Guide RESOURCES DURING COVID-19

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office’s work as the People’s Law Firm continues amidst the Coronavirus public health emergency. The AG’s Office is warning Massachusetts residents to be on alert for individuals and businesses that may try to take advantage of uncertainty about COVID-19.

The AG’s hotlines will still be fully staffed during the regular hours. Walk-ins to the AG’s physical office locations will not receive in-person service. Walk-ins will be encouraged to file complaints online or call our office. This page will continue to be updated so check back for new info.

Table of Contents

Your rights as an employee

3,549 coronavirus-related labor calls to date.

In order to contain the outbreak and protect people with compromised immunities, it is critical to stay home if you are feeling sick. Most workers in Massachusetts have the right to earn and use up to 40 hours of job-protected sick time per year. Under state laws, workers must earn at least one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked. More details about the earned sick time law can be found here. If you think your employer is violating the earned sick time law, call the AG’s Fair Labor Division at 617-727-3465 or file a complaint online.

Read the Fair Labor Division FAQs for employee rights and employer obligations during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

Read the Fair Labor Division FAQs on Public Construction Bidding during the COVID-19 public health emergency.  

See below for multilingual resources.

Multilingual resources on earned sick time

Here are some resources about the earned sick time law in Massachusetts.

Aquí hay algunos recursos sobre la ley de licencia de enfermedad acumulada en Massachusetts.

Alguns recursos sobre a lei de licença médica em Massachusetts.

以下是一些有关麻州病假法的资源

Additional Resources for Multilingual resources on earned sick time

Protect yourself from scams and fraud

599 coronavirus-related inquiries calls to date.

Fears about the coronavirus are on the rise and so are those looking to capitalize on uncertainty about its impact in Massachusetts. The AG’s Office encourages residents to follow these tips: 

  • Watch out for high-priced or low-quality products: Our consumer protection law Chapter 93A prohibits unfair and deceptive business practices. The AG’s Office is watching retailers that inflate prices on products like hand sanitizer and face masks very closely. Report unreasonably high prices to the AG’s Office by filing a complaint onlineOn March 20, the AG’s Office filed an emergency regulation expanding the definition of price gouging to include of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency.
  • Be on alert for coronavirus-related scams: Scammers may try to steal your money and personal information by sending phony calls, emails, and texts. Ignore them and don’t open anything from an unfamiliar sender. Report scammers to the AG’s Office. 
  • Beware of false and misleading information: Visit reputable sources for updates on the coronavirus: 
  • Consider seeking a refund for cancelled travel: The AG’s Office may be able to help mediate requests for refunds from trips that have been cancelled because of COVID-19. File a complaint online if you’re having trouble getting your money back. 
  • Look out for unauthorized or fraudulent charities or solicitations: Do your homework before donating to a coronavirus charity to make sure the charity is legitimate. Never donate by cash and don’t be pressured into making a contribution. Visit the AG’s giving wisely webpage for more information.

Key Actions for Protect yourself from scams and fraud

Health care and insurance

158 coronavirus-related health care calls to date

General support

If you have a problem with health insurance claims or medical bills or think you might be the victim of a scam, the AG’s Health Care Division may be able to help. Call our helpline with questions or complaints at 1-888-830-6277.

If you lost your job and your health insurance, you may be eligible for low-cost (or no-cost) health insurance through the Health Connector.  Enrollment has been extended for uninsured individuals through April 25. Apply by March 23, for coverage that starts on April 1. More info here.

Get covered

If you have health insurance through the Connector, but are making less money than usual, you may be able to reduce your monthly premium. Update your existing Connector profile to reflect your current income by 3/23 to see if you qualify for a lower premium due on 4/1. If the premium is still too high, please request a premium hardship waiver.

The Governor has ordered health insurers to expand coverage of telehealth services in general and to cover services relating to COVID-19 testing and treatment without cost-sharing by patients. The full order is available here.

