The Boston Herald
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Economic watchdogs worry of worsening unemployment crisis
By Erin Tiernan
emergency is boiling in Massachusetts as the coronavirus
pandemic rocks economies across the globe and state
watchdogs say the “canary in the coal mine” is a new report
predicting the state’s unemployment rate could hit a
jaw-dropping 25% by June.
“Everyone is rightfully focused on the safety, life and
health of the people in this country because of the COVID-19
virus, but there is a twin emergency that is almost as
threatening which is that the state governments are going to
get murdered,” said Greg Sullivan of the Pioneer Institute
and co-author of the
Nearly 330,000 people filed for unemployment in the last two
weeks of March as the pandemic took hold in Massachusetts
and across the US. Nationwide, almost 10 million people
filed jobless claims during that same period. Massachusetts
was the sixth-hardest hit state, federal statistics show.
Business activity has ground to a halt as the pandemic has
tightened its grip and watchdogs warned the state — and the
country’s — jobless situation will only get worse. Federal
Reserve Bank of St. Louis economist Miguel Faria-e-Castro
predicts national unemployment will hit 52.8 million in
June. Under that scenario, about 975,000 Massachusetts
residents, or 25%, would be unemployed — up from 106,526 in
“More than a quarter of the workforce being unemployed would
trigger a severe state budget crisis,” the authors conclude,
saying it is “critically important” for state government
leaders to come up with a plan.
It’s a recipe for collapsing revenues that Paul Craney of
the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said could usher in “a
depression like we have never seen” and called on state
leaders to start talking about how they’ll cope with
anticipated tax revenue shortfalls well into the billions.
“There is a danger by not talking about the economy. This is
canary in the coal mine,” he said.
State leaders have failed so far to outline a plan for how
to deal with the shortfall. An initial round-table to kick
off that conversation on Tuesday was stymied by technical
difficulties when leaders couldn’t get a live stream to
work. It was rescheduled for Tuesday.
Federal coronavirus stimulus aid so far leaves out states
that are simultaneously dealing with a health care crisis
and unparalleled need for social services.
Sullivan said the state has three options to deal with the
shortfall: lean on the federal government in increase grants
and help governments make up the losses, cut spending and
reduce payroll or raise taxes.
In response to reporters’ questions as to whether he would
consider raising taxes, Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday
said, “In the middle of an economic downturn … I don’t think
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
COVID-19 unemployment surge is on pace to wipe out
the MA Unemployment Reserve Fund within three months
by Greg Sullivan
Report] | [Excerpts follow]
. . . Below is a back-of-the-envelope projection of how long
it will take the Massachusetts Unemployment Reserve Fund to
run out. The short answer is that if no further initial
unemployment claims are submitted over the coming weeks and
months, the reserve will be depleted within three months. If
jobless claims continue to mount, the period would be
The longer answer is that the balance of the reserve fund on
March 31 was $1.4 billion. During the preceding 12 months,
the fund took in an average of $146.9 million per month in
net UI employer contributions and paid out an average of
$107.8 million per month in benefits to an average of 58,780
individuals. Given that 329,514 additional individuals
applied for unemployment in the last two weeks of March, the
total number of people collecting unemployment in the short
term will conservatively be more than 375,000. If the
average monthly benefit of the new recipients is
approximately the same as those who were collecting over the
preceding 12-months, the unemployment fund will see its
total monthly UI benefit pay-out grow from $107.8 million to
more than $675 million. At the same time, employers will no
longer be making contributions to the unemployment fund for
the 329,514 newly jobless workers, who comprise nearly 10
percent of the total Massachusetts workforce of 3.7 million.
At that rate, the $1.4 billion reserve fund will be depleted
by more than $500 million per month, and would be gone
within three months. If jobless claims continue to come in,
per the projections of some economists, the monthly UI
benefit payout could increase to more than $800 million,
which would deplete it in two months or less.
An even more daunting consideration is that the economy
could take a year or more to fully recover. Should this
happen, as the aforementioned economists have warned, the
Massachusetts unemployment fund could become a major
financial drain on state finances requiring billions in
loans to replenish. . . .
But even if the COVID-19 crisis is quickly resolved and the
economy rebounds quickly, the unprecedented recent surge of
unemployment claims is virtually certain to substantially
deplete the Commonwealth’s unemployment reserve fund and
require state leaders to face some tough choices.
