April 22, 2020
SENATE LEGISLATIVE ACTION
The Senate Committee on Ways and Means reported favorable on S.2647 – An Act providing assistance to vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 emergency.
A summary of this legislation is as follows:
For the period of time from the passage of this act until 120 days after the passage of this act, or later if postponed by the Governor, or 45 days after the termination of the governor’s March 10, 2020 declaration of a state of emergency, whichever is sooner:
Prohibits the Department of Transitional Assistance from denying a family assistance under Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children solely because the family’s countable resources exceed $5,000; and
Prohibits the Department of Transitional Assistance from denying a person assistance under Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children solely because the person’s countable resources exceed the allowable limit.
Authorizes the Governor to postpone the expiration of this act in increments of not more than 90 days; provided that any extension shall not extend past 45 days after the termination of the state of emergency.
BAKER ADMINISTRATION ACTIONS
MassHealth Coverage and Reimbursement Policy for Transportation Services
Related to COVID-19:
MassHealth issued a bulletin introducing additional flexibility for coverage and billing related to COVID-19 related transportation. Those who are under investigation or known to have COVID-19 meet the criteria for use of wheelchair vans and non-emergency ambulances, so long as the transportation is otherwise medically necessary and appropriate.
The bulletin can be found here:
MassHealth Temporary Rate Increases for MCOs, ACPPs and the MassHealth Behavioral Health Vendor
MassHealth issued a bulletin directing Managed Care Organizations (MCOs), Accountable Care Partnership Plans (ACPPs), and the MassHealth Behavioral Health Vendor to institute temporary rate increases, and providing additional guidance regarding financial stabilization funding.
The bulletin can be found here:
MassHealth Temporary Rate Increases Due to COVID-19 National Emergency for One Care plans, SCOs, and PACE Organizations:
MassHealth issued a bulletin directing One Care plans, Senior Care Organizations (SCOs), and the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) organizations to institute temporary rate increases, and has provided additional guidance regarding financial stabilization funding.
The bulletin can be found here:
Increased Community Health Care Center COVID-19 Testing:
In partnership with Quest Diagnostics and the Mass League of Community Health Centers, the Baker-Polito Administration announced further efforts to increase COVID-19 testing through community health centers.
In rolling out increased testing, community health centers in areas of high need that have the ability to increase their testing capacities will be prioritized. Since Friday, Quest has sent over 2,255 kits to community health centers in Boston and Brockton. Quest Diagnostics will ship additional COVID-19 test kits today and tomorrow to 12 community health centers, with a commitment to add additional health centers. By Friday of this week, Quest Diagnostics has committed to ship an additional 5,000 COVID-19 test kits to the 12 community health centers.
Today’s announcement provides increased testing capacity for community health facilities located in Boston, Brockton, Lowell, Quincy, Fall River, Provincetown, and Worcester.
Expanded Access to WiFi Hotspots:
The Baker-Polito Administration announced expanded access to high-speed internet for unserved cities and towns throughout Massachusetts that do not yet have a completed last-mile broadband network. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech, KCST and local internet service providers will offer communities new WiFi hotspots, building off the Commonwealth’s MassBroadband 123 fiber-optic network These WiFi hotspots will provide unserved communities with a temporary 250 megabit per second wireless hotspot, allowing increased broadband access for residents, families and students impacted by COVID-19. This program will be offered free of monthly charge to eligible communities until September 1, 2020.
Citizens who use these hotspots must continue to follow social distancing protocols, and the towns and ISPs will post clear signs with the DPH guidance. MassBroadband is providing support to local ISPs as needed, and is tracking these hotspots as they come online and posting them online here: https://broadband.masstech.org/wifi
Courts expand remote capability to serve public during COVID-19 health crisis:
During the current state of emergency and circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trial Court has adapted its policies and practices to protect court staff and the public, while maintaining access to justice for emergency situations. While the Courts continue to implement measures to meet the needs of court users during this time, some of the steps taken to date to ensure the continued delivery of justice include:
Established systems for judges and clerks to remotely hear emergency cases and matters by telephone and video conferencing;
Issued Standing Orders (https://www.mass.gov/news/trial-court-and-trial-court-departments-issue-orders-concerning-court-operations-and) establishing operational protocols that define emergency matters and practices for particular jurisdictions;
Prepared and posted Frequently Asked Questions (https://www.mass.gov/info-details/frequently-asked-questions-about-court-procedures-during-the-covid-19-pandemic) in multiple languages;
Established a dedicated Court System Response Page on COVID-19 on the court’s mass.gov site with news and information on actions taken by the Judiciary in response to the pandemic here: https://www.mass.gov/guides/court-system-response-to-covid-19#-daily-court-updates-
Launched a new Twitter handle, @MACourts, to expand communications and updates on court news to the public;
Established a Help Line for general inquiries by the public and published email addresses for 100+ court divisions, as an alternate way to access court staff who are on site or working remotely;
Developed a robust Resource Guide (https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-trial-court-substance-use-disorder-and-mental-health-resources) for those struggling with substance use disorders or mental health issues;
Developed and posted information and resources here (https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-resources-for-abuse-protection-orders-209a-and-harassment-prevention-orders) to ensure easy access for remote processing of Abuse Protection Orders (209A) & Harassment Prevention Orders (258E) via telephone or video hearings. The Resource Guide includes a region-specific list of advocacy services and court contact information for law enforcement.
Trial Court establishes public Help Line during COVID-19:
More than 1,326 calls have been handled by the Help Line established by the Trial Court on April 2nd to assist the public. Assistance includes general information about cases and navigation of the court system, while it is closed to the public for all but emergency matters.
The Help Line is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and can be reached at 833-91COURT.
For emergency matters, court users should first call their local court Clerk’s or Register’s Offices. Contact numbers and email addresses for individual courts and offices are found online on the Courthouse Locator page (https://www.mass.gov/courthouse-locator). Each of the seven Trial Court Departments have issued Standing Orders (https://www.mass.gov/news/trial-court-and-trial-court-departments-issue-orders-concerning-court-operations-and) that contain full lists of emergency matters.
Representatives from all Trial Court Departments, as well as the Massachusetts Probation Service, staff the Help Line. Callers are prompted to select the Trial Court Department they wish to reach and are connected to a knowledgeable representative who can access MassCourts, the court ‘s case management system.
More information is available in the press release linked here: https://www.mass.gov/news/trial-court-launches-help-line-to-assist-court-users