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 Administrative Manager Meg Baker at mbaker@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

  • Beginning January 1, 2021, eligible workers may be entitled to the following Paid Family Medical Leave

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  Interpersonal Safety  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: The Baker-Polito Administration extended gathering and capacity restrictions to January 24, 2020.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 8am, January 11, 2021

The Basics:

The Breakdown:

Key Resource

MA Info on COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed in three phases and DPH will publish a weekly vaccine report. The vaccine is currently available to healthcare workers and first responders.
  • Beginning in February 2021, the vaccine will be available to teachers, grocery store employees, elderly residents, and other high-risk individuals. Beginning in April 2021, the vaccine will be available to all other MA residents. Residents can use the CDC Vaccine Finder to locate a healthcare provider that is distributing the vaccine.
  • Everyone over the age of 5 years old must wear a mask in all public locations. Additional guidance is outlined in the order. Violations may result in a $500 fine. 
  • Until at least January 24, 2021, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people. All events must end by 9:30pm. Attendees must stay 6 feet away from anyone who is not a member of their household. All attendees are also encouraged to wear a facemask. Public venue restrictions are also outlined in the release. Violations may result in a $500 fine.
  • Until at least January 24, 2021, many businesses are limited to 25% capacity and must remain closed between 9:30pm and 5:00am. The original order contains a list of affected businesses. 
  • The MA Department of Public Health revised the Stay-at-Home Advisory to urge residents to remain at home from 10:00pm to 5:00am.
  • 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.
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The Bottom Line: 


Court System

Headline: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Trial Court has announced a 90-day plan for court operations through April 5, 2021. Court offices will operate with no more than 50% of staff capacity and 6-person jury trials will resume on January 11, 2021. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 2pm, January 12, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Court System Response to COVID-19

2. District Court FAQs Related to COVID-19

  • The Trial Court has issued updated health and safety protocols for people entering MA courthouses. Check the Daily Court Updates for recent court information in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • MA courthouses are open and doing most business remotely. For helpful information on various remote Trial Court services, including Housing Court virtual front counters, Superior Court protocols, tips for remote hearings, and Trial Court Zoom Rooms, click here. Translated court resources are available here in Arabic, Cape Verdean Creole, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Khmer, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • “Zoom Rooms” are now available in Brockton, Chelsea, Springfield, and Worcester courthouses to help people participate in virtual hearings. Click here for more information on accessing these Zoom Rooms.
  • Contact the Trial Court Helpline by calling 833-91-COURT from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday for non-emergency case questions. For emergency questions, use the Courthouse Locator to find contact information for the appropriate court clerk.
  • MA courts have produced a series of COVID-19 video resources explaining court procedures during the pandemic as well as a video guide to help court users prepare for remote hearings. Remote virtual court video resources are available in Cape Verdean, Portuguese, and Spanish here.
  • MA courts have issued updated guidance on obtaining a protection order (e.g., a restraining order, harassment prevention order or extreme risk protection order) during COVID-19. Courts are open to accept protection order applications in person. An individual needing a protection order can also contact their local police department in person or by phone. 
  • Individuals and their advocates can access cases online through the eAccess public portal: www.masscourts.org.
  • MA courts have issued critical COVID-19 eviction information about summary process (eviction) cases. The latest federal COVID relief package extended the federal eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021
  • MA courts have issued multiple orders addressing changes to court operations for handling summary process (eviction) cases due to COVID-19, the expiration of the state eviction moratorium, and the extension of the CDC eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021.
  • If you or someone you know needs legal help with an eviction in MA, contact the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP). CELHP will help tenants facing eviction and owner-occupants who live in 2 and 3-family houses who are filing an eviction. To be eligible for free legal help, a household's income must be under 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. 
  • Housing Court FAQs offer helpful guidance about court processes and resources.
  • The Housing Court's latest order setting forth temporary modifications to court operations provides that: 

--Summary process cases will be scheduled based on when they were filed.
--Pending summary process cases will be addressed through a two-tier process:

-First Tier will be conducted virtually with a Housing Specialist to determine the applicability of the CDC eviction  moratorium, identify available resources to assist with housing costs, and attempt mediation.
-Second Tier (if earlier mediation is unsuccessful) will consist of a trial, which will be held no sooner than 14 days after the first-tier event. Most trials will be held by video conference.

--New summary process cases will also be handled in two tiers; the first tier will occur on a date assigned by the court. Upon filing of a new case, the Clerk's Office will send all parties (1) written notice of the first court event and the manner in which it will be heard; and (2) an information sheet with a list of resources to help parties resolve their case.

  • The District Court has issued extensive FAQs related to COVID-19. Topics include the types of cases that district courts are hearing in person; accessing video conference (Zoom) hearings; how to contact a specific Clerk’s Office; eviction case FAQs, among other important court processes. These FAQs are now available in Spanish as well as eight other languages.
  • The Boston Municipal Court (BMC) and Massachusetts District Courts follow a similar two-tier process for eviction cases. See BMC's recent order governing operations for summary process matters and the District Court's amended order governing court operations for summary process cases
  • BMC, Housing Court, and District Court eviction-specific information, including information sheets on court resources for eviction matters, is available here. The Housing Court information sheets, a sample of which is here, provide helpful links and instructions on Court Service Centers, legal representation, connecting to Zoom for hearings, housing specialists, court service centers, and other court resources. 
  • The Governor's COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Initiative includes a range of expanded court-based services including broader access to mediation and legal representation.
  • With limited exceptions, for both Superior Court and District Court: civil bench trials (no jury) may be conducted virtually; criminal bench trials (no jury) will be conducted in person; jury trials will resume the week of January 11, 2021. Here is a link to a video explaining what COVID-19 protocols people should expect when they are summoned for jury service.
  • With some exceptions, Juvenile Court hearings will continue to be held virtually; jury trials may be conducted in person beginning the week of January 11, 2021.

