Advocacy Briefing: COVID-19 Legislation & Budget Priorities
May 19, 2020
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, EMPath is calling on the Massachusetts Legislature to pass various legislative and budget measures that would mitigate hardships faced by many families.
This is a devastating time for so many. In Massachusetts, over one million unemployment claims have been filed since mid-March. Many people, including participants in EMPath’s programs, have faced job loss, housing insecurity, food insecurity, lack of child care, illness, and more. Families already living in poverty are now struggling exponentially.
As a result of this crisis, EMPath – along with fellow advocates – urges the Massachusetts Legislature to enact the following budget and legislative measures:
Short-term relief for families in deep poverty (H.4622)
This bill provides a one-time additional cash payment for those currently receiving cash assistance (TAFDC and EAEDC). The payment would be equal to the family’s or individual’s maximum household benefit. We know this is not enough and that more is needed, but we also know any additional cash is useful.
Additional funding for Emergency Assistance family shelter (budget line item 7004-0101)
As a result of the measures EMPath is taking to minimize access and exposure in our shelters – including maintaining a smaller core group of staff to work longer hours, ensuring families have access to cleaning supplies, food, diapers, medications, WiFi, and other necessities, and ensuring the shelter has the supplies it needs to maintain safety and prevent the spread of illness – we are incurring emergency expenses not currently covered by our state contracts. We are asking the state to provide additional funding for Emergency Assistance family shelter to ensure providers can deliver safe and effective services while protecting public health.
Additional emergency funding for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program (budget line item 7004-9316)
The RAFT program provides funds for back rent payments, back utility payments, first and last month’s rent, security deposits, and transportation costs. It is critical in helping families with children, unaccompanied youth, elders, people with disabilities, and other households avoid or exit homelessness.
During this pandemic, tens of thousands of households are falling further behind on rent, utilities, and other needs. We are grateful for the recent $5 million of new COVID-19 funding for RAFT as well as the strong eviction and foreclosure moratorium law passed. These efforts are important, yet more action and resources are necessary. We are asking the Legislature to appropriate $50 million in additional funding for RAFT to address COVID-19 needs.
Funding for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites (budget line item 1201-0100)
VITA sites offer free help filing taxes to taxpayers who make $54,000 or less annually, who have a disability preventing them from filing, or for whom English is a second language. VITA offers individuals and families the assistance they need to navigate the complicated filing process and get their maximum refund and credit. This program is also critical to helping people access their stimulus payments from the federal government.
VITA sites are continuing to operate remotely during this time. We are asking for $800,000 in funding for VITA sites – the FY20 allocation of $200,000 is not enough to provide coordination, space, training, monitoring, computers, and printing costs that are required for effective tax preparation.
The 40 hours of sick time that Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time Law provides workers each year doesn’t meet the scale of this major public health crisis. Additionally, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) has big coverage gaps that leave millions of front-line workers without paid sick time. This legislation would provide 10 additional work days (80 hours) of job-protected paid sick time for immediate use during the COVID-19 outbreak to employees not covered by the FFCRA, including:
- Employees working for a private employer with more than 500 employees.
- Employees working at health care or residential facilities that have the option to exempt themselves from the FFCRA.