The Boston Herald
Friday, April 10, 2020
Report: State’s unemployment compensation trust fund could
run out in mere weeks
By Marie Szaniszlo
Massachusetts and five other states can pay out fewer than
10 weeks of the unemployment compensation claims that have
come in since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — including
those they’ve already begun to pay out, according to the Tax
Massachusetts, Texas and Ohio each have enough in their
unemployment compensation trust funds to pay out only six
weeks of benefits, New York has enough to cover five and
California has enough to cover four — the least in the
nation, said Jared Walczak, director of state tax policy for
the Washington, D.C.- based, nonpartisan not-for-profit
States with the healthiest trust funds include Wyoming,
which is in a position to pay 321 weeks of unemployment
compensation claims, followed by Florida at 90 weeks, South
Dakota at 86 weeks, Utah at 73 weeks and Oregon at 65 weeks,
Massachusetts residents who qualify still will receive up to
30 weeks of unemployment benefits from the state and another
13 weeks from the federal government, he said, but because
the state hasn’t saved sufficiently over time, it will be
forced to borrow from the federal trust fund far earlier
than most states and far more extensively.
“It will have to pay back those loans with interest, and
while it’s in arrears, Massachusetts businesses will face
higher federal unemployment insurance taxes,” Walczak said.
“Massachusetts’ failure to adequately fund unemployment
insurance in advance will mean the burden of repayment to
the federal government will fall on taxpayers and result in
higher tax burdens and reduced ability to fund other
priorities for years into the future.”
Gov. Charlie Baker did not respond to requests for comment.
The Tax Foundation study arrived one day after the
Boston-based Pioneer Institute published a report warning
state leaders that Massachusetts’ unemployment rate could
hit as high as 25% by June if no action is taken.
Paul D. Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal
Alliance, called the reports “the canary in the coal mine”
for state leaders.
“If the governor, Senate president and (House) speaker do
not begin to reign in state spending to a realistic level
and allow for businesses to reopen in some capacity, the
safety net for our state’s unemployed will soon run out and
put us into further debt on top of our already
nation-leading debt per capita,” Craney said. “The simplest
solution is to find a balance to open the economy and keep
About 16.7 million people in the U.S. — 10.2% of the entire
civilian labor force — filed for unemployment between March
14 and April 4, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Salem News
Friday, April 10, 2020
Report says state's unemployment fund could soon be tapped
By Christian M. Wade, Statehouse reporter
Amid a crush of coronavirus related jobless claims, the
state's unemployment fund could be tapped out in a few
weeks, according to a new report.
The nonpartisan Tax Foundation reports that Massachusetts
only has about six weeks of unemployment benefits funding
available before they run out.
Massachusetts is expected to tap out of unemployment funds
before other New England states, the report noted. New
Hampshire, which has also seen a surge of new jobless
claims, has only 10 weeks of benefits available in its trust
fund. Maine has at least 24 weeks of funding, while Vermont
has 45 weeks remaining.
Nearly 470,000 Massachusetts workers joined the unemployment
ranks in recent weeks as the COVID-19 outbreak has shut down
wide swaths of the economy.
Experts say the state will be forced to borrow from the
federal government to replenish the unemployment fund to
keep benefits flowing to jobless workers.
"Nobody is going to be left high and dry, because the state
will borrow the money to keep it going," said Greg Sullivan,
research director at the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think
tank. "But the bad news for the state is that it is
ultimately going to be burdened with a gigantic bill that it
will have to repay."
He said the federal government should make grants to help
states weather the fallout, instead of the zero-interest
loans that only delay repayment.
Gov. Charlie Baker has said his administration is keeping an
eye on the numbers to ensure there is enough money in the
Massachusetts is one of the most generous states when it
comes to unemployment benefits. But its trust fund hasn't
been fully solvent since 2000, according to the U.S. Labor
Department's unemployment insurance division.
As of Jan. 31, Massachusetts had about $1.74 billion in its
fund, according to the latest data.
The state isn't alone when it comes to concerns about
running out of money, according to the Tax Foundation.
"Six states, which collectively account for over one-third
of the U.S. population, are currently in a position to pay
out fewer than 10 weeks of the unemployment compensation
claims that have already come in since the start of the
COVID-19 pandemic — including those they’ve already begun to
pay out," it stated.
California, which has also been hard hit by the virus, only
has about four weeks of benefits before its funds are tapped
out, the report noted. Other states with funding for fewer
than 10 weeks of benefits are New York, Texas, Ohio and
During the last recession, unemployment insurance funds were
hammered by a number of large claims. Payments to the
unemployed went from $30.5 billion in 2006 to $75.8 billion
in 2009, according to labor statistics, forcing many states
to borrow from the federal government or the bond market.
Business leaders worry that employers will be saddled with
higher unemployment insurance rates down the road to help
the state repay federal loans during the COVID-19 crisis.
"It's a major concern," said Jon Hurst, president of the
Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "The business
community is really suffering right now."
— Christian M. Wade covers
the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media
Group’s newspapers and websites.
State House News Service
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Spilka: State Exploring “New Ways” to Pass Budget
Clear Signal Needed on MCAS, Senate President Says
By Katie Lannan
Bills aimed at providing protections for renters and
homeowners are among the Senate's short-term COVID-19
response plans, and beyond that, Senate President Karen
Spilka is looking at ways to keep the body running with most
senators working remotely amid the ongoing public health
"We're just about to enter the surge. I think all of us need
to keep our eye on the ball, or the surge, right now,"
Spilka said Wednesday after virtually caucusing with Senate
Democrats for upwards of three hours. "We just can't take
our eyes off of it."
