- On March 19, 2020
State, Federal Governments Address Economic Fallout from COVID-19
ECONOMY HEALTH CARE COSTS HR & EMPLOYMENT LAW NEWS | March 13, 2020
By: Chris Geehern
State and federal governments have passed a series of measures and issued several orders this week to address the medical and economic fallout from the COVID-19 issue.
Here is a summary for employers.
March 18, 2020
State Approved for Business Loans
The Baker-Polito Administration announced yesterday that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Massachusetts small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available following a request received from Governor Charlie Baker on March 17, 2020. SBA assistance will be made available in the entire state of Massachusetts; and the contiguous counties in neighboring states.
Baker Unemployment Bill Made Law
The Massachusetts House and Senate enacted legislation the governor presented earlier this week to make the state unemployment insurance (UI) benefit more accessible to individuals affected by COVID-19. Senate Bill 2599 waives the typical one-week waiting period between the submittal of an application and the commencement of weekly benefits for Massachusetts employees who are separated from work due to the outbreak of COVID-19, or as a result of the state of emergency declared by Governor Baker on March 10, 2020. Such individuals will now be able to access their benefits more quickly. The final bill has been signed by the Governor as Chapter 40 of the Acts of 2020.
Business Leaders Issue Unity Statement
AIM President John Regan was among several prominent business leaders to issue a statement yesterday saying that “we have been encouraged to see business leaders from across the Commonwealth and the country step up to take care of their employees, and lift up their broader communities.”
Child-care Operations Set to Close March 23rd
Early education centers and family child-care providers will close beginning Monday, March 23. Emergency child-care programs, regulated and overseen by the Department of Early Education and Care will be exempt to provide care for children of medical professionals, emergency personnel and other persons critical to mitigating the effects of COVID-19. To access the full order please see the following: Early Education and Care Order.
Senate Passes Economic Relief Bill
The US Senate, in a vote of 90-8, approved the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” on Wednesday. The measure, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates will cost $104 billion, is the second package that Congress has passed amid growing concerns about the widespread coronavirus outbreak in the United States that has already bludgeoned the economy. The bill passed by the Senate grants paid sick leave to hourly employees and expands unemployment insurance (UI).
Meanwhile, Republican senators are expected to begin negotiations with Democrats on a trillion-dollar “phase three” stimulus package as early as Wednesday night, which could include $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, $150 billion for other distressed sectors of the economy, two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18, and the creation of a small business interruption loan program. It is unclear if this “phase three” package would include a payroll tax cut. Negotiations are ongoing.
March 17, 2020
Governor Baker announced several additional initiatives on Tuesday
Emergency money for boards of health and Expedited contracts for municipalities
- $5 million going out today to 14 of the largest municipalities and 15 local public health districts
- Boston to expects $250,000
- Bigger cities will get $50,000 to $250,000 each, depending on need.
Department of Public Health emergency orders for licensing to allow health-care professionals to work in other hospital settings and allow out-of-state and retired doctors to get licenses; expedite licensing for RN’s and respiratory specialists
Telehealth and other healthcare mandates
Adjusting ambulance staffing standards – presumably for rural towns that depend on voluntary services.
Small Business Administration loans – The governor has asked the SBA to make a declaration of economic injury in the Commonwealth to meet certain federal funding guidelines.
Unemployment legislation still pending. still pending in legislature. Proposed regulations to relax current claim requirements and legislation to suspend one-week wait period on new claims.
No on-premise food consumption for next three weeks
Lab testing – The focus is on increasing testing capacity with commercial entities and existing labs. The commonwealth could analyze 2,500 daily tests, but is hindered by the amount actual testing kits. State government is working on establishing an agreement with Broad Institute in Cambridge.
Closures – “I believe that people should not engage in nonessential activities; we defined that…but expect the local board of health to enforce that.”
Retail establishments to use best judgement. Grocery stores and pharmacies need to stay open.
Layoffs – “Tremendous amount of activity.” Governor expects a huge spike in Department of Unemployment Assistance activity.
