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SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER UPDATES

Message from the president

November 17, 2020
As we see glimmers of hope with successful vaccine trials, we sadly continue to see upticks in COVID-19 cases. Over the weekend, New York, Washington, and the District of Columbia were removed from the list of Massachusetts lower-risk states leaving New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Hawaii as the only remaining lower-risk states. Travelers to Massachusetts from these lower-risk states or Massachusetts residents returning home from these states are not required to submit the Massachusetts Travel Form or quarantine upon arrival in Massachusetts. Travelers from all other states and residents returning home must follow the state Travel Order and complete the Massachusetts Travel Form and quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID-19 test result that has been administered up to 72-hours prior to arrival.
Maine has also updated its travel guidance and is no longer exempting Massachusetts from its quarantine or negative test requirement, joining Connecticut if staying within the state for more than 24 hours and Vermont in our immediate area.
Today, the state Senate will begin its deliberations on a proposed $46 million budget. More than 470 amendments have been filed, including an amendment by Senator Jo Comerford (Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district) to increase the corporate excise tax. Last week, the House adopted its budget and rejected a similar measure. Another amendment filed to the Senate budget would broaden the employee paid leave provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and allow workers not covered through the FFCRA to access paid sick days. Throughout this process, we have been advocating against broad-based tax increases or using the budget process to enact policy change, and we will continue these efforts on your behalf as the process moves forward. You can find a list of your Senators here should you wish to weigh in on your own on these issues.
And midnight tonight is the deadline for the Empowering Small Business Grant Program,administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation.
There is a lot to follow these days so stay tuned! In the meantime, please stay safe, stay well, #MaskUpMA, socially distance, properly sanitize, and #LoveMyLocalMA by keeping your dollars local. The coming weeks may be more difficult than we have seen in the past, and we must all come together to get through this.
Nancy Creed
President
November 13, 2020
As a result of rising hospitalizations due to COVID-19 with hospitals in central Massachusetts nearing capacity, Governor Baker announced today that the state will reopen a field hospital in Worcester to support the care of COVID-19 patients, with the potential for other field hospitals to be stood up in other areas around the Commonwealth.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health released its weekly community-level data. East Longmeadow, Holyoke, Springfield, and West Springfield have been categorized as high-risk. Both Springfield and Holyoke remain in Step 1 of Phase 3 (VIGILANT) with business closures, reduced capacity limits, and lower gathering sizes. Communities may move from Step 1 to Step 2 based on three consecutive weeks of public health data indicating a lower risk (or, by the same token, must revert back to Step 1 if the public health data determines a high risk).
As a result of recent coronavirus outbreaks associated with interstate youth hockey, the governors from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut announced a suspension of interstate competitions for public and private schools and youth hockey effective this Saturday, November 14 through year end, at least. This suspension does not apply to interstate collegiate, professional, or U.S. national team hockey activities.
Relief for Small Businesses and Local Communities
Good news for our small businesses! The Commonwealth has extended the deadline to apply for the more than $50 million of small business grants designated for businesses with less than 50 employees. These grants provide funding to cover costs such as payroll, rent/mortgage payments, utilities, and technical assistance. The deadline to apply is November 17 by midnight.
The state also announced $10 million in new grant funding for its Shared Winter Streets and Spaces program. This grant program provides cities and towns with grants as small as $5,000 and as large as $500,000 to improve plazas, sidewalks, curbs, streets, parking areas, and other public spaces in support of public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce.
Upcoming Budget Changes and Legislation
The state Legislature began tackling the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget this week with the House of Representatives passing a nearly $46 million budget. We were pleased to see that our advocacy efforts were successful and House members agreed to utilize a modest amount from the state’s Rainy Day fund, not impose broad-based tax increases, oppose the use of real-time sales tax collection, support the use of the MCAS assessment, and reject an amendment to increase the capital gains tax. The Senate will start deliberations on its version of the budget next week – a budget which is closely aligned with the House version – and the Chamber will weigh in as appropriate.
The Chamber is also reaching out to our local delegation to advocate your interests on two pieces of legislation: H4933 and S2500. These bills address how Massachusetts will achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 and currently sit in conference committee waiting for the differences in each piece to be addressed and a compromise bill to be developed. While we support the work toward a purely renewable future, we want to be sure that the business community’s interests are considered, that the competitiveness of our Commonwealth is not hindered, that this renewable future is realistic and attainable, and that access to renewable energy is available for those cities and towns that have historically been left out.
There is much work to be done over the final weeks of the legislative session, and your Chamber will continue to have a seat at the table and your voice will be heard. In the meantime, stay safe and stay well, and remember to help keep others around you safe and well, too.