Gov. Charlie Baker has projected the number of COVID-19
cases in Massachusetts could reach its peak somewhere
between Friday and April 20. A total of 16,790 people had
tested positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday
afternoon, and 4 o'clock has become synonymous with grim
daily updates of infection and virus death totals.
Nearly a month after Baker declared a state of emergency,
Spilka said the Legislature's focus has remained on limiting
spread of the virus and providing a safety net for residents
whose lives have been disrupted.
The Senate plans to take up a housing security bill and
municipal relief legislation during its Thursday session,
The House last week passed a bill (H 4616) aimed at
addressing challenges the pandemic has created for
municipalities and school districts, and that bill is now
before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Among other
measures, it would give state education officials authority
to change or waive requirements around the annual MCAS
"I think it's important for students, parents, teachers,
everybody to figure out what we're doing and to know what
the state for sure is doing," Spilka said of the MCAS exams.
The bill would also push back the April 1 deadline, set
under a new education finance reform law, for districts to
file plans detailing efforts they'll make to close
persistent achievement gaps. That law called for $1.5
billion in new K-12 school funding over seven years, with
the first installment to be delivered in next year's budget.
The coronavirus crisis and related job losses, business
closures and changes to daily life have thrown the state
revenue picture into uncertainty, and created new questions
about how lawmakers can debate and pass a more than $44
billion spending bill in a time of social distancing.
Spilka said she's "certainly hoping" the state will be able
to fulfill its commitment under the school funding reform
law. A gathering of economic experts and budget writers, now
slated for next week, should help provide "a better feeling
of where the state is at," she said.
"That is one thing we absolutely need to take care of — a
budget, whether in pieces or in whole," Spilka told the News
Service. "I think that, as I've said before, these are
unprecedented times and they require unprecedented solutions
to problems, and clearly forming a budget the old way
doesn't work or won't work, and we need to look at new ways
to do it."
The virtual budget hearing scheduled for Tuesday was
originally supposed to be held this week, but postponed
after technical difficulties sunk plans to live-stream it on
the Legislature's website.
Remote work "has really highlighted the State House's
shortcomings with technology," said Spilka, who has been
making conference calls from her Ashland home.
"I think that's one thing when we get back, that we need to
improve it to increase access not only for senators, staff,
administration, but for transparency and letting people
participate more," she said.
Spilka said the Senate counsel's office has been looking
into the constitutionality of holding formal sessions with
senators participating remotely, and that she plans to talk
to senators about the idea of meeting past July 31, the last
day of formal sessions under current joint legislative
"I believe that we'll do what we need to do this year," she
Before the Beacon Hill agenda shifted entirely to pandemic
response, transportation funding and policy was a major
talking point — in early March, the House passed an $18
billion transportation bond bill and a revenue package that
raised taxes or fees on gasoline, corporations, ride-hailing
services and vehicle purchases by rental car companies.
Spilka said she's been talking to Transportation Committee
Co-Chairman Sen. Joseph Boncore, who is continuing to work
on some transportation issues. She said the state's
transportation challenges "can't be kicked down the road
"I don't know how that will play out, if it will be a bond
bill, a bond bill with a second bill," she said. "We'll have
to see what works best for the Senate and the people of
Massachusetts when we come out of this. I think we still
need to be working on some of it, but I have to say, our
major focus and our primary focus is still protecting the
health of our residents and containing this public health
As far as paying for the state's coronavirus response,
Spilka said new or higher taxes to support those efforts are
"not on my radar right now," and said federal stimulus money
should "hopefully" start going out more consistently.
"People who have been let go from their jobs or are not
working as much are hurting, and they still have bills to
pay," she said.
Gov. Baker said Wednesday that he did not think raising
taxes would be the right way to keep up with spending
demands related to COVID-19.
"So in the middle of an economic downturn where 25 percent,
where there was a report that was issued today that said as
many as 25 percent of our working population could be out of
work, we should raise taxes?," he said. "I don't think so."
— Chris Van Buskirk
State House News Service
Friday, April 10, 2020
Weekly Roundup - Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of
Recap and analysis of the week in state government
By Katie Lannan
It was a month ago, with 92 COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts,
that Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency.
"There's no question that the efforts to mitigate the spread
of this virus will be disruptive," he said to a full room of
The caseload is now more than 200 times what it was, deaths
are tallied in the hundreds, new developments happen at a
whirlwind pace, and there is absolutely no question that the
mitigation efforts are disruptive.
