March 20th, COVID-19 Update

FEDERAL UPDATES

Trump Administration postpones tax day until July 15

The deadline for filing tax returns will be postponed three months, to July 15 because of the coronavirus outbreak, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced today.  More information about this announcement can be found here: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/tax-day-postponed-until-july-15-mnuchin-says-n1164811?fbclid=IwAR1zP2zXVSCzsBFy8Zp7-d6maq0jBrLM0Je6f7uCMq9paeCuu7_Xqdb3H20

Federal government launches coronavirus website

The Trump Administration has launched a website – coronavirus.gov – to keep the public informed about the outbreak.  

Updates from the federal government on testing accessibility

  • The FDA issued emergency approval for new commercial coronavirus tests to significantly expand testing across the country.
  • The President signed legislation that will ensure Americans are able to be tested for free (more here).
  • Admiral Brett Giroir – the Assistant Secretary for Health and head of the Public Health Service – has been appointed to coordinate coronavirus testing efforts.
  • The Administration is actively working with state and local partners and the private sector to open up drive-through testing sites.
  • The Administration is working with the private sector to develop a website that Americans can utilize to determine whether they need a test and, if so, where to get it.
  • HHS is providing funding to help accelerate the development of rapid diagnostic tests for the coronavirus.
  • The FDA cut red tape to expand testing availability. Today, Thursday, March 19, President Donald J. Trump announced the approval of existing drugs to test a COVID-19 treatment. The FDA continues to expand its work regarding therapeutic options and has a vaccine trial underway. More here.
  • The FDA is empowering states to authorize tests developed and used by laboratories in their states. Every state laboratory is empowered to conduct testing.
  • The President signed legislation requiring more reporting from state and private labs to ensure our public health officials have the data they need to respond to this outbreak. 

Updates from the federal government on  essential medical supplies

  • The President issued an Executive Order invoking the Defense Production Act. Under the Defense Production Act, the President has the authority to determine that certain supplies are essential for the national defense during challenges like this The President’s action allows the Administration, if it becomes necessary, to order the distribution of health and medical supplies to where they are most needed. You can find the Executive Order here.
  • The President signed a memorandum directing his Administration to make general-use face masks available to healthcare workers (more here).
  • HHS announced it will be purchasing 500 million N95 respirators for the Strategic National Stockpile (more here).
  • The Department of Defense announced it will be providing 5 million respirator masks and 2,000 specialized ventilators to assist.  
  • The President signed legislation removing restrictions that prevented manufacturers from selling industrial masks – which can readily protect healthcare workers – directly to hospitals.

Updates from the federal government on standardized testing, student loan interest

On 3-20, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that students impacted by school closures due to the pandemic can bypass standardized testing for the 2019-20 school year.  Upon a proper request, the federal Department of Education will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students because of the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year.  

Since student performance, as measured by assessments, is required to be used in statewide accountability systems, any state that receives a one-year waiver may also receive a waiver from the requirement that testing data be used in the statewide accountability system because of the ongoing national emergency. 

The Secretary also announced that borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for a period of at least 60 days.  In addition, each of these borrowers will have the option to suspend their payments for at least two months to allow them greater flexibility during the national emergency.  This will allow borrowers to temporarily stop their payments without worrying about accruing interest.

The Secretary has also directed all federal student loan servicers to grant an administrative forbearance to any borrower with a federally held loan who requests one.  The forbearance will be in effect for a period of at least 60 days, beginning on March 13, 2020. To request this forbearance, borrowers should contact their loan servicer online or by phone. The Secretary also authorized an automatic suspension of payments for any borrower more than 31 days delinquent as of March 13, 2020, or who becomes more than 31 days delinquent, essentially giving borrowers a safety net during the national emergency.

BAKER ADMINISTRATION GUIDANCE

Attorney General Healey files emergency regulations on price gouging

On 3-20, Attorney General Maura Healey filed an emergency regulation to prohibit price gouging of essential products and services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The amendment to regulation 940 CMR 3:18, filed today with the Secretary of State’s Office and effective immediately, prohibits price gouging of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency. Previously under the state’s consumer protection law, the only existing regulation related to price gouging addressed the sale of gasoline and other petroleum products.