Nancy Creed
President
November 9, 2020
On Friday, the Governor announced a new system for measuring the community risk of COVID-19. These changes were made to bring the Commonwealth more in line with its state peers and to better capture the subtle differences of COVID-19 transmission at the local level. The Administration hopes the new system will also better inform municipalities and school committees to help restart or maintain in-person learning.
The new system increases the threshold for a high-risk community coded as “red” on the community-level data reporting from 8 cases per 100,000 to 10 cases per 100,000. As well, the system breaks down the 351 cities and towns across the state by population – fewer than 10,000 residents, between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, and more than 50,000 residents.
The risk level of the smallest municipalities will be based on total case counts to avoid skewing the results for these small communities. More than 25 total case counts will prompt the highest-risk “red” designation. The communities in the middle population size will be deemed highest risk if they have either 10 or more cases per 100,000 OR a positivity rate of five percent or higher. Communities with the highest population size will receive the highest risk designation if they have both 10 or more cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate of at least four percent.
Under the new measurement system, 16 communities are now deemed high risk, down from 78 from the previous week’s public health data. Communities which are designated “red” for three consecutive weeks of data must revert back to Step 1 of Phase III (VIGILANT). Despite the new system, Springfield remains in the red with Holyoke and East Longmeadow downgraded. These communities must continue to operate in Step 1 but may move forward after three weeks of data indicating they are at a lower risk.
The Administration also announced new safety standards for youth and adult amateur sports activities. These standards, which took effect over the weekend, also apply to businesses in Step 2 of Phase III that operate gymnastics facilities, indoor and outdoor pools, indoor and outdoor athletic fields, courts and courses, indoor and outdoor ice rinks, indoor and outdoor tracks, indoor gymnasiums, martial arts and dance facilities, and indoor and outdoor racquet courts.
And California was removed from the list of low-risk states, now requiring visitors from that state and Massachusetts residents returning home to follow the Travel Order upon entering the state.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives will begin its debate on the state budget tomorrow. More than 750 amendments have been filed, and your Chamber will be reviewing them all and weighing in on your behalf where appropriate.
And a special shout-out to Springfield Regional Chamber Members HUB International New England, MassDevelopment, and United Personnel on being named to the Commonwealth Institute and Globe Magazine’s Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts for 2020 - OUTSTANDING!
And to all the veterans, thank you for your service!
Stay safe, stay well, socially distance, practice good hygiene, #MaskUpMA, and #LoveMyLocalMA.
Nancy Creed
President
November 6, 2020
As we await the results of the presidential election, we also await results of one race right here at home. The state representative race for the 7th Hampden District between Jake Oliveira and James “Chip” Harrington remains too close to call with some mail-in and provisional ballots remaining to be counted. As we wait and see who will fill this seat vacated by long-serving Representative Thomas Petrolati, we send our congratulations to our region's newest faces on Beacon Hill: incoming Senator Adam Gomez and incoming Representatives Orlando Ramos, Pat Duffy, and Kelly Pease. We look forward to working with them and our entire delegation to move our region forward.
The Massachusetts House yesterday unveiled its budget for fiscal year 2021. The House budget proposes to spend about $188 million more than the Governor’s revised budget. The Springfield Regional Chamber, along with a broad-based coalition of business organizations, weighed in on your behalf, and we were pleased to see that the proposed budget does not appear to include any broad-based tax increases to support this additional spending. Your Chamber’s Budget & Tax Policy Committee will take a deeper dive into the numbers and continue to advocate on your behalf as it moves through the debate process next week.
The new restrictions issued earlier in the week by the Governor take effect today. They include a revised stay at home advisory with residents advised to stay at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. with the exception of essential activities; reduced gathering size limits for private indoor and outdoor gatherings; a revised mask/face covering order, and a 9:30 p.m. end time for all gatherings, restaurant table service, liquor and adult-use marijuana, and other types of businesses. You can see the full list of closures here.
We anticipate the Governor to announce new protocols for youth sports programs this afternoon, so stay tuned next week for more information.
Due to a delay in the reporting of the town-by-town public health data, the COVID-19 Community-Level Data Map was not updated last night but will be updated today. This new data will determine what communities, if any, must revert back to Step 1 of Phase 3 (VIGILANT).
What isn’t being delayed is the Chamber’s 2021 Membership Directory. This year, to help our business community, we are offering a FREE 30-second video when you purchase a quarter-page ad or larger in the upcoming 2021 Membership Directory. This video will be used in our digital directory and will be provided to you to use as you see fit. Look for information in your mailbox next week or, if interested, contact our publisher, Chamber PG.
Other support opportunities include:
iHeartRadio is offering the opportunity to receive a free “shout out" on its local iHeart stations to encourage people to keep their dollars local. Record your message and you may get on the air!
November 12 is the last day to apply for the Small Business Grant Fund administered by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation. Businesses must have 50 or fewer employees and grants may be used for costs such as payroll, rent, and more.
