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. Massachusetts is experiencing an unprecedented public health crisis and financial crisis simultaneously. This is an update for April 24-May 8.
Emergency Response, Thoughtful Reconstruction
When the Governor declared a state of emergency on March 10, it afforded the executive branch flexibility and power to swiftly prepare Massachusetts for the COVID-19 surge. Our Commonwealth’s health care and direct service providers, serving in both acute care and community-based settings at nursing homes, group homes for individuals with developmental disabilities, mental health concerns, children in DCF care, youth services, and other home care situations, answered the call to care for our sickest neighbors, despite often not having proper access to personal protective equipment. Other workers deemed “essential” – which I consider to mean “at risk” – continued in their work environments. We are indebted to these workers for their care of our community’s most vulnerable, for our public safety, and for ensuring our access to food and medicine. We must support them in this crisis.
For our businesses small and large, there is no “business as usual.” Across our three towns, families, friends, and neighbors are bearing enormous financial impacts as have had to push “pause” so we can stop this virus. And parents, many working from home, are struggling to balance childcare and their children’s learning needs as schools closed for the academic year. All of us have missed celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, and sharing moments of joy and moments of sorrow with loved ones.
These are difficult times, the most difficult times many of us have ever endured. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and our elected leaders and staff, as well as the elected and staff leaders of Needham, Dover, and Medfield including the Boards of Health, professionally advise and support us while experiencing their own personal worries and concerns.
As we turn to the financial crisis, the overwhelming calls to my office concern unemployment. Statewide, nearly one million residents have applied for unemployment since the crisis began. I serve in the Legislature as the Vice Chair of Ways and Means, where I monitor, plan, and discuss strategies on the state’s budget daily. The state’s economy shrank 6.1% in the first quarter, and through April, state tax collections are more than $2 billion below expectations. The budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2020 is uncertain, but all predictions are dismal: experts project anywhere from a $4 to $6 billion decline in state revenue. Revenue is how we pay for services, so difficult decisions are anticipated at every level of government.
Tools: Action for Budget and Public Policy
As one of the five members of the House COVID-19 Working Group, I worked with my colleagues to develop a plan for remote voting, ensuring that the principles of public health, access (and by extension, equity), and security be the foundation for House operations.
The House of Representatives has met continuously throughout this crisis, but was acting in “informal session,” in which any action could be stopped by any one voice of objection. On May 6, the House of Representatives held the first remote formal session in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This means that the House of Representatives can now fully engage in the debate and deliberation of difficult decisions. Our first vote was to authorize necessary state borrowing known as revenue anticipation notes (RANs). The extension of the state income tax deadline to July 15, 2020 will contribute to a temporary budget deficit until taxes are filed and paid. Issuing RANs will allow the Commonwealth to access funds to pay certain bills and provide critical services until that deferred revenue is collected.
As the Legislature embarked on remote voting, the Governor announced the creation of the Reopening Advisory Board (RAB). This board, which is comprised of public health officials, members of the business community, and municipal officials from across Massachusetts, is charged with advising the Administration on strategies and developing a plan to in phase-in the opening of business, based on health and safety metrics. They expect to produce a plan by May 18.
With the appointment of the RAB, the Governor has signaled that he is developing a plan to loosen certain restrictions once the public health data warrant it is safe. I plan to offer information and suggestions to the RAB, because it needs to hear all our voices to ensure a safe, phased reopening process. If you have input, please contact me at Denise.Garlick@mahouse.gov.
We are not at the end of fighting and stopping this virus. As Churchill once said, “Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps the end of the beginning.” We must continue to procure proper PPE for all front line workers. Testing and contact tracing will be critical components to gather and assess appropriate data and to limit the spread of disease. So, if you get a call from “MA COVID TEAM” with an 833 or 857 area code, answer the call. It is your chance to protect yourself and others. Finally, our best tool will be a vaccine.
I continue to publish daily email updates – email me at Denise.Garlick@mahouse.gov to be added to the list. If you would like to register for our next virtual office hours, please email or call me at 617-722-2380.
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