I hope you and your family are doing well. We are entering a critical period that will determine whether or not we are able to flatten the curve of the virus’ spread in Massachusetts. I had a call with my Coronavirus Advisory Team on Wednesday where we received an update from New York City, the current epicenter of the crisis and a potential window into our future if we fail to get the virus under control. The view was pretty dire. There was one message that every one of the experts on the call wanted me to pass on and it’s this: Stay home. Stay home. Stay home.
Social distancing works. We know this from other countries around the world and from cities like Seattle that are a few weeks ahead of us in managing the pandemic. We also know this virus hurts everyone. Whether you’re young or old. Healthy or sick. We saw its effects here this week where we have had a dramatic uptick in cases and deaths. We saw the virus rip through the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and we saw it claim the life of a young man just 31 years old. Each of the nearly 200 deaths in the state so far is a tragedy, and we have a long way to go.
So please, do your part for a friend, loved one, or neighbor you’ve never met. Stay home. Limit your trips to what’s absolutely essential. And keep practicing the social distancing steps that we know will save lives. It’s up to all of us to do our part, and the more of us who are able to do this, the faster we will get out of this crisis.
One other note though: If you need medical attention unrelated to the coronavirus, please make sure you get it. We’ve heard that some people are avoiding hospitals for things like heart attacks because they’re scared of the virus, and this is potentially more dangerous than the virus itself. Take care of yourself!
My team and I are keeping busy working around the clock from home. Read on for updates from the week and some important information we’ve pulled together for you.
Member of Congress
On Tuesday, I joined many of you to speak with Bob Nelson, Director of the Small Business Administration’s Massachusetts District Office about the financial crisis facing many of your businesses and nonprofits. We spoke about the Paycheck Protection Program and $10,000 forgivable loan advance available to most applicants. You can get up to speed with all the details with the video online, or learn more about these programs in the small business guide my office released this week.
The $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed last week included a number of things that I worked hard to secure like critical assistance for fisheries, which were already hurting from the trade war and who have seen the market dry up as restaurants close.
I joined the state’s congressional delegation this week in providing a rundown of everything that we were able to secure in the stimulus bill. Here’s a good summary from the Lowell Sun.
There’s more ahead. The bill largely left out all the non-profits across the country that employ more than 500 people. The North Shore YMCA, for example, has more than 1,000 employees spread across all its North Shore locations and is facing many of the same challenges businesses are facing. Lost revenues coupled with donors who are holding on to their money in an uncertain economy mean that nonprofits across the country have had to lay off staff and find a way to keep providing vital services like running shelters or providing meals.
That’s why I wrote the Save Organizations that Serve (SOS) America Act. I partnered with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican, to write a bill I hope Congress will copy and paste into the next stimulus plan. It would provide $60 billion in emergency funding to the nation’s nonprofits, open up small business assistance to them, and allow Americans to write off donations on their 2019 taxes immediately.
My team is fielding all of your calls seeking help with unemployment applications, navigating student loan forbearance, and asking about the resources Congress made available. We stand ready to answer your message or take your call in Salem at (978) 531-1669 or Washington D.C. (202) 225-8020. We can also help you with federal agencies throughout the pandemic.
Fighting for Health Care Workers
I am inspired by the dedication and self-sacrifice of healthcare professionals at this difficult time. As we all try to do our part to flatten the curve, I know many of you are doing everything possible to support the health care workers in your life.
On Friday, we are all going to let every nurse, doctor, and public servant know that we appreciate them. I invite you to join in this regional effort to clap from your window or doorway for all to hear.
Of course, Congress must do more than just applaud good work. Too many people are working without the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to keep themselves safe, though I am glad some help arrived this week on the Patriots’ jet. I also know there will be a need for important drugs and ventilators, and I’m working hard on that front. But this crisis demands a nationwide response effort. The president must step up and use the Defense Production Act to build more of the vital equipment that people on the front lines need right now. States shouldn’t be on their own. Until the president steps up, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is reaching out to collect PPE donations and recruiting a COVID-19 relief force. If you have experience in the health field to contribute, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is looking for volunteers.
Assisting the Unemployed
We are in uncharted waters. On Thursday, we learned 6.6 million people across the nation filed for unemployment last week, a new record for the second straight week that brought the total number of people out of work since the crisis started to 10 million. According to The New York Times, until last month, the worst week for unemployment filings ever was 695,000 people in 1983.
The recent federal CARES Act provides $600 additional in unemployment insurance benefits and 13 extra weeks of eligibility for everyone who receives unemployment insurance. It also provides unemployment insurance to workers who are self-employed, independent contractors, people who have already maxed out the amount of unemployment insurance they are eligible for, and for people who earned too little to qualify for benefits. These benefits are not yet available as the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance is awaiting further guidance from the federal government about when they will begin. We expect that guidance to come soon as the government begins implementing the CARES Act, which became law last week.
For more information and updates about unemployment insurance and COVID-19, see the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) website.
How to apply
To apply for unemployment, you can visit the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance’s online portal. Limited English speakers may need to seek out additional help to apply. The website has step-by-step guides to filing, and a video to help applicants through. If you still need help, let me know.
Balancing Student Loans
I know that student loans can feel like an impossible burden when you have a job, and especially if you are out of work. That’s why Congress suspended principal and interest payments through September for most federal loans with the CARES Act we passed last week. I am also working to ensure students and schools get the support they need.
Federally-held student loan payments are suspended, without interest accruing, and this all will occur with no action on your part. Some loans, however, are not included. Institutionally-held Perkins Loans and commercially-held Federal Family Education loans do not qualify under the CARES Act. Private loans also do not qualify. If you are uncertain what type of loans you hold, contact your student loan servicer.
For public servants working towards forgiveness, the suspended payments during this six-month period count toward your Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) requirements. TEACH grant recipients will receive full-time service credit if your service is interrupted due to COVID-19 over the next 6 months. I hope this helps you stay on track for a career in service.
If your federal student loans are in default, you will receive relief from involuntary collections like wage garnishment over this six-month period.
The federal government will not ask you to pay a fee to suspend your payments. If someone contacts you asking for a fee, it is a scam and should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.
It’s critical that we share information to all residents, and that the public is informed. Here are two great libraries of resources for limited or non-English speakers:
- World Health Organization (WHO) (Spanish) (French) (Russian) (Chinese) (Arabic)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Factsheets
- Mass Unemployment Guide Multilingual
- Immigrant Resource Guide - City of Boston (Arabic) (Cape Verdean) (Chinese) (French) (Haitian Creole) (Portuguese) (Russian) (Somali) (Vietnamese)
- Employee Rights in Massachusetts (Spanish) (Portuguese) (Chinese)
- Multilingual Resources from Boston Medical Center
- Multilingual Resources from Switchboard