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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

Earned Sick Time

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 onlineFor more information on what leave and benefit options you may have available if you need to quarantine, please visit this page on the Rights For Quarantined Essential Workers.

Workplace Safety

You are legally entitled to a safe and healthy workplace. While COVID-19 is part of our daily lives right now, your employer must provide you with a safe and healthy workplace.

If you would like to report an unsafe working condition related to COVID-19, you may report your concern to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at: 1-800-321-6742.  Massachusetts state and municipal employees can file a workplace safety or health complaint with the Department of Labor Standards (DLS).  DLS can be reached at 508-616-0461, option 1; or safepublicworkplacemailbox@mass.gov.  Your employer cannot retaliate against you for making a complaint about an unsafe working condition.

Rights for Quarantined Workers

Additional Resources for Your rights as an employee

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

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

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

On April 27, AG Healey released guidance on disability rights during the pandemic. The guidance lays out accommodations that may be necessary in workplaces, apartment buildings, hospitals, and stores that remain open to the public.

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

Housing

For Renters:

The state moratorium on evictions ended on October 17, 2020.  You may still be protected from some types of evictions by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium through July 31, 2021. To receive protection under the CDC moratorium, you must submit a declaration stating that you meet the following criteria:

  1. You have tried your hardest to apply for any available separate government rental assistance;
  2. You meet certain income requirements;
  3. You can’t pay rent because you have lost substantial household income due to a layoff or reduced work hours, OR you have “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses (these DO NOT have to be related to COVID-19);
  4. You are trying to make partial rent payments as close to the full amount due as possible; and
  5. If you were evicted you would become homeless or you would have to move in with a friend or family member

You can access the declaration here

If you meet these criteria, make sure every adult living in your household or on your lease gives your landlord a signed declaration form. Don’t be intimidated because the declaration must be signed under oath, this just means you are signing the form honestly and to the best of your knowledge. Keep a copy of the declaration you gave to your landlord.

If you qualify for protection under the CDC eviction moratorium, your landlord can still begin an eviction case in court but, depending on the reason your landlord is evicting you, you cannot forced to leave your home until after July 31, 2021. You still need to attend any court hearings and may need to confirm that you meet the CDC moratorium requirements in a court hearing. Your landlord cannot evict you without a court order for any reason. 

Under the CDC eviction moratorium, you are still obligated to pay rent and you will still be responsible for any rent owed. 

If you can’t pay your rent, you should work with your landlord to seek financial help from the state. You can find more information about the types of rental assistance available here. You cannot be evicted if you have a rental assistance application pending. Specifically, the court cannot “enter a judgment” against you or “issue an execution” before your financial assistance application has been approved or denied.

If your landlord attempts to make you leave your home without a court order or if your landlord is trying to evict you because of a notice to quit you received prior to October 17, 2020, please fill out this form for help from the Attorney General’s Office. You may also use this form to request help if you are being evicted and need help applying for rental assistance.

There is more information about your rights as a tenant available here.

For Homeowners:

The CDC moratorium on evictions does not stop foreclosures. If you are a homeowner living in the property after foreclosure you are protected from certain types of evictions under the CDC order just like any other tenant. If you have a mortgage that is owned or insured by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA, those agencies have stopped foreclosures through the end of the year. You should contact your mortgage servicer (the company that sends you mortgage statements) to understand what protections may apply to your loan and what forms of relief might be available.

If you received a forbearance on your mortgage and it is expiring soon or you are unable to make mortgage payments, reach out to your servicer. There may be additional assistance your servicer can provide if you are unable to make your mortgage payments.

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, many child care programs have struggled 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 as we emerge from this crisis.

Issues that arise between families and child care programs may be covered by provisions in the existing contract. In all cases, the AGO urges the two parties to work together toward a fair and reasonable resolution. For programs in need of financial or other assistance, the Department of Early Education and Care offers a list of resources.

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

Other resources

Project Bread has a FoodSource hotline (800-645-8333) 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 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.

If you or your children are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, check out these resources for assistance. We all need help sometimes.