As applications for public assistance programs and
unemployment benefits continued to flood in, the Pioneer
Institute projected the state's jobless rate could rocket up
to 25 percent by June. While the state imposed capacity
limits on grocery stores, the city of Boston was planning
for how to increase its morgue capacity.
As Public Safety and Security Secretary Thomas Turco worked
from home and tended to his COVID-19 symptoms, Prisoners'
Legal Services reported that the infection rate for people
in prison was 2.5 times higher than for the general
While lawmakers passed a bill that would waive MCAS
requirements this year, some districts canceled April
vacations and Gov. Baker was talking to education officials
about how to handle the rest of the school year.
In a vestige of the normal legislative process, the House
and Senate on Thursday agreed to send a bill to conference
committee, the place where bills go when lawmakers can't
settle their differences informally. In a sign of the times,
the emergency bill dealt with protecting people from
evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 crisis. And
the few lawmakers in the building to act on it were wearing
Masks, bandanas and other face coverings became regular
sights around Massachusetts this week, in keeping with a
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation
and a new state advisory issued Friday.
Boston is now home to the state's second COVID-19 field
hospital, a Partners HealthCare-led operation dubbed Boston
Hope and hosted at the Boston Convention and Exhibition
Center. There's 1,000 beds there, and, Baker said, room to
build more. Based on his assessment on Friday, it would not
be a shock if more are needed.
Mayor Marty Walsh launched a COVID-19 Health Inequities Task
Force after releasing details on how the respiratory disease
has hit communities of color and immigrant populations. Of
the 1,567 Boston COVID-19 cases where race and ethnicity
information was available, 40 percent were Black or African
American, a demographic that makes up closer to a quarter of
the city's population.
The potential for racial disparities is emerging as a major
issue to watch as the coronavirus continues its spread in
Massachusetts, along with its impacts on nursing homes and
other long-term care facilities.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling and Attorney General Maura
Healey each launched investigations into the circumstances
surrounding the deaths of at least 25 veterans at the
Holyoke Soldiers Home, where suspended superintendent
Bennett Walsh has started pushing back against assertions he
kept state officials in the dark.
In Wilmington, local officials have asked the state for help
after 77 of 91 residents at a nursing home — one targeted to
become a dedicated COVID-19 care facility — contracted the
coronavirus. Seven residents there, who had been receiving
end-of-life care, died after testing positive.
The state began publishing ethnic and racial breakdowns of
COVID-19 cases and deaths this week, but the information is
missing or unknown for a majority of patients.
"It's not acceptable to me that 56 percent comes in
unknown," Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou
Sudders said Thursday, pledging to work with labs and
hospitals to improve the data and get a better sense of
where the burden is falling.
Addressing a grim reality of the pandemic, new guidance
developed by medical experts and ethicists proposes a system
doctors can use to determine who to treat first in the event
that the number of COVID-19 patients overwhelms the health
care system's resources.
Congressman Joe Kennedy III and state Rep. Jon Santiago, a
doctor, said the guidelines would end up prioritizing white
patients over patients of color, based on disparaties in
health conditions created by longstanding societal
inequities, and the Massachusetts Black and Latino
Legislative Caucus asked for the protocols to be revised or
Friday marks the start of the 10-day window when Baker has
said he expects the number of coronavirus patients and
related hospitalizations to surge in Massachusetts. The
latest modeling, he said Friday afternoon, suggests the peak
might be closer to April 20, and envisions a high point of
around 2,500 new confirmed cases a day.
"We are about to have a very difficult couple of weeks here
in Massachusetts, and it could be three weeks and it could
be four," the governor said.
Models, of course, are subject to change. They're not
guarantees, and they look different depending on how they're
built and the information they're based around.
A widely-cited model from the University of Washington's
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now projects
Massachustts will hit its peak health care resource use on
April 26, and that the number of deaths per day will peak on
the 27th, at 201.
By August 4, under the institute's model, there would be
6,739 total COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts — a significant
and sobering upward revision from the total 2,357 the same
group projected on April 1.
The IHME model now says Massachusetts will need 1,637
State officials have distributed 109 ventilators so far,
Sudders said Friday, and have received more from the
national stockpile. The federal government said there'll be
another shipment of 200 to Massachusetts next week, but
Sudders noted she's not counting those until they're in
"Obviously, we continue to be focused on the pursuit of
ventilators through other means and other channels as well,"
Baker said Thursday.
Baker said the state will do everything it can to make sure
doctors and hospitals have what they need for the surge,
"but I don't have a crystal ball with respect to how long
it's going to last or how high it's going to go."
Budgetary divinations slated for this week were pushed back,
scuttled by a livestream failure. Lawmakers, economic
experts and the administration will try to assess the fiscal
picture again next week, technology permitting.
The tea leaves, when they can read them, will likely present
a bleak picture — the Massachusetts Budget and Policy
Center's testimony contemplates a scenario where fiscal 2021
tax collections land $5 billion short of the estimates
agreed to in January.
