As we all adjust to our new normal over these past few weeks during the COVID-19 crisis, activity at the State House has redirected, but hasn’t stopped. Here’s a quick recap on what’s been happening.
COVID-19 Relief Legislation
The Massachusetts state legislature has introduced 26 different bills (and counting) to address the current pandemic. These proposals range from creating a COVID-19 Quarantine Assistance Fund that to assist residents who are unable to earn wages due to infection or quarantine, to directing the department of revenue to send a $1,000 check to households who meet certain income criteria.
So far, the only bill that has been signed into law is S.2599, Governor Baker’s bill that waives the one week waiting period for those qualifying for unemployment.
At the federal level, congress is also working on several proposed bills to address the pandemic. One has passed so far: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) was signed into law by President Trump last week. Its components include:
- Providing free COVID-19 testing to the public, with no copays or deductibles.
- Requiring employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide two weeks paid sick leave to employees unable to work due to quarantine or for the care of someone with COVID-19 (and provide related tax credits to the employer)
- Providing $1 billion in state grants to assist in unemployment claims
- Increasing funding for SNAP and WIC nutrition benefit programs.
It is expected that the Massachusetts state budget will be delayed, and that once it does go through, there will be reduced spending across all sectors. We’ll still continue to push for our Green Budget priorities, since state environmental office and programs continue to need all the support they can get.
Old Growth Forest Protections
We were pleasantly surprised to see our priority legislation improving protections for old growth forests was reported favorably out of committee last week. Now it awaits approval by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means before it can head to the House and Senate floor for votes.