Under any conditions, the health of individuals, families and communities hinges substantially on stable access to safe, healthy, and affordable housing; to reliable heat, lights, water, internet and phone service; to nutritious food; to transportation resources; to protection from violence, abuse, and exploitation; and much more. In typical times, the systems that exist to help people meet those needs have been under-resourced and hard-to-navigate for individuals and families. The COVID-19 pandemic has made what was already a difficult landscape an extraordinarily challenging – even impossible – one to traverse.

Against this backdrop, MLPB has launched this open-access Digital Digest at the intersection of COVID-19 lawmaking and HRSN problem-solving.

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.

MA resources and guidance have been divided into three general sections:

  • What is happening: MLPB has curated key developments in law and policy.
  • What this means: MLPB has translated these developments into plain language interpretations of what these changes mean for areas of HRSN need.
  • What may happen next: Based on MLPB’s expertise, we indicate, when appropriate, how things might change in the future.

IMPORTANT: While MLPB will routinely update this content,Exclaim Digest readers should note the last-reviewed timestamp and click on the hyperlinks to access the most current information. In addition,this information is for educational purposes only; nothing in it should be construed as legal advice. 

 

Feedback? Always welcome.

Just contact Content Lead Franny Zhang at fzhang@mlpboston.org. 

© 2020 MLPB, a fiscally sponsored program of TSNE MissionWorks


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

General Orders

Key Resource: MA Info on COVID-19; MA Daily Press Briefings

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 22, 2020

 

Governor Baker issued emergency orders that:

The MA Department of Public Health issued a Safer-at-Home Advisory which recommends that:

  • people who are at high risk for COVID-19 stay at home except for essential errands.
  • all other residents may leave home only for permitted activities. Menu

Court System

Basic Court Process Information

Key Resource: Court System Response to COVID-19District Court FAQs Related to COVID-19

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 12pm, May 22, 2020

 

What is happening:

  • MA State Courts are now closed until June 1, 2020 except for emergency proceedings.
  • Updates are continually available on the Mass Courts website, which has begun compiling a list of Daily Court Updates after 4:30 each day.
  • Some courts have also begun to issue FAQs about their process, many of which were recently translated into Spanish and Portuguese
  • If one has a lawyer and a case pending, best practice is to stay in touch with the lawyer for case updates.
  • Starting April 2, 2020, the Mass Courts will have a Court Helpline that can be reached from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday for non-emergency case questions.  The Helpline number is 833-91-COURT.
  • For emergency questions, or more information about what court to contact, the Courthouse Locator can be used to identify court clerk contact information. 
  • Some courts are temporarily closed to the public, even for emergency matters, due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19.  The Mass Courts website
has an updating list of court closures and where business should be sent during the period of closure.

What this means: 

  • There is no “one size fits all” definition of what constitutes an “emergency.”
  • Each court has issued its own definition of what ‘emergency proceeding’ means.
  • It’s important to be clear about which court one’s case is pending in.

What may happen next: 

  • Courts will likely continue to issue additional orders as challenges with the new system surface.
  • Courts with temporary COVID-related closures will reopen according to the listed schedule.
    Menu

CSI

Criminal System Involvement

Implications for Defendants, Detainees and Inmates

Key Resource: Court System Response to COVID-19

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 12pm, May 22, 2020

What is happening:

What this means

  • Community-based criminal systems such as probation supervision will experience changes in practice as courts close and as needs during this crisis shift. Probationers can learn more by contacting their probation officer.
  • It’s important to learn which court is temporarily managing one’s probation if a court is closed, because this will be necessary for identifying next steps for many probationers.
  • Detainees and inmates are a population particularly vulnerable to infection due to their lack of access to social distancing, PPE, and hygiene materials.

What may happen next

  • There will likely continue to be advocacy efforts to address this population’s needs.
  • Courts with temporary COVID-related closures will reopen according to the listed schedule.
  • The Department of Corrections will likely continue to offer updates as circumstances change at correctional facilities. Menu 

Education_ChildcareEducation   

Key Resource: MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Department of Early Education and Care (EEC)

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 20, 2020

What is happening:

What this means:

  • Although K-12 schools are closed, this does not mean that the school year has ended. Schools are offering food, services, and distance learning for students. If a family of a K-12 student is unable to access these resources (e.g., no transportation, no access to a computer), reach out to the child’s school district for support.
  • High school seniors who have not passed one or more of the high school MCAS tests will be eligible for graduation if they have completed an equivalent high school course. School Districts are tasked with reporting this information to DESE on behalf of students.
  • Students with disabilities, including those with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans, can advocate for their needs by using the step-by-step special education advocacy guide created by the American Bar Association.
  • People with federal student loans will automatically be excused from making payments for 6 months and people with eligible state student loans will automatically be excused from making payments for 4 months. This will not reduce the overall balance owed.