"These are unprecedented times and they require
unprecedented solutions to problems, and clearly forming a
budget the old way doesn't work or won't work, and we need
to look at new ways to do it," Senate President Karen Spilka
Candidates and officeholders have also been looking for new,
social distancing-friendly ways to gather the signatures
they need to secure a spot on September primary ballots,
including drive-through signing stations and nomination
forms sent by mail or left outside homes.
Baker said he'd be open to reducing the signature threshold,
and a group of three candidates — Senate hopeful Kevin
O'Connor, Congressman Stephen Lynch's challenger Dr. Robbie
Goldstein, and Hingham state representative candidate
Melissa Bower Smith — asked the state's high court for
Two longtime reps won't have to worry about collecting
signatures. Dean of the House Angelo Scaccia and Rep. Harold
Naughton, a House member since 1995, announced this week
they aren't seeking re-election, and their would-be
successors now face the prospect of pressure-filled
signature-gathering during a pandemic surge.
The once-unwieldy Democratic presidential field winnowed
down to just one — former Vice President Joe Biden — after
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign, a story that
would have reverberated more in a news cycle that wasn't so
STORY OF THE WEEK: Everyone's got their eye on the surge,
but no one knows quite what it will look like.
State House News Service
Friday, April 10, 2020
Advances - Week of April 12, 2020
After days of preparation, the COVID-19 surge period arrived
Friday and despite massive efforts there remains a lack of
life-saving equipment and capacity in the health care to
adequately treat all those projected to become infected.
Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that capacity is manageable
right now, and government officials at every level are
trying to prevent the health care system from being
overwhelmed and to mitigate deaths from the pandemic.
Projections still show that thousands of people in
Massachusetts alone are likely to die from the respiratory
disease before the crisis, hopefully, comes to an end.
"We are about to enter what will probably be the most
difficult period we are going to face in dealing with this
particular virus at this particular time," Baker said Friday
afternoon. "I don't want people to get ahead of themselves
on this one. We are about to have a very difficult couple of
weeks here in Massachusetts, and it could be three weeks and
it could be four."
Just 200 of 1,700 ventilators sought from the federal
stockpile have been assured, although 200 more are supposed
to arrive next week and efforts are continuing to bring more
of those life-saving devices to Massachusetts in time to
meet the demand.
There's a number of important events and issues confronting
lawmakers, who face major decisions about near-term crises
and major long-term challenges, but the foremost concern of
everyone in Massachusetts over the next 10 days is dealing
with the projected surge in infected patients and ensuring
that all efforts are undertaken to limit the spread of what
President Trump has described as the "invisible enemy" —
Other storylines to follow in the week ahead:
— The State Budget: Under normal circumstances, the House
would be releasing its fiscal 2021 budget next week for
consideration later this month. Instead, lawmakers are
basically starting the budget process over from scratch with
an uncertain timetable for actually passing a budget and
without any announced plans for tackling the more than $44
billion spending plan while social distancing.
On Tuesday, economic experts are expected to outline
down-shifting revenues with numbers leaping into the
billions, rather than millions, to reflect the shutdowns of
large swaths of the economy and revenues that are not likely
to materialize until next fiscal year because the annual
tax-filing deadline was moved from April 15 to July 15.
Borrowing, which could be assisted by new federal programs,
is shaping up as a major piece of the state's short-term
fiscal strategy, with a $3.5 billion stabilization reserve
also available. Lawmakers may also need to intervene on the
unemployment front, since benefit payments may exhaust the
fund in the next few months and force the state to borrow
from the federal government and revisit the rates paid by
employers if new federal aid is not sufficient to keep up
with soaring claims. Revenues, budgeting and fiscal policy
are the focuses next week of a virtual economic hearing on
Tuesday and a Senate revenue working group meeting on
Thursday. - Michael P. Norton
— The Massachusetts Jobs Picture: For three weeks running,
national and state data shows skyrocketing unemployment
reflected by initial claims for jobless benefits. On Friday,
the flip side of those claims will become at least partially
apparent as state officials are scheduled to release an
updated unemployment rate and jobs data for March.
Over the past three weeks, close to 16.8 million Americans
and 469,000 Massachusetts residents have submitted
applications seeking jobless benefits. The Pioneer
Institute, extrapolating based on claims made by a Federal
Reserve Bank of St. Louis economist, this week estimated
that unemployment in Massachusetts could hit 25 percent by
The big questions revolve around how long high unemployment
will last, how quickly or slowly jobs will come back online,
and how much permanent change will occur as a result of this
pandemic. Economists who work with Associated Industries of
Massachusetts said that if the economy starts to reopen by
June, it could be three months, or into September, before a
true rebound will be observed. - Michael P. Norton
— The State and Technology: A high-profile livestream
failure this week exposed some of the weaknesses within
state government in terms of its ability to flip the switch
to the type of technology-enabled live events that are now
On Monday, a House-Senate committee is aiming to pull off
the Legislature's first Zoom hearing on actual legislation,
a bill filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker to boost public
assistance benefits for families struggling to get by during
the state of emergency.
