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

 


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:

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General Orders

Headline: The MA Eviction Moratorium expired on October 17, 2020. The Baker Administration has an Eviction Diversion Initiative, which includes funding, legal aid, and other resources for tenants who are behind on rent due to COVID-19.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 28, 2020

The Basics:

The Breakdown:

Key Resource

MA Info on COVID-19

  • The MA Eviction Moratorium expired on October 17, 2020. The Baker Administration has an Eviction Diversion Initiative, which includes funding, legal aid, and other resources for tenants who are behind on rent due to COVID-19. See housing section for additional information. 
  • Towns and cities that are listed as “lower-risk communities” on the COVID-19 Weekly Public Health Report can follow the Phase III Step 2 MA Reopening Guidance, allowing them to open indoor performance venues and recreational activities. All other communities must follow Phase III Step 1 MA Reopening Guidance.
  • Community members must monitor their risk level according to the COVID-19 Weekly Public Health Report to know which rules apply to their town or city. The Report is updated each Wednesday by 6 pm, which may result in weekly changes to community risk status.
  • Private and public indoor gatherings are limited to 25 attendees and private and public outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 attendees.
  • Everyone at any gathering must keep 6 feet of physical distance from others who are not members of their household and, if there are more than 10 people, everyone over the age of 5 must wear a face mask.
  • In towns and cities that are listed as “lower-risk communities” on the COVID-19 Weekly Public Health Report, there is a 100-attendee limit at event venues and in public gatherings. Violations may result in a $500.
  • 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: The Commonwealth's eviction moratorium expired on October 17, 2020. MA courts have issued critical new information about the courts' handling of summary process (eviction) cases. The Governor's COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Initiative includes a range of expanded court-based services including broader access to mediation and legal representation. The Trial Court, which includes the state’s housing courts, provides a two-tier process for tenants and landlords to access expanding funding resources and to mediate eviction cases. The District Court has also issued a revised order regarding its handling of eviction cases.

Greater Boston Legal Services has an online, multilingual free tool to help Massachusetts tenants who are facing eviction proceedings.  

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 2:00pm, October 27, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Court System Response to COVID-19

2. District Court FAQs Related to COVID-19

  • Courts and court offices (e.g., clerks' offices) are physically open to the public but continue to use telephone and videoconferencing for most hearings and communication. 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 issued updated guidance on obtaining a protection order (e.g., a restraining order, harassment prevention order or extreme risk protection order) during COVID-19.
  • Individuals and their advocates can access cases online through the eAccess public portal: www.masscourts.org
  • For summary process (eviction) cases, the Clerk's Office will send the parties (1) a written notice of the court event with the date, time, and method (i.e., virtual hearing information), and (2) an information sheet that includes a list of resources to assist the parties in resolving their case.
  • On October 19, 2020, MA courts issued multiple orders addressing changes to court operations for handling summary process (eviction) cases due to COVID-19 and the expiration of the state eviction moratorium.
  • 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 remotely 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.

--New summary process cases will also be handled in two tiers; the first tier will occur on a date assigned by the court.

  • The Boston Municipal Court (BMC) and Massachusetts District Courts will 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. 
  • 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 at the earliest on November 9, 2020.
  • With some exceptions, Juvenile Court hearings will continue to be held virtually; jury trials may be conducted in person beginning November 9, 2020.

The Breakdown: 

The Bottom Line: 

    • Given the expiration of the MA eviction moratorium and the potential application of the CDC eviction moratorium for some tenants, courts have modified their procedures for handling summary process (eviction) cases. The Governor's Eviction Diversion Initiative is intended to help tenants and landlords navigate these new 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 September 17, 2020, the MA Supreme Judicial Court updated court guidance. Courts and court offices (e.g., probation offices) are open to the public, but will continue to use telephone and videoconferencing for most hearings and communication. In most cases, criminal bench trials (i.e., trials in front of a judge, not a jury) will be held in person. On October 23, 2020, courts will begin hearing some jury trials in person.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4:30pm, October 19, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

1. Court system response to COVID-19

2. The MA Department of Correction

  • On September 17, 2020, the MA Supreme Judicial Court updated court guidance. Courts and court offices (e.g., probation offices) are open to the public, but will continue to use telephone and videoconferencing for most hearings and communication.
  • The DOC resumed visitation at all DOC facilities across MA on September 28, 2020.
  • The IRS must send CARES Act emergency payments, or stimulus checks, to anyone who was previously denied solely because they were incarcerated.
  • The MA Black Lawyers Association (MBLA) has teamed up with the Lawyers Clearinghouse to hold virtual CORI sealing and expungement clinics in October and December.