  • Call Massachusetts 211. This statewide phone service is a centralized hub for information, offers multilingual services, and can connect you with a variety of resources.
  • Contact your local Family Resource Center (FRC). FRCs are a statewide network of community-based providers offering multi-cultural parenting programs, support groups, early childhood services, information and referral resources and education for families whose children range in age from birth to 18 years of age.
  • Find additional help and resources at Handhold, a Massachusetts-based online, interactive guide to answer caregivers’ questions about their child’s mental health and emotional well-being.
  • Search Massachusetts Network of Care. They can help you find mental health and substance use resources for children and adults.

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 that has been offered by the federal government. We will update this page with resources and information, and we will continue to advocate for our immigrant communities.

Vaccines

All people who live, work, or study in Massachusetts, ages 12 and over, are currently eligible to receive a vaccine against COVID-19, regardless of immigration status. The vaccine is free, whether or not you have health insurance. While some vaccine providers may ask that you bring an ID or health insurance card with you to an appointment, neither an ID nor health insurance are required to receive a vaccine, and you may not be turned away from receiving a vaccine if you do not have one. Please call the Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights hotline at (617) 963-2917 if you experience any issues with requests by vaccine providers for IDs or health insurance cards. The MIRA Coalition has created flyers with information on the vaccine for Massachusetts immigrants and refugees in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Haitian Creole, and Vietnamese

Visit https://vaxfinder.mass.gov/ to locate a vaccination site near you. For information on the In-Home Vaccination program for people who are unable to make it to a vaccination site, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-in-home-vaccination-program or call (833) 983-0485 for multi-lingual assistance.

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

COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination have no effect on immigration status, and are not considered in a Public Charge analysis. Also, as of March 9, 2021, the Trump Administration’s expanded Public Charge rule is no longer in effect. For more information about what this change means, 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.

 

 

Students and student borrowers

The CARES Act temporarily suspended monthly payments, waived interest, and stopped collections for federal student loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education through September 30, 2020.  On January 21, 2021, the Biden administration announced that these benefits would continue through September 30, 2021. According to the U.S. Department of Education, suspended loan payments will continue to count towards loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and income-driven repayment plans.  

The payment suspension is automatic.  However, if borrowers elect to continue making payments during the suspension, those payments will be fully applied to loan principal, once any interest that was outstanding as of March 13, 2020 is paid off. 

Under the CARES Act, involuntary collection activity ceased on defaulted federal student loans held by the U.S. Department of Education, including wage garnishments, social security benefit offsets, and tax refund interceptions. Additionally, payments were suspended for borrowers enrolled in rehabilitation plans. On January 21, 2021, the Biden Administration announced that these benefits would continue through September 30 2021.

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 safety measures required by the COVID-19 pandemic have had a huge impact on small businesses in Massachusetts. Many have been forced to close or are dealing with a major decline in revenue. If your small business has suffered during this crisis, you may want to consider taking the following steps:

For full details, please visit the Attorney General's Assisting Small Businesses guide

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

Employers with questions about PPP and unemployment benefits can find more information here

Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Resources

Services and support are available for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and when you are ready to access them.

  • Call SafeLink, a 24/7 statewide domestic violence and sexual assault referral hotline, at 1-877-785-2020.
  • The Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance offers free resources for victims, survivors and providers at 844-878-MOVA or mass.gov/askMOVA.
  • If you have experienced domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available 24/7. Text LOVEIS to 22522, call 1-800-799-7233, or visit thehotline.org/help.
  • If you have experienced sexual violence, you can get access to confidential services, including a sexual assault kit, at no cost. Visit this site for more information and to find local resources in your area: janedoe.org/find_help.
  • If you or someone you know has been the victim of a violent crime, you get an application for the Victim Compensation program here. For help with the application, please call 617-963-2160.

For more information on how to obtain an abuse protection order, visit here.

Lea sobre recursos para violencia doméstica y asalto sexual en Español.

IF YOU NEED TO LEAVE THIS WEBSITE QUICKLY, CLICK HERE.

