Chamber News

Needham / Newton
January 14, 2021 Likes Comments

IRS fails to cover coverups

The CDC and virtually every infectious disease and public health expert on the planet will tell you about the well-documented medical benefits of wearing a face mask.

Now someone needs to clue in the IRS.
 
That’s because -- for some reason -- the IRS does not consider paper and cloth coverings an eligible expense for health savings accounts (HSA) or flexible spending accounts (FSA).
 
These popular employee benefit program offers literally hundreds of pre-tax eligible products and services.
 
But face masks are not on the list, notes Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary.
 
“The CDC is telling me I need to wear a mask to protect my health, but the IRS is saying I can’t use my HSA funds, even though the masks are for medical purposes,” one worker says. “It’s ridiculous.”
 
Last year, a bill before Congress would have allowed people to use their HSAs or FSAs to purchase face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant products to protect themselves against COVID-19, Singletary reports.
 
The bill did not pass.
 
Vaccines where we vote?
 
Secretary of State William Galvin has proposed launching vaccination pilot programs at polling locations in Newton, Wellesley, Lexington and Duxbury, the Globe reports.
 
Galvin floated the idea in a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker as data shows Massachusetts is behind many of other states in vaccinating residents.
 
“Much like an election, massive vaccine distribution requires organizational efforts, which involve an army of trained workers and enough space to accommodate large crowds with detailed record keeping,” Galvin wrote.
 
It’s not clear if the idea will gain any traction.
 
Ellen Ishkanian, Newton’s communications director, told the Globe the city was exploring “lots of options” and is scouting a variety of sites.
 
The Globe also reported that Delta Dental told Baker that the 5,000 dentists in its network to are “ready, willing, and able” to help deliver vaccines. (Delta has also been lobbying to move dentists higher up on the vaccination priority list.)
 
These and other suggestions are pouring in as Baker released new details for the next round of vaccinations, including plans to administer 5,000 shots a day, for first responders to start, but eventually the general public, at Gillette Stadium starting today.
 
“We are now in live discussions with folks in other parts of Massachusetts about using that template in other locations,” Baker said.
 
But it also follows reports that Boston area teaching hospitals are tossing out coronavirus vaccine doses at the end of the day because of shelf-life protocols, instead of giving the extra shots to community members.
 
“It’s so incredibly frustrating that they’re literally throwing doses away, and it’s happening in lots of hospitals across the country,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
 
But Baker said that, so far, no providers in Massachusetts have reported that they were unable to administer any doses of the vaccine because it had expired, reports State House News.
 
Is all forgiven?
 
On Tuesday, the SBA said about 85% of the 1.3 million of the forgiveness applications it has seen so far have been processed, reports (who else?)  Andy Medici at the BBJ.
 
SBA approved more than 5.2 million PPP loans before round one expired Aug. 8, for about $525 billion. When the forgiveness portal opened two days later applications trickled in as businesses and nonprofits waited for clarity on the rules and a hoped-for automatic forgiveness for small loans, which never materialized.

Yesterday, I heard from a few business owners who told me they been nervously waiting to hear if their first PPP has been forgiven. If you fall into that group, or if you’ve successfully navigated the process, drop me a note and let me know.
 
Wellesley eyes attracting more small restaurants
 
Wellesley officials are considering a proposal designed to help existing small restaurants thrive, while also attracting new boutique establishments, according to the Swellesley Report.
 
The proposal would reduce the number of restaurant seats required for a license to serve alcohol from 50 to 30 or even 25. The process would need approval from Town Meeting, Beacon Hill and, ultimately, voters.
 
Wellesley presently has 29 all-alcohol and 6 beer-and-wine licenses, of which 16 aren’t being used.
 
“There really is a trend moving towards smaller restaurants,” Assistant Executive Director Amy Frigulietti said during Monday’s Select Board meeting. "It’s not just smaller restaurants, but more of a mix, from taco shops to bistros serving high quality food from new chefs," she said.
 
“They’re just looking for a small footprint to do that work,” she said.
 
This is a move I believe can bring new energy to parts of town that now suffering from a rash of vacant store fronts. Here’s hoping the board agrees to place the proposal on the annual Town Meeting Warrant.
 
Needham Street/Highland Ave update coming
 
MassDOT will provide a construction update on the Needham Street/Highland Ave. project via Zoom on Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
 
Oddly, it seems you can only sign up to attend the webinar by first signing up for email updates on the project website.

Utility work in Newton is anticipated to begin next month, with surface work anticipated to begin in fall 2021. The majority of work will occur during daytime hours; however, some work such as paving will require nighttime work. Notice of this work will be shared via the project email list in advance.
 
The project stretches from Highland Avenue at Webster Street in Needham to Winchester Street at Route 9 in Newton. For questions, or to report work related issues to the project team, email NeedhamNewtonCorridor@state.ma.us.
 
Today’s need to knows
 
  • A reminder that if you have an employee who tests positive for COVID-19, you are required to report this to and cooperate with your local board of health.
  • Assistant Speaker of the House Rep. Katherine Clark will host a telephone town hall tonight (Jan. 14) at 6 p.m. to brief the community on the development and distribution of vaccines. Call 1 (844) 734-8764 to participate
  • Are you a theatrical producer, talent representative, venue promoter or do you operate a live venue, live performing arts organization, movie house or cultural institution and have been impacted by COVID-19? The SBA is hosting a webinar today (Jan. 14) at 3 p.m. about its Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.

Baker to try again to stop huge UI hike

Gov. Charlie Baker is refiling his bill that would halt a devastating hike in the rates employers pay into unemployment trust fund.
 
Without the move, payments will jump by 60 percent in 2021, to an average of $866 per employee from $539, a change triggered by the trust fund’s deteriorating financial condition.
 
Lawmakers came this close to approving the measure before the legislative session ended last week.
 
Please House and Senate: don't drag this one out. This is the last thing businesses and nonprofits need right now. And they also need to know ASAP if this is coming as they, hopefully, try to determine if they can start re-hiring later this spring.

A BBJ editorial published yesterday calls for the Legislature to approve the bill but also to “overhaul the unemployment insurance program."
 
“The Massachusetts UI system has been ranked dead last among all 50 states for the past several years by the nonprofit Tax Foundation. A big reason for that? Ours is the only state that does not take in to account the length of time a worker has been at their job when determining unemployment payments.
 
"As a result, workers are paid the same whether they were laid off from a job they’ve held for a couple of months or a couple of decades. Massachusetts also has a longer maximum length of time a person can remain on unemployment compared with most other states,” editors write.
 
Highlands shop, residents find way to make the best of a recent tragedy
 
Finally this morning, Jenna Fisher at Patch has this great story about the owner of the Newton Highlands candy shop who putting a spotlight on mental health issues following the tragic police shooting that took place just outside her shop, killing a man who was suffering from mental illness.
 
An online group of moms wanted to raise money to help the candy shop, but that made Indulge! owner Linda Gulman uncomfortable.
 
"I appreciate the support," she said, "But I said, give to a mental health organization if you want to help."
 
Eventually Gulman and the group came up with an idea designed to help the merchant and the growing number of youth and adults suffering from mental health issues during the pandemic.
 
They agreed to collect donations to purchase care packages of candy from Indulge!, which would then be donated to programs serving patients coping with mental illness.
 
Gulman has sold more than 150 bags since Tuesday and the phone has been ringing off the hook, Fisher reports.
 
For anyone looking to participate, all they have to do is stop by, call 617-965-7855, or email indulgesomeone@gmail.com to place an order.
 
Be back tomorrow.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.
Dine out. Take out. Shop locally. Mask up. And tip generously.

 

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