COVID-19 Update # 23 From Representative Dykema

April 9 Coronavirus Update

Today marks our 17th day at home under the ongoing state “Stay at Home” advisory. The intent of the advisory is to limit our social contact and “flatten the curve.” Many signs seem to indicate good news: that our dedication to staying home is working, and the curve is flattening. Now, we need to stay the course.

Coronavirus Testing and Response

Source: State House News Service
  • There are 18,941 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, with 1,747 hospitalizations and 503 deaths as of today at 4pm. 
  • For a breakdown of cases by county, age, and now race/ethnicity, check here. This data is also now available in a dynamic model.
  • Nearly 95,000 tests have been conducted by the State Public Health Laboratory and private testing facilities. At least 4,000 tests are being conducted every day, and over 7,400 were conducted in the last 24 hours alone.   

New Guidance on Unemployment Assistance

Today, the state received the federal guidance necessary to begin implementation of the following new types of unemployment assistance created by the federal CARES Act:

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation:

  • What is it? An additional $600 per week for those collecting unemployment.
  • When is it in effect? For all weekly unemployment claims from March 29 to July 31.
  • Next steps: No additional action is required from those already receiving unemployment assistance. New claimants will automatically receive this benefit once approved.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:

  • What is it? Unemployment benefits for those who would not normally be eligible – including self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and “gig economy” workers.
  • When is it in effect? For all unemployment claims beginning February 2, ending prior to December 26.
  • Next steps: The state is working as quickly as possible to put a system in place to process what is expected to be a large volume of new claims. The system is scheduled to be online by April 30, at which time applications can be submitted online. Once a claim is approved, benefits will be paid retroactively to February 2 to those who qualify.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation:

  • What is it? A 13-week extension to the normal 26 weeks of benefits per calendar year that Massachusetts residents in the unemployment insurance system receive for those who have exhausted their existing benefits.
  • When is it in effect? For anyone who has exhausted benefits and is still unemployed during weeks between March 29 and December 26.
  • Next steps: No action at this time. Those who are eligible should continue to check for updates as the state is still awaiting federal guidance.

DUA is experiencing roughly 18x the normal volume of unemployment claims, and they have rapidly increased their customer service staff from 50 employees to over 600 remote employees working 7 days a week. Despite this increase, I know that this process may still cause frustration and anxiety for those waiting on responses to claims or resolutions of issues. As claim volumes continue to rise and new populations become eligible, the department is working to address the many logistical challenges that this crisis has created.

For more information, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/update-massachusetts-department-of-unemployment-assistance-announces-guidance-on-cares.

Health Care

  • Today, the administration announced additional measures to increase staffing levels to meet the anticipated “surge” in COVID-19 cases requiring hospital care. The measures include licensing of foreign doctors, expedited licensing for graduating nursing students, guaranteed insurance coverage of in-patient care, and a unified portal for health care staff recruiting, volunteering, and hiring at https://mass.gov/joincovidteam.
  • The state has received an additional 100 ventilators from the federal stockpile which are in the process of being delivered, tested, and distributed. In addition, Boston Children’s Hospital has donated ventilators for the state to distribute to COVID-19 patients.
  • The Battelle N95 mask decontamination machine in Somerville is up and running and, at full capacity, will be able to sterilize 80,000 masks a day, extending the useful life of existing protective equipment.
  • The Boston Convention Center is being converted to a combination COVID-19 care and emergency shelter facility in conjunction with the Boston HOPE organization. The 1,000 bed facility will be half-medical, half-shelter and will help the state and the City of Boston address the prevalence of COVID-19 in the homeless community. This facility will also allow patients who no longer require intensive medical care to be moved from ICU units in urgent care hospitals, freeing up hospital beds for patient needing more intensive medical care.

Small Business

  • A new FAQ has been issued by the federal Treasury Department on the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program designed to assist small businesses with keeping employees on payroll during times of intense economic disruption. Additional information can be found online here
  • The Massachusetts Cultural Council has opened applications for grants to artists and arts-related workers who have been impacted by COVID-19. Applications are being accepted online until April 22.

Legislative Action

  • The Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities has begun soliciting testimony on H.4622, An Act to provide short-term relief to families in deep poverty. Testimony can be submitted online and a live remote hearing will be held via Zoom on Monday, April 13 at 1:30p.m. Those wishing to participate can sign up online as well.

Additional Updates

  • April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. COVID-19 has resulted in increased risk of domestic and sexual violence. The statewide SafeLink hotline is 877-785-2020, and the same resources can now be accessed through the statewide 2-1-1 number. Jane Doe, Inc., also offers a “Find Help” search page for local resources and its statewide services are still available remotely.
  • As a reminder, grocery stores are now limited to 40% of maximum occupancy and required to manage lines and movement of foot traffic through stores in a manner that maximizes social distancing for customers and workers.

Resources for Residents Experiencing Job Loss or Loss of Income

COVID-19 is causing broad disruption to the economy which is affecting incomes of many residents and families. There are a number of state resources and supports available to support workers who may find themselves unemployed or otherwise income-constrained during this uncertain time. 

For your convenience, you can find a guide of resources and information at: https://carolyndykema.com/covid19-state-resources/.

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