Utilities

Electric, Gas, and Water

Many residents are struggling to pay their bills, including their monthly utility bills. Electricity, gas, and water are essential services—that’s why it is important that customers know their rights and where they can go for help if they need it.

Electric and Gas

  • Customers of investor-owned utilities (for example, Eversource, National Grid, Liberty Utilities, Berkshire Gas, and Unitil):

Due to the pandemic, the DPU has extended the current moratorium on residential electric and gas shut-offs through July 1, 2021, for customers of investor-owned utility companies. It is still important not to fall behind on your bills. If you are a residential customer struggling to pay your utility bills or behind on your payments, contact your utility service provider to discuss payment plans and payment assistance programs that may be available. Paying what you can will help you avoid large balances and shut-off once the moratorium ends. Residential customers making payments under payment plans with their investor-owned electric or gas utility will remain protected from shut-off for the duration of the payment plan, even after the moratorium ends on July 1, 2021.

  • Customers of municipal utilities (utilities run by your city or town):

Call your municipal utility to find out its shut-off policy and what other help it can offer, including any payment plan programs.

  • Small business customers:

The moratorium on electric and gas shut-offs for commercial customers ended on August 31, 2020. If you are behind on your payments or fear your business will be shut off, please contact your utility to find out if you are eligible for a payment plan or arrearage forgiveness plan. If you enroll in a payment plan with your investor-owned electric or gas utility company and make your payments on time, you will be protected from service disconnection for the duration of your payment plan. 

Water

Due to the pandemic, the DPU has extended the moratorium on residential shut-offs for customers of investor-owned water utility companies until July 1, 2021.  If you are not sure what type of water utility provides your water service, click here and scroll to Exhibit C to see the list of water companies that must comply with the moratorium. If you receive water service through your city or town, call your city or town to see if they are voluntarily complying with the moratorium on residential shut-offs or to inquire about other payment assistance programs that may be available. 

Even if your water utility is complying with the moratorium, it is still important not to fall behind on your bills. Paying what you can will help avoid large balances and shut-off once the moratorium ends. If you are a customer struggling to pay your water bills or are behind on your payments, contact your water utility or water service provider to discuss payment plans and any other assistance that may be available.

For more information, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions about Electric, Gas, and Water utilities page.

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.

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.

Guidance to Municipalities

On April 15th, the Attorney General’s Office issued guidance to municipalities on some of the most commonly asked questions about their legal authority during the COVID-19 crisis. Covered in the guidance were questions on implementing curfews, issuing advisories, and delaying town meetings. This guidance was updated on April 27th. The updated guidance is available here. 

 

Guidance on Serving Time-Sensitive Initial Pleadings, Complaints, and Summonses in Cases Against State Agencies or Officials on the Attorney General’s Office During the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Advisory Period

Under the current circumstances, the AGO advises that in-hand service of process on the AGO pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(3) is not feasible given the minimal staffing levels in the office and the inaccessibility of the building to the general public. Instead, the AGO advises that the most efficient way to serve the AGO (as well as any Commonwealth agency) and/or the Attorney General with a new complaint and summons is by certified or registered mail in accordance with Mass. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(3).  The AGO has established the email address below to receive service of emergency or time-sensitive court filings pertaining to lawsuits against the Commonwealth, its agencies, or officials. Submission to this email address is not intended to supersede the service requirements of Mass. R. Civ. P. 4. For “non-emergency” matters and motions pertaining to ongoing cases, all other motions, filings or pleadings should be served in the normal course, as provided by the applicable rules and/or as allowed by the current Court Orders issued in response to COVID-19. The electronic mail address for receipt of courtesy copies of emergency filings and new complaints is: agoemergencyfilings@mass.gov . Further guidance on serving emergency or time-sensitive pleadings, complaints, and summonses in cases against state agencies or officials on the Attorney General’s Office during the COVID-19 stay-at-home advisory period can be found here. Please read in full before submission.

Key Actions for Guidance on Serving Time-Sensitive Initial Pleadings, Complaints, and Summonses in Cases Against State Agencies or Officials on the Attorney General’s Office During the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Advisory Period

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