The Breakdown: 

The Bottom Line: 

  • Given the expiration of the MA eviction moratorium and the protection of the CDC eviction moratorium for some tenants extended through January 31, 2021, Massachusetts courts have modified their procedures for handling summary process (eviction) cases.
  • Different MA courts are handling COVID-related eviction cases differently! For tenants protected by the CDC Order, some housing courts are moving forward with cases but will not issue an order of execution (permitting the landlord to remove the tenant from the unit) until after 1/31/2021. By contrast, some district courts are treating a tenant's executed CDC Declaration and RAFT application as a pause on the summary process action as a whole.
  • The Governor's Eviction Diversion Initiative is intended to help tenants and landlords navigate the new court processes and preserve tenancies affected by COVID-19. COVID-19 eviction resources are available online and include assistance for people to determine whether they are covered by the CDC Order and how to ensure its protection.
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CSI

Headline: On January 11, 2021, designated courthouses began Phase 1 of six-person juries.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:30am, January 12, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resource

1. Court system response to COVID-19

2. MA Department of Correction

  • The Trial Court Department announced that on January 11, 2021, courthouses began gradually reopening to resume six-person jury trials at designated locations. More information on the resumption of jury trial can be found on the COVID-19 jury information page.
  • As of December 18, 2020, the DOC announced all permitted visitors to DOC facilities must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours.
  • The DOC is in the process of expanding its video infrastructure to provide virtual visitations at all DOC facilities. Contact information for DOC facilities can be found here
  • The CORI and Re-entry Project at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) has CORI Zoom Clinics open to anyone on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of every month from 2:00-4:00pm. The Clinic provides low-income community members with free legal information about their rights and assists eligible community members with sealing and expunging their records. Register for a session here
  • The Lawyers Clearinghouse has partnered with the City of Boston, Codman Square CDC, and Urban Edge to provide virtual CORI clinics to community members who need assistance in sealing or expunging their Massachusetts-based CORI. Signing up can be done online here.

The Breakdown:

  • The most recent announcement by the Trial Court is that on January 11, 2021, designated courthouses have gradually began opening to resume six-person jury trials.  
  • The Trial Court has also announced a 90-day plan for court operations through April 5, 2021. Included in the plan is the reduction of court staff, the resumption of jury trials in phases, implementing a jury trial inventory, and developing a remote working training for court staff. 
  • Now that probation offices are open to the public, supervision practices may change. Probationers can learn more by contacting their probation officer.
  • Many court services are now available remotely. There is also a helpful guide to attending a hearing virtually.
  • The Trial Court has created "Zoom Rooms" in four courthouses in MA to ensure court participants have access to technology. The Zoom Rooms are currently available at the Covett Courthouse in Brockton, Chelsea District Court, the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, and the Worcester Trial Court. More Zoom Rooms may become available in other courthouses across the state depending on need. 
  • Everyone who enters a courthouse must be screened for COVID-19 systems, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.
  • Detainees and inmates are particularly vulnerable to infection due to their lack of access to social distancing, PPE, and hygiene materials as shown in the COVID-19 data for incarcerated people.
  • It is now a requirement to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours to visit all DOC facilities. The requirement is for all visitors, including attorneys. 
  • Video visitation is available for people who have loved ones at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC), Bridgewater State Hospital (BSH), and at the MA Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC). Visit the DOC's visitation page to get more information about how to access a video visitation.

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.
  • Court closures happen often because of COVID-19. Check for court closures by calling the court or checking online.
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Education_Childcare

Headline: The federal student loan payment suspension has been extended by the ED through January 31, 2021

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10am, January 13, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

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

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

  • Each elementary and secondary school (K-12) district has its own dynamic plan for the 2020-2021 academic year. Check district websites for additional information.
  • Licensed Child Care Programs have reopened. To search for a program by location, visit the EEC.
  • Early Intervention (EI) providers are using a telehealth model.
  • The federal student loan payment suspension has been extended by the US Department of Education to January 31, 2021.
The Breakdown:
  • As of December 1, 2020, COVID-19 tests are available in many K-12 schools to test symptomatic students.
  • DESE issued guidance for school districts on how to use the DPH health metrics to determine whether in-person or hybrid models are appropriate. DESE stressed that remote-only learning should be avoided whenever possible.
  • 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.
  • Some childcare facilities now have Remote Learning Enrichment Programs that provide childcare and instructional support for remote learners during regular school hours.
  • People with federal student loans will be excused from making payments until January 31, 2021. During this time, the loans will have a 0% interest rate and qualifying non-payments will count toward the income-driven repayment plan. The suspension does not apply to private loans and it will not reduce the overall balance owed.

The Bottom Line:

  • The plans for K-12 schools and childcare centers will vary.Menu
 

Employment

Headlines: The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has implemented some of the provisions of the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020, recent federal legislation that extended benefits under the CARES Act, for Massachusetts residents. Check here for updates and see the "Job Loss" section below.

