case information is available online with a 9-digit alien registration number (A-#########) or by calling the Executive Office of Administration Review at 1-800-898-7180.
  • USCIS can use the new public charge rule to decide legal permanent resident (“green card”) applications in all states.
  • MLRI is tracking COVID-related immigration orders. Many of the recent orders issued have implications for refugee and asylee status.

The Breakdown

  • The RIAN Center has canceled all in-person immigration clinics. Apply for a free legal consultation by calling 617-542-7654.
  • The US will not allow entry to foreign nationals who have been in China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, or Brazil within the past 14 days. As a result, many may find it difficult to enter the country, or may find it difficult to re-enter upon leaving.
  • The Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition has put out a reference sheet outlining immigrant eligibility for COVID-19 supports provided in federal legislation.
  • MA Jobs with Justice has been connecting families with resources through MA Worker’s Emergency Relief Funds and Mutual Aid Networks. Language access assistance is available. Additional aid is available through the MassUndocuFund.
  • USCIS has made it clearthat the new public charge rule does not apply to:
    • Testing, treatment or preventative care for COVID-19
    • WIC, school breakfast/lunch programs, food pantries
    • Disaster relief
    • Emergency health insurance
    • Remember: the new public charge rule does not apply to naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents (“green card holders”), asylum seekers, refugees, VAWA recipients, U-Visa holders, T-Visa holders, or those with Temporary Protected Status. 

The Bottom Line

  • These changes make an uncertain time even more uncertain for immigrant populations. Families with questions about public charge should connect with immigration experts to have their specific questions and needs evaluated.
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Public Charge

Headline: The public charge injunction now only applies to CT, NY, and VT. The new public charge rule is back in effect in other locations.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:00pm, September 15, 2020

 

Key Resource

Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition

The Basics:

  • A new 2nd Circuit order has limited the July 29, 2020 federal court injunctions on the new public charge rule to CT, NY, and VT. Applications received after July 29, 2020 in those states will still be processed with the 1999 Public Charge rule rather than the version introduced in February 2020. Applications in MA will again be processed using the new rule.

Remember: the public charge rule does not apply to naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents (“green card holders”), asylum seekers, refugees, VAWA recipients, U-Visa holders, T-Visa holders, or those with Temporary Protected Status.

The Breakdown: 

  • Applications received after July 29, 2020 will have the previous Public Charge rule from 1999 applied to them rather than the new 2020 rule. Forms of COVID-19 medical attention should remain safely accessible under both versions of the rule.
  • Forms of COVID-19 medical attention should be safely accessible without public charge implications.

The Bottom Line

  • Applications received after July 29, 2020 will have the previous Public Charge rule from 1999 applied to them rather than the new 2020 rule. Forms of COVID-19 medical attention should remain safely accessible under both versions of the rule.
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IPV

Headline: More physical distancing from the outside world can mean less physical distancing between victims and perpetrators. Safety planning resources offer vital texting options to address this COVID-19 barrier to outreach. Safelink has both a Phone and Chat Helpline; National DV hotline also offers a chat option.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 6:30pm, September 1, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Safelink Phone and Chat Helpline

2. Jane Doe

3. Futures Without Violence

  • Interpersonal safety resources address domestic violence, abuse and neglect of children, older adults, and persons with disabilities.
  • Even when courts are closed, safeguards are in place to ensure that emergency orders can be issued for instances of domestic violence, elder neglect or abuse, child neglect or abuse, and neglect or abuse of persons with disabilities. MA courts have developed specific resources for harassment and abuse prevention orders during COVID-19.
  • Congress authorized additional hotline and shelter funding in the CARES Act, recognizing the increased demand for and adaptation required of these systems during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Check with individual community-based organizations to learn how they are operating during the crisis.
  • In case of emergency, call 911.
  • The Asian Taskforce Against Domestic Violence has a 24-hour multilingual hotline.
  • The Community Advocacy Program based at several Boston health centers is offering phone consultation 8-5 Mon.-Fri. in English, Cape Verdean Creole, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese
  • The SafeLink 24/7 statewide helpline can be reached at (877) 785-2020 to address intimate partner violence.