In-home health and disability services

Medical professionals and caregivers who provide in-home services should not be denied access to the consumers who depend on them. Many of these services can and should be performed through telemedicine, but remote care may not be possible or appropriate in every case. These decisions should be left to individual consumers and their medical professionals or caregivers and pursuant to guidance by the Department of Public Health. Landlords and places of public accommodation should fulfill their legal obligations to reasonably accommodate the needs of people with disabilities by allowing access to medical professionals to visit residents.

For complaints regarding failure to accommodate individuals with disabilities, contact our Civil Rights Division at (617) 963-2917 or online.

Key Actions for Health care and insurance

Child care and other resources for families

Child care

The COVID-19 crisis has put a strain on our early education system, causing hardship for both families and child care programs. Many families are struggling with ongoing child care costs, a strain felt particularly by families whose incomes have been reduced or lost entirely. At the same time, child care programs are struggling to stay afloat. As a state, we need to ensure that these programs, which play a crucial role in the lives of children and families and in our economy more broadly, are able to open and operate when we emerge from this crisis, and without some source of income, programs may be forced to close for good. We also need to ensure that some programs can remain open to serve our hospital workers, first-responders, grocery store and pharmacy clerks, public transit employees, and others who continue to work and serve.

For child care programs that are continuing to charge tuition, the AGO urges programs to work with families toward a fair and reasonable resolution. In all cases, programs must abide by the existing contract with parents. If, under an existing contract, parents have the right to cancel services and/or obtain a refund of any tuition that they have already paid, programs should honor those rights. Programs should not penalize families who may be under financial stress because of the current crisis.

In addition, programs should be aware of financial assistance to cover ongoing payroll, rent, and other costs, offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and/or other small business assistance. PPP and other federal relief programs have become available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress on March 27, 2020. Entities eligible for PPP include businesses and 501(c)(3) non-profits with fewer than 500 employees and individuals who operate a sole proprietorship or as an independent contractor or who are self-employed. More information is available from the SBA here and from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here.

Financial relief should help programs offer flexibility to families and reduce financial pressure to continue to charge tuition. Programs may want to communicate with families about plans for seeking financial support and, if awarded, provide an explanation of its impact on tuition and refunds.

The AGO is encouraged by the work of Congress to help our state address the early education crisis for families and programs. Because provisions of the CARES Act offer a financial lifeline for child care programs, we hope and expect that the recent hardships felt by both families and programs will be mitigated.

If you continue to have concerns and wish to file a complaint with our office, please complete our online complaint form.

We will keep updating this page as more information becomes available.

Other resources

Project Bread has a hunger help-line and comprehensive listing of school meal sites. You can also visit the Greater Boston Food Bank for nutritional resources. Mass. Law Reform Institute has information to help families with questions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (also known as food stamps) and cash benefits.

Both domestic violence and child welfare concerns are heightened in times of stress, and even more so with school closures and social distancing. The Children’s Trust has a good list of resources around domestic and family violence issues as well as support for parents.

Emergency family shelter may become necessary for some families who are facing a housing crisis or fleeing domestic violence.

The National Association of School Psychologists has good resources for talking to kids about COVID-19.

 

Resources for immigrant communities

We know that this is a particularly difficult time for our immigrant communities, many of whom have been hard hit by job losses and some of whom are not eligible for relief recently offered by the federal government. We will update this page with resources and information, and we will continue to advocate for our immigrant communities.

Health care and health benefits

If you are sick with COVID-19-like symptoms or know that you have been exposed to the virus, do not hesitate to seek medical advice and care, regardless of your immigration status or insurance coverage.