November 20 is the deadline for the Taxi/Livery Partnership Grant Program. This grant program supports public transportation and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) initiatives that can be served by taxi, livery, or hackney businesses in Massachusetts. These services could include first mile/last mile connections, fixed-route shuttle service, micro-transit initiatives, incentivizing NEMT programs, and other services that taxi, livery and hackney companies can provide that meet local transportation needs, such as meal deliveries, senior transportation, and other services to be identified through outreach. Health and human services agencies and nonprofits are encouraged to apply. An informational webinar will be held November 9 for interested grantees.
We hope you avail yourself of all that is being offered to support you through these pandemic times. Stay safe and stay well and enjoy what looks to be wonderful weekend weather.
Nancy Creed
President
November 2, 2020
Since Labor Day, Massachusetts has seen a 300% growth in COVID-19 cases and a 145% growth in hospitalizations. As a result of the significant sustained increases and to disrupt these rising trends, Governor Baker announced this afternoon new restrictions to avoid hospital capacity issues or a potential reversal in the state’s reopening plan.
The Governor announced the following:
  • A revised “Stay at Home” Advisory which advises residents to stay at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. with the exception of necessary activities such as going to work, school or the grocery store.
  • Indoor recreation facilities such as gyms, libraries, museums, movie theatres, casinos, and other indoor entertainment venues must close by 9:30 p.m., as well as outdoor recreational experiences including drive-in theatres, zoos, golf facilities
  • Restaurants must end table service by 9:30 p.m. but may continue to provide dining to-go after 9:30 p.m.
  • Sales of liquor and adult-use marijuana must end by 9:30 p.m.
  • Close contact personal services such as nail and hair salons must close by 9:30 p.m.
  • Gathering size limits are reduced to 10 people for indoor private gatherings and 25 for outdoor gatherings
  • All indoor and outdoor public or private gatherings must end by 9:30 p.m.
  • A revised face covering order which requires everyone over the age of 5 to wear a mask at all times in any indoor or outdoor public space, regardless of social distancing
  • More vigorous community enforcement of the gathering order and all restrictions
The new restrictions will take effect this Friday, November 6.
Effective today, the town of East Longmeadow joins several other communities across the statethat must revert back to Step 1 of Phase 3 (VIGILANT). Businesses and organizations in these communities may not move forward to Step 2 until the Department of Public Health (DPH) weekly data indicates the community is no longer considered a “high risk” community.
Despite it not being listed as a higher risk community by the state, out of an abundance of caution the city of Easthampton’s Department Public Health has issued an order for the city to revert back to Step 1 of Phase 3.
This is a stark reminder of the impact the virus continues to have. Like many people across the state, I, too, am growing weary of COVID-19, but complacency will not serve us well. We must all continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, and remind ourselves that we each have a role to play in ensuring the health of our residents, our business community, and our economy. Please socially distance, wash your hands and #MaskUpMA. We are at a pivotal moment and our business community needs everyone’s support.
Nancy Creed
President
October 29, 2020
Connecticut updated its travel advisory to include Massachusetts as an “affected” state triggering travel restrictions.
Massachusetts residents spending more than 24 hours in Connecticut are required to complete the Connecticut Travel Form prior to arrival. Massachusetts residents are also required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival - or for the duration of their stay if shorter - or receive a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours prior to arrival in the state and provide that documentation by email to the Commissioner of Public Health. Connecticut residents spending more than 24 hours in Massachusetts within 14 days prior to returning home are also required to complete the Travel Form, quarantine or provide a negative COVID-19 test result upon their return.
This travel advisory does not apply to workers who commute back and forth between Massachusetts and Connecticut as long as they spend no more than 24 hours within Massachusetts. It also does not apply to Connecticut residents who travel to Massachusetts for work-related travel and who qualify as essential workers as designated by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency.
The travel advisory, however, does apply to students returning home to Connecticut from Massachusetts if their stay in Massachusetts was more than 24 hours.
Connecticut updates its list of “affected” states each Tuesday.
With the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, Massachusetts is reminding residents of its travel order and gathering size limits. The state has also offered its recommendations for holiday celebrations and travel but, due to increase transmission across the state, is encouraging celebrations to be limited to only people you live with or a small group of individuals with whom you are regularly in contact.
Stay safe and stay well, and, as you begin to plan your holidays, consider our many restaurants, caterers, hotels, and the like that are offering to-go holiday meals.
Nancy Creed
President
October 27, 2020
As a result of rising COVID-19 transmission rates, all indoor ice rinks have been closed for two weeks throughout the Commonwealth. Rinks may reopen on November 7. The closure does not impact college and professional teams.