Budget officials on Tuesday plan a do-over of the virtual
economic hearing that was postponed this week. And
legislative leaders continue to explore what would be one of
the biggest undertakings - resuming formal sessions by
allowing lawmakers to participate in those sessions
Bond bills, which had been shaping up as a major priority
this session, require recorded votes to pass and such votes
may only be taken during formal sessions. Rep. Kate Hogan
has been looking into options.
"We are being mindful of our House Rules, as well as
ensuring that we have access to the technological
capabilities necessary to carry out sessions and hearings,
while keeping our members safe," she told the News Service.
"Formal sessions and hearings are the foundation of what we
do as legislators and it is critical that we get this
Coming up with a workable situation soon appears essential
since lawmakers have been filing bill after bill to address
impacts of the public health emergency. - Michael Norton and
Chris Van Buskirk
— Housing Security Bill: Slow-moving efforts to guarantee a
statewide pause on almost all eviction and foreclosure
proceedings during the state of emergency and beyond will
now continue through a six-member legislative panel. House
and Senate leaders agree with the policy in broad strokes,
but they have not been able to find consensus on final
language almost a month after the legislation first
surfaced. The versions the two branches approved Thursday
contain differences that lawmakers and advocates say could
have a significant impact.
The biggest difference is in scope of coverage: the House
bill (H 4615) explicitly imposes a moratorium on
non-emergency judgments and default judgments, while the
Senate version (S 2631) only covers default judgments.
Backers of the House's approach argue that leaving some
judgments excluded creates a risk that middle steps of the
eviction process will continue while the moratorium is in
place, putting pressure on tenants to forego rights or to
seek new housing despite the public health risks.
Meanwhile, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board flagged
concerns that both versions ban landlords from sending
notices to quit, which GBREB CEO Greg Vasil said in a letter
blocks landlords from starting the process and getting
attention of tenants with whom they have disputes.
Reps. Aaron Michlewitz, Kevin Honan and Peter Durant and
Sens. Brendan Crighton, Michael Rodrigues and Bruce Tarr
will negotiate a final bill, almost certainly in private.
They have not outlined a concrete timeline for the process.
Gov. Baker has repeatedly noted that many proceedings cannot
continue under a standing order from the Trial Court
postponing most hearings. - Chris Lisinski
— Ballot Access: As the government reminds people daily to
stay six feet away from each other or just stay home
altogether to help slow the spread of COVID-19, state
officials have left in play signature collection
requirements for candidates to qualify for this year's
Candidates say the situation is a dangerous one since
getting people to sign often involves direct personal
interactions. With deadlines for signature filings coming up
this month and in May, and legislators so far unwilling to
move on the issue, candidates this week announced they're
going to court to find relief.
The Supreme Judicial Court has scheduled arguments for
Thursday. Lawmakers could lower signature requirements or
adjust filing deadlines, but doing so during informal
sessions will require the agreement of everyone present.
Gov. Baker is open to the idea of making changes. - Michael
Thursday, April 9, 2020
As Beacon Hill's Democratic leadership fiddles,
MassGOP acts, works with Secretary of State Galvin to get
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Evan Lips, communications director
617-523-5005 ext. 245
WOBURN -- While
candidates from both parties remain in limbo as a result of
Beacon Hill’s apparent unwillingness to address
signature-collection thresholds amid the COVID-19 pandemic,
Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons has been
busy trying to find simpler solutions that don’t require
On Thursday, Lyons
announced that after reaching out to Secretary of State
William Galvin, the office has agreed to allow individuals
to print from home printer-friendly 8.5-inch by 11-inch
copies of nomination forms.
To satisfy state
law, individuals must print the forms double-sided, however.
stipulates that forms cannot
"be larger than eight and one-half inches by fourteen
but allows for all smaller sizes.
specifies that individuals cannot "be prohibited from making
exact copies of such blanks provided by the secretary of
state for the purpose of collecting signatures for such
nominations, nor shall any such copies be rejected for
certification or submittal to the secretary of state."
“It’s a simple
move that helps those candidates without insider connections
and the financial advantages that come with being a longtime
incumbent like a Speaker (Robert) DeLeo,” Lyons said. “I’m
grateful that Secretary Galvin agreed to work with us on
“At the same time
however I'm confused as to why Democratic leadership still
refuses to act," Lyons added.
identified several past situations that prompted swift
action from DeLeo:
Deleo wanted to change the rules to extend his ability to be
speaker, and broke his promise to the public to lengthen his
he did so in a single day.