The Breakdown:

  • The newest court guidance is that most criminal bench trials (i.e., trials in front of a judge, not a jury) will be held in person. On October 23, 2020, courts will begin hearing some jury trials in person.
  • 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.
  • Everyone who enters a courthouse must be screened for COVID-19 systems, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.
  • A federal judge ordered the federal government to send stimulus check payments within 30 days of her order to anyone who was previously denied a check solely because they were incarcerated. IRS must automatically send payments to anyone who filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return, or who used the online IRS Non-Filer Portal.
  • 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.
  • 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 MBLA has teamed up with the Lawyers Clearinghouse to hold a virtual CORI sealing and expungement clinic on October 22, 2020 from 3:30pm – 6:00pm. Participants are encouraged to meet briefly with the Lawyers Clearinghouse prior to the clinic to review the CORI applications. Register for the clinic in advance here. For more information, contact the MBLA at info@mablacklawyers.org
  • The second virtual CORI sealing and expungement clinic is scheduled for December 3, 2020 from 3:30-6:30pm. You can register for that clinic here

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.
  • The deadline to file a claim for a stimulus check is November 21, 2020. The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School is offering help to anyone who needs help filing a claim. The center can be reached toll free at (866) 738-8081 or 617-390-1729.
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Education_Childcare

Headline: Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) are available for qualifying students to pay for unexpected pandemic expenses (e.g., technology, childcare, travel). Students can apply through their school. This includes students who hold an immigration or a nonimmigration status. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 8:00pm, October 27, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

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

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

The Breakdown:
  • Students can apply for Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) through their school. This includes students who hold an immigration or a nonimmigration status
  • DESE acknowledges that districts may change their learning model throughout the year in response to public health concerns. DESE also made it clear that, regardless of the model chosen by a district, parents and guardians can choose a remote learning model for their student(s).
  • DESE prioritizes in-person education for children of teachers, students with disabilities, English learners, and students who were not able to use remote learning last spring. Students with disabilities, including those with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans, can use the Federation for Children with Special Needs as a resource.
  • EEC and DTA childcare subsidies have suspended until at least October 31, 2020. Families can also continue to receive a full subsidy if their hours are reduced to part-time.
  • The EEC is creating Remote Learning Enrichment Programs and Remote Learning Parent Cooperatives that provide childcare and instructional support for remote learners during regular school hours. A list of approved programs will be available on the EEC Remote Learning Policies and Processes website.
  • People with federal student loans will be excused from making payments until December 31, 2020. It does not apply to private loans. It will not reduce the overall balance owed.

The Bottom Line:

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

Employment

Headlines: On October 26, 2020, Governor Baker signed a bill to provide additional unemployment benefits to as many as 17,000 MA residents who didn't initially qualify for the federal Lost Wages Assistance program.

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

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

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 3:00pm, October 27, 2020

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:

--Two weeks of leave at 66%-100% pay, 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;
--To be eligible, an employee must have worked for the employer for more than 30 days.

--The US Department of Labor issued regulations that clarify who is eligible for paid leave from work under the FFCRA, and what is required of employees to get approved for FFCRA leave. Importantly, a large category of healthcare employees had been excluded previously, and the new regulations make clear that only healthcare employees who provide direct patient care are excluded.

  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance is allowing those in quarantine or unable to work due to COVID-19 to apply for unemployment benefits.
  • The Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program, MA's new paid leave law, launches fully on January 1, 2021. PMFL FAQs are available here.
  • 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:

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

The Bottom Line:

  • The DOL issued regulations that are useful for employees seeking to take paid time off due to COVID-19-related care-giving responsibilities. The regulations clarify that many previously excluded healthcare workers are eligible for FFCRA leave, and they also clarify the process for taking intermittent leave.
  • It is illegal to punish employees for COVID-19-related caregiving responsibility with furlough. The MA Commission Against Discrimination is receiving complaints online and by telephone, and Lawyers for Civil Rights may also be a helpful resource for this issue.
  • Regarding worker safety, MassCOSH has also developed a detailed and regularly updated workplace safety advocacy tool kit to help workers (a) know the relevant safety facts, (b) know their rights, (c) assert their rights, and (d) advocate for improved safety practices in their workplaces.
  • 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. Some federal laws offer protection, but the rules have exceptions, and are not easy to enforce. Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) has been advocating for Governor Baker to issue stronger safety standards and enforcement mechanisms as part of the phased reopening of the economy. The state’s website for reporting unsafe practices - mass.gov/covidcompliance – is one enforcement pathway.

Unpaid Leave

The Basics:

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

The Bottom Line:

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

Job Loss

The Basics:

  • 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. 
  • 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. Reemployment Services Eligibility Assessment (RESEA) notices continue to go out weekly to unemployment claimants. While the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) says it has not restarted the policy of reducing or stopping benefits if people don’t meet the RESEA requirements, they still expect people to participate in required RESEA activities, which are all conducted virtually during COVID-19. (These activities include tasks like attending trainings and documenting job search activities.) People should pay attention to RESEA notices and communicate with the DUA about any barriers to completing tasks, to avoid possible delays or even loss of benefits.
  • 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.
  • 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 complaints can be filed with them, telephonically or electronically.
  • The federal Department of Labor issued a disability and language access Advisory on May 11, 2020, affirming that Unemployment Insurance agencies must make services available to people in ways that provide equal access regardless of disability or limited English proficiency.
  • The CARES Act passed on March 27, 2020 authorized states to award benefits to self-employed workers: an important and less protected sector of the workforce that includes independent contractors and “gig economy” workers. It also increases the amount of benefits and how long they can last, and all full- and part-time employees are eligible as long as they have worked for the employer for at least 30 days.
  • Scams involving identity theft used for fraudulent unemployment applications 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. On June 9, 2020, MA Attorney General issued an Advisory about what impacted claimants can do. The MA Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) provides similar warnings and instructions.

The Breakdown:

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

The Bottom Line:

  • There may be further extensions, but people should plan around the current projections for COVID-19-related unemployment benefits and job protections.
  • A new pro bono initiative has been launched at Lawyers for Civil Rights, which help some workers with this new benefit application process in 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: 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 (e.g., recertification) and benefits (e.g., P-EBT). Healthcare teams can make a big impact by helping patients find a reliable way to receive mail (e.g., shelter address, PO Box).

 Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 28, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Dept. of Transitional Assistance (DTA)

2. Women Infants & Children Nutrition Program (WIC)

3. Project Bread

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

 The Breakdown:

  • Families whose SNAP interim reports and recertifications were delayed due to COVID-19 should have received forms with a new due date by mail. These forms can be completed at DTA Connect.
  • 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.
  • On October 1, 2020, the maximum household SNAP increased by 5% to adjust for Cost of Living.
  • Work requirements and collections for overpayments are still on hold. Visit the DTA COVID-19 FAQ website for additional information.
  • Most families received additional emergency SNAP payments from April to October. Some families who were not already receiving the maximum SNAP allotment also received emergency supplemental SNAP payments from April to October. Additional emergency payments will be made in November. Call the DTA Assistance Line at 877-382-2363 for additional information.
  • Families who qualify for free or reduced lunch should have received a September P-EBT payment in mid-October. The amount varies based on whether their school opened late or if the individual student learned remotely for 5 consecutive days. Families who lost their spring P-EBT card can apply for a replacement card. Families can also apply for free and reduced lunch by contacting their student’s school district.
  • 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 (e.g., recertification) and benefits (e.g., P-EBT). Healthcare teams can make a big impact by helping patients find a reliable way to receive mail (e.g., shelter address, PO Box).
  • WIC has added approved stores and approved foods.
  • SNAP recipients can use their EBT card for grocery delivery through Amazon or Walmart. Delivery fees are not covered by SNAP.

The Bottom Line:

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


Financial Assistance

The Basics: 

The Breakdown:
  • TAFDC reevaluations that were due March 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020 had their due dates extended for 6 months. Starting on July 1, 2020, reevaluations will be done by phone. Call a local office or visit DTA Connect for more information.
  • TAFDC recipients should have received a clothing allowance of $350 for each eligible child. Call a local DTA office for more information.
  • Work requirements and the 24-month time limit are still on hold. Funeral and burial assistance is available. For additional information, see DTA’s program outline.
  • Veterans and their families may also qualify for “chapter 115” financial assistance. Additional information can be found on the Mass Vets Advisor website.
  • The IRS extended the deadline to request an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) to November 21, 2020. Those who did not file 2019 federal income taxes can complete an IRS Non-Filer Form. If they miss the deadline, their next opportunity to request an EIP will be when they file their 2020 federal income taxes.
  • A federal judge ordered the IRS to Economic Impact Payments (EIP) to incarcerated persons who otherwise qualify. The IRS will automatically issue payments to anyone who filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return. If they did not file, they must complete an IRS Non-Filer Form.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a guide for individuals who have not yet received their Economic Impact Payment (EIP). They can also apply for assistance through the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School’s Federal Tax Clinic (866-738-8081).
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 is extending designated Wednesday appointment hours for customers 75 years of age or older into October.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 1:00pm, October 19, 2020