Effective today, the city of Holyoke, along with 12 other communities across the state, must revert back to Step 1 of Phase 3 (VIGILANT) as a result of rising transmission rates for COVID-19. These 13 communities must roll back capacity limits at outdoor theater and performance venues from 50% capacity (limit of 250 people) to 25% (limit of 50 people). They must also reduce capacity limits at arcades, lower-contact indoor and outdoor recreation businesses, driving/flight schools, gyms, libraries, and museums all from 50% to 40%. Indoor theaters and performance venues must close, as well as roller skating rinks, trampoline parks, obstacle courses, laser tag, and escape rooms. Retail fitting rooms may only be open for businesses where operation is necessary. Indoor music performance at restaurants may no longer include wind or brass instruments or singing, and outdoor gatherings at event venues and public settings must reduce gathering sizes from 100 to 50 people. Businesses must also adhere to revised sector-specific protocols for Step 1 of Phase 3.
Communities may not move forward to Step 2 until the Department of Public Health (DPH) weekly data indicates the community is no longer considered a “high risk” community.
Springfield is the only other community in our area in Step 1 as it did not move into Step 2 of Phase 3 when it took effect on October 5 due to its incidence rate.
In anticipation of the state’s Department of Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) online leave portal going live on December 2, 2020, the Department is asking all employers to update their correct leave administrator contact information by October 31, 2020. A leave administrator is anyone within the employer who is responsible for reviewing individual leave applications. Employers/the person that submits employer taxes to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue should have received an email with the subject line “Action Required: Submit Your Leave Administrator Contact Information.” This email includes a verification code that is necessary to update the contact information.
As well, quarterly PFML contributions are due October 31, 2020.
As a result of significant fraudulent unemployment insurance claims coming in various forms, the state Department of Unemployment Insurance has issued a set of instructions to help employers notify the Department to ensure these claims are properly addressed. These instructions will support the reporting process and more timely disposition of such claims.
Lastly, the U.S. Small Business Administration has announced that Economic Injury Disaster Loans are now available to eligible farm-related and nonfarm-related entities that suffered financial losses as a result of the drought that began on September 29, 2020. Small businesses such as nurseries, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and private nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for these working capital loans under SBA declaration #16733 through June 15, 2021.
With fall upon us and the temperatures dropping, we encourage BYOB dining – Bring Your Own Blanket. Our restaurant community will need you now more than ever.
Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
October 22, 2020
Today, Governor Baker announced great news for our small business community: the “Partnerships for Recovery” plan. The plan includes $25 million in new funding for workforce development; more than $8 million for small business technical assistance; $10 million in new grants for cities and towns to make infrastructure improvements to our downtowns and Main Streets, including creating new space for outdoor dining; $10 million in operating grants to support our cultural facilities; and nearly $51 million in small business grants.
The small business grant program, which is immediately accepting applications, will be administered through the Massachusetts Capital Growth Corp. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees can receive up to $75,000 or up to three months of supported expenses for employee payroll and benefits costs, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, and interest on other debt obligations. Businesses with five or fewer employees may access up to $25,000 to cover business costs like rent, staffing, and utilities, or to purchase personal protection equipment. Applications will be accepted through November 13, 2020.
The Cultural Facilities Grant program will provide capital improvement grants for these facilities to make safety improvements and other upgrades to support their continued operations.
The Partnerships for Recovery plan also included added investments in the state’s Broadband hot spot program so that access to the Internet is available throughout the Commonwealth.
This week, the Administration also outlined the state’s draft vaccine distribution plan once a vaccine is available. This plan has been submitted to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for review.
Anticipating a limited supply of vaccines at the outset, the CDC suggests Massachusetts can expect between 20,000 and 60,000 doses to be available in the initial distribution phase. Phase 1 of the state plan prioritizes distribution of the vaccine to frontline healthcare workers, other essential personnel, and people at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 including those with underlying medical conditions and people 65 years of age. Phase 2, where additional supply becomes available, would continue to prioritize the Phase 1 populations while broadening access. Phase 3 assumes a sufficient supply is available, including a surplus. This phase of the state plan would continue to equitably broaden its distribution. The CDC planning scenarios assume some amount of vaccines may be available for distribution beginning in 2021; however, these are planning scenarios and no actual timetable has been set.
Today’s funding announcement by the Governor gives our struggling business community renewed hope while a vaccine continues to be developed. Given our poll results, we all want to get back to “normal,” not our “new normal.”
I encourage all of our small businesses to quickly pursue the grant programs; follow the health and safety guidelines; wash your hands; socially distance, #FindMyLocalMA, patronize your local businesses, and continue to #MaskUpMA. Stay safe and well.
Nancy Creed
President
October 20, 2020
Over the weekend, the Administration eased travel restrictions for visitors traveling to Massachusetts and residents returning home. California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington were added to the list of lower-risk states, joining Maine, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia. Visitors and residents returning home from lower-risk states are not required to complete the Massachusetts Travel Form nor quarantine or produce a negative COVID test administered within 72 hours prior to arrival. This is good news for our travel and tourism industry.
