From the Governor’s Desk

Baker Signs Safe Patient Access to Emergency Care Act

On Friday, Gov. Charles Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito participated in a ceremonial signing of S.2931, An Act to ensure safe patient access to emergency care. 

Named in memory of Laura Levis, Baker and Polito were also joined by Laura’s husband, Pete DeMarco, members of her family, and Sen. Pat Jehlen.

 “I signed ‘Laura’s Law’ to safeguard against future tragedies occurring just steps away from hospital emergency departments,” said Baker. “In the wake of her tragic passing, Laura’s husband, Pete, undertook an exhaustive effort to honor her legacy and protect others from similar fates. After months of collaboration and hard work with legislators, including Senator Jehlen and Representative Barber, I am proud to sign Laura’s Law and celebrate her memory in a meaningful way.”

The new law would implement minimum criteria and standards that ensure safe, timely and accessible patient access to the entrances of Massachusetts hospital emergency departments. These regulations will require that entries must be clearly marked, easily accessible and properly monitored by security when appropriate. Additionally, the Department of Public Health will convene a working group on patient access to hospital emergency rooms or departments to report on and make recommendations to inform these policies. In 2016, Laura Levis died of an asthma attack outside of an area hospital when she was unable to locate an accessible entrance to the emergency room.

State Awards Another $78.5 Million in Additional Grants to Businesses

The Baker-Polito Administration announced $78.5 million in awards last week to 1,595 additional small businesses in the third round of grants through the COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation.

To date, the Administration has awarded close to $195 million in direct financial support to 4,119 small businesses out of a $668 million fund set up to support small businesses across the Commonwealth. 

Additional grants will be announced in the coming weeks for thousands of additional businesses.

 “Understanding how significant the need for financial assistance is, we’ve taken important steps to ensure these resources are directed toward the businesses that have historically been at a disadvantage even before the pandemic, or are located in communities, especially Gateway Cities, that have suffered disproportionately because of this virus,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “I’m grateful for the partnership with MGCC to provide this important assistance, and I look forward to the coming weeks when we can award even more support for the economic sectors that are most in need.” 

Representing key industries that have been especially impacted during the pandemic, restaurants and bars, personal care, retail, and health care businesses received the highest number of individual grants this round. These industries have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic. Other grant recipients include women owned businesses, businesses in Gateway Cities, businesses in underserved markets and businesses that have previously received no other forms of financial assistance. 

The new Grant Program Application Deadline was Friday night, Jan. 15.

Baker-Polito Administration Re-Files Unemployment Legislation

The Baker-Polito Administration re-filed unemployment insurance legislation initially filed last month. The Governor’s legislation aims to sustain unemployment benefits and provide an estimated $1.3 billion in unemployment insurance relief to the Commonwealth’s employers over two years. In addition to a two-year unemployment insurance tax schedule freeze, the legislation also proposes financing measures designed to ensure the solvency of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and that federal borrowing that has occurred is repaid in a responsible and affordable manner.

 The main provisions of this legislation include:

1. Short Term Employer Tax Relief through a two-year tax schedule freeze. Current Massachusetts unemployment legislative statute requires the employer tax schedule to increase from schedule E to schedule G. This would cause an average per employee tax increase from $539 to $866 – a nearly 60-percent increase over the previous year. Remaining on schedule E for 2021 and 2022 slows annual employer contribution growth from $539 average per employee costs in 2020 to $635 in 2021 and $665 in 2022. 

 2. Authorization for the issuance of special obligation bonds for the purposes of repaying federal advances. In order to fund the unprecedented increases in demand on the unemployment system in Massachusetts as a result of COVID-19, the Commonwealth has received federal cash advances. Through the issuance of bonds, the Commonwealth will be able to ensure positive trust fund solvency to enable the continued payment of benefits. The utilization of capital markets also allows Massachusetts to avoid paying punitive federal tax increases on employers regardless of their experience rating if federal advances are not repaid by November of 2022. Bonds issued will be supported by an unemployment obligation assessment and will not be general obligations of the Commonwealth.  3. Establishes an employer surcharge on contributory employers. In 2020 all federal advances taken to pay benefits are interest free. However, interest on federal advances will begin to be charged beginning in January of 2021. The first interest payment is due in the Fall of 2021 and it cannot be paid from the state unemployment trust fund, per federal law. To fund interest payments on repayable advances, the legislation also establishes a separate fund to house surcharge proceeds. The passage of this provision authorizes the Department of Unemployment Assistance to make this assessment but does not require the surcharge if interest is waived through future federal legislation. 

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