What may happen next:

  • K-12 schools will continue to use distance learning until the end of the school year and may even extend distance learning into the summer. In-person summer learning programs cannot begin until June 29, 2020.
  • When schools reopen, students with disabilities who have not been receiving direct special education services may experience regression and require additional supports.
  • Each college and university will continue to create their own COVID-19 learning plans.
  • Libraries are unlikely to open until the public gathering prohibitions are lifted.
  • In the future, a new bill may extend student loan forbearance. Some borrowers can also reduce monthly payments in the fall by switching to an income-driven repayment plan. The “$0 payments” during forbearance count toward most loan forgiveness programs including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Menu

Childcare

What is happening:

  • Governor Baker closed all non-emergency childcare programs until June 29, 2020.
  • Exempt Emergency Childcare Programs will remain open. This care is free.
  • Guardians who are part of the essential workforce and guardians of vulnerable children can apply for emergency childcare through the The EEC also has a website to connect guardians who are part of the essential workforce with in-home, EEC-licensed educators.
  • Families involved with DCF can contact their caseworker to discuss alternative childcare arrangements.
  • The EEC has made it clear that childcare voucher holders will not lose their voucher during this time. The EEC will pay subsidies and parent fees for voucher holders.

 What this means:

  • Families should plan on not having childcare until at least June 29, 2020.
  • After childcare programs are opened, voucher holders should be able to resume using their voucher.
  • Applications for new childcare vouchers are unavailable at this time, but essential workforce and guardians of vulnerable children can still apply for emergency childcare.

 What may happen next:


Employment

Employment

Key resource: Fair Employment Project; Mass Gov FAQ; AG Healey’s weekly worker rights webinars!     

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 5pm, May 22, 2020


Paid Leave

What is happening:

  • Earned sick time is an important form of paid leave still available to many people.
  • 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.
  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance is allowing those in quarantine or unable to work due to COVID-19 to apply for unemployment benefits.
  • Note: while MA has a new paid leave law it does NOT go into effect for employees until January 2021.

 What this means:

  • 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.
  • Many employees will NOT benefit from FFCRA due to these limitations. 

What may happen next:

  • 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.
  • As Massachusetts begins to roll out a 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) is advocating for Governor Baker to issue stronger safety standards and enforcement mechanisms as part of the phased reopening of the economy.

Unpaid Leave

What is happening:

  • 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.

What may happen next:

  • 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

What is happening:

  • 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.
  • 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.

What this means:

  • Click here for a useful chart summarizing CARES Act coverage.
  • 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 hereNote: Being called an Independent Contractor does not mean a person is an independent contractor! Learn more about who is classified as an Independent Contractor.
  • On April 9, 2020, the MA DUA announced that it will automatically add an additional $600 in weekly Federal Panedemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits for people currently receiving or applying for unemployment benefits. This amount is retroactive to March 29, 2020, and will continue until July 31, 2020.
  • The DUA received federal guidance recently about Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), a  13-week extension of benefits to unemployment claimants whose benefits expired after July 1, 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.

What may happen next:

  • 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. 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.

Small Businesses

Key Resource: US Small Business Administration (SBA) COVID-19 Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources

Timestamp: 9am, May 22, 2020

 What is happening:

  • Governor Baker has closed all public-facing businesses that do not provide essential services. Small business owners who do not provide a listed essential service, but believe their business is essential, can apply for an exemption.
  • Small businesses in MA can find resources on the gov website.
  • The CARES Act includes funding for loans, grants, and technical assistance. It also delays payroll tax due dates for employers.
  • There are resources available for small businesses. These businesses can help support their employees by referring them to the resources in the employment section. Menu

Food_Income InsecurityFood and Income Insecurity

Key Resource: Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA); Women Infants & Children Nutrition Program (WIC); Project Bread; DTA Tips on Freezing Food and Shopping on a Budget

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 22, 2020

What is happening:

  • DTA offices are closed to the public. Information about SNAP applications and additional service can be found on the DTA Connect website.
  • Families who qualify for free or reduced lunch will receive $28.50/week per student. Beginning in May, these families will receive a notice from DTA outlining the program.
  • Many SNAP policies have temporarily changed. The 3-month time limit, work requirements, and recertification deadlines are all on hold until further notice.
  • WIC offices are closed to the public. All services are available by phone at 800-942-1007. WIC has also added items to the approved food list to help families find formula and other necessities.
  • Grocery stores are considered essential services and will remain open. All grocery stores must enforce social distancing within the store and reserve one hour per day for 60+ shoppers. Contact local grocery stores for details.
  • The MA Councils on Aging has compiled a list of resources for SNAP beneficiaries that includes some delivery or pick-up programs.
  • Food banks will remain open. To find a resource by location, call the FoodSource Hotline at 800-645-8333.
  • MA Jobs with Justice has been connecting unemployed workers who do not qualify for government benefits with MA Worker’s Emergency Relief Funds and Mutual Aid Networks. Language access assistance is available.

