March 21st COVID-19 Update

FEDERAL UPDATES

Defense Production Act FAQs

What just happened with the Defense Production Act?

On March 18, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) and 3 USC 301. 3 USC 301 is just the President’s legal authority to delegate powers and work.

Now that the Defense Production Act has been invoked, is it being used?

As of 3-20,  the President activated the DPA to accelerate the production of medical supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic, with a focus on medical supplies like respirators, ventilators, masks, and other supplies of that nature.

The DPA gives the President the authority to require performance under contracts which the President authorizes as necessary or appropriate to promote national defense; and these contracts then take priority; to allocate materials, services, and facilities in such manner necessary to promote national defense.

In order to control the general distribution of a material in the civilian market, the President must find the following things to be true:

  • that such material is a scarce and critical material essential to the national defense, and
  • that the requirements of the national defense for such material cannot otherwise be met without creating a significant dislocation of the normal distribution of such material in the civilian market to such a degree as to create appreciable hardship.

Every agency under the section that has been delegated powers must do the following: issue final rules as to their plans within 270 days of the DPA being invoked, consult with the heads of other Federal agencies to develop a unified system.

What additional powers were given to the Secretary of Health and Human Services?

In order to fight COVID-19, the authorization of the Defense Production Act gives the Secretary of Health and Human services new powers over health and medical resources. The following powers were invoked and delegated to the HHS Secretary: 

  • to require performance of contracts or orders (other than contracts of employment) to promote the national defense over performance of any other contracts or orders, to allocate materials, services, and facilities as deemed necessary or appropriate to promote the national defense, and to implement subchapter III, to determine, in consultation with the Secretary of Commerce and the heads of other executive departments and agencies as appropriate, the proper nationwide priorities and allocation of all health and medical resources, including controlling the distribution of such materials (including applicable services) in the civilian market, for responding to the spread of COVID-19 within the United States.  

BAKER ADMINISTRATION GUIDANCE

Tax Relief for Businesses

The Department of Revenue announced that it will waive any late-file or late-pay penalties for returns and payment due for meals and room occupancy taxes between March 20 and May 31, 2020. A full press release can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/news/baker-polito-administration-announces-new-health-care-resources-small-business-relief-other

Labor and Workforce Development and Department of Unemployment Assistance hosting virtual town hall meetings

EOLWD and DUA will take all who sign up through a step by step process of achieving a successful unemployment claim. They will also be taking questions from claimants across the Commonwealth. Applicants should file for benefits at https://www.mass.gov/unemployment-insurance-ui-online

The first virtual town hall will be held this Sunday, March 22nd, at 3:30pm. Sign up information for the virtual town hall is available at https://www.mass.gov/forms/massachusetts-department-of-unemployment-assistance-dua-virtual-town-halls. A Spanish language town hall will be held on Tuesday at 9am and additional language town halls shortly thereafter. 

To further help claimants through the process of applying for benefits, a specific web page has been created with updates that include the latest guidance for employee qualifications and additional resources like contact forms and a COVID-19 specific unemployment claim handbook. That information can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/resource/information-on-unemployment-and-coronavirus-covid-19

Order deferring inspections for smoke alarm systems

Governor Baker today issued an order making a change to the inspection statutes that require a smoke and carbon dioxide alarm inspection prior to a residential real estate transaction. The Order would permit the inspection to be deferred if the buyer contractually assumes responsibility for installing the detectors and the subsequent inspection happens within 90 days of the conclusion of the COVID-19 emergency.

https://www.mass.gov/doc/march-20-2020-smoke-alarm-inspections-order

Administration authorizes $200 million infusion in cash at MassHealth

The Administration announced accelerated payments and cash advances to provide $200 million immediately to MassHealth for critical, acute care and safety-net health care providers, as well as for certain health care providers required to help ensure that members receiving care in the community or nursing facilities do not need to go to the hospital. These will be accelerated payments and cash advances for immediate, stopgap relief to ensure the front-line health care system is able to provide necessary resources to patients. 

MassHealth files waiver with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Massachusetts is filing a waiver request that, if allowed, will enable MassHealth to fast-track MassHealth enrollment, streamline administrative requirements for providers, and deliver critically needed health care services easier during the COVID-19 emergency. The Commonwealth is seeking flexibility to address key areas of need:  

  • Allow for non-traditional sites of care to expand surge capacity, such as use of testing tents and overflow hospital sites  
  • Allow new providers, including out of state providers, a streamlined pathway to practice in the state including caring for MassHealth members  
  • Allow physician assistants to practice independently  
  • Provide flexibility to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to meet increasing demand
  • Expand MassHealth Hospital-Determined Presumptive Eligibility to all individuals – which MassHealth already expanded through a public health order last week – including children, older adults, and individuals who have received MassHealth benefits within the past 12 months  
  • Allow medications to be delivered to members, and waive a signature requirement for these prescriptions  
  • Waive face-to-face requirements for certain services, including Home and Community Based Services, and behavioral health evaluations for Schedule II-IV prescriptions

Guidance for Local Boards of Health

Municipalities inquiring about their ability to impose travel restrictions in addition to and beyond what the state has imposed can consult a manual published by the Mass Association of Health Boards (https://mahb.org/).

The manual of the powers and duties for boards of health is here:

https://www.mahb.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Duties-of-BOH.pdf

The general structure, powers, and duties of local boards of health are found at M.G.L. c. 111, s.26-33.  Boards have authority to adopt and enforce reasonable health regulations under M.G.L. c.111, s.31. Case law upholds boards’ authority to adopt regulations that are more restrictive than state standards so long as the local regulations do not conflict with state law and are not specifically preempted.

Boards may also direct the isolation and quarantine of individuals, animals, and property relative to communicable disease and maintain isolation hospitals to prevent the spread of infection.    M.G.L. c. 111, s. 92-105, 116.

Boards enforce the isolation and quarantine regulations found at 105 CMR 300.200.

MBTA Announces Service Update Effective March 21, 2020

The MBTA has announced additional service revisions in a continuing effort to protect the health and safety of the T’s workforce and customers, and to preserve transit services for those who are essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Effective Saturday, March 21, the MBTA will implement rear-door boarding on all MBTA buses and trolleys at street-level stops on the Green Line and Mattapan Line. Anyone needing to use the front door, including seniors and people with disabilities, may continue to do so.

These new measures further the T’s support for social distancing and are aligned with Governor Baker’s State of Emergency declaration. They are in addition to service revisions implemented earlier this week that resulted in broad reductions in service to protect the health and safety of the MBTA’s workforce and customers.  More information: https://www.mbta.com/covid19

Unemployment Virtual Town Halls

To help with the increased demand on the unemployment system and the increased volume or your constituent service staff, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Unemployment Assistance will be hosting virtual town hall meetings. We will take all who sign up through a step by step process of achieving a successful unemployment claim. We will also be taking questions from claimants across the Commonwealth. Applicants should file for benefits at https://www.mass.gov/unemployment-insurance-ui-online

The first virtual town hall will be held this Sunday, March 22nd, at 3:30pm. Sign up information for the virtual town hall is available at www.mass.gov/unemployment/townhall

A Spanish language town hall will be held on Tuesday at 9am and additional language town halls shortly thereafter. 

 To further help claimants through the process of applying for benefits, we have made specific web page updates that include the latest guidance for employee qualifications and additional resources like contact forms and a COVID-19 specific unemployment claim handbook that can be viewed at https://www.mass.gov/resource/information-on-unemployment-and-coronavirus-covid-19

 

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