As well, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) adjusted its metrics for determining lower-risk states. The DPH will now consider data over a two-week period rather than one week before moving a state out of the lower-risk category into a high risk state. One week of data will remain the standard for moving states down into the lower risk category. Additionally, the threshold of daily cases per 100,000 residents will now be 10 to bring Massachusetts’ standard more in line with other states.
The City of Springfield has extended its participation in the state’s Stop the Spread campaign. The initiative provides free testing to asymptomatic individuals and will be available until January 15, 2021. While the City remains a “high-risk” community, City officials noted that private gatherings, not visits to stores and restaurants, are driving the numbers. This is a clear confirmation that our business community is following all guidance and protocols and that our businesses, restaurants and shops are safe to visit, dine in, and shop at.
In non-COVID news, the Chamber continues to review Governor Baker’s revised FY21 budget. We are looking closely at his proposal to implement real time sales tax, a complex and burdensome system which could cost businesses millions of dollars in annual operating costs and more than $1 billion in implementation costs and make Massachusetts the only state in the country to adopt such a policy change.
The East-West Rail Advisory Committee, of which we are a member, will convene on October 22 to review the final draft report from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) on its analysis, key findings, recommendations and next steps for an East-West rail system. The public is welcome to participate in the virtual meeting. A public comment period will be open for 30 days, after which the DOT will release its final report - the culmination of the Chamber’s and the Advisory Committee’s more than two years’ worth of work.
Remember to stay safe and stay well and #MaskUpMA.
Nancy Creed
President
October 16, 2020
On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) updated its COVID-19 community level data map with 63 communities listed as “red” or high risk communities. East Longmeadow now joins Amherst, Springfield, Holyoke, and Sunderland in this category in our region. Communities that remain in the “red” for three consecutive DPH weekly reports must roll back their reopening plans to Step 1 of Phase III (VIGILANT). Step 2, effective on October 5, allowed those communities not deemed a high risk to open indoor performance venues with capacity limits; increase capacity limits for outdoor performance venues, gyms, museums, libraries and flight and driving schools; open additional indoor and outdoor recreation businesses and increase capacities on others; open retail fitting rooms, and increase outdoor gathering sizes as well as allow bar seating and increased table size limits at restaurants.
The Governor also submitted his revised budget for Fiscal Year 2021, taking into account the reduced revenue collections anticipated this fiscal year. The revised budget includes level-funding for local aid as well as funding for a small business recovery programs including grants targeting minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses and funding for small business capital improvements. We are pleased to see this new funding and that his revised budget does not include new taxes or changes to existing taxes which could damage our already fragile economy. Your Chamber has been lending its voice to the budget conversations and will continue to do so as the Governor’s budget makes its way through the legislative process.
Comcast has launched Comcast Rise to provide marketing, creative, media, and technology services to qualifying small businesses owned by underrepresented groups, beginning with a focus on Black-owned businesses. On November 28, the program will expand to include Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-owned and operated businesses.
As many of you know, child care has become a significant issue for employees who are struggling to find safe, available care options for their young children as they either go back to the office or continue to work remotely.  As such, the Springfield Regional Chamber is working to collect information from employers on their employees’ childcare needs and any supports that they are either implementing or considering to assist their employees who are parents. We are asking you to complete a short survey on these issues. It will take less than 10 minutes to complete and will be completely anonymous. The results will be extremely valuable to help inform the business community, public, and policymakers about the views, interests, and needs of the employer community at a critical moment when significant consideration is being given to the immediate and long-term needs of the child care sector.
As we see an ever-increasing number of communities move into higher risk categories and our business community continues to be faced with challenges, it is even more important now to socially distance, use proper hygiene and #MaskUpMA.
Nancy Creed
President
October 13, 2020
With an uptick in COVID-19 cases across the state, primarily in people in their 20s and 30s according to the Administration, the Stop the Spread testing initiative will continue through December. The initiative provides free testing for asymptomatic individuals. The Administration also outlined the readiness measures the Commonwealth has taken and will continue to take should we see a second surge.
With the state moratorium on evictions and foreclosures coming to an end on October 17, the Administration has announced a comprehensive initiative designed to keep tenants in their homes and to support the ongoing expenses of landlords. The $171 million Eviction Diversion Initiative will expand the capacity of the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program to provide relief to renters and landlords, provide financial support to rapid rehousing programs and access to legal representation and mediation services for tenants and landlords, and support the Housing Consumer Education Centers for those facing housing emergencies. The initiative will also streamline the application processes for services and allow landlords who own less than 20 units to apply directly for available funding. Once the state moratorium ends this week, a moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will become effective in Massachusetts. The CDC moratorium runs through December and will prevent evictions for non-payment "for qualified tenants who submit a written declaration to their landlord."
