Dear Friends and Neighbors,
During this public health and economic crisis, I hope you and your loved ones are meeting or seeking assistance to address the many challenges impacting your lives. As your State Representative, I am writing to you today to share information that I hope addresses the concerns many of you are facing in Needham, Dover, and Medfield. Additionally, I want to update you on the measures enacted through the Legislature that will resonate through our community.
Since the Governor’s declaration of a State of Emergency in early March, the Administration, Legislature, and our Local Governments have taken many appropriate actions to support the Commonwealth and our community through the COVID-19 outbreak. The op-ed appearing the week of April 13 covered the legislative period from March through April 10. The House of Representatives has continued its legislative work to strengthen the Commonwealth’s response to COVID-19 regarding long-term care facilities, non-essential evictions and foreclosures, health care workers, and municipalities and schools. This is the report for April 13 through April 24.
Schools and MCAS Testing
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, our communities face growing challenges including supporting students at home, especially since the Governor’s cancellation of in-person classes for the remainder of the school year. Recognizing this, the Legislature passed a bill that provides testing and budgetary flexibility to school districts by waiving the MCAS requirements for the 2019-2020 academic year and allowing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive high school graduation requirements. The House of Representatives continues to work to understand the long-term implications of school closures and to ensure equitable access to remote learning for all students.
Health Care Workers, Facilities, and Organizations
As we all know, this public health emergency has created a large demand on our health care system. To support our dedicated workers and facilities on the front line, the Commonwealth has supported the opening of new facilities and carefully updated licensure to expand the workforce to ensure we can meet the needs of everyone who need care. The Legislature has supported this growth by passing legislation that provides legal protections for health care workers, facilities, and organizations that support the response to COVID-19. Those assisting in the Commonwealth’s effort to respond and care for individuals who are infected with COVID-19 may include health care providers deployed to critical care units, recent medical school graduates, and retired health care providers who are reactivated. For these individuals and many others, liability protection is essential for their involvement. I appreciate our healthcare workforce for their knowledge, skills, and personal and professional courage in caring for our loved ones, neighbors, and many residents of our Commonwealth. I am already engaged in meaningful strategies to be able address the many short and long term needs of first responders, caregivers and individuals designated as essential workers.
Many across the Commonwealth are feeling the effects of the economic instability that has been caused by this public health emergency, including homeowners and renters. A key component to stop the spread of the virus is staying home. The Legislature has ensured that our residents can stay in their homes during this emergency by enacting a bill that provides a critical safety net for homeowners and renters by placing a moratorium on all stages of the eviction and foreclosure processes and prohibits non-essential evictions for residential properties, in addition to placing other protections on housing for the duration of the state of emergency. Further, the acute needs of the homeless were the focus of legislation that repurposes funds so cities and towns can address the critical needs of homeless populations.
Many constituents were overwhelmed by their needs to execute wills, powers of attorney, and other legal documents. Understanding and respecting the need for these critical services, the Legislature approved a carefully constructed bill to authorize notary publics to perform notary actions using video conferencing during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Equity in Testing: Long-Term Care and Racial Disparities
Long-term care facilities and communities of color have become a center of the COVID-19 public health crisis in Massachusetts. To support long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities in their work against the virus, the House of Representatives passed legislation to require long-term care facilities to track COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities and to report results daily to public health officials. These facilities include assisted living residence, elderly housing facilities, and the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke. The House also passed legislation establishing a diversity task force to investigate disparities in COVID-19 related cases.
As we have previously shared, Massachusetts is continuing to support individuals experiencing unemployment. The Commonwealth has eliminated waiting periods and expanded call center capacity for filling claims. To continue this response the Division of Unemployment Assistance announced that individuals previously unable to file for unemployment will now be able to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who are unable to work because of a COVID-19-related reason but are not eligible for regular or extended unemployment benefits. This includes self-employed individuals, those seeking part-time employment, those with incomplete work history, and those that have been laid off from churches. All accepted claims will initially receive the minimum weekly benefits amount, plus the additional $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit. Apply online at www.mas.gov/pua.
Locally, small business owners have organized roundtables to discuss needed support during quarantine. Small businesses in our communities are facing many challenges as they adapt to the myriad of changes necessary at this time. The Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce has been hosting regular webinars to assist businesses applying for various loan programs and has created an online directory at www.nnchamber.com/shop-local listing shops that are open and ways you can support local businesses during the stay-at-home advisory. To address financial concerns that small businesses are facing, the Legislature placed a moratorium on evictions for small businesses to ease the burden of the fast-approaching May 1st rent deadline.
I join with my colleagues as we strive to respond to the public health and economic needs of the 6.2 million people in our Commonwealth. I am continuing to offer virtual office hours – please visit www.repgarlick.com or call my office at 617-722-2380 for more information, including daily updates.
I wish you and your loved ones, friends and neighbors health, strength and resilience.
My office remains open, operating remotely and at full strength. I will continue to provide up to date, accurate information through social media and I encourage you to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Yours in service,
Denise C. Garlick