Massachusetts provides resources to pay for COVID-19 testing and treatment for low-income Massachusetts residents, regardless of their immigration status. For example, MassHealth Limited is available on an emergency basis to all Massachusetts residents who do not qualify for public health insurance programs due to their immigration status, and will cover the costs of testing and treatment for COVID-19. The Commonwealth’s Health Safety Net program is also available to qualifying low-income Massachusetts residents no matter their immigration status, and will pay for testing and treatment for COVID-19 provided by hospitals and community health centers.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued guidance encouraging everyone with symptoms that resemble COVID-19 to seek necessary medical care.  USCIS has said that COVID-19 tests and treatment will not be considered for Public Charge decisions. Also, the Public Charge analysis does not apply to most noncitizens and most health care insurance programs, including MassHealth Limited and the Health Safety Net, do not count for the Public Charge analysis.  For more information about the applicability of Public Charge, visit the Protecting Immigrant Families Know Your Rights Page.

Importantly, federal and state privacy laws require health care providers to keep patients’ personal information confidential.

For more resources, please view our COVID-19 Resources for Immigrants and Refugees page.

Lea sobre estos recursos en español.

Leia sobre esses recursos em português.

Key Actions for Resources for immigrant communities

Students and student borrowers

The recently signed CARES Act suspends payments and waives interest for federal student loans held by the U.S. Department of Education through September 30, 2020. The U.S. Department of Education began waiving interest on federal student loans on March 13, 2020

If borrowers continue making payments during the COVID-19 interest waiver and payment suspension period, those payments will be fully applied to loan principal, once any interest that was outstanding as of March 13, 2020 is paid off.  For borrowers seeking loan forgiveness or to rehabilitate their defaulted loans, the CARES Act states that each monthly payment suspended between March 27, 2020 and September 30, 2020 will be counted as if a payment had been made for the purpose of any loan forgiveness or rehabilitation program.  In addition, the Act directs that federal student loan servicers cannot report the suspended payments as missed or late payments to credit reporting agencies.

For borrowers with defaulted federal student loans, the CARES Act is also stopping involuntary collection activities through September 30, 2020, including wage garnishments, social security benefit offsets, and tax refund interceptions.  Additionally, payments are suspended for borrowers enrolled in rehabilitation plans.

Borrowers should receive information about these changes from their servicers by the middle of April.  The CARES Act requires that the servicers explain to borrowers the actions they have taken to suspend payments on loans, the waiver of interest, the option each borrower has to continue making payments to lessen the principal balance of their loans, the suspension of involuntary collection on defaulted loans, and that the six month suspension of payments is a temporary program.

The Attorney General’s Student Loan Assistance Unit is available to help borrowers explore repayment options. The Attorney General’s Office also continues to advocate for more relief for struggling student loan borrowers. 

Learn more about the COVID-19 interest waiver, what loans qualify, how to manage repayment, and the stoppage of involuntary collection here.

Protecting your civil rights

People who face discrimination or hate incidents based on their ethnicity or national origin should contact the Civil Rights Division. We know there may be COVID-19-related backlash in particular against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Discrimination and hate cannot be tolerated. Our Civil Rights Division can be reached at (617) 963-2917 and online here

我跟亚洲人,亚裔美国人和太平洋岛民社区站在一起,谴责这种令人不安的种族主义语言。 您可以致电(617)963-2917向我们的办公室举报歧视和仇恨事件,也可以在线投诉:https://www.mass.gov/how-to/file-a-civil-rights-complaint

我跟亞洲人,亞裔美國人和太平洋島民社區站在一起,譴責這種令人不安的種族主義語言。 您可以致電(617)963-2917向我們的辦公室舉報歧視和仇恨事件,或在線提出投訴:https://www.mass.gov/how-to/file-a-civil-rights-complaint

 

Small Businesses

The Small Business Administration has declared Massachusetts a disaster area, which enables small businesses and non-profits to apply for disaster assistance loans from the Small Business Administration. These are loans up to $2 million, with a 3.75% interest rate for businesses and 2.75% interest rate for non-profits. If Massachusetts receives the designation, businesses will need to apply directly through the SBA. If you signed the initial petition, it does not mean that you and your business have applied. You will still need to apply through the SBA, which you can do here.