DESE Commissioner message to school districts regarding hourly employees

On 3-20, DESE Commissioner Riley sent the following message to school districts: 

“In response to questions I have received from school superintendents, I am strongly recommending that school districts pay their hourly employees during the current emergency school closure. Like all of us, these employees need to follow public health directives and take care of themselves and their families. While they do so, school districts could ask them to continue their learning by reading educational articles, books, or taking an online class.

For the benefit of the students we serve, I believe it will be important for school districts to maintain continuity of operations during the period of school closures. Districts must be able to quickly resume providing services to students as soon as schools re-open. In order for school districts to accomplish that, they will need to have an available, ready work force, including hourly employees.

School districts have already budgeted these costs, and I urge school superintendents to coordinate your efforts on this issue with your municipal officials, human resources officers, and school business managers. I expect to be able to provide a recommendation regarding payments to contractors in the near future. Thank you for all that you are doing to manage and lead during this state of emergency.”

RMV Extends motor vehicle inspections and commercial driver’s licenses and permits deadlines

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles announced that it will be implementing a 60-day extension to Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) and Commercial Learner’s Permits (CLPs) expired or expiring in March and April, and that the Service Centers in Milford and Wilmington are reopened to exclusively perform commercial license/permit transactions. 

All commercial licenses or permits with an expiration date between March 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020, will have the 60-day extension applied to that customer’s credential. The RMV implemented a similar extension for residents with Class D, Class M and Class DM driver’s licenses, ID cards, and Learner’s Permits on March 16th with the exception of customers whose end of stay in the United States is the same as the expiration date on their driver’s license, ID card, or Learner’s Permit. Customers eligible for these extensions should wait to visit an RMV Service Center to renew until after the State of Emergency has concluded.

In addition, annual motor vehicle safety and emissions inspection expiration dates are being extended as follows:

  • All non-commercial vehicle inspection stickers that expire on March 31, 2020 (designated by a number 3 on the inspection sticker) must be inspected by May 31, 2020.
  • All non-commercial vehicle inspection stickers that expire on April 30, 2020 (designated by a number 4 on the inspection sticker) must be inspected by June 30, 2020.
  • Non-commercial vehicles that are issued a failed inspection sticker (indicated by a sticker with a red or black letter ‘R’) that is due to expire in the month of March, 2020, must be re-inspected by May 31, and non-commercial vehicles issued a failed inspection sticker due to expire in the month of April, 2020, must be re-inspected by June 30. Additionally, the one free re-test for these vehicles is also extended to May 31 or June 30 provided the re-test is performed at the same inspection station that performed the initial inspection.
    • Regardless of the date of inspection, vehicles issued a failed inspection sticker due to a safety defect (indicated by a sticker with a red letter ‘R’) shall not be operated until appropriate repairs have been completed.
  • All motorcycle inspection stickers originally set to expire on May 31 must be inspected by June 30.

The RMV is also extending the time during which newly registered vehicles must be inspected: 

  • Any newly-registered non-commercial vehicle purchased between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2020 must be inspected by May 31.
  • Any newly-registered non-commercial vehicle purchased between April 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020 must be inspected by June 30. 

In addition, during the declared emergency period, the RMV is waiving the requirement of 540 Code Mass. Regs. § 4.08(2), which requires that inspection stations must remain open and available for inspections for a minimum of six hours per day, five days per week. Inspection stations are excused from compliance with this provision during the length of the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Guidance on Communicating with Division of Local Services During the Current State of Emergency

On 3-20, DLS temporarily suspended telephone services including the DLSlaw attorney hotline and email in order to streamline incoming communications. DLS asks all local officials and those working on behalf of municipalities to consult with your local counsel for legal advice.

For urgent municipal finance and regulatory compliance questions, please email COVID19DLS@dor.state.ma.us. Before submitting questions, please check the DLS website and review DLS Alerts notifications as they are DLS’ primary means of providing the most up-to-date information. 

DLS recommends that any and all interested parties sign up to receive DLS alerts: https://www.mass.gov/how-to/how-to-subscribe-to-dls-alerts

 

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