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Elected Officials Provide COVID-19 Updates: State Legislation, Healthcare Needs, Transportation, North End Projects

The North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) and North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) hosted a virtual joint meeting on Monday evening to talk with elected officials about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

State Representative Aaron Michlewitz provided a brief overview of state legislation that has been passed in response to the public health crisis. He expressed a hopeful outlook on the current situation in Massachusetts, pointing to Monday’s low amount of new positive cases. There were 669 new positive COVID-19 cases for May 11th; the lowest since March 26th.

  • Massachusetts’s income tax filing deadline was extended to July 15, 2020 to reflect the federal government’s deadline extension. However, this extension has created a large tax collection deficit for the state. Currently, Massachusetts has a $2.3 billion tax collection deficit compared to last April.
  • Requirements for unemployment benefits were loosened so that those who typically don’t qualify were able to collect. Massachusetts was also able to remain consistent with the federal government by expanding benefits to 39 weeks. As unemployment cases in Massachusetts continue to grow, the state has experienced challenges with providing unemployment funds to residents. Discussions about borrowing the needed funds from the federal government have been ongoing.
  • Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill that would offer COVID-19 relief to restaurants by allowing them to sell alcohol for take-out and delivery.
  • The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing was suspended for the school year.
  • To offer relief to renters, homeowners, and small businesses, an eviction and mortgage moratorium bill was signed. Although residents are still expected to pay their rent, the bill protects against non-essential evictions and paused foreclosures.
  • The state is currently experiencing a budget crisis with economic experts predicting a $2 to $6 billion shortfall. This could ultimately impact state services such as MassHealth, pension liability transfers, local aide, etc.
  • Massachusetts expects to begin a phased reopening of the economy on May 18th.

Senator Joe Boncore discussed some of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on Massachusetts and the state’s response to the public health crisis.

  • Massachusetts expedited certain licensure requests in order to meet healthcare needs during the crisis. This allowed retired doctors to return to work and some medical school graduates to enter the workforce early.
  • A data collection bill was recently passed for jails, prisons, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities to better understand how the pandemic is affecting these facilities.
  • Although there is less traffic on the roads, ridership on commuter rails is down 97% while ridership on the MBTA is down 91%.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards talked about how the coronavirus pandemic has been effecting the City of Boston and specifically the North End.

  • A new testing site will be opening in Charlestown on Thursday, May 14. A testing site could eventually be set up in the North End too.
  • Although the City does not expect to experience a budget shortfall this year, the fiscal year of 2021-22 is expected to be heavily impacted.
  • Large projects such as Cutillo Park, North End library renovations, and the new North End Community Center have temporarily been earmarked for this year. However, the N. Washington Bridge construction will be continuing.
  • Conversations with the Boston Police Department has been ongoing in regards to enforcement of the new requirement to wear masks in public.
  • City Council continues to push for reducing and/or halting ticketing during the pandemic.
  • Councilor Edwards filed a liquor licensing buyback program that would assist struggling businesses by purchasing their liquor licenses from them. She has also pushed for a pre-tax ordinance that could provide financial relief for essential workers who use the MBTA to get to work.
  • The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) expects to resume hearings beginning on May 14th.

Some questions from residents can be found below.

Does someone have a list of charities that would benefit our neighbors?
Councilor Edwards suggested the Boston Resiliency Fund which has been focused on helping Boston Public Schools with providing meals, buying student’s Chromebooks, food charities, etc.

How can we make our voices heard at the ZBA during the pandemic?
It is expected that the ZBA will also host virtual hearings that would allow for public testimony.

Restaurant owner asked about utilizing extra building space to allow for social distancing among customers.
Discussion with the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) about flexibility with restaurants during this pandemic has been ongoing. It is suggested to contact ISD about any specific concerns.

While ridership is low, is there money to tackle MBTA improvements?
Senator Boncore stated that efforts to perform needed service maintenance has been ongoing. On May 18th, the blue line will be closed for two weeks for renovations and buses will be temporarily taking over the service route.

A resident posed the question about their eligibility for unemployment after losing their second job while still maintaining another full-time job.
If you received a W2 from the second job, you should be able to collect under the WorkShare program.

Will the Mirabella pool reopen?
If the pool is to reopen, there will potentially be a limited time frame it would be opened and strict social distancing rules put into place.

What is the current status of the Puopolo Park renovations?
Construction could potentially continue soon, however, it is currently suspended.

What is being done about helping the homeless in the North End
Boston has regularly been testing the homeless population. Local universities have partnered up with the City to provide rooms to the homeless in order to help them self-isolate.

Will there be any summer youth programs offered by the City this year?
The City of Boston has explored various virtual summer programming. A potential program to fast-track high schoolers by helping them earn college credits over the summer has been discussed.

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