The Small Business Administration released a new loan forgiveness application for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans under $50,000, as well as instructions on completing the application and an Interim Final Rule with additional guidance concerning the forgiveness and loan review processes for PPP loans. You can find this information and more also in our COVID-19 Resource Center.
The Treasury Department updated its PPP FAQ document clarifying the extension of the deferral period for borrower payments.
The IRS issued clarification that loan forgiveness amounts under the PPP are not to be included in gross income for federal income tax purposes only and lenders should not be issuing a Form 1099-C. At my meeting with members of the Baker-Polito Administration on Friday, it was noted that the Administration is looking into this issue at the state level with more information to come.
While cases continue to rise among certain demographics, this is a reminder of the potential impact this virus could continue to have as we move deeper into the cooler months and as people transition from their backyards to their living rooms. Your Chamber remains concerned for the health of our residents, our business community, and our economy overall. We encourage you to continue to #MaskUpMA, wash your hands, socially distance, and please keep your shopping, traveling, and dining dollars local. Despite all that we have done over the past seven months, we cannot let our guards down – we have come too far.
Nancy Creed
President
October 8, 2020
Yesterday, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the creation of the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group to advance its efforts to prepare to distribute a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. Comprised of medical professionals, public health experts, elected officials, community leaders, and infectious disease specialists, the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group will advise the Administration, including the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the COVID-19 Command Center, on communication, distribution, and equity issues relating to a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has broadened its seed funding geography to include the western Massachusetts communities of Amherst, Pittsfield and Springfield. Early-stage life sciences companies in all sectors including diagnostics, digital health/bioinformatics, medical devices, medtech, and therapeutics that have yet to raise their first priced round are eligible to apply. The Seed Fund Program is designed to support the development of innovative, promising life sciences companies in targeted geographies throughout Massachusetts by investing $250,000 in convertible notes. A virtual information session will be held October 27 at 10 a.m. for interested applicants.
MassDevelopment has launched a new financing tool aimed at manufacturers and commercial building owners. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) will fund energy improvements on commercial and industrial buildings, multifamily properties with five or more units, and buildings owned by nonprofits.
The state has also released its latest community-level public health data. Sadly, several communities have seen significant increases in the average daily incident rate over the last 14 days, pushing them into the high risk category. Amherst, Holyoke, and Sunderland now join Springfield in this category. On October 5, the Administration moved to Step 2 of Phase 3 (VIGILANT) in its reopening plan opening new sectors, easing some restrictions and increasing outdoor gathering sizes in lower-risk communities. Communities lose their lower-risk designation if the public health data indicates a high risk in three consecutive Department of Public Health weekly reports and will no longer be permitted to operate under the Step 2 guidance and gathering sizes. Businesses and organizations must then follow the sector-specific protocols for Step 1 and adhere to the reduced gathering sizes to Step 1 levels.
As COVID-19 cases are rising, our business community continues to need your support with the hope that they will not be required to pull back their reopening efforts. Please stay safe and well. #MAskUpMA, maintain proper hygiene, socially distance, and #FindMyLocalMA.
Nancy Creed
President
October 6, 2020
Yesterday, the Commonwealth further reopened its economy for cities and towns listed as lower-risk communities. In these communities,
  • Indoor performance venues may open with 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people
  • Outdoor performance venues may increase capacity to 50% with a max of 250 people
  • Fitting rooms may reopen in all types of retail stores
  • Gyms, museums, libraries, and driving and flight schools may increase their capacity to 50%
  • Indoor and outdoor recreational businesses such as trampoline parks, obstacle courses, roller rinks, and laser tag venues may open and increase capacity to 50%
  • Outdoor gatherings at event venues and in public settings may increase to 100 people
  • Stadiums, ballparks, arenas, and exhibition and convention centers are to remain closed
Indoor gatherings in all communities remains at 25, and outdoor gatherings at private residences and backyards remains at 50. Communities, like Springfield, not listed as a lower-risk communitymust wait to move forward until the public health data warrants.
The State also updated its travel order over the weekend removing Colorado, New Jersey, and New Mexico from its list of low-risk states. Currently, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont are considered low-risk states and do not require visitors from these areas or Massachusetts residents returning home to quarantine or produce a negative COVID-19 test upon entering the Commonwealth.
The Department of Paid Family and Medical Leave has announced that it will not make any changes to the contribution rate or maximum weekly benefit for the next year. Legislation requires a review of the contribution rate and maximum benefit each October and to adjust as necessary to ensure the program’s fund has a sufficient balance for the benefits it expects to pay out. The current contribution rate of 0.75% payroll tax and maximum weekly benefit rate of $850 will remain in place until the next annual review in October of 2021.
Your Chamber member Staples recognizes the financial challenges our members face. Through their Chamber program, they are offering discounts now through the end of the year for members.
