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With COVID-19 Mandates More Common, Mass. Officials Offer Both Carrot And Stick

Over the summer, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's administration was urging residents to get vaccinated. Then came a vaccine mandate for state employees, and a message encouraging private businesses to do the same.

There were the five vaccine lottery drawings. Those ended last week. Still, Massachusetts is seeing increasing daily COVID-19 case loads.

Matt Murphy from the State House News Service joins us to talk about the governor’s COVID-19 vaccine messaging.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: You know, at this point, I think the governor has been fairly consistent in his messaging — that he believes vaccines are the most effective and really the only way out of this pandemic.

I think that's why you're seeing him not give the option of regular testing, for instance, for public employees. He doesn't want to give employees an "out," or an option to avoid getting vaccinated.

You're seeing the administration work with school districts to have pop-up clinics at schools as kids, teachers and staff return to these buildings, trying to drive up vaccination rates in schools.

And you may see other efforts like that — ways to make the vaccine easily accessible, and to be frank, "in your face." You would have to turn it down actively if you didn't want to get it.

So we may see more of that, to try and drive up the rates — even as Massachusetts has, as the governor repeatedly points out, one of the highest vaccination rates in the country — because cases do continue to rise. I think there is some hope that it might start to level off.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Due to the pandemic, Massachusetts employers are down a couple hundred thousand employees, many of whom have been collecting enhanced federal unemployment benefits. By the end of this week, though, those benefits are set to expire. Do we expect to see hundreds of thousands of workers seeking out job training programs and reentering the workforce soon?

According to the administration, as many as 300,000 people could drop off the unemployment benefit rolls in the week of September 4, when the federal expanded benefits expire. This has been a huge issue of concern.

Secretary [of Labor and Worforce Development] Rosalin Acosta talked recently about what the state has been doing. They ran a massive virtual week-long job fair that attracted thousands of employers and people seeking work. It was the largest, most subscribed job fair they've ever done. I think they're hoping they will connect some people to the work force.

There are also efforts in the job training space underway, but the governor is saying they need to significantly ramp that up. And that's why he's proposed using some American Rescue Plan Act funding to do that, about $240 million, because of the current size of these programs. They just can't train enough for the jobs that are going to need to be created to get all of these people back to work.

Have legislators been given a date yet to resume large-scale lawmaking after their summer break? And what issues are likely to be bubbling up to the top of their agendas when they do go back to work?

Yeah, of course. We're in the tail end of what is the traditional August break, but it never ends precisely at the end of August. We do expect them to come back some time after Labor Day. It could be mid-September.

What you will see after Labor Day is hearings start to resume. We expect the Ways and Means Committees and the other involved committees to resume their hearings on ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act of 2021] spending. They'll fairly quickly try to review the governor's bill to spend the surplus from fiscal year 2021.

That would include [shoring up the] state’s unemployment insurance system after it was heavily used during the pandemic. And redistricting is another issue that they're going to have to tackle pretty quickly, given some of the deadlines and the need to get this done by the end of the year.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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