Legislation You Can Support- UPDATED 4/9

By Saritha Ramakrishna for Brain Arts Org

March 30, 2020


Legislation you can Support

As of 4/9/20, here are pieces of state legislation you can call your representatives to support, and organize around. You can find your representatives here. Note that the list below does not cover Federal legislation or municipal law or orders. While the Federal government recently passed a stimulus bill, its provisions are inadequate to cover the financial burdens, health risks and housing insecurity that the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated. As a result, the state government bears a responsibility to protect the lives and futures of their residents.

While Brain Arts Organization is an advocacy organization centered around the arts and creative work, issues of housing affordability and economic hardship affect the lives of so many people in the Commonwealth. Platitudes about how “we’re all in this together” mean very little when people are still liable to be evicted from their apartments after being laid off, incarcerated individuals are trapped in unsafe and deadly conditions, and families are unable to access food, shelter and essentials for survival. While mutual aid organizations have stepped up to fulfill essential needs, community care should not be a substitute for an accountable government.

None of these are issues that fall within the typical purview of “the arts” but they matter so deeply to our communities, and our consciousness as Massachusetts residents. Read on to learn more about bills that have been filed in response to COVID-19. We will keep this list updated as legislation is developed and introduced. You can find a full list of emergency legislation related to COVID-19 here. To submit additional items to this list, you can reach out to saritha@brain-arts.org.

Housing:

Note that in addition to the bills below, you can sign and share the joint Healthy Housing Guarantee petition, which calls for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, the cancellation of mortgage and rent payments, the comprehensive provision of housing to the unhoused and unsheltered, and asks that no new housing debt be accrued during the crisis.

Currently, the state legislature has come together to draft S.2631, which would block landlords from serving tenants with eviction notices, and proceedings with evictions. It stops landlords from imposing late fees on missed payments, at least for 30 days following when the payment was originally due, if the tenant can demonstrate financial impact from the pandemic. The bill is in conference committee as of the evening of 4/9, meaning that individual elected officials are working to amend the language. Tenants will need more relief, but this bill at least provides a minimum level of protection. You can still call the Governor’s Office to support the bill.

HD.4956: An Act providing for a Rent Increase Freeze in response to COVID-19

What is it?

This bill instructs and empowers the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to enact a rent increase freeze. Rent control is also outlawed in Massachusetts as of right now, meaning that cities can set ceilings on the rent that private landlords charge. This bill lifts the ban on rent control until the crisis is over, plus 30 days. City governments would have the power to enforce rent control as a result.

Why does it matter?

Rent increases are untenable at a time like this; this bill would allow the Commonwealth to prevent these from happening, and provide another tool for housing advocates and tenants to ensure housing stability.

Status as of 4/9: Referred to Joint Committee on Housing

HB4626: An Act establishing emergency funding for homeless services

What is it?

Amends the Commonwealth’s budget to provide $10 million to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to expand shelter capacity and other services for unhoused individuals.

Why does it matter?

It is especially urgent that individuals who are currently unhoused receive additional resources from the state immediately. Without adequate shelter, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is significantly heightened. Without a social safety net that guarantees housing and shelter, under resourced systems of care fill the gap. This bill would allocate additional resources to fulfilling this need.

Status as of 4/9: Being revised in committee.

Decarceration:

HD.4963: An Act regarding Decarceration and COVID-19

What is it?

This bill works to release incarcerated individuals who pose no threat to society, are over the age of 50, are vulnerable to COVID-19, are incarcerated on minor drug possession charges, or are incarcerated because of their inability to make bail or to pay fines or fees. It also requires additional review by Parole Board members for cases of individuals who were previously denied parole. It also requires coordination with public health officials to improve sanitary and crowding conditions.

Why does it matter?

The cruelty of incarceration during a worldwide pandemic will cost lives. Poor sanitary conditions and crowding in prisons has the potential to cause massive outbreaks. Learn more by reading Building Up People Not Prisons coalition’s open letter to the Governor.

Status as of 4/9: Referred to Joint Committee on Judiciary

Relief Programs and Assistance

HD.4950: An Act providing emergency access to equity and justice for all in response to COVID-19

What is it?

Creates a system where income challenged households can sign up to receive relief cash benefits. Creates a similar system for small businesses.

Why does it matter?

The Federal relief package does not provide consistent cash benefits to households; $1,200 will not go far for households who are out of work and having trouble accessing unemployment, or who are not registered for direct deposit with the IRS. This bill creates a program where households can access funds via the state rather than the Federal government, and payments that are consistent until the declaration of emergency is over.

Status as of 4/9: Referred to Joint Committee on Revenue

HB.4622: An Act to provide short-term relief for families in deep poverty

What is it?

Appropriates additional funds to provide an additional one-time benefit for families with children receiving aid through the Transitional Aid to Families (TANF) program, and another one-time benefit to those currently receiving elderly or disabled emergency aid.

Why does it matter?

Individuals who were already eligible for aid are especially at risk, both financially and in terms of their health. Providing additional funding to these programs, specifically for families, children, the elderly and disabled will help reduce this risk.

Status as of 4/9: An online public hearing is scheduled for 4/13/20 at 1:30.

HD.4955: An Act providing for a MassHealth expansion in response to COVID-19

What is it?

Expands state health insurance coverage to all individuals who qualify for unemployment.

Why does it matter?

Even if people are able to receive unemployment benefits and have enough funds to make it through the next couple months to meet their expenses, they still may be without insurance. Obviously, tying health insurance to employment is not only inhumane, but logistically insane during a pandemic. Extending healthcare benefits to individuals who have recently loss jobs will be critical.

Status as of 4/9: Referred to Joint Committee on Health Care Financing

HD.4965: An Act establishing a COVID-19 Local Food Access Emergency Fund

What is it?

This bill creates an emergency fund to support local food pantries in this time of crisis, allocating $50 million to this cause,

Why does it matter?

Local food pantries provide support to families that need it; with layoffs rampant the economy on lock-down, so many households and families have grown to rely on pantries. Resources are overstretched and under additional demand, and the state must provide additional support to these services. This is especially critical for families with children, many of who rely on meal distribution to feed children who are no longer receiving meals at school.

Status as of 4/9: Referred to Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities

HD.4975: An Act establishing a COVID-19 food service and hospitality worker relief fund.

What is it?

Creates a $75 million dollar fund to support food service and hospitality workers who have been laid off as a result of the pandemic.

Why does it matter?

An entire industry has shut down as a result of COVID-19, leaving people with little to no livelihood. The fund would help the industry and industry workers to stay afloat during the crisis, and direct state funding specifically to address this issue and the needs of individuals employed within this industry.

Status as of 4/9: Filed - thus far, no further action has been taken.

HD.4978

An Act providing for cash assistance to certain persons over 65 years of age who stopped working as a result of COVID-19 or stay-at-home advisory, also known as The CARE Act

What is it?

Establishes a fund for the elderly who are no longer able to work due to COVID-19 and do not qualify for unemployment, the payment for which would be $1,500.

Why does it matter?

Millions of seniors in America are income insecure; those relying on benefits are often unable to meet their nutritional requirements to maintain a healthy diet. While this reality is impossibly cruel, the pandemic has made this problem even worse, and the lives of these individuals more precarious. This bill will provide some relief to these seniors.

Status as of 4/9: Filed - thus far, no further action has been taken