Stay safe, stay well, and don’t forget to #MaskUpMA and #FindMyLocalMA, our businesses are counting on you.
Nancy Creed
President
October 1, 2020
Last night, the State updated its community-level data map and sadly, the public health data indicates that Springfield has been listed as a high-risk community. As a result, businesses in the City will not be permitted to move to Step 2 of Phase III (VIGILANT) on October 5 until the public health data indicates a lower risk factor and the City remains in a lower-risk category for at least three weeks’ worth of data. Communities that are not considered high risk may move to Step 2 on Monday with revised sector-specific protocols and gathering limits.
As a reminder, the state's Stop the Spread initiative has been extended through the end of October. The initiative provides free testing to asymptomatic individuals throughout the Commonwealth, including Holyoke and Springfield with the bilingual staff available.
Yesterday, your Chamber participated in the East-West Rail Advisory Committee meeting. As a member of the Advisory Committee, we are in a unique position to bring the business community’s perspective to this project analysis. The project scope has been narrowed from 12 possible alternatives to 6 and now down to 3 alternatives, all which provide rail service from Pittsfield to Boston, and we are in the final stages of comment on these alternatives. A draft report by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will be available by October 16 with a public meeting to follow on October 22, and we expect the final report to be released by November 30. Yesterday’s slide deck is available for review here.
As the third largest community in the Commonwealth and a hub for our regional economy, the news that Springfield now finds itself a high-risk municipality is disappointing for our business community; our retailers, our museums and other area attractions; our facilities which host outdoor gatherings, and for our residents and visitors alike.
From our entrepreneurs to our mom and pops to our largest employers, from our for profits to our not for profits - our businesses and organizations have been incredibly challenged throughout this pandemic. Please help them make forward progress by following the sector-specific protocols, wearing a mask, socially distancing and maintaining proper hygiene. And please continue to shop, dine and play locally. Visit our website to #FindMyLocalMA. Your efforts help them stay in business.
Nancy Creed
President
September 25, 2020
A Message from the President
Today, the Governor announced that the majority of communities across the Commonwealth may move to Step 2 of Phase III (VIGILANT) on October 5. This is GREAT news for our region, our businesses, and our economy. Cities and towns on the state’s community-level data map that are deemed high risk will remain in Step 1 of Phase III. This map will be updated on Wednesday with the most recent public health data.
This latest step forward for lower-risk communities will allow indoor and outdoor performance venues with the exceptions of stadiums, ballparks, arenas, and exhibition and convention centers to increase their capacities to 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people. Other businesses that may open to 50% capacity include:
  • Arcades and indoor recreational businesses like roller rinks, laser tags, etc.
  • Outdoor recreational facilities
  • Gyms
  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Driving Schools and Flight Schools
As well, retail stores may reopen their fitting rooms, and food courts in malls may reopen using restaurant protocols.
Gathering limits at outdoor event venues or outdoor public spaces will grow to 100. Outdoor gatherings at private residences and backyards will remain at 50 people for all communities. The indoor gathering limit will remain at 25 for all communities. Communities which are designated a high risk will be limited to 50 people at an outdoor event venue or at a public outdoor setting.
The Administration will be updating the sector-specific protocols which you can view here.
While this is significant progress, the Administration cautioned that, should the public health data warrant, communities may be required to take a step back in their forward progress. This is all the more reason to continue to wear a mask, maintain proper hygiene, and socially distance.
In addition to this great news, a new grant opportunity has come online thanks to the Massachusetts Conference for Women in partnership with the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. Fifty $5,000 grants will be presented to women-owned restaurants (at least 51% women-owned) across Massachusetts. The grant application process will be open until October 22.
While Massachusetts continues to be a leader in stopping the spread of COVID-19, the state has updated its list of lower-risk statesremoving Oregon from this list. Currently, visitors from Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, and Washington or Massachusetts residents returning home from these states are not required to quarantine nor produce a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival in Massachusetts.
Thank you to our business community, our entire region, and our residents for continuing to stay safe and well. It is through ALL of our efforts that we are able to make this progress in our economic recovery. Please continue to stay safe and well, #MaskUpMA and continue to #FindMyLocalMA and support our neighborhood businesses.
Nancy Creed
President
September 23, 2020
This morning, the Administration announced a new $650,000 grant program to support our black and brown communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19, including Springfield and Holyoke here in western Massachusetts. The MA COVID-19 Community Grant programs will provide grants between $10,000 and $50,000 for community and faith-based organizations serving communities of color to raise awareness about COVID-19 and educate populations on physical distancing, mask wearing, and other risk-reduction behaviors and activities. These grants will also promote development and provide training and messaging for staff, volunteers, and members who provide support and in-home services such as meals assistance and wellness checks to people at higher risk of severe illness. Applications are due by October 14, 2020.