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 will begin to dedicate 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.
  • Many MA Driver’s Licenses and ID Cards have been given an automatic extension. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire between March 1, 2020 and May 30, 2020 will now expire in September 2020. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire in June 2020 will now expire in October 2020. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire in July 2020 will now expire in November 2020. MA ID’s that were scheduled to expire in August 2020 will now expire in December 2020. For updates visit the RMV website.

The Bottom Line

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

Headline: MassHealthConnector’s special enrollment period due to COVID-19 has ended. Information on MassHealth enrollment eligibility now is available here.

As COVID-19 cases rise in the Commonwealth, express drive-through COVID-19 testing is now available by appointment to all MA residents in Revere. Find out more here

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4:00pm October 27, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Healthcare for All MA

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

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

  • While MassHealth Connector’s special enrollment period due to COVID-19 has ended, many people are still eligible to enroll in health insurance any time of year: more information is available here. Individuals can also call Health Care for All's HelpLine at (800) 272-4232 for answers to health insurance questions.
  • MassHealth is allowing early refills and 90-day supplies of medications. Find additional information on the MassHealth.
  • 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.
  • USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) has made it clear that the public charge rule will not apply to testing, treatment, or preventive care for COVID-19.
  • Free testing for asymptomatic people is available in communities throughout Massachusetts through the Stop the Spread testing program including an express COVID-19 drive-through testing site in Revere. 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.
  • Click here for CVS-specific testing information.
  • MassHealth and the Health Connector are protecting coverage for all people approved for Medicaid as of March 18, 2020, and all who are approved for coverage during the national emergency.

The Breakdown:

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

Headline: The Massachusetts Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium ended on October 17, 2020. Tenants who qualify should submit a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declaration to their landlord as soon as possible to be covered by the national moratorium. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 2:00pm, October 20, 2020

Eviction Moratorium

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. CDC.gov - COVID-19 Residential Eviction Notice

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

  • The statewide moratorium in Massachusetts ended on October 17, 2020.
  • The CDC eviction moratorium assures a longer period of narrower protection through December 31, 2020. Unlike the MA moratorium that was in effect, the CDC moratorium only protects renters who are unable to pay rent due to income loss, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • The most recent Housing Court Standing Order will go into effect October 19, 2020. For more detail on court operations see the Court Systems section of this Digital Digest. While the Housing Court will continue to conduct most business “virtually,” effective July 13, 2020 the housing court has reopened and will consider hearing some cases in person at court if it would be more efficient and effective to do so. 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.
              --On October 19, 2020, the District Court revised its standing order. In its revision, the Court has informed the public that if a tenant provides their landlord with a declaration, then the case should be stayed until after the CDC moratorium ends on December 31, 2020, unless the landlord is contesting the declaration.
              --Quincy District Court has taken a similar approach, with more protection for tenants - 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.
  • 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.

The Breakdown:

  • Tenants must submit a CDC declaration to their landlord to be covered by the national moratorium. 
  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium assures a longer period of narrower protection through December 31, 2020. Unlike the MA moratorium, the CDC moratorium does not provide relief for mortgages (e.g., it does not protect against foreclosures on traditional mortgages). 
  • 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. 
  • 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 cours, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.

Foreclosure

The Basics:

  • On August 27, 2020, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) extended the foreclosure and eviction moratorium for homeowners with FHA-insured single family mortgages until at least December 31, 2020.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are offering a 12-month forbearance (delay in payments without interest or penalties). Homeowners should check if their mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  • The COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law in MA also prohibits foreclosures in 1-4 family owner-occupied The Division of Banks has put out a Frequently Asked Questions document regarding new law, which also has additional provisions that:
    1. Require lenders to offer homeowners affected by COVID-19 permission to suspend payments for a period of time (“forbearance”) with the unpaid debt added to the end of the loan;
    2. Prevent negative credit reporting for homeowners in forbearance.
The Breakdown:
  • Foreclosure protections do not create debt forgiveness, but they offer debt delay – still a valuable safety net during this crisis.
  • The FHA moratorium protects homeowners with FHA-insured, single-family homes from foreclosures. It also prevents evictions of people living in FHA-insured single-family properties.
  • 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:

  • 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:

  • Inspectional Services Department (ISD) in Boston is only providing “critical services,”, such as response to utility outages, and mold from plumbing problems, or roof/window leaks.
  • The Boston ISD is conducting “virtual” inspections to verify violations and track progress toward repairs. 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 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: USCIS can use the new public charge rule to decide legal permanent resident (“green card”) applications in all states.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4:30pm, October 19, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

MIRA Coalition COVID-19 Page

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.
  • USCIS can use the new public charge rule to decide legal permanent resident (“green card”) applications in all states.
  • MLRI is tracking COVID-related immigration orders. Many of the recent orders issued have implications for refugee and asylee status.
  • 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. 

  • College students who have an immigration status that make them ineligible for federal student financial aid may be eligible for emergency grants under the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Students who believe they might qualify should apply for emergency grants directly with their school.

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.
  • Some noncitizens, such as immigrants with TPS, U-visas, DACA, and Withholding of Removal status, undocumented immigrants, and other immigrants who have applied for certain other statuses do not qualify for Title IV federal student financial aid. Those same noncitizens may be eligible for HEERF to cover: 

--Technology purchases to participate in online classes
--Internet fees
--Purchase of books or materials
--Unexpected childcare costs
--Travel expenses
--And other costs related to educational disruptions caused by the pandemic

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Public Charge

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

 

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

 

Key Resource

Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition

The Basics:

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

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

The Breakdown: 

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4:30pm, October 27, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. SafeLink Phone and Online Chat Helpline

2. Jane Doe

3. Futures Without Violence

4. Police Accountability Project

  • Interpersonal safety resources address 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 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.
  • Congress authorized additional hotline and shelter funding in the CARES Act, recognizing the increased demand for and adaptation required of these systems during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Check with individual community-based organizations to learn how they are operating during the crisis.
  • In case of emergency, call 911.
  • The Asian 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 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 or by online chat to address intimate partner violence.
  • 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 Breakdown:

  • Social/physical distancing limitations control IPV victims’ movement in ways that may be triggering and endangering.
  • Essential safety services through police and courts are functioning.
  • But 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.
  • Police brutality is an interpersonal safety issue. Police have the responsibility and power to protect people. That same power can be dangerous, sometimes lethal, especially when fueled by racism and other prejudice like homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia. While this is not a pathway to emergency response, the National Lawyers Guild can be a resource: Police Accountability Project.

The Bottom Line:

  • Local community-based organizations are addressing these new challenges – both maintaining protective services for current clients, and initiating new investigations relating to suspicion of neglect or abuse. 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 CDC estimates that in late June, 40% of American adults experienced depression, anxiety, or substance use issues due to the COVID pandemic.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:00pm, October 19, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

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

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that the COVID-19 outbreak has had an impact on the mental health of many Americans. A recent CDC report estimates that in late June, 40% of American adults experienced depression, anxiety, or substance use issues due to the COVID pandemic.

The Breakdown

The Bottom Line

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

Headline: On October 1, 2020, the US Department of State announced that US Passport operations reopened for routine services.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 28, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

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:

  • 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.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has extended the closure of all ports of entry on the Canadian and Mexican borders to October 21, 2020. 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).
  • On October 1, 2020, the US Department of State announced that US Passport operations reopened for routine services.
  • All MBTA riders are required to wear a face covering and are urged to enter at rear doors. Bus drivers are also allowed to skip a stop if the bus is too crowded.
  • RIDE has changed some policies. Trips must now be booked 1-3 days in advance.
  • The RMV has limited in-person appointments. No walk-ins are allowed; appointments must be reserved on the RMV website. Some RMV services are also available at AAA locations by appointment.
  • The Baker Administration extended the expiration date of all MA licenses and identification cards that are scheduled to expire between March 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020. Additional details are available on the RMV website.

The Bottom Line:

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


Utility Needs

Headline: Utility companies are prohibited from shutting off electric, gas, and water service until November 16, 2020. It is crucial to prepare utility consumers to verify financial hardship to be eligible for the winter moratorium going into effect on November 15, 2020 for lower-income consumers. One way to verify financial hardship is to enroll in a Fuel Assistance program at a local Community Action Program (CAP)– which also helps pay the bills!