Know your rights! Review the Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces that apply universally to workplaces in Massachusetts to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 2pm, January 12, 2021

Paid Leave and Work Safety

Key Employment Resources

1. Fair Employment Project

2. Mass Gov FAQ

3. MA AG's Guide to Employee Rights during COVID-19 

The Basics:

  • Earned sick time is an important form of paid leave available to many workers. Most MA employees have the right to earn up to 40 hours of job-protected sick leave per year. If an employer has 11 or more employees, the sick leave must be paid. Multilingual resources on earned sick time are available here
  • The MA Attorney General's Office has issued guidance stating that if a public health official or health care provider recommends that a person quarantine, that is an acceptable use of earned sick time. Additional information on what leave and benefit options workers may have available if they need to quarantine is here.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leave requirements expired December 31, 2020.
  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance is allowing those in quarantine or unable to work due to COVID-19 to apply for unemployment benefits. More information on COVID-19 and unemployment insurance, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is available here.
  • On January 1, 2021, most Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) benefits became available to eligible Massachusetts employees. To learn more about eligibility, create a PFML account, and begin your application, visit this DFML website.
  • To be eligible for PFML benefits, an employee must meet an earnings requirement and qualify as a "covered individual." Under the PFML law, a covered individual is an employee who:

--Earns wages from a Massachusetts employer; or 
--Lives and works in Massachusetts and is paid for contract services by a Massachusetts entity; or
--Is self-employed and chooses to opt-in to the PFML program

Beginning January 1, 2021, eligible workers may be entitled to the following PFML benefits:

  • Up to 20 weeks of paid leave for an employee's own serious health condition;
  • Up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child; and
  • Up to 26 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member in the armed services who has a serious health condition.

Beginning July 1, 2021, the PFML provides additional family leave benefits: 

  • Up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
  • The Certification of a Serious Health Condition form is available here
An eligible employee may take no more than 26 weeks of PFML per benefit year. The employee's benefit amount is determined by the worker's average weekly earnings, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $850.

The Department of Family and Medical Leave, which oversees the Commonwealth's PFML program, provides an online PFML webinar, a PFML fact sheet and a workplace poster, among other guidance. 

  • The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development has prepared workplace posters in 11 languages regarding the state's mandatory standards for safety protocols. 
  • People may report businesses or employers that are not following the state’s health and safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic via this online portal: mass.gov/covidcompliance.

 The Breakdown:

  • Massachusetts has joined the ranks of other states that provide workers with paid, job-protected benefits for certain leaves of absence. Beginning January 1, 2021, the Commonwealth's Paid Family and Medical Leave program offers eligible employees up to 12, 20, or 26 weeks of paid leave for certain family and medical leaves. The Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) has issued a PFML fact sheet explaining the PFML program, who is covered, when PFML can be used, and providing other links to more detailed answers.  
  • The DFML also offers a video on how PFML is different from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that provides unpaid, job-protected leave to certain employees. 
  • The MA Attorney General’s Office provides a resource guide for employees during COVID-19 here.
  • The MA 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. 

The Bottom Line:

  • MA workers may be eligible for a variety of leave options if they need to quarantine or care for a family member due to COVID-19, including earned sick time, unemployment insurance, and workers' compensation. Beginning January 1, 2021, MA employees also became eligible for paid, job-protected leave under the PFML program. 
  • On Dec. 31, 2020, the requirement that employers provide paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) expired
  • 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 phone, 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.
  • As COVID-19 cases in MA rise, there may be more conflict between employees concerned about a safe return to work, and employers eager to resume business. Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) continues to advocate for stronger MA worker protections during the pandemic. The state’s website for reporting unsafe practices - mass.gov/covidcompliance – is one enforcement pathway.

Unpaid Leave

The Basics:

  • Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, 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 FMLA unpaid time off for personal or family health needs, whether directly or indirectly related to COVID-19, or related to another covered health issue.

The Bottom Line:

  • Though many employers may benefit from federal COVID-19-related legislation that makes money available to prevent furloughs and layoffs, these disruptions are happening and likely will continue.

Job Loss

The Basics:

  • The federal COVID relief package signed into law on 12/27/2020 extended unemployment compensation benefits to hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents. Among the changes (summarized by the DUA here) are:

-- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) provides 11 weeks of an additional $300 weekly benefit; FPUC will be available to cover weeks of unemployment between the week ending 1/2/21 and the week ending 3/13/21.
-- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides 11 additional weeks of benefits, to a maximum of 57 weeks. PUA will be available until at least the week ending 3/13/21 and through 4/10/21 for those who have not yet exhausted their 57 weeks of benefits.
-- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provides an additional 11 weeks of benefits, to a maximum of 24 weeks. PEUC will be available at least until the week ending 3/13/21. Claimants who receive PEUC during the week ending 3/13/21 who have not exhausted their 24 weeks can continue to claim PEUC through 4/10/21.
-- High Unemployment Period Extended Benefits (HUP EB) will continue until conditions trigger the 20-week entitlement to end or until the week ending 3/13/21.