You may want to contact your insurance company or insurance agent to ask whether any of your commercial insurance policies can be re-rated mid-term based on reduced exposures (e.g., reduced payroll or sales figures)  While these types of audits typically take place at the end of the policy term, securing a mid-term review may help provide your business with immediate premium relief.  

If you are having trouble paying your commercial premiums, you should also speak to your agent or insurer about options to postpone payments. 

Our office has an FAQ for employer obligations and employee rights during COVID-19, which you can read here.

Advocacy & Other Actions

Personal Protective Equipment

AG Healey called on the Trump Administration to immediately launch an initiative to rapidly shift existing domestic manufacturing capacity to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep health care workers safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More info here.

Utilities

Utilities are prohibited from shutting off service during this crisis. Municipal light companies have stepped up to protect the homeowners in their towns. If your household uses electricity or gas for heat, you'll be able to keep your lights on, house warm, and hot water running. For more information, go here.

Recycling

To ease the burdens on supermarkets during COVID-19, the AG's Office and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to temporarily suspend enforcement of bottle redemption requirements. We encourage consumers to redeem containers later or recycle at home. Call the DEP's Bottle Bill Hotline at 617-556-1054 for more information.

Open Meeting Law

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, an emergency order has modified the Open Meeting Law, to enable public bodies to carry out their responsibilities while adhering to public health recommendations regarding social distancing. More info hereContact the Division of Open Government with questions at (617) 963-2540 or file a complaint online.

Shelter in Place Guidance

AG Healey issued guidance to municipalities considering shelter in place orders. More info is available here.

Emergency Regulation on Price Gouging

On March 20th, the AG’s Office filed an emergency regulation expanding the definition of price gouging to include of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency. The regulation amends regulation 940 CMR 3:18, which had previously only regulated price gouging related to the sale of gasoline and other petroleum products.

Information about Health Club Memberships

While closed due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many health clubs and gyms are offering to freeze membership and/or charge a reduced fee to maintain your membership. Some clubs are offering online classes to members while their physical locations are closed.  Please contact your individual health club to learn if any of these options are available to you.

Massachusetts law gives you the right to cancel any contract you may have with a health club if the club “substantially changes the operation of the health club or location.” If your health club or gym has closed because of the COVID-19 epidemic, it is the view of the Attorney General’s Office that this is a substantial change to the operation of the club, and you are entitled to cancel your contract, if you wish to do so.  This applies to gyms, health spas, sports, tennis, racquet ball, platform tennis and health clubs, figure salons, health studios, weight control centers or studios, martial arts and self-defense schools, or any other similar course of physical training.

While you have the right to cancel your contract, some clubs and gyms are offering other options for their members short of cancellation, as noted above. You may want to consider whether maintaining or freezing your membership is a better option for you than cancelling your contract. If you do cancel your contract, and want to rejoin your club at a later date, it is possible your club may require you to enter a new contract and/or pay a new membership fee.

If you do wish to cancel your health club contract, you should contact your club and tell them you wish to cancel your contract, not place your contract on hold or freeze it or any other option. If you can, you should tell your club in writing that you wish to cancel. Once you cancel your contract, your club should not charge you any additional fees. If you have prepaid any part of the contract, you are entitled to a pro-rata refund for the remaining period on your contract within fifteen business days.

Emergency Regulation on Debt Collection

The AG’s office filed an emergency regulation designed to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive debt collection practices during the COVID-19 crisis.

The new regulation prohibits creditors from engaging in methods of debt collection that can require people to leave their homes or have in-person contact, including:

  • filing any new collection lawsuit; 
  • garnishing wages, earnings, properties or funds; 
  • repossessing vehicles; 
  • applying for or serving a capias warrant;
  • visiting or threatening to visit the household of a debtor;
  • visiting or threatening to visit the place of employment of a debtor;
  • confronting or communicating in person with a debtor regarding the collection of a debt in any public place.

The AG’s emergency regulation also prohibits debt collection agencies and debt buyers from making unsolicited debt collection telephone calls to consumers. FAQs available here.

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