 What this means:

  • There are resources available for families who are experiencing food insecurity.
  • Qualifying households that have not received additional food assistance payments can call the DTA Assistance Line at 877-382-2363.
  • Households with school-aged children who qualify for the extra food assistance payment but do not currently receive SNAP benefits will receive an EBT card in the mail.

What may happen next:

  • Families who were not already receiving the maximum SNAP benefit and families with school-aged children should expect extra SNAP payments each month until the state of emergency is over. Menu

Financial Assistance      

What is happening:

  • DTA offices are closed to the public. Information about cash assistance applications and additional service can be found on the DTA Connect website.
  • DTA also helps with funeral and burial costs for families with low income. Application information can be found on the DTA Burial Unit website.
  • All TAFDC and EAEDC interim report and recertification deadlines have been extended.The CARES Act includes a one-time tax rebate for individuals and families. The IRS has an online portal where individuals and families can check the status of their rebate. The MA Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has made it clear to debt collectors that the CARES Act tax rebate is “off limits”
  • Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public. Most services are available online or by phone. The SSA is being lenient about missed deadlines. Those receiving SSA benefits who qualify for the tax rebate will receive a check automatically for themselves.
  • Many veterans and their families also qualify for a financial assistance program that is often referred to as “chapter 115”. Additional information can be found on the MA Vets Advisor website. Those receiving VA benefits who qualify for the tax rebate will receive a check automatically for themselves.
What this means:
  • Cash assistance is available to qualifying families and may be the only option for some out-of-work families who do not qualify for unemployment benefits.
  • Eligible individuals and families who filed taxes last year, plan to file taxes this year, or completed a non-filer form are more likely to get a tax rebate this year. All others will see a delay. To avoid a delay, low income individuals and families can file taxes by the extended filing date of July 15, 2020
  • Individuals should not see any portion of their CARES Act tax rebate taken by debt collectors. If debt collectors take or attempt to take a part of this rebate, people can file a complaint with the AGO.
  • Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public. Most services are available online or by phone. Some hearings are being offered by phone and offices are being lenient about missed deadlines. The SSA will continue to make SSI/SSDI/Retirement/other benefit payments through direct deposit and the US Postal Service (USPS).
  • SSI and VA benefit recipients with dependents will not receive an additional check for their dependents until 2021 unless they filed a non-filer form with the IRS by May 5, 2020. SSDI and Retirement recipients with dependents will not receive an additional check for their dependents until 2021 unless they filed a non-filer form with the IRS by April 22, 2020 at Noon.
 What may happen next:
  • The HEROES Act includes additional funds to support families. This Act was passed by the US House of Representatives. To become a law, the Act must also be passed by the US Senate and signed by the President.
  • For updates on cash assistance, check the DTA website.
  • If, in the future, mail delivery through the USPS is delayed, paper checks also will be delayed. To avoid this, people who receive benefits can switch to direct deposit. Menu

Gov ID

Government Identification

Key Resource: RMV COVID-19 Page

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 12pm, May 22, 2020

 

What is happening:

  • MA ID cards that expire between March 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020 are given another 60-day extension and now will expire in July.
  • During the crisis, only ten RMV offices that serve the public are open. As of March 27, these offices have a strict no-walk-in policy, and will require online reservation seven days prior to processing any business. They also request that masks be used during these scheduled transactions.
  • Some select AAA locations were reopened on May 18, 2020 in conjunction with our state entering Phase 1, and are performing limited RMV services.  Appointments can be  scheduled here.

What this means

  • Access to government identification will likely be disrupted by limited access to services.
  • People seeking emergency assistance will need to set up an online reservation at gov/RMV before entering an open office.

