Chamber News

May 28, 2020 Likes Comments

This 'old' problem hasn't gone away

Remember way back in the old days (i.e. March) when traffic and transportation were considered one of, if not the, biggest threats to our region’s prosperity, productivity and environment?

With some of the worst traffic in the nation, there was a growing consensus, even on Beacon Hill, that we needed to invest billions to modernize public transportation and fix our roads.
 
Turns out the public still wants the state to do something about it -- according to a MassINC poll released yesterday -- and is willing to pay for it. Seventy-four percent of the poll’s respondents voiced strong or somewhat strong support for raising new money for transportation. And 67 percent strongly support or somewhat support the Transportation Climate Initiative.
 
The poll also tracked how behaviors have changed under the shut-down and how they might change as the economy reopens.
 
The good news? People are walking and biking more. Many have discovered that work from home works for them. In fact, 41 percent of all employees in the statewide poll said they would prefer to keep working from home even after workplaces reopen, something that could greatly thin rush hour traffic, Bruce Mohl writes in this summary for Commonwealth.
 
The bad news? Forty-four percent of subway riders say they plan to use the system less going forward. Forty-five percent say they expect they'll drive more. Just a quarter of those surveyed said they would be comfortable riding the subway at rush hour.
 
Depending on how many people keep working at home, or stagger commuting times, that could spell even worse traffic.
 
Mohl notes that the poll showed that just a quarter of those with only a high school diploma have been able to work remotely, while more than 70 percent of those with a BA or further education have been able to do so.
 
Finally, 64 percent of respondents said they would support communities permanently giving over more street space to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Watertown looking to expand outdoor dining
 
Speaking of giving up space on our streets, officials in Watertown are exploring ways to help restaurants to expand outdoors this summer.
 
Expanding a restaurant’s footprint to allow or to expand seating would require a special permit rather than a more complicated variance, according to Charlie Breitrose at Watertown News. The more complicated problem will be getting the licensing approvals, which requires both local and state hearings.

The process will be much easier in every city and town if Beacon Hill lawmakers approve a bill allowing municipalities to bypass the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Or Gov. Charlie Baker might be able to accomplish the same thing through an emergency order.
 
Municipalities would also need to speed up the local approval process if we want this to happen this summer.
 
Needham buildings set for gradual reopening
 
Beginning Monday, all Town of Needham buildings, except for the Center at the Heights and Needham Free Public Library, will re-open to the public by appointment only. To book appointments, visit the Town Departments webpage .
 
Buildings will be locked and those with appointments will need to ring the doorbell for entry. Many departments offer the ability to conduct transactions by phone, online or by mail. More information here.
 
What to do if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19
 
Massachusetts requires the employers notify their local board of health if they become aware of a positive COVID-19 case at the workplace. You will likely be asked to assist with contact tracing and advising workers to isolate and self-quarantine. Testing of other workers may also be recommended.
 
Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus. Many private-sector employers with more than 10 employees are required to keep a record of and report serious work-related injuries and illnesses.
 
State warns of unemployment scam
 
State officials reported yesterday that criminal enterprises in possession of stolen personal information from earlier national data breaches have been attempting to file large amounts of illegitimate unemployment claims through the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) system. This is part of a national unemployment fraud scheme.
 
DUA has begun implementing additional identity verification measures that will temporarily delay the payment timeframe for many unemployment claims in Massachusetts.
 
Details and instructions for employers and employees can be found here. If you believe someone has applied for benefits using information fraudulently, go here.
 
That reminds me to remind you that we’re having a Zoominar about fraud protection tomorrow at 9 a.m. The timing was purely coincidental and the content is not related to this incident. But it's still important content.
 
Other unemployment news
 
Gov. Baker signed a new law this week to expand certain benefits for the unemployed and to protect employers from negative impacts to their experience ratings due to the COVID-19 crisis. The law expands the current claims period from 26 to 30 weeks of benefits for those eligible and lifts the cap on dependency benefits. Language in the law states that current crisis related claims will not be charged to an employer’s account and will not be included in the calculation of an employer’s experience rate, according to the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
 
Main Street Lending Program moving forward
 
The Federal Reserve is moving forward on its $600 billion Main Street Lending Program, an initiative that covers midsize businesses that are too large to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, the Boston Business Journal reported yesterday.
 
The Main Street initiative will serve companies with 15,000 or fewer employees and annual revenue of $5 billion or less are eligible for the program. The PPP is restricted to firms with 500 or fewer workers.
 
Unlike PPP, Main Street does not include a forgiveness feature. Loans must be paid back over four years. Principal and interest payments are deferred for a year.
 
A resource that may be a good fit for your company
 
Has your business been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? Would you like help transitioning your business into a COVID-19 sensitive marketplace? Would you like to tap into the minds of Babson’s innovative and entrepreneurial grad students?
 
Consider getting involved in Babson’s Graduate Experiential Learning Programs to leverage the knowledge of a graduate student consulting team for innovative solutions and insights – at no cost to your organization.
 
Babson is currently looking for company projects for Fall 2020 programs. Project proposals have a soft deadline of June 15. Interested? Check out the: Babson College Graduate Student Consulting Program Application or contact Sophie Gray for additional information and further conversation.
 
Finally, free for coffee this morning?
 
If you're reading this early and you’re free at 9:30 a.m. come say hello this morning at our virtual “Coffee with Lise” networking event. BYOC.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.
 
P.S. I just discovered this: If you’re a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization, check out this website listing a wide array of grant and loan funding opportunities.

 

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