  • On October 26, 2020, Governor Baker signed a bill to provide unemployment benefits to as many as 17,000 low-wage MA residents who didn't initially qualify for the federal Lost Wages Assistance program. These residents could now become eligible for thousands of dollars in additional unemployment benefits. 
  • The Department of Housing & Community Development considers any retroactive Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) supplement a "gift" that public housing applicants or residents do not need to include in income reported to local housing authorities. 
  • This "Unemployment during COVID-19" resource makes sense of regular programs and pandemic programs, eligibility rules, and how to apply.
  • ETermination of a worker's employment based on national origin or race, age, gender, or the perception that one has a disability, is illegal. The MCAD has issued guidance on its COVID-19 processes and complaints can be filed with them, telephonically or electronically.
  • The federal Department of Labor issued a disability and language access Advisory, affirming that Unemployment Insurance agencies must make services available to people in ways that provide equal access regardless of disability or limited English proficiency.
  • Scams involving identity theft used for fraudulent unemployment applications are 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. The 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! 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.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is a 13-week extension of benefits to unemployment claimants whose benefits expired on or after July 6, 2019. In the federal COVID-19 relief package signed into law on 12/27/2020, PEUC benefits will provide an additional 11 weeks of benefits, to a maximum of 24 weeks. PEUC benefits have been extended to March 13, 2021. 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 new COVID-19-related changes to unemployment rules are complicated. The Department of Labor (DOL) recently published updated guidance on the 12/27/20 legislative changes.
  • An unemployment fraud phishing scam is targeting MA constituents by text message that include a link requesting that unemployment claimants enter their login and password on a site similar to UI Online. DUA encourages MA residents not to respond to the text message! DUA also issued UI identity verification instructions here.

The Bottom Line:

  • The latest federal COVID-19 relief package signed into law on 12/27/20 includes extending unemployment compensation benefits under the FPUC, PEUC, and PUA programs to the week ending 3/13/21.
  • A new pro bono initiative has been launched at Lawyers for Civil Rights, which may help some workers apply for unemployment benefits by connecting applicants with volunteers who speak English and Spanish.
  • 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: When determining eligibility for benefits, DTA will not count the stimulus check nor the extra $300/week in unemployment benefits toward household income. 

 Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11am, January 13, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Dept. of Transitional Assistance (DTA)

2. Women Infants & Children Nutrition Program (WIC)

3. Project Bread

 The Breakdown:

  • Students who qualify for free and reduced school lunch will receive P-EBT benefits for the 2020-2021 school year. The P-EBT card will autoload with $58.60 per month for students in hybrid learning, and $117.29 per month for students in remote learning. 
  • P-EBT is also available for some children ages 3-5 who are enrolled in preschool and some adults with disabilities ages 18-21 who are enrolled in school. Check the FAQ's for more information. 
  • Many food pantries now allow clients to self-report their identity and nutritional needs, eliminating the requirement to show photo identification and share social security numbers. 
  • When determining eligibility for benefits, DTA will not count the stimulus check or the extra $300/week in unemployment benefits toward household income. Check the FAQ's for more information. 
  • If families do not agree with a SNAP or food assistance decision, they can appeal by calling the DTA Hearings Division at 617-348-5321. They must leave a message requesting an appeal with their name, agency ID, telephone number, and the reason for the appeal. Families can use this same number to reschedule a hearing.
  • Many rules including work requirements are still on hold. Visit the DTA COVID-19 FAQ website for additional information. 
  • Most families received additional emergency SNAP payments from April to December. Some families who were not already receiving the maximum SNAP allotment also received emergency supplemental SNAP payments from April to December. Additional emergency payments will be made in January. Call the DTA Assistance Line at 877-382-2363 for additional information.
  • Many DTA offices are no longer allowing people experiencing homelessness to receive mail at their offices. As a result, individuals and families may be missing out on important notifications and benefits. Healthcare teams can make a big impact by helping patients find a reliable way to receive mail (e.g., PO Box).
  • WIC has added approved stores and approved foods.
  • SNAP recipients can use their EBT card for grocery delivery and pick up through Amazon, Walmart, and Aldi. Delivery fees and bag 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:
  • The IRS is distributing a second Economic Impact Payment (EIP) to eligible individuals and families. Under the proposal, individuals who make less than $75,000/yr will receive $600 and couples who make less than $150,000/yr will receive $1,200. Families will also receive $600 per child. Individuals without a bank account of file will receive the payment on an EIP card. Check the IRS' FAQ and the National Consumer Law Center's FAQ's for additional information.
  • Individuals and families can track their payment through the IRS's Get My Payment tool. Those families who have not yet received their first EIP may be eligible for a Recovery Rebate Credit
  • Cash assistance 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.
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: The RMV continues to designate Wednesday appointment hours for customers 75 years of age or older. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:30am, January 12, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resource

RMV COVID-19 Page

  • The RMV has limited in-person appointments. No walk-ins are allowed; appointments must be reserved on the RMV website. Many services are also available through the Online Service Center or at AAA locations by appointment.
  • Renewal appointments will continue to be offered across several towns and cities in MA. In October, additional cities and towns in MA began dedicating Wednesdays to customers 75 years of age or older. Seniors can make an appointment on the RMV website.

The Breakdown

  • Standard 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 eligible for an updated REAL ID at no additional charge.
  • The RMV is not offering additional extensions for expired driver's licenses and ID cards. If your driver's license or ID has expired, you must renew it. Online renewal through the RMV Online Service Center may be available to people who are eligible. For updates, visit the RMV website
  • The RMV has also announced that they will not offer extensions for expired learner's permits. If your learner permit has expired, you will need to retake the exam. More information can be found on 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: The Health Connector open enrollment period runs through January 23, 2021. Call the Health Care For All Helpline to apply for state health insurance programs over the phone: (800) 272-4232

Learn more about the phased approach for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in MA here