The Administration issued updated sector-specific protocols for restaurants effective September 28, 2020. The new protocols increase the number of patrons at a table from 6 to 10 and allow for bar seating at restaurants with restrictions. Bar seating will be permitted as long as there are no active work areas or working staff behind the bar at least 6 feet away or there is a physical barrier separating customers from the bar space. The barrier must be at least 30 inches high with a gap at the bottom no more than 8 inches high to allow food and drink service. Standing at the bar will still not be permitted and seated parties must be spaced 6 feet apart. Restaurants may continue to reconfigure their bar area for table seating with spacing requirements.
As well, recreation amenities which were allowed in Step 1 of Phase III (VIGILANT) may be open under the sector-specific protocols for Arcades & Other Indoor & Outdoor Game & Recreation Businesses that were released September 17. Pool and billiard tables and other games involving patrons not seated at tables is not permitted in areas where food service is provided.
The new restaurant protocols also clarify that events hosted at restaurants must follow the Indoor and Outdoor Events guidance, including the capacity limitations. These limitations remain capped at 25 for indoor events and 50 for outdoor events under the revised gathering order but, as of September 28, 2020, table seating for these types of events may now accommodate up to 10 people.
This is good news for our restaurant sector as the temperatures cool, for families attending weddings and celebrations wishing to be seated together, and for those, like me, who enjoy dining at the bar of a restaurant.
While travel advisories remain in effect, Bradley International Airport offered another glimpse of hope announcing that it has expanded JetBlue service with the addition of four new non-stop routes: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco beginning December 18, 2020, and Cancun, Mexico beginning November 19, 2020. This is but another sign of what can come with our continued commitment to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, socially distancing, and practicing good hygiene.
Nancy Creed
President
September 22, 2020
Over the weekend, Wyoming was removed from the list of low-risk states. Travelers or Massachusetts residents returning home must now quarantine or produce a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering the Commonwealth. This is another stark reminder of how quickly the virus can spread as Wyoming was just recently added to the list of low-risk states.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we are seeing small signs of economic recovery. State and federal officials released the August unemployment data indicating a nearly 5-percentage point drop in the state’s unemployment rate – from 16.2 percent in July to 11.3 percent in August – the largest decrease in the country. As well, the data reported that Massachusetts employers added 51,600 jobs last month with the largest gains in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and trade, transportation, and utilities. Here in our region, the unemployment rate saw a similar decrease – from 16.5 to 11.5. This is good news for all of us.
As we follow this critical economic data and hope for a positive trend, just this morning the Senate Revenue Working Group convened to further its work to review opportunities to modernize the tax code and to develop a set of recommendations for closing the state’s budget shortfall. Our recent poll suggests that respondents are split as to their appetite for an increase in the income tax as one tool to close this shortfall. As a member of this this broad-based Working Group, we are in the room and will continue to lend your voice to the discussion. We know our regional economy continues to be fragile, and we will work hard on your behalf for protect it.
In the meantime, the best way we can support our economic recovery is to stay safe, stay well, wear a mask, wash your hands, and support your local businesses. #MaskUpMA #FindMyLocalMA
Nancy Creed
President
September 17, 2020
The Administration announced additional tax relief for our restaurant and hospitality sectors. Sales, meals, and room occupancy taxes for qualifying businesses for March 2020 through April 2021 will not be due to the state until May 2021, and those that wait will not face any penalties or interest. Without the change, these taxes would have been due this month. Any businesses that paid less than $150,000 in regular sales plus meal taxes or less than $150,000 in room occupancy taxes in the year ending February 29, 2020 will qualify for relief. Businesses that do not qualify but have meals tax and room occupancy tax obligations will have late-file and late-pay penalties waived. This is welcome news for these hard hit sectors.
Locally, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has requested relief for the City’s restaurant sector and has asked its License Commission to waive the 2021 liquor license renewal fees for restaurants and pouring establishments. The Commission is expected to take this request up at its meeting next week.
Worcester, Nantucket, Plainville, Saugus, Tyngsborough, and Wrentham have been added to the list of high-risk communitieswhere COVID-19 cases and transmission rates have been persistently high and which require new supports to bring the rates down. As cases in some communities continue to rise, the Stop the Spread strategic testing initiative has been extended through October. The initiative provides free testing of asymptomatic individuals.
To continue to keep our economy moving from reopening to recovery, MassDevelopment has announced another round of funding under its Site Readiness Program to help municipalities get larger development parcels ready for activity. The program offers grants to finance land acquisition, feasibility studies, master planning, environmental permitting, site improvements, and other work and is geared toward boosting investments in industrial and commercial projects, and supporting the conversion of abandoned sites and facilities. Responses to the request for proposals are due by Nov. 12.
As we continue our path toward recovery and with flu season on the horizon, it is even more important for our forward progress to stay local, visit your neighborhood shