COVID-19

The Massachusetts legislature approved legislation  and sent it to the Governor for his approval, S 2475 that  would allow remote meetings of public bodies until April 20, 2022.  It includes language drawn from a Rep. Alice Peisch amendment that says if the law does not take effect until after the emergency’s end, “a public body may provide for remote meetings as specified in this section and any action taken thereof shall be ratified, validated and confirmed as if this section had been in place.”

It also temporarily reinstates remote permissions for representative town meetings, nonprofit member meetings, notary services and reverse-mortgage loan counseling, along with eviction protections, flexibilities for assisted living residences, and the ability for medical assistants, podiatrists, phlebotomists and certain military personnel to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

The bill would permit to-go beer, wine and cocktail sales by restaurants through May 1, 2022. It requires that takeout and delivery drinks be sold at the same prices as those consumed on-site.

Special permits for expanded outdoor dining, which would otherwise expire in 60 days, would be valid until April 21, 2022 under the bill. (Current as of 9:00 am, Wednesday 6/16/21)

Governor Baker issued an emergency order on March 12, 2020, allowing public bodies greater flexibility in utilizing technology in the conduct of meetings under the MA Open Meeting Law. On May 17, 2021, Governor Baker ended the State of Emergency June 15, 2021, terminating most of the pandemic-related executive orders.

For vaccine information including a link to walk in clinic locations, times and to make appointments:

https://www.getvaccinatedberkshires.org/

Federal laws in response to COVID-19:

I. Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 6074) Included: Funds to develop, manufacture, and procure vaccines and other medical supplies; Offer grants for state, local, and tribal public health agencies and organizations; Provide loans to affected small businesses; Launch evacuations and emergency preparedness activities across the globe; and Provide humanitarian assistance and support for health systems affected countries

II. Family First Coronavirus Response (H.R. 2601) Included: Insurance/Medicaid/CHIP resources and mandates; Mandates for paid and family sick leave, including by public agencies; Funding relief provided by legislation for private sector for mandated sick/family (leave is not provided for public sector agencies); Unemployment insurance resources; Resources for SNAP/WIC, SNAP flexibilities, Emergency SNAP, School Lunch assistance, Emergency Food Assistance, Senior Nutrition

III. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748) Included: Direct payments to eligible taxpayers; Expanded unemployment insurance; Funding for state and local governments; Expanded liquidity lending for businesses and local governments; New loans and grants for small businesses; Funding for hospitals for ventilators and other equipment Source: Webinar on Resources for Local Governments in Federal Coronavirus Response and Programs by the International City – County Management

The Commonwealth has made funds available to municipalities in Massachusetts through the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund – Municipal Program. Please view the latest memorandum which recommends a set of “next steps” to recipients of this support, including municipalities, school districts, and other entities, that have received funds from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund and includes information about reporting requirements and seeking FEMA reimbursement for eligible costs. In addition, please review the most recently updated set of Frequently Ask Questions for additional information.

IV. American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319). Excerpts from National Conference of State Legislator’s Summary Regarding State and Local Aid.

  • $350 billion to help states, counties, cities and tribal governments cover increased expenditures, replenish lost revenue and mitigate economic harm from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • State and local government recipients could use the funds to cover costs incurred by Dec. 31, 2024. The funds would be distributed in two tranches, with 50% delivered no later than 60 days after the date on which the certification required, and the remainder delivered no earlier than one year later. States would have to distribute funds to smaller towns within 30 days of receiving a payment from the department. States that miss the deadline would have to pay back any undistributed funds. A town cannot receive more than 75% of its budget as of Jan. 27, 2020. The Treasury Department could also withhold up to half of a state or territory’s allocation for as long as 12 months based on its unemployment rate and require an updated certification of its funding needs.
  • $10 billion for a Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to carry out projects to support work, education and health monitoring during COVID-19.
  • Use of funds:
    • respond to and address economic effects, including through aid to households, small businesses, nonprofits, and industries such as tourism and hospitality
    • premium pay to essential employees or grants to their employers, not to exceed $13 per hour or $25,000 per worker
    • government services affected by a revenue reduction resulting from COVID-19
    • investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure
  • State and local governments cannot use the funds towards pensions or to offset revenue resulting from a tax cut enacted since March 3, 2021.
  • State and local governments could transfer funds to private nonprofit groups, public benefit corporations involved in passenger or cargo transportation, and special-purpose units of state or local governments.

What is my community doing to respond to COVID-19?

From the international community to your local Board of Health, there are coordinated, ongoing efforts underway to address COVID-19 and its impacts.

How to protect yourself and what to do if you are sick:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Daily updates from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-updates-and-information

Tracking of cases, testing sites, and directives from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health:
https://www.mass.gov/resource/information-on-the-outbreak-of-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

Information from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency on the Federal Disaster Declaration:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-federal-disaster-declaration

Federal disaster declaration for Massachusetts Request MEMA listserv updates: email bonnie.roy@state.ma.us

To volunteer or donate, contact Berkshire United Way:
https://www.berkshireunitedway.org/volunteer-advocate

Note temporary changes in the Open Meeting Law:
https://www.mass.gov/the-open-meeting-law

What resources are available to help municipalities recover from COVID-19?

While we are still responding to COVID-19, we want to be set up for recovery. Recovery is the process of bouncing back from a disaster, such as COVID-19, in all aspects including, but not limited to, restoring health, social, and community services; promoting economic development; and restoring natural and cultural resources.

Important
FEMA is authorized to reimburse eligible applicants (municipalities and some other institutions) for work that falls within Category B: Emergency Protective Measures.

Details here: https://www.fema.gov/coronavirus/fact-sheets

FEMA utilizes a web-based grants management system. The Portal will be used to submit the Request for Public Assistance (RPA), identify and upload costs, upload required backup documentation, and track the status of all projects.

To request access to FEMA PA Grants Portal, fill out the spreadsheet (Grants Portal Registration Request Form) and send to disaster.recovery@mass.gov

Questions should be directed to MEMA. More information at:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-federal-disaster-declaration

Eligibility details for FEMA reimbursement from the FEMA Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide (PAPPG):
https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/111781

Disaster Financial Management Guide:
https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/187126

FEMA reimbursement for the purchase and distribution of food:
https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2020/04/12/coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-purchase-and-distribution-food-eligible-public

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) – Disaster Recovery (DR) funding: https://www.hudexchange.info/resource/6006/cdbg-dr-covid-19-faqs/

Covid-19 Resources and Guidance for Municipal Officials: Officialshttps://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-resources-and-guidance-for-municipal-officials

Massachusetts CDBG CARES Act Program:
https://www.mass.gov/service-details/community-development-block-grant-cdbg

USDA one-stop-shop for rural community resources:
https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/USDA_COVID-19_Fed_Rural_Resource_Guide.pdf

If you are a local business, please visit:
https://1berkshire.com/news/covid-19-response/

Food access and Transportation:
Covid-19_Resources – May 1 Updates