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:00pm, January 12, 2021

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

  • Open enrollment in MA runs through January 23, 2021. Visit MAhealthconnector.org or call the Health Care For All (HCFA) HelpLine Monday through Thursday, 7 am to 5 pm, and Friday from 8 am to 3 pm at (800) 272-4232 to enroll in health insurance. Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
  • MassHealth Enrollment Centers are still closed to walk-in visitors, but are accepting applications by phone: (800) 841-2900. 
  • MassHealth is allowing early refills and 90-day supplies of medications. Find additional information here or on the MassHealth website.
  • MassHealth covers telehealth services by phone or live video. While transportation services (PT-1) are still available through medical providers, members are encouraged to receive care first via telehealth or by phone.
  • 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. Consult these FAQs regarding access to coverage and care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In its December 2020 Bulletin, MA's Office of Medicaid stated that MassHealth will cover the administrative cost of COVID-19 vaccines for members in MassHealth Standard, CommonHealth, Family Assistance, CarePlus, and the Children's Medical Security Plan. Unlike COVID-19 testing and treatment, COVID-19 vaccination is not covered by MassHealth for individuals with MassHealth Limited. Vaccine providers can, however, be reimbursed by the Health Resources and Services Administration's Provider Relief Fund for administration fees relating to COVID-19 vaccinations provided to MassHealth Limited patients. 
  • Free testing for asymptomatic people is available in communities throughout Massachusetts through the Stop the Spread testing program including regional express COVID-19 drive-through testing sites. The City of Boston has partnered with community health centers, hospitals, and pharmacies to provide access to COVID-19 testing for Boston residents. A map and list of Boston testing sites are available here. Call the multilingual Mayor’s Health Line (617-534-5050) for help with health insurance applications or other COVID-19 health questions. Additional state-wide test-site information is posted here and here.

The Breakdown:

  • Open enrollment is underway for plans on the MA Health Connector and will run until January 23, 2021. For more information, contact a trained navigator at Health Care For All by calling the multilingual Helpline at (800) 272-4232.
  • MA residents needing health insurance may qualify to enroll in coverage any time of year: with a qualifying life event, if they are applying for a dental plan, or if they qualify for help paying for health coverage including ConnectorCare, MassHealth, Children’s Medical Security Plan, or Health Safety Net. MassHealth members will not lose coverage during the COVID-19 state of emergency and will be covered for testing and treatment at no cost. More detailed information is available here.
  • The Commonwealth continues to provide free COVID-19 testing to asymptomatic residents in communities across Massachusetts. More information is available here

The Bottom Line

  • Enrolled MassHealth members will not lose MassHealth coverage during the COVID-19 outbreak. MassHealth covers testing and treatment for COVID-19 at no cost to members.
  • Although MassHealth Enrollment sites remain closed for walk-in visitors, applicants can apply for benefits by phone at (800) 841-2900 or online. Open enrollment runs until January 23, 2021. 
  • Thirty-six free "Stop the Spread" testing sites are operating in regions across Massachusetts, testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19.
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Housing Instability

Headline: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) Moratorium has been extended through January 31, 2021

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:30pm, January 12, 2021

Eviction Moratorium

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. CDC.gov - Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

2. Mass.gov - COVID-19 Eviction Diversion -FAQ

3. Mass.gov - COVID-19 Eviction Information

  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) Moratorium (the national moratorium) has been extended through January 31, 2021
  • The most recent Housing Court Standing Order went into effect October 19, 2020. The Housing Court has not published an updated standing order since the extension of the national moratorium. 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. The Housing Court’s contact information is listed here.
  • The Boston Municipal Court (BMC) and the District Court have also published standing orders in preparation for eviction cases. The BMC standing order can be found here, and the District Court standing order can be found here.

--Quincy District Court has taken a tenant-friendly approach - if a tenant provides a landlord with a declaration, the eviction is put on hold until the CDC moratorium ends. A landlord may not contest the declaration unless they can show proof that the tenant lied.

  • The Department of Research and Planning has launched an online tool to track all residential evictions in Massachusetts. 
  • The Boston Housing Authority (BHA) has extended its moratorium for nonessential evictions until March 1, 2021. Nonessential evictions include all eviction proceedings except for those related to criminal activity, and those that are necessary to protect the health and safety of BHA residents, employees, and others.
  • The Office of Housing Stability will begin hosting virtual legal clinics for tenants and small landlords every Tuesday from 5:30-7:30pm. The clinic aims to provide community members with eviction defense information and assistance. Tenants and small landlords can register for the clinic here.  
  • 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.

-- Discrimination based on public assistance is illegal in Massachusetts. More information on income discrimination can be found here. A complaint can be filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office and/or MCAD.

The Breakdown:

  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium protects eligible tenants through January 31, 2021. Tenants must submit a CDC declaration to their landlord to be covered by the national moratorium. 
  • The CDC moratorium does not prevent a landlord from filing a complaint in housing court for eviction, but it does protect the tenant against a physical removal from their home. 
  • The Trial Court has created "Zoom Rooms" in four courthouses in MA to ensure court participants have access to technology. The Zoom Rooms are currently available at the Covett Courthouse in Brockton, Chelsea District Court, the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, and the Worcester Trial Court. More Zoom Rooms may become available in other courthouses across the state depending on need. 
  • DHCD has partnered with community mediation centers to expand access to mediation resources in an effort to prevent eviction. A list of community mediation centers can be found here.
  • 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.
The Bottom Line:
  • Although there is some uniformity between courts, things will happen differently in Housing, District, and BMC courts. Contact the clerk's office in the court where the eviction is taking place for the most up to date information. 
  • The CDC recently published a frequently asked questions letter to help people understand how the CDC moratorium protects renters, and who is covered by the moratorium.
  • Mass.gov has compiled eviction forms and information sheets for people looking for information related to eviction proceedings during COVID-19.
  • Landlords serving a notice to quit must also provide the tenant with a completed form swearing to certain facts. More information can be found on the Mass.gov Required Attestation Form to Accompany a Notice Quit page online.  
  • Statewide financial assistance is available through Metro Housing Boston for families who qualify for RAFT or ERMA. Some landlords may be able to apply for RAFT on behalf of their tenants. The full details can be found here. To apply as a landlord, the landlord:

-- Must have less than 21 units.
-- Cannot apply if the tenant has already applied.
-- Must get the tenant's written permission on the required form.