When Speaker DeLeo wanted legislative pay raises, he ordered
a vote without a public hearing, and got what he wanted
just two days after he filed his bill.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against a law passed
by the Massachusetts Legislature that violated First
Amendment protections to pro-life activists on public
it only took DeLeo three days
to announce Democrat leadership was working on crafting a
new version of the unconstitutional law.”
would reduce the state’s signature threshold by two-thirds,
filed March 25, still languishes in the House. The
April 28 deadline for state candidates and the May 5
deadline for federal candidates still remain in effect.
“Incumbents like DeLeo already have
established lists of voters who have signed nomination
papers for them in the past, not to mention existing
campaign accounts that can easily pay for mailings and
whatnot,” Lyons said. “Challengers don’t have that luxury,
and in a Legislature dominated by one party, it’s pretty
easy to see why the Democrats are refusing to address this
potentially dangerous situation.”
State House News Service
Friday, April 10, 2020
Senate Bill Halves Signature Thresholds for Major Offices
Candidates Cite Health Dangers in Pressing for Change
By Michael P. Norton
Facing a court challenge and under pressure from candidates
who have raised public health concerns, Senate Democrats
announced Friday night that a bill lowering signature
collection requirements for some candidates during the
COVID-19 crisis will be taken up on Monday.
Senate President Karen Spilka announced that the Senate
Rules Committee has released a bill (S 2632) that would cut
in half the required signatures for candidates for U.S.
Senate, U.S. House, Governor's Council and most county
offices. The bill leaves in place the signature thresholds
for state legislative seats.
"We must prioritize the protection of public health during
this pandemic," Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem), chair of the
Senate Committee on Rules, said in a statement. "This bill
appropriately halves the requirements for candidates who
need one thousand or more signatures to get on the ballot,
thereby protecting both civic-minded citizens and potential
With social distancing encouraged to slow the spread of the
dangerous virus, candidates have had difficulty collecting
voter signatures at public places and some have resorted to
the cumbersome process of mailing signature forms to voters
with pre-paid return envelopes.
The bill cuts the signature requirements for U.S. Senate
candidates from 10,000 to 5,000, for U.S. House candidates
from 2,000 to 1,000, and for Governor's Council and most
county office candidates from 1,000 to 500. State Senate
candidates would still need to collect 300 signatures, and
House candidates 150.
If the bill is approved in the Senate on Monday, it's
unclear how the legislation will be received in the House. A
spokeswoman for Gov. Charlie Baker told the News Service on
Thursday that he's open to adjusting signature requirements.
During the pandemic, most senators and representatives have
stopped attending legislative sessions, but bills may still
advance as long as all of the few lawmakers present in each
branch agree to move them forward. With so few lawmakers
participating in sessions, public debates on Beacon Hill
Legislative candidates have until April 28 to turn in their
signatures to local clerks for certification. Federal
candidates have until May 5.
The Boston Globe reported this week that U.S. Sen. Edward
Markey was 3,000 signatures short of 10,000 while U.S. Rep.
Joseph Kennedy, his primary opponent, had already met his
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin O'Connor has been
urging lawmakers to alter the signature requirements and
fears that signature-gathering may be the reason his
86-year-old father contracted COVID-19 last month after his
mother, who lives in the same house, helped her son collect
signatures. In the current environment, O'Connor says, the
collection process has become "a barrier of access, not the
hurdle it is intended to be."
O'Connor, U.S. House candidate Robbie Goldstein and Hingham
state representative candidate Melissa Bower Smith filed an
emergency petition with the Supreme Judicial Court on
Thursday seeking relief. The SJC is expected to hear oral
arguments in the case by telephone on Thursday at 2 p.m.,
according to one of the campaigns, and the court has asked
lawyers for the plaintiffs to prepare a brief for next week
on what an electronic signature process might look like.
Spilka, who this week had yet to collect the 300 signatures
she needs to qualify for the ballot, said that she leaves a
stack of forms on her porch for people to come sign, and has
asked some of her supporters to do the same.
"With this legislation, we hope to find a way to ensure that
those who decide to run for public office can demonstrate
the necessary support they have in their communities without
endangering their health or the health of others," Spilka
said in a statement late Friday.
State House News Service
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Suspended Super Says He Flagged Holyoke Home Problems
Bennett Walsh: "No One Was Kept In The Dark"
By Colin A. Young
The suspended superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home,
where more than two dozen veterans have died amid a
coronavirus outbreak, pushed back Thursday on Gov. Charlie
Baker's suggestion that the home did not properly inform his
administration about the issues there.
Bennett Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave and
the facility put in the hands of an outside administrator
and a clinical command team last Monday after the deaths of
11 residents became public. The governor and Holyoke Mayor
Alex Morse previously suggested that Walsh and the Holyoke
home did not inform the state of problems there until it was
too late, and on Wednesday the governor said there was a
"lack of follow-through on standard protocols with respect
to reporting" at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
In a two-page statement released through an attorney
Thursday, Walsh detailed the instances in which he said he
informed the state of veterans showing symptoms of COVID-19
and was denied assistance by the administration.