The Breakdown:

  • Social/physical distancing limitations control IPV victims’ movement in ways that may be triggering and endangering.
  • Essential safety services through police and courts are functioning.
  • However, for many victims these resources may not be good, sufficient or safe options. For those individuals, it’s important to note that the above referenced helplines are available and the National DV hotline also offers a chat option.
  • Police brutality is an interpersonal safety issue. Police have the responsibility and power to protect people. That same power can be dangerous, sometimes lethal, especially when fueled by racism and other prejudice like homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia. While this is not a pathway to emergency response, the National Lawyers Guild can be a resource: Police Accountability Project

The Bottom Line:

  • Local community-based organizations will be mobilizing to address these new challenges – both maintaining protective services for current clients, and initiating new investigations relating to suspicion of neglect or abuse. It may be necessary to outreach to agencies in the coming days to learn of new resources and evolving best-practices.
    • Child neglect/abuse: COVID-19 resources at Department of Children and Families (DCF) are assembled at this link. Reporting instructions are linked here, how to report child abuse or neglect and the process is by phone or internet at this time.
    • Elder neglect/abuse reporting is conducted by phone or email. The state has developed a specific nursing home resource page for people concerned about their loved ones isolated in long term care facilities during COVID-19.
    • Reporting neglect/abuse of persons w/ disabilities is conducted by phone or email. The Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates (COFAR) maintains a resource page relating to COVID-19 and persons with developmental disabilities. COFAR is actively working to improve protections for residents who live in staffed group homes and are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure and the trauma of social isolation from loved ones.
    • Reporting neglect/abuse of persons with disabilities is conducted by phone or email. The MA Coalition of Families and Advocates (COFAR) maintains a resource page relating to COVID-19 and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. COFAR is actively working to improve protections for residents who live in staffed group homes, and who remain particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure and the trauma of social isolation from loved ones.
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Mental Health

Headline: The CDC estimates that in late June, 40% of American adults experienced depression, anxiety, or substance use issues due to the COVID pandemic.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

APA COVID-19 Resources for Providers, Families, & Community Leaders

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that the COVID-19 outbreak has had an impact on the mental health of many Americans. A recent CDC report estimates that in late June, 40% of American adults experienced depression, anxiety, or substance use issues due to the COVID pandemic.
  • Mental Health America has put together some COVID-19 resources designed to help people cope with staying at home and managing pandemic-related anxiety.
  • Some employers may offer special support program such as Employment Assistance Programs. Check with individual employers for more information.
  • Many mental health providers are offering telehealth support to remain available during this difficult time.
  • The Mental Health America Hotline provides text-based services. Text MHA to 741741.
  • SAMHSA has a Disaster Distress Hotline that operates 24/7 to support people experiencing difficulties related to the pandemic. The number is 1-800-985-5990.

The Breakdown

The Bottom Line

  • It is understandable and normative to struggle with the new routines and process created by the pandemic, to say nothing of the difficulties created by the virus itself. Resources remain available to help anyone having difficulty with this challenging time.
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Transportation Needs-1

Headline: The US Department of State issued country-specific advisories for international travelers. Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and/or mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am September 9, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

1. MA Bay Transit Authority (MBTA)

2. MA Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) 

The Breakdown:

  • All travelers entering MA from high-risk states are required to complete a MA Travel Form. If these travelers do not submit negative COVID-19 test results, they must also quarantine for 14 days. They may be fined $500 per day if they do not follow the travel rules.
  • All MBTA riders are required to wear a face covering and are urged to enter at rear doors.
  • RIDE has changed some policies. Trips must now be booked 1-3 days in advance.
  • The RMV has limited in-person appointments. No walk-ins are allowed; appointments must be reserved on the RMV website. Some RMV services are also available at AAA locations by appointment.
  • The Baker Administration extended the expiration date of all MA licenses and identification cards that are scheduled to expire between March 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020. Additional details are available on the RMV website.

