Some Parliamentary Drama, But Mass. Legislature Passes Evictions Moratorium
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Massachusetts lawmakers put a freeze on evictions and foreclosures. But it wasn't a smooth process.
With so few members showing up for legislative debates, it means a single objection can stall a bill. That's what happened last week to that housing security bill.
Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joined us to talk about that and other issues on Beacon Hill.
Matt Murphy, State House News Service: This bill, which finally did pass, would put a moratorium on all evictions and foreclosures for the foreseeable future. The bill would remain in effect for at least 120 days, or 45 days after the governor lifts the state of emergency in. It's intended to keep people in their homes who were experiencing financial difficulty due to the virus.
This included some measures that housing advocates really wanted, including a block on landlords even sending delinquent renters what are called "notices to quit," which housing advocates say could scare people into thinking they need to move, even if that isn't a formal eviction process.
But we saw some concerns raised, including from Rep. Shawn Dooley, Norfolk Republican, who said that he worried this would penalize not the big landlords, but the small landlords — families who own multi-family homes and rely on that rent for income.
Carrie Healy, NEPR: Governor Baker says Massachusetts is right in the middle of its surge. And we're hearing from hospital officials in western Massachusetts that they have beds available and that the hospitalization numbers could be at a plateau, for now at least. How much are you hearing the Baker administration talk about regional differences in all of this?
They're certainly looking at it. And they've been asking the hospitals to implement individual surge plans that have boosted capacity at hospitals across state. If you just look at the most recent reports that they've put out, they do vary regionally, about 37% of available beds — these are non-ICU beds — statewide.
But if you look across the state, that can go from as high as 38% in the Boston area to 45% in western and central Massachusetts. So there are different availability rates in different parts of the state and the administration is watching that, and also planning if they would need to transfer patients from different parts of the state to places where there is room for them to get the care they need.
Matt, due to the coronavirus, state revenues are expected to tank. Governors want some federal money to help. But we heard over the weekend from the White House that that is not likely to be part of the next relief bill. How much is Massachusetts counting on budget help from the feds?
Yeah, they're going to be counting on it. They're going to need it. There was some money in the first — or I guess it was phase 2 or 3 — the $2 trillion stimulus package had a few billion dollars for Massachusetts, including a little over a billion in Medicaid support from MassHealth recipients. There was money for public transit and other supports, but a lot of that was to help small businesses in other parts of the economy.
The delegation, including Senator Markey and Senator Warren, were among the Democrats pushing for this next round to have another $150 billion in direct support for state and local governments to stabilize their budgets. It doesn't appear that that's going to be in this round. It looks more like it's going to recapitalize the small business loan fund and also include some money for hospitals, which is also important for the Massachusetts economy.
But we heard the governor over the weekend on Face the Nation talking about how states are going to need support, probably to help with their budgets. And they're also going to need support from the federal government with testing, and the development of crucial drugs and treatments for these patients if they're ever going to get a hold of this virus and get back to a semblance of normal.
Last week you and I talked about some of the election ramifications of the pandemic. The legislature failed to act to change signature requirements for candidates. So the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Friday stepped in. What did they decide?
There was a lot of resistance to this in the House in particular, but the courts did step in. They cut the signature requirements in half for all candidates, including state legislative candidates, and they extended the deadline for everyone until May 5 and allowed them to use some electronic signatures to meet their requirement.