"There have been widespread reports in the media that state
officials were kept in the dark about what was happening at
the Soldiers' Home during the Covid-19 crisis. These reports
are false," Walsh said in his statement. "We provided
updates on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day.
These updates were by phone, text, email, conference calls
and official report forms. These updates were made at
various times to the staffs of the Secretary of Veteran
Services (DVS), the Executive office of Health and Human
Services (EOHH) and the Department of Public Health (DPH)."
The Baker administration said Thursday it was aware of
Walsh's statement but did not offer a response or make any
official available to discuss it.
Baker has tapped Mark Pearlstein, a former first assistant
U.S. attorney, to conduct an investigation of the Holyoke
Soldiers' Home "and the events that led to the recent tragic
deaths from COVID-19 within that facility," and Walsh said
he has spoken twice with investigators.
Attorney General Maura Healey on Wednesday launched her own
probe of the situation.
The governor on Wednesday said he welcomed Healey's
investigation and defended his administration's steps to get
a handle on the situation in Holyoke.
"Since we were notified two Sundays ago at about nine
o'clock at night about the situation there, we moved quickly
to install a new management team and a command center at the
site the following morning, and since then have tested all
residents, all employees, and have established, with the
help of Holyoke Medical Center, a COVID facility for many of
the residents who tested positive at Holyoke Soldiers' Home
and continue to pursue reforms with respect to care,
isolation and infectious disease control," he said.
In his statement, Walsh said that he had been in touch with
Baker's administration about COVID-19 symptoms and veteran
deaths several days before the Sunday night that Baker said
was the first he learned of the problems in Holyoke.
The first contact between the Holyoke Soldiers' Home and the
administration mentioned by date in Walsh's statement came
on Wednesday, March 27, when a plan to put veterans with
known or suspected COVID-19 in the same unit because of a
staff shortage was reviewed with DPH, Walsh said.
The first veteran to show COVID-19 symptoms lived in the
"North 1" section of the home and the first veteran who died
after testing positive lived in "North 2," Walsh said.
"These veterans were on different floors and physically
separated from each other. It was clear that the virus was
not confined to one area but was infecting veterans
throughout the facility and our medical resources were
stretched to the limit," the suspended superintendent said.
At noontime Friday, March 27, Walsh said he requested that
National Guard medical personnel be sent to the Soldiers'
Home to help his staff.
"That request was denied," Walsh wrote in his statement.
As of that Friday afternoon, Walsh said he had "notified
state officials that: 28 veterans had exhibited symptoms of
the corona virus and samples had been collected and sent for
testing; these 28 veterans were living in different
locations; test results for 13 had been received; 10
veterans were positive and 3 were negative; test results for
15 veterans were pending; 2 veterans had died; 1 with a
positive test result and 1 with test results pending."
Later that same day, when test results for the second
veteran who had died came back positive for COVID-19, Walsh
said he updated the numbers he had given state officials to
reflect the second veteran death from COVID-19.
"We also notified state officials that we were in a crisis
mode regarding staff shortages. 25 % of the workforce was
not reporting to work," Walsh said in his statement. "These
work shortages, and the knowledge that our veterans were
extremely vulnerable to the virus, were taking a toll on the
staff who had reported for duty. I requested trained grief
support counselors to assist our staff who were dealing with
the hardest hit units."
Six more veterans died between Friday and Sunday morning,
Walsh said. The fact that four of the deceased veterans had
tested positive for COVID-19 and that the results for four
more were still pending "was reported to state officials on
Sunday afternoon at about 4:30 pm," Walsh said.
"It is very disappointing to me that during this time of
unspeakable horror the staffs at EOHH, DVS and DPH have
remained silent and have let the lie that they didn't know
what was going on persist," Walsh wrote. "State officials
knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one
was kept in the dark."
In addition to at least 25 deaths at the home in Holyoke --
the Baker administration has not responded to requests for
updated numbers each of the last two days -- at least five
veterans have died at the state-run Chelsea Soldiers' Home,
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said
Tuesday. She and Baker have said that they do not expect the
situation in Chelsea to deteriorate as it appears to have in
"I don't think that we're looking at the possibility of
another Holyoke in Chelsea, no, I don't," the governor said
last week, adding that the Chelsea facility "followed all
the rules and protocols that they are supposed to follow."
Among the veterans who live at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home is
an uncle of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. Neal said on WGBH Radio
on Thursday that he has talked "extensively" with Baker and
Sudders about the situation at the home.
The congressman told co-hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan
on Thursday that his uncle, who served in the Korean War and
with whom Neal lived for a time, has contracted the virus.
"He's OK. He does have the virus, but he's OK at the
moment," Neal said. "He's 90 years old and tough as nails."