Below is a press release from State Rep. Dave Robertson (D-Tewksbury):
BOSTON, MA — Addressing building issues that came to light during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, Representative Robertson and his colleagues passed legislation that will begin an overhaul of the Holyoke Soldiers home in Western Massachusetts.
With an outbreak that claimed the lives of many elder veterans, it came to light during and after the outbreak that dated construction complicated the separation of veterans under quarantine with staff and veterans who were uninfected. Due to the cross-contamination, COVID rates spiked which required an eventual response of the Massachusetts National Guard to assist in medical care. This legislation authorized $400 million dollars to address issues at the Soldiers Home including construction of additional beds and renovation, as well as $200 million in state-wide long-term veterans care.
In addition to authorizing work on the soldier’s home, the House also forwarded legislation to address anticipated spikes in the Unemployment Insurance fund that would have been disastrous for small businesses. While many states, including Massachusetts, intend to use federal funding to provide relief to the solvency fund as well as small business grants, the back and forth of Congressional debate has added concern.
“One of our big concerns, as a member of the Committee on Labor, is the reliability and total amount of funding we may or may not see from Washington,” said Representative Robertson. “I, and many others, believe that we can and will use federal funds to replenish the solvency fund. But it is clear that is becoming a political football and this legislation helps mitigate any risk of federal funding in the future falling through through while reducing anticipated spikes in unemployment taxes and fees.”
The legislation works by removing COVID-based unemployment claims from the Unemployment solvency fund to a new account, titled the COVID-19 Employer Relief Account. This account was established with a 20 year time frame, spreading the cost to employers and state over a long-term, removing looming deadlines for unemployment fee increases from businesses and allowing the state more flexibility in earmarking future revenues and federal monies to offset the debt.
“Under this bill businesses will see unemployment insurance rates similar to previous years – in fact some might even see a reduction despite the increase in unemployment during the pandemic,” said Representative Robertson from the State House. “It is extremely clever and provides additional important relief after we addressed the rate increases a few weeks back.”
The bill also establishes a employers for the cost of providing employees with COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave, if the employee was infected, ordered to quarantine, or was hospitalized during the pandemic. The bill also retained protections for first responders and other municipal employees exposed or quarantined during the pandemic, despite the Governor’s objections.
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