Governor Charlie Baker announced the following measures on March 16:
- A $10 million small-business loan fun (similar to snow emergency and recent gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley). The fund, which will also include non-profits, is set up through the Massachusetts Capital Growth Corporation. www.empoweringsmallbusiness.org.
- The MBTA has made schedule changes www.mbta.com/coronavirus
- Public access to State House will be shut down as of close of business and only “invited guests” allowed.
AIM’s Most Recent Blogs/Resources:
- AIM Webinar: Webinar: Facts for Employers About COVID-19; Thursday, March 19 | Noon – 1:30 pm REGISTER HERE
- Government Actions to date and See AIM HR Solutions Employer Guide here.
- Given the increased concern and circumstances around COVID-19, and in response to Governor Baker’s recommendations to employers, AIM’s John Regan, President & CEO communicated to members that that the association has made some decisions regarding upcoming AIM programs, events and meetings. For instance, the March 20 AIM Executive Forum with Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta has been cancelled. The decision is consistent with Governor Charlie Baker’s recommendations to employers pertaining to COVID-19.
March 16, 2020
- US House Legislation – Impacting tax practitioners, HR and operations. Legislation changes paid sick days, family leave and other employer related provisions. Of note, the Senate still needs to debate and vote on this – Today (Monday) and this upcoming week will be important to monitor as this legislation moves towards to the President’s desk for his consideration and signature. AIM Government Affairs teams have been in constant communication with members of the US House and Senate regarding the progress of this legislation. AIM member audit and law firms have produced great summaries of this legislation. (Text Of Legislation) Summary & Analysis by PWC, Deloitte, FisherPhillips. (If you have analysis to share please forward for future updates) and Littler FAQ, Guide for Business Emergency Preparedness and FoleyHoag.
Early morning Sunday, Massachusetts Governor appeared on TV Sunday regarding next steps (Video). Later on Sunday at a 6pm press conference, Governor Baker issued an order to close all Mass. schools, announced restaurant restrictions, banned gatherings over 25 people in addition to ordering all non-essential state employees to work from home.
There is NO shelter in place order. The order regarding closures prohibiting gatherings over 25 or more, includes faith based activities, fitness centers, private clubs or theaters. Restaurants, bar may NOT allow people to eat inside on premises. They can allow takeout and delivery only, effective Tuesday, March 17. Grocery stores and pharmacies are exempt. (See below for additional details). Social distancing has been recommended for any activities outside home, and maintaining a six-foot distance from others. It was also recommended that colleges and universities shift to remote learning.
Massachusetts UI Legislation
On Sunday, Governor Baker announced that he will be filing unemployment insurance related legislation in part will relaxing UI claims process and will waive 1 week waiting period among other emergency regs to be filed to address COVID 19 claims tomorrow. AIM’s Government Affairs team has remained in contact with the administration and legislature. We will provide specific updates once we have them. In addition to recent actions by legislative leaders regarding events and limiting staff at the State House, see also Senate President Karen Spilka’s Resource Center and most recent public statement by House Speaker Robert DeLeo. If you have legislative issues and have questions on how to navigate the legislature please contact us.
Elementary and Secondary Schools
The state has started a three week suspension of school operations for educational purposes at all public and private elementary and secondary schools effective Tuesday, and through April 7. Extended care for breakfast will remain in place to students can access meals in addition to lunch.
All commercial health insurance carrier were ordered to allow providers to deliver services via telehealth to help people avoid trips to medical offices.
Massachusetts hospitals have been ordered to postpone elective surgeries to ensure availability of medical workers and hospital space to deal with COVID-19.
Nursing Homes – Governor issued new restriction on visitations etc.
Registry of Motor Vehicles is extending renewal timelines for certain credentials to reduce foot traffic at RMV service centers.
The Baker-Polito Administration today announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Response Command Center. Governor Charlie Baker has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to lead this cross-secretariat response to the outbreak of COVID-19
The Governor will be filing legislation tomorrow regarding open meeting laws, municipal actions regarding the timing and completion of local budgets and moving the official date of the marathon.
