As the crisis caused by COVID-19 continues, I wanted to provide an update on actions our Towns and Commonwealth are taking, and what I am doing as your State Representative to support Needham, Medfield, and Dover during unprecedented times. This edition of House calls recaps the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board, state fiscal policy, IT legislation, and a reflection on high school graduation and Memorial Day.
“Reopening” the Economy
I understand the hardships we have faced in the past few months. Adapting to new business models, completing cumbersome applications for federal loans, making the difficult decisions to furlough or lay off workers, or even the most decision or whether to stay in business after the pandemic has taken a toll on even our most experienced businesses, small and large. Members of our community have applied for unemployment assistance in record numbers, and still contact my office for assistance in completing their claims. The isolation of social distancing and stay-at-home advisories have affected mental health in ways we still do not fully understand.
At the same time, this disease has torn through communities, robbing people of the opportunity to see loved ones, celebrate Easter and Mother’s Day together, and taking more than 6,000 lives across Massachusetts. It has ripped massive holes in state and local budgets, the effects of which will be felt for years to come.
But until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, it is our responsibility as individuals in a community to do what it takes to slow the spread of the deadly disease.
I appreciate that some are ready to reopen. Monitoring public health data will be key to a slow, thoughtful, and phased “reopening” of the Massachusetts economy. Last week, Governor Baker announced 6 public health datapoints that will determine how the Commonwealth proceeds with reopening plans. Even as these metrics trend in the right direction, we must acknowledge that any loosening of restrictions will inevitably increase the spread of COVID-19.
On Monday, May 18, Governor Baker outlined the four-phased approach to allow businesses to reopen with sector-specific protocols. The phases, which are (1) Start, (2) Cautious, (3) Vigilant, and (4) New Normal, spell out ways for limited industries to resume operations with severe restrictions. We are presently in the first phase, Start. Each phase is expected to last three weeks, although a phase may last longer or revert to previous phases if the data trends in the wrong direction. For full information, including the Reopening Advisory Board Plan and a link to assist businesses and organizations in acquiring PPE and cleaning supplies, visit www.mass.gov/reopening.
Actions of the House of Representatives
As Vice Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, I continue to monitor state finances. Experts expect a $6 billion hit to the fiscal year budget beginning July 2020, which affects everything from local municipal budgets to funding for human services programs. Even more dire are predictions for future fiscal years; experts predict the extent of the current slowdown may not even be felt until 2022.
The House of Representatives continues to operate remotely. In the last edition of my op-ed, I outlined the first-ever remote formal session in the House, where we approved revenue anticipation notes (RANs) to facilitate the state tax filing deadline delay to July 15, 2020. This bill has since been signed into law by the Governor. This week, I voted for an IT bond bill to facilitate technology upgrades throughout the state. Tech upgrades have helped the Commonwealth’s unemployment office process the unprecedent one million claims since mid-March.
One area this legislation would have an impact is remote learning for schools. As was highlighted in a recent oversight hearing held by the Education Committee, districts ability to teach students remotely varies wildly across Massachusetts. The bill authorized a matching grant program to assist public school districts in improving student instruction and assessment through the use of information technology.
This school year, however, graduation will feel decidedly different for our high school seniors. While it may not be how many envisioned, living through times of hardship and uncertainty has taught us skills we otherwise would not have learned. Graduating in the time of COVID-19 has taught resilience, something that isn’t part of the high school curriculum. Often, we start down one path only to find that it is not leading us where we want to go. Resilience will allow you to take what you learned while on your original path and reflect, adapt, and move forward.
Another annual event had a different sense this year. On May 25, I paused in memory of Memorial Day. This year, the solemn holiday had a decidedly different feel, with no commemorations or parades, and underscored by the tragic outbreak of COVID-19 in the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes.
Memorial Day is always deeply humbling. Over 1.2 million Americans have died in military service since the Revolutionary War. Over 32,000 were from Massachusetts. In the past two months, over 100 veterans in state care died with COVID-19 (sidenote for DCG: 74 in Holyoke, 30 in Chelsea). As a former VA nurse, as your State Representative, and as a resident of this Commonwealth, I am conscious of these losses and reflect on them as we continue our fight against COVID-19.
As society enters a new phase of this pandemic, I will 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