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

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:00pm, October 27, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Mass Gov

2. Mass Cap

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

  • Eversource has begun sending out residential electric disconnect notices with the first shut-off potentially occurring on November 19, 2020. To prevent service termination, residential customers may apply for fuel assistance, low-income discount rates, or may verify their financial hardship and have their service protected from termination during the winter months. A Massachusetts household with income up to 60% of area median income qualifies under "financial hardship" and is eligible for protection from termination.
  • On September 10, 2020, the Department of Public Utilities prohibited service disconnections to all residential customers of privately owned electric, gas, and water companies. The suspension is now extended through November 15, 2020, meaning that utilities may resume shut offs for residential customers beginning on November 16, 2020. Fortunately, the winter moratorium on utility (gas or electric) disconnection will go into effect on November 15, 2020 for low-income customers, including customers of municipal (city or town-owned) electric and gas companies. Unlike the DPU’s earlier shut-off suspensions, the winter heating moratorium only activates if the customer verifies their financial hardship status with the utility company, every 90 days!

    Importantly, after the expiration of the winter moratorium, serious 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.

  • The DPU’s most recent order authorizes electric, gas, and water companies to resume communications to residential customers on October 15, 2020, threatening shut-offs for failure to pay a bill.
  • Contact your local Community Assistance Program (CAP) for information on filing a Fuel Assistance (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program “LIHEAP”) application by phone.
  • 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. 
  • Both Eversource and National Grid are providing free webinars in English, Portuguese, and Spanish to share information about discount rates, grants, payments, and other offers.

The Breakdown:

  • By order of the DPU, utility companies are prohibited from shutting off electric, gas, and water service until November 16, 2020. Officially, however, the order only applies to privately-owned utility companies. Those who receive service from city or town-owned (municipal) utility companies still should not get shut off because the Department of Public Utilities expects them to honor the moratorium. If anyone experiences or is threatened with service termination, inform the fuel program at the neighborhood CAP Agency and ask them to alert the National Consumer Law Center, which is tracking this concern. The DPU Consumer Division and the Attorney General's Energy & Environment Bureau may also be able to help.
  • After the COVID-19 and winter moratorium protections are over, customers who have not paid bills will have accrued tremendous debt. People should still pay bills if they can – or at least portions of bills – to avoid being shut off after protections expire.
  • For those who are able to pay current bills, there is good news about “Arrearage Management Plans” (AMPs) with electric and gas companies: customers who are on the low-income discounted rate are eligible to have varying amounts of debt forgiven – for example up to $20,000 for Eversource customers – if they pay 12 current monthly bills. Unlike past restrictions, now any low-income customer is eligible to enroll or re-enroll in an AMP program. Information is available directly from utility companies. Local CAP Agencies may be able to help people with AMP enrollment questions. Eversource has prepared materials that summarize various COVID-19 programs and protections, linked here.

The Bottom Line

  • There is currently a moratorium on termination of residential electric and gas service through November 15, 2020 due to COVID-19. The winter moratorium begins as of November 15, 2020, but only protects those experiencing a "financial hardship" from termination. Many households may be eligible for termination protection and can learn more about applying for assistance here.
  • In the spring of 2021, at the expiration of the winter moratorium, 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 + age or illness) promptly with the information in this National Consumer Law Center Handbook and support from healthcare providers and consumer advocates.
  • Fall is here, increasing the burden on distressed tenants and homeowners whose propane or oil bills go up in the heating season. Since COVID-19 will continue to impact the economy in the coming cold seasons it will be important to mobilize in support of the many consumers who heat with these fuels in MA. CAP Agencies are key leaders on this topic.
  • Action alert: In case of any threats, but especially if municipal electric and gas companies threaten service disconnection, please inform the fuel program at the neighborhood CAP Agency and ask them to alert the National Consumer Law Center, which is tracking this concern.

Telephone & Internet

The Basics:

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

Water

  • Check with local public water and sewer commissions regarding general water shut-off protections and any moratoria during the State of Emergency in MA. 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.
  • On September 10, 2020, the DPU issued an Order prohibiting investor-owned utilities (including private water distribution companies), from disconnecting service until November 16, 2020. Private MA water distribution companies are covered by this moratorium. The DPU Consumer Division and the Attorney General's Energy & Environment Bureau may also be able to help if public water companies threaten or actually disconnect service.
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WTD

  • MLPB's What You Can Do When There's Nothing to Do
  • Support those who rely on benefits by purchasing your groceries after the 14th day of the month and avoiding items that are labeled WIC-approved.
  • Make sure you are counted! Complete the U.S. Census by October 31, 2020.
  • If you’re eligible, register to vote by October 24, 2020.
  • 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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