What may happen next

  • More offices may open as the crisis abates, but we’ll need to continue to check back with government agencies for updates. Menu

Health Insurance

Health Insurance

Key resource: Healthcare for All Massachusetts 

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 6:00pm May 15, 2020

 

What is happening:

What this means:

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

What may happen next

  • MassHealth applied for a Waiver on March 20, 2020 to get federal permission to innovate care delivery. Proposed changes include 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 dramatically.
  • The federal government’s initial response has approved some flexibility, such as non-traditional/unlicensed sites of care, and affirmed the state’s latitude to waive Medicaid “prior authorization” requirements. This may ease access to in-person care, medication, and medical equipment.  There may be ongoing communication between the state and the federal government.
    Menu

Housing Instability

Housing Instability

Key resource: Housing Court FAQ; Mass Gov; NHLP; AG Healey's webinar series, sometimes on housing rights

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 1pm, May 15, 2020


Eviction Moratorium

What is happening:

  • The CARES Act creates a 4-month moratorium (through late July) on filing NEW eviction cases for NON-PAYMENT in federal subsidized housing – including tax credit and Section 8 housing.
  • The Federal Housing Finance Agency launched a complementary database: FHFA announcedon May 4, 2020  that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have developed online multifamily property lookup tools to help renters find out if they are protected from evictions during the pandemic. 
  • As of April 20, 2020, there is now a full Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium in Massachusetts under Chapter 65 of the Actsof 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 for either until August 18, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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) have been released. 

What this means:

  • The new Eviction Moratorium law 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 August 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.” 
  • 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.
  • As a practical matter, under the SJC’s recently updated Order, no jury trials will happen before July 25, 2020.
  • 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 INFO 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 form of 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. 

What may happen next:

  • The new Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium law 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 to help 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.
  • 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.

Foreclosure

What is happening:

  • Effective March 18, 2020, HUD issued a 60-day suspension of foreclosures and related evictionsfrom single family homes that have mortgages issued by the Federal Housing Administration. This is a positive but narrow protection
  • Other federal programs – “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac” – have announced the same moratorium plus a 12-month forbearance and additional payment-stabilizing deferral options for eligible borrowers impacted by COVID-19. It’s easy to look up whether a loan is owned by Fannie or Freddie.
  • The new Eviction Moratorium law 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 a 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

What this means:

  • Federal protections do not create debt forgiveness, but they offer debt delay – still a valuable safety net during this crisis.
  • The new Foreclosure Moratorium law in MA will last into August or until 45 days after the State of Emergency is lifted (whatever comes first)
  • The new 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.
  • As a practical matter, under the SJC’s recently updated Order, no jury trials will happen before July 25, 2020.
  • 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: “STRUGGLING WITH A DISPLACEMENT EMERGENCY? CALL OUR HOTLINE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. English (617) 934-5006; Spanish (617) 397-7773”

What may happen next:

  • The new Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium law 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.
  • 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.

Homelessness and Shelter

What is happening:

  • 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.

What this means:

  • 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

What is happening:

  • 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.

What this means:

  • 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).

What may happen next:

  • 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

ImmigrationImmigration Status

Key resource: MIRA Coalition COVID-19 Page

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 3pm, May 22, 2020

 

What is happening:

  • Community-based organizations are making the difficult decision to close their offices to in-person meetings. Some are halting all new intake. 
  • United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has closed all public-facing offices until June 3, 2020. You can find updates here
  • The Executive Office for Immigration Review has postponed all non-detainment hearings at least through June 12, 2020. Case information can be found onlinewith a 9-digit alien registration number (A-#########) or also call the Executive Office of Administration Review hotline (1-800-898-7180) to request updated information. 
  • Many other in-person processes, such as asylum appointments and naturalization ceremonies, are also postponed right now
  • Both the northern and southern U.S. border are currently closed for tourist travel and will remain closed at least through May 20, 2020. There are several travel locations that are currently banned for foreign nationals as well (including Iran, most countries in the European Union, and the United Kingdom and Ireland).
  • Many of the recent orders issued have implications for refugee and asylee status, which you can read about here.
  • MLRI has compiled a living document which tracks all COVID-related immigration orders by date, which is a helpful tool for keeping track of new developments.
  • Many groups have that can provide additional financial supports to populations unable to access other assistance right now – such as immigrant families:
  • The Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition has put out a quick reference sheet outlining immigrant eligibility for COVID-19 supports provided in federal legislation.
  • The President issued an executive order that limits who may be granted new travel visas to enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents during the COVID crisis. The decree will ban entry of new lawful permanent residents for at least sixty days, but exceptions exist for applicants already in the United States, medical workers, farmworkers, and the spouses of U.S. citizens and their children under 21. 
  • MA legislature is considering a bill to extend stimulus support to out-of-status MA residents as well as legislature to improve immigrants’ access to transportation.

What this means

  • Many immigration proceedings are paused, and this leaves many individuals in limbo.
  • This is an area of uncertainty and frequent change, but updates can be tracked at the sites above.
  • Many non-citizen individuals outside the U.S. borders may find it difficult to enter the country, or may find it difficult to re-enter upon leaving.

What may happen next

  • More information about long-term immigration case processes will likely become available once the USCIS office reopen in post-epidemic.
  • Many decisions and proclamations are issued in thirty-day or sixty-day intervals, which means changes may occur as those intervals draw to a close.Menu

Public Charge

Key resource: Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition

What is happening:

USCIS has made it clear that the new public charge rule will not apply to:

  • MassHealth Limited
  • Testing, treatment or preventative care for COVID-19
  • WIC, school lunch programs, food pantries
  • Disaster relief

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.

What this means

  • Forms of COVID-19 medical attention should be safely accessible without public charge implications.

What may happen next

  • We’ll likely know more about long-term immigration process once the USCIS office reopen in May. Menu

IPV

Interpersonal Violence

Key resources: Safelink Phone and Chat Helpline; Jane Doe; Futures Without Violence

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 3pm, May 12, 2020

 

What is happening:

  • 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.  
  • 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.

What this means:

  • 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 or safe options.  For those individuals, it’s important to note that the above referenced helplines are available and the National DV hotline offers a chat option.

What may happen next:

  • 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.  Instructions on 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.


Mental Health

Mental Health

Key Resource: APA COVID-19 Resources for Providers, Families, and Community Leaders

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 8pm, May 12, 2020

 

What is happening:

What this means

  • 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.

What may happen next

  • More mental health resources will likely become available in the future.  Menu

Transportation Needs-1

Transportation Needs

Key Resources: MA Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), MA Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) 

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 22, 2020

What is happening:

  • The MBTA is running on a reduced service schedule. All 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.
  • Most RMV service centers are closed to the public. Limited in-person appointments are available for essential workforce members Appointments can be reserved on the RMV website.
  • Governor Baker extended the expiration date of many MA licenses and identification cards that expired in March, April, and May. Additional details are available on the RMV website.
  • The US Department of State issued a Do Not Travel Order advising US Citizens not to travel internationally. Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and/or mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

What this means:

  • This reduction in public transportation will disproportionately affect low-income, disabled, and elderly communities.
  • 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.

What may happen next:

  • Advocates who work with families who are reliant on public transportation and RIDE are actively working on solutions.
  • Federal and state policies that restrict travel will continue to change in response to national and local needs. Menu

Utility NeedsUtility Needs

Key resource: Mass Gov; Mass Cap

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 5pm, May 18, 2020

 

What has happened:

  • On March 13, 2020, the Department of Public Utilities suspended electric and gas service disconnections while MA is in a State of Emergency.
  • 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. MA has extended the deadline to apply for Fuel Assistance for the 2019-2020 heating season until May 29, 2020.  This gives people who have recently lost income an opportunity to receive a fuel assistance payment this year AND have a more automated process of application in the fall.  Instructions for applications for the next two weeks are here.

What this means:

  • Even though the DPU shut-off suspension instruction references extending the winter moratorium, this new policy applies to all gas and electric service, regardless of whether the utility is heat-related or whether the consumer is low-income.
  • People should still pay bills if they can, to avoid being shut off after the emergency is over.

What may happen next

  • After the state of emergency is lifted, disconnections of utility service may begin again at a large scale. Hopefully this can be avoided, but we do note spikes in disconnections 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) promptly with the support of healthcare providers and consumer advocates.
  • Fortunately, the heating season will end soon. This reduces the burden on distressed tenants and homeowners who heat with propane or oil.  However, if COVID-19 continues to impact the economy in the fall it will be important to mobilize in support of the many consumers who heat with these fuels in MA. CAP agencies are key leaders in this arena.

Telephone & Internet

What is happening:

  • 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 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.
  • Major internet providers have taken the “Keep America Connected” pledge requested by the FCC, and signers are listed
  • Comcast is now offering free and reduced-cost programs to ensure access to WiFi. Details are 
  • For customers who sign up before May 15, 2020 COX is offering 2 months free of Connect2Compete services and then will charge $9.99/month thereafter. Phone and remote desktop support will also be offered at no cost through May 15, 2020. Details are 
  • 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 (private water distribution companies), from disconnecting service or sending collection letters. Private MA water distribution companies are covered by this moratorium. Menu

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!

What this means: 

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

What may happen next

  • 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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