  • Some local cities, like Boston, are offering rental relief assistance in addition to statewide financial aid.
  • In coordination with housing courts, the MA governor created an Eviction Diversion Initiative, which includes more funding for RAFT and ERMA, and expands other housing resources. The Initiative has set up a FAQ page that can be found here
  • The COVID Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP) recently launched a website to help tenants find legal aid. Tenants must meet income and other COVID-related requirements.
  • Emergency shelter may be available for families who qualify.
  • For renters in need of additional help during COVID-19, City Life/Vida Urbana is offering assistance to renters who are facing evictions. They can be reached at (617) 934-5006 (English) or (617) 397-7773 (Spanish).
  • Greater Boston Legal Services has put together a self-guided eviction help site for tenants facing eviction without an attorney. The site offers resources to help tenants answer their landlord's complaint for eviction properly.  
  • Additional, free legal assistance can be found here.
  • Statewide resources are available to homeowners and tenants. More information can be found here.

Foreclosure

The Basics:

  • On December  21, 2020, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) extended the foreclosure and eviction moratorium for homeowners with FHA-insured single family mortgages until at least February 28, 2021.
  • Homeowners with USDA home loans will also be protected through February 28, 2021. Homeowners with USDA direct loans can find the full announcement here, and home owners with USDA guaranteed loans can find the full announcement here
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have extended their foreclosure moratorium through January 31, 2021 (a one-month extension from the previous December 31, 2020 end date). Homeowners should check if their mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  • Homeowners with VA-guaranteed loans, and veterans and their family without VA-guaranteed loans can find more information here regarding what the VA can do to help avoid foreclosure.
  • The city of Boston recently launched a mortgage relief partnership with twelve housing lenders. The lenders will offer at least three months of deferred mortgages payments for homeowners who contact them and demonstrate that they have been financially impacted by the public health crises. More information can be found here
The Breakdown:

The Bottom Line:

  • Statewide financial assistance is available through Metro Housing Boston for families who qualify for RAFT or ERMA. Some local cities, like Boston, are offering rental relief assistance in addition to statewide financial aid.
  • Emergency shelter may be available for families who qualify.
  • For renters in need of additional help during COVID-19, City Life/Vida Urbana is offering assistance to renters who are facing evictions. They can be reached at (617) 934-5006 (English) or (617) 397-7773 (Spanish).
  • Additional, free legal assistance can be found here.

Homelessness and Shelter

The Basics:

  • The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has committed to providing emergency assistance (EA) shelter residents alternative shelter, which may include paid hotel stay, if they need to self-quarantine.
  • 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.

The Breakdown:

  • Families and individuals in shelters have newly implemented options to isolate and recover without exposing others to COVID-19.
  • Families who receive HomeBASE benefits to help stabilize housing related needs may be able to access more funds quickly. Families can expect flexibility around stabilization plan requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Major challenges continue to confront people living in single-adult shelters, especially for older adults and immunocompromised persons. Efforts to support physical distancing unfortunately will require creativity and resources.
  • 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 can only apply by phone with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD): 1-866-584-0653.

Conditions of Disrepair

The Basics:

  • Because critical services/emergency conditions of disrepair during COVID-19 is not defined yet by law, each local Board of Health may have its own priorities/restrictions. Contact the local Board of Health for 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: On December 4, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security was ordered to accept and adjudicate new DACA petitions.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:30am, January 12, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. MIRA Coalition COVID-19 Page

2. Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition

  • 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.
  • On December 4, 2020, a federal judge ordered the Department of Homeland Security to notify the public that it will be accepting and adjudicating new DACA petitions. The decision also orders DHS to grant 2-year work permits to approved applicants, instead of the proposed 1-year limit. More information and application forms can be found on the USCIS website.
  • DHS announced that they are extending the validity of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)-related documentations for beneficiaries for six countries through October 4, 2021, including employment-related documentation. The full announcement can be found here
  • After a District Court Judge blocked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing its public charge rule, on November 3, 2020, DHS obtained permission to reinstate the public charge rule. More information can be found on the USCIS page on the public charge litigation
  • USCIS announced that beginning on December 1, 2020, the new naturalization test will be implemented. 

-- The number of study questions will increase from 100 to 128
-- Applicants must answer 12 out of 20 questions correctly, an increase from the 6 out of 10

  • MLRI is tracking COVID-related immigration orders. Many of the recent orders issued have implications for refugee and asylee status.
  • Emergency grants may be available to immigrant students attending a MA college during the COVID pandemic.

The Breakdown

          --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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Best Sources (4)

Headline: On December 31, 2020, Governor Baker signed a new police accountability bill into law.