For the Latest Updates
See DPH and Mass211 website for updates that will be helpful and are translated in multiple language to help your particular workforce. Also see Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
Mayor Walsh announced several items on Sunday impacting businesses including a City State of Emergency. In particular, announced the closure of certain venues particularly bars, clubs and certain restaurants. (Order impacting restaurants, Bars and Clubs in Boston) (Additional City of Boston Details) (Boston Globe) (Summary)
Many AIM members have utilized the hotline over the past week and one questions has been related to layoffs and healthcare impacts. As employers evaluate options regarding operations including unemployment insurance and healthcare, know the Massachusetts Health Connector has initiated a special open enrollment period starting March 12 – April 25. Should AIM members have questions, AIM encourages you to contact the AIM hotline to review your options and consider best practices.
Other Resources for Employers and Employees
President Declares a National Emergency
President Trump today declared a national emergency, a move that will give him authority to use $40 billion allocated by Congress for disaster relief to address the COVID-19 crisis. Mr. Trump invoked the Stafford Act, a law that empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster response and aid state and local governments.
$15 million State Supplemental Budget
The Massachusetts House and Senate passed a $15 million supplemental budget bill (H 4561) that creates a “reserve to support the commonwealth’s monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts against the 2019 novel coronavirus by the department of public health, regional and local boards of health and other public instrumentalities. The bill doesn’t offer direct instructions as to how the money is to be used, but Gov. Charlie Baker said he anticipates a large portion of the money will be directed into communities to fund first responders and local boards of health.
$8.3 Billion Federal Funding Response
- Small Business Loans
- States to receive a minimum of $4 million
- $826 million to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – for the development of vaccines, treatments, and tests.
- $61 million to FDA to expedite reviews and cover manufacturing disruptions from epicenters such as China.
- Includes language empowering the US Department of Health and Human Services to ensure vaccines, drugs or tests are “affordable in the commercial market.”
Additional Federal Bill (In Progress)
- Negotiations continue at this hour between Congress and the White House.
Unemployment Insurance Flexibility
In a major development for companies concerned about lost income for their employees if they shut down or lay off employees due to Covid-19, the U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday a new guidance outlining flexibilities that states will have in administering their unemployment insurance (UI) programs to assist employees affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance is available to read here.
Under the guidance, federal law permits significant flexibility for states to interpret or amend their laws to provide UI benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:
- An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
- An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
- An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.
Under the guidance, states will have greater assurance about the circumstances in which they are authorized to extend unemployment insurance benefits to Americans whose employment has been disrupted by coronavirus.
An individual receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave is still receiving pay and is not “unemployed,” so the individual is ineligible for unemployment insurance. The Department’s Employment and Training Administration will continue to assist any states seeking assistance in implementing these flexibilities.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Baker-Polito Administration are working closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to activate the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program which would provide assistance to eligible businesses and non-profits impacted by COVID-19.
The first step in this process is to meet a minimum threshold of affected businesses within Massachusetts. To do this, affected small businesses and non-profits should download, complete, and submit the SBA EIDL Worksheet and Instructions to expedite activation of the EIDL program.
Completed forms may be submitted by email to Disaster.Recovery@mass.gov or by fax to (508) 820-1401. If submitting by fax, please include an email address.
Governor Bans Gatherings of 250 People or More
Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order prohibiting most gatherings of over 250 people in an effort to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. The order includes, but is not limited, to the following events: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals, and any similar event or activity that brings together 250 or more persons in a single room or single space at the same time in a venue such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theatre, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.
Questions about managing COVID-19? AIM members may call the Employer Hotline at 1.800.470.6277.
Need to become an AIM member? View our Membership page.
Please contact Brad MacDougall, email@example.com, if you have any questions regarding legislative actions or want to receive electronic updates regarding state and federal legislative responses to COVID-19. You can also update your AIM communications preferences and sign up for HR updates here – click here to opt-in or out.
The information above was compiled by AIM staff members John Regan, Brooke Thomson, Brad MacDougall, Tom Jones and Christopher Geehern.