The Bottom Line:

  • Before traveling internationally, travelers should check for guidance from the US Department of State. Before traveling between states, travelers should check for guidance from each state that they plan to enter. Travelers must also comply with the MA travel rules when they return to the state.Menu

Utility Needs

Headline: Fall has arrived and with it the heating season. It is crucial to prepare utility consumers to verify financial hardship in order to be eligible for the winter moratorium going into effect on November 15, 2020 for lower-income consumers. One way to verify financial hardship is to enroll in a Fuel Assistance program at a local Community Action Program (CAP)– which also helps pay the bills!

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman called upon internet companies to “go above and beyond” the no-disconnections pledge that expired earlier this summer. Here is list of free and discounted internet services offered by some companies, and here is another similar list. This is especially important as children return to school and require internet service for remote learning.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 3:30pm, August 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Mass Gov

2. Mass Cap

3. Everyone On - low cost connectivity resources during COVID-19

  • On May 29, 2020, the Department of Public Utilities extended its March 13, 2020 Order, which suspended service disconnections to all residential customers of privately owned electric, gas, and water companies while MA is in a State of Emergency. The suspension is now extended until November 15, 2020. On that date, the Winter Moratorium on utility disconnection will go into effect for low-income customers, including customers of municipal (city or town-owned) electric and gas companies. The winter moratorium will provide further utility security to many still struggling with income insecurity: however, unlike the March 13, 2020 suspension, the protection only activates if the customer verifies their financial hardship status with the utility company, every 90 days!
    • Similarly, after the expiration of the Winter Moratorium, medically-based protection may be available with verification from an authorized healthcare provider in addition to verification of financial hardship. Detailed information on these verification processes and other potential utility stabilizing strategies after COVID-19 protections expire is available in this National Consumer Law Center Handbook).
  • On May 8, 2020 the Federal Government announced that it will allocate $27,000,000 to MA in Fuel Assistance supplements, as provided under the CARES Act. The extended deadline to apply for fuel assistance during the 2019-2020 heating season expired May 29, 2020. Contact your local Community Assistance Program (CAP) to learn when applications will be accepted for the 2020-2021 heating season.

The Breakdown:

  • Even though the DPU shut-off suspension instruction references extending the winter moratorium, this new policy applies to water, gas and electric service, regardless of whether the utility is heat-related or whether the consumer is low-income. Officially, however, it only applies to privately-owned utility companies. Those who receive service from city or town-owned (municipal) utility companies still should not get shut-off because the Department of Public Utilities expects them to honor the moratorium. Therefore, if anyone experiences or is threatened with service termination, inform the fuel program at the neighborhood CAP Agency and ask them to alert the National Consumer Law Center, which is tracking this concern. The DPU Consumer Division and the Attorney General's Energy & Environment Bureau may also be able to help.
  • After the COVID-19 and Winter Moratorium protections are over, customers who have not paid bills will have accrued tremendous debt come the spring of 2021. People should still pay bills if they can – or at least portions of bills – to avoid being shut off after protections expire.
  • For those who are able to pay current bills, there is good news about “Arrearage Management Plans” (AMPs) with electric and gas companies: customers who are on the low-income discounted rate, are eligible to have varying amounts of debt forgiven – for example up to $20,000 for Eversource customers – if they pay 12 current monthly bills. Unlike past restrictions, now any low-income customer is eligible to enroll or re-enroll in an AMP program. Information is available directly from utility companies. Local CAP Agencies may be able to help people with AMP enrollment questions. Eversource has prepared materials that summarize various COVID-19 programs and protections, linked here.