With continuing physical and social isolation due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the incidence of intimate partner violence is of huge concern. SafeLink, MA's statewide hotline, has both a Phone and Chat Helpline; the National DV hotline also offers a chat option with training advocates who can help survivors with safety planning.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 6:00pm, January 12, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. SafeLink Phone and Online Chat Helpline

2. Jane Doe

3. Futures Without Violence

4. Police Accountability Project

5. DOVE (Domestic Violence Ended)

  • If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
  • Interpersonal safety resources address intimate partner violence, domestic violence, abuse and neglect of children, older adults, and persons with disabilities.
  • To find a sexual assault or domestic violence program in MA, you can call or chat with someone at SafeLink, the statewide hotline, or you can search by zip code on this interactive search directory
  • MA courts are issuing protection orders, including restraining orders and harassment prevention orders. COVID-19-specific resources, including a video on asking for a restraining order during the pandemic, are available here and FAQs regarding protection orders are available here. Additional safeguards are in place to ensure that emergency orders can be issued for elder neglect or abuse, child neglect or abuse, and neglect or abuse of persons with disabilities.
  • Check with individual community-based organizations such as DOVE (Domestic Violence Ended) to learn how they are operating during the crisis.
  • The Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence has a 24-hour multilingual hotline and offers resources, safety planning, and support.
  • The Community Advocacy Program based at several Boston health centers is offering phone consultation 8am-5pm 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 or by online chat to address intimate partner violence.
  • The Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance offers free resources for victims, survivors, and providers at (844) 878-MOVA or mass.gov/askMOVA.
  • If you have experienced sexual violence, you can get access to confidential services, including a sexual assault kit, at no cost by contacting Jane Doe, Inc. at (617) 248-0922.
  • YWCA Central Massachusetts offers a 24-Hour Helpline at (508) 755-9030 and online chat to provide support, advocacy, referrals, safety planning, and crisis intervention.
  • The Network/LaRed is a survivor-led, social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other communities. Call the 24-hour hotline at (617) 742-4911 for support, information, referrals, safety planning, and crisis information for LGBTQ+ survivors.
  • DOVE (Domestic Violence Ended) offers a 24-Hour Hotline at (617) 471-1234, a host of COVID-19 resources as well as tailored information for teens and young adults, legal advocacy resources, LGBTQ+ resources, and general domestic and intimate partner violence information.  

The Breakdown:

  • Research shows that the social/physical distancing orders and recommendations issued during the COVID-19 pandemic are impeding intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors’ access to supports and services.
  • Essential safety services through police and courts (e.g., restraining orders and harassment prevention orders) are available.
  • For many victims, these resources may not be good, sufficient, or safe options. For those individuals, the above-referenced helplines are available 24 hours a day and offer chat options with trained advocates who can help survivors with safety planning. 
  • 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.
  • On December 31, 2020, Governor Baker signed into law police reform legislation that creates a civilian-led commission with the power to certify officers, investigate claims of misconduct, and revoke the certification officers for certain violations. The law also bans the use of choke holds and limits the use of "no-knock" warrants, among other measures. For more information, click here

The Bottom Line:

  • MA crime victims and survivors of domestic violence may be eligible for Lifeline voice or broadband internet service.
  • Local community-based organizations are addressing these new challenges – both maintaining protective services for current clients, and initiating new investigations relating to suspicion of neglect or abuse. Jane Doe Inc. has developed a COVID-19 Fact Sheet highlighting the impact of the pandemic in Massachusetts on sexual and domestic violence survivors.
  • Outreach directly to agencies to learn of new resources and evolving best practices:

    • Child neglect/abuse: The Department of Children and Families (DCF) offers COVID-19 resources and information here. Learn how to report suspected child abuse or neglect here.
    • Elder neglect/abuse reporting is conducted by phone or online (online reporting guide here). 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.
    • Report neglect/abuse of persons with disabilities by phone to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) hotline: 800-426-9009. The MA Coalition of Families and Advocates (COFAR) maintains a COVID-19 resource page relating to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the care of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). COFAR works 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 Office of the Child Advocate, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Mental Health has launched a new website, HandholdMA.org, for families who are worried about their child's mental health.  

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:30am, January 12, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. HandholdMA.org

2. Therapy for Black Girls

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

  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide support and bring awareness to mental health issues that plague the African-American community. In addition to bringing awareness, the foundation also offers scholarships to African-Americans who are interested in pursuing a career in the mental health field. The foundation has compiled a resource guide with providers and programs that serve the African-American community.
  • HandholdMA.org is a new website launched to help families get started with getting support for their child's mental health. The website was launched in response to the pressures that COVID-19 has put on families.
  • Therapy for Black Girls is an online community that encourages mental health wellness to Black women and girls. The site offers a therapist search function, access to the Therapy for Black Girls podcast, and a blog dedicated to mental health.

The Breakdown

  • One Village Healing offers a healing community to folks in New Haven, CT, and its online community. The Village offers free virtual wellness sessions including meditation, art, Reiki, and many more wellness supports. Visit their website for more information on how to sign up for a virtual wellness session.
  • Mental Health America has put together some COVID-19 resources designed to help people cope with staying at home and managing pandemic-related anxiety.
  • The MA Court System has issued a list of suggested mental health and recovery resources while relief is less available from the courts.
  • The MA Department of Mental Health has also put together resources to help with maintaining emotional health and well-being during the pandemic.
  • The Crisis Textline provides crisis supports to people nationwide 24/7. Text HOME 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 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: Beginning on January 26, 2021, airplane passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11am, January 13, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. MA Bay Transit Authority (MBTA)

2. MA Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) 

  • The Baker Administration issued emergency orders that require MA residents and visitors to take precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while traveling.
  • The MBTA is running on a reduced service schedule.
  • The RMV has limited in-person appointments.
  • The US Department of State has country-specific advisories for international travelers. Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and/or mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

