Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In these uncertain and unsettling times, I hope that you and your loved ones are meeting or seeking assistance to address the many challenges impacting your lives. In my role as your State Representative, I have many responsibilities to you during this crisis. First and foremost, it is to address the issues and concerns of the residents of Needham, Dover, and Medfield including our municipal governments, local community hospital, and the many nonprofits serving our most vulnerable neighbors. Additionally, within the House of Representatives, I am one of five members of the House’s COVID-19 Working Group. In this role, I serve as a central conduit for my 156 colleagues to communicate concerns and real-time information with the Commonwealth’s centralized COVID-19 Command Center. As the Vice Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, I am acutely sensitive to the budgetary needs of the Commonwealth as this health and financial crisis evolves. As the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak resonate throughout our community, I would like to take this time, as your Legislator, to update you on the measures being taken at the state level.
As is appropriate in a crisis, necessary actions are taking place. The Governor has the power to address some immediate needs by issuing executive orders via the State of Emergency. Other needs are addressed through legislation, filed by the Chair of a Committee, and may include some relevant portions of other bills. Further, the state issues advisories and guidances on a daily basis to clarify policies on the ground. Since the Governor’s declaration of a State of Emergency, we have passed legislation relating to housing security, tax relief, unemployment benefits and a package of incentives for small businesses. Most recently, the legislature finalized legislation to extend the income tax filing date from April 15th to July 15th.
Local Boards of Health
Early on, the Legislature recognized the critical role of local boards of health during this crisis. We created a $15 million fund in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases, which was used in part to provide emergency funding to local boards of health, helping communities across the state respond to the spread of the coronavirus. From contact tracing and assisting self-quarantines to communicating confirmed cases with first responders, our local boards of health will be on the frontlines ensuring we stop the spread of COVID-19. In addition, in late February, the House passed the SAPHE Act to support collaboration between local boards of health and neighboring municipal public health departments to deliver high-quality and efficient public health services. We continue to work with our colleagues in the Senate to finalize this legislation, as it will serve as another tool for our local boards of health to flatten the curve and stop the spread.
Massachusetts eliminated the one-week waiting period for unemployment assistance, which was used as a model in the federal stimulus package, codifying that wavier for the rest of the country. The federal stimulus package additionally broadened the parameters to allow self-employed, contracted, and gig workers using 1099s to apply for unemployment benefits, effective April 9. This was a vital step that will help thousands of people, especially those that work in new sectors of our workforce like the gig economy. However, expanded eligibility creates new challenges for the Commonwealth. The Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has been inundated with claim filings and calls. Massachusetts saw a record spike in new claims, from 20,000 claims in the first two months of the year to over 300,000 in the last three weeks alone. DUA is working diligently to process these claims as quickly as possible, while at the same time awaiting guidance from the federal government. Should you have any problems navigating the process, please do not hesitate to contact my office.
The House has worked to protect tenants and homeowners during this chaotic time. We passed a bill that places a moratorium on all non-criminal evictions for residential and commercial tenants during, and 30 days after, the COVID-19 state of emergency. This bill also places a moratorium on foreclosures for the duration of the emergency declaration. Additionally, emergency legislation passed by both legislative branches and signed by the Governor, provides cities and towns the ability to delay property tax payments for residents and businesses for the fourth quarter of FY20. As of this writing, this bill is before the Senate.
The Legislature has taken necessary steps to help many of our local small businesses deal with this unprecedented crisis. We have deferred the collection of meals, sales and occupancy taxes until June 20th. This initiative alone will provide relief for close to 90% of all businesses in the Commonwealth. We have also eliminated late payment penalties, further enabling small businesses the flexibility to navigate uncertain finances in the coming months. Recent legislation passed by both branches and signed the Governor now allows restaurants to offer beer and wine take-out with food purchases. This policy will provide an additional source of income to restaurants as they continue to serve our communities. In addition to these measures to support local businesses, the state and federal government are providing funding for loan programs from both the Mass Growth Capital Corporation and Small Business Administration. These short-term loans allow Massachusetts to continue to explore a more expansive and long-term approach for small businesses.
In addition to these myriad issues, I will also support initiatives that address needs of homeless individuals across the Commonwealth, ensure that members of our communities do not live in fear of losing their homes, improve access to voting, and alleviate the financial hardships that so many are experiencing due to COVID-19. I am deeply grateful for your patience and resiliency during what has been a very difficult and challenging time for us all. The stresses placed on our families and friends materialize in different ways; the outpouring of support for one another and the willingness to lend a hand to the most vulnerable continues to be unparalleled in our communities. With the stay at home advisory extended by Governor Baker through May 4, it is imperative that we continue to stay home, practice social distancing, and take the necessary steps to flatten the curve of COVID-19.
As we continue to navigate this unprecedented crisis I will continue to be available to you. I am offering a pilot of virtual office hours and hope to hold more in the future. More information, including daily updates, is available on my website: www.repgarlick.com.
My office remains open, operating remotely and at full strength. I will continue to provide up to date, accurate information through social media and encourage you to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Denise C. Garlick
13th Norfolk District