The Bottom Line

  • In the spring of 2021, disconnections of utility service may begin again at a large scale. Hopefully, this can be avoided, but spikes in disconnections do occur around the expiration of the Winter Moratorium each year. Households should be prepared to assert the usual utility shut-off protection verifications (financial + age or illness) promptlywith the information in this National Consumer Law Center Handbook and support from healthcare providers and consumer advocates.
  • Fall is here, increasing the burden on distressed tenants and homeowners whose propane or oil bills go up in the heating season. Since COVID-19 will continue to impact the economy in the coming cold seasons it will be important to mobilize in support of the many consumers who heat with these fuels in MA. CAP Agencies are key leaders on this topic.
  • Action alert: In case of any threats, but especially if a municipal electric and gas companies threaten service disconnection, please inform the fuel program at the neighborhood CAP Agency and ask them to alert the National Consumer Law Center, which is tracking this concern.

Telephone & Internet Equity

The Basics:

  • This summary of telephone and internet resources during COVID-19 was published by MassHealth to support members in accessing Telehealth services.
  • The FCC has taken action to raise awareness about the Nation-wide Lifeline Program for affordable telephone or internet service, a benefit for which many consumers may be newly eligible during the pandemic.
  • The FCC has taken action to help ensure that no current Lifeline telephone subscribers are involuntarily removed from the Lifeline program during the coronavirus pandemic by waiving several rules that could otherwise result in de-enrollment of subscribers. The FCC has also waived Lifeline program rules to assist with program enrollment. Limited protection is offered for landline phone service.
  • Some major cell phone providers have made “pledges” not to disconnect customers.
  • The “Keep America Connected” pledge requested by the FCC, expired June 30, 2020. Hopefully it will be extended but we have not heard of any extension yet, apart from the FCC Chairman’s call for companies to “go above and beyond the pledge.” If any of the hundreds of companies that had honored the Pledge now begin to disconnect consumers for non-payment, they still have to follow written notice and other rules. Now is a good time to explore the kinds of telephone and internet resources and protections that are generally available to low-income households: for example, Lifeline Services, as well as free and low-cost services that some companies are providing voluntarily.
  • Comcast currently offers free and reduced-cost programs to ensure access to WiFi. Details about this and other internet and telephone resources are here.
  • RCN invites customers to outreach about financial hardship, stating “we are here and ready to help by deferring payments and waiving late fees due to economic situations caused by COVID-19 coronavirus”

Water

  • Check with local public water and sewer commissions regarding general water shut-off protections and any moratoria during the State of Emergency in MA. On March 16, 2020, the Boston Water & Sewer Commission suspended residential water service terminations.
  • Do not assume that there is no protection because it isn’t prominent on the company’s website – sometimes it can be very hard to find. Consider calling public water companies and mentioning Boston’s disconnection and late fee suspension as an example.
  • On March 24, 2020 the DPU issued an Order prohibiting investor-owned utilities (including private water distribution companies), from disconnecting service or sending collection letters. Private MA water distribution companies are covered by this moratorium. The DPU Consumer Division and the Attorney General's Energy & Environment Bureau may also be able to help if public water companies threaten or actually disconnect service.
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WTD

  • MLPB's What You Can Do When There's Nothing to Do
  • Support those who rely on benefits by purchasing your groceries after the 14th day of the month and avoiding items that are labeled WIC-approved.
  • Make sure to be counted! Complete the S. Census.
  • If eligible, register to vote.
  • Find your state and federal representatives and tell them how you feel about important legislation.
  • Find organizations that are advocating for others and join their cause.
  • Take time to relax by virtually visiting museums or watching fitness videos.
  • If you have the funds, support organizations that are helping others. Donate locally!

The Breakdown: 

  • The future progression of COVID-19 is unknown.
  • In this time of stress and uncertainty, self-care is also highly important.

The Bottom Line

  • As the situation unfolds, more advocacy may be needed to address further inequities that arise as a result of the pandemic.

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