The Breakdown:

  • Beginning on January 26, 2021, airplane passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. For additional details, see the full CDC statement.
  • Most 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.
  • There are some exemptions, which include travel for work, school, and medical treatment. High-risk states include neighboring New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
  • Acting Secretary Chad Wolf announced on Twitter that Homeland Security has extended the closure of all ports of entry on the Canadian and Mexican borders through January 21, 2021. Before traveling internationally, travelers should check for guidance from the US Department of State or sign up for alerts through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
  • All MBTA riders are required to wear a face covering. Bus drivers are allowed to skip a stop if the bus is too crowded. Transit police can issue a $300 fine per violation. 
  • 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 RMV announced that from June 12, 2020 to the end of the State of Emergency, anyone who renews a "standard" driver's license or identification card online will be automatically upgraded to a REAL ID. 

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.
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Utility Needs

Headline: The COVID-19 relief package enacted on December 27, 2020 includes an extension of assistance programs for overdue utility payments. Contact your local agency to learn more. 

The aid package also includes about $3.2 billion slated for an Emergency Broadband Benefit that will offer low-income families $50 per month toward internet access to help families stay online to work, learn, and communicate on their devices from home. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11am, January 13, 2021

Home Energy Utilities

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Mass Gov

2. MASSCAP

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

  • The current moratorium on electric or gas service shut-offs for residents who receive their service from and investor-owned utility (such as Eversource, National Grid, Until, Liberty Utilities, or Berkshire Gas) is in effect through April 1, 2021. MA residents may want to call their local Community Assistance Program (CAP) for information on filing a Fuel Assistance (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program “LIHEAP”) application by phone. Residents can also contact their utility company to see if they are eligible for a discount on electricity or gas service or for a payment plan or Arrearage Management Program (AMP).
  • The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has compiled resources online for MA residents or business owners experiencing financial hardship because of COVID-19. LIHEAP income eligibility and benefit levels are available here
  • A Massachusetts household with income up to 60% of area median income qualifies under "financial hardship" and is eligible for protection from termination. For more information about Cold Relief, call the Cold Relief Heatline: 1-800-632-8175.
  • Importantly, after the expiration of the moratorium, serious or chronic illness 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.
  • Residential customers should continue to pay what they can to avoid large balances and shut-off once the moratorium ends.
  • For limited income households who are not eligible for Fuel Assistance, you can contact the Good Neighbor Energy Fund operated by local Salvation Army offices: 1-800-334-3047 or 1-800-262-1320.
  • Eversource is providing guidance to customers who may be behind on their bill with respect to payment plans, state and federal financial stimulus programs, and other ways to reduce their energy use and bills.
  • National Grid is also offering resources to customers in arrears.
  • Eversource and National Grid prepared a free webinar to share information about discount rates, grants, payments, and other offers.

The Breakdown:

  • After the moratorium protection ends on April 1, 2021, customers who have not paid bills will have accrued tremendous debt. People should still pay bills if they can – or at least portions of bills – to avoid being shut off after protections expire. Residential customers making payments under payment plans with their electric or gas utility company will remain protected from shut-off after the moratorium ends for the duration of the payment plan. 
  • 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

  • Due to the pandemic, the current moratorium on residential electric and gas shut-offs has been extended through April 1, 2021. Many households may be eligible for utility assistance programs and can learn more about applying for fuel assistance, payment programs, and utility discounts here.
  • At the expiration of the utility shut-off protections on April 1, 2021, disconnections of utility service may begin again at a large scale. Households should be prepared to assert the usual utility shut-off protection verifications (financial hardship + age or illness) promptly with the information in this National Consumer Law Center Handbook and support from healthcare providers and consumer advocates.
  • Action alert: In case of any threats, but especially if 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.
  • For more information about electric and gas utilities during COVID-19, click here

Telephone & Internet

The Basics:

  • The MA Department of Telecommunications and Cable has issued information about telephone, broadband, and cable service during COVID-19. Some service providers, such as Comcast/Xfinity and AT&T are offering time-limited free or reduced-cost internet access. 
  • 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 Nationwide Lifeline Program for affordable telephone or internet service, a benefit for which many consumers may be newly eligible during the pandemic. For more information on how to enroll, MA consumers can visit this website
  • The “Keep America Connected” pledge requested by the FCC, expired June 30, 2020. 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.”
  • Contact the Attorney General’s office via the AGO’s Consumer Hotline (617-727-8400) if a consumer has difficulty reaching a service provider or if telephone or broadband service has been shut off.
  • Telecommunications companies have made some commitments to keep MA residents connected during the COVID-19 crisis. Here is a list of free and discounted internet services offered by some companies, and here is another list.

Water

  • Due to COVID-19, the DPU has extended the moratorium on residential shut-offs for customers of investor-owned water utility companies until April 1, 2021. To verify what type of water utility provides your water service, click here and scroll to Exhibit C to see which water companies must comply with the moratorium.
  • Check with local public water and sewer commissions regarding general water shut-off protections and any moratoria during the State of Emergency in MA. The Boston Water & Sewer Commission has begun notifying customers of delinquency charges and overdue payments. To assure no interruption in service, customers may want to consider a payment arrangement and can submit a medical or financial hardship form.
  • 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.
  • The DPU Consumer Division and the Attorney General's Energy & Environment Bureau may be able to help if public water companies threaten or actually disconnect service.
  • For more information about water utilities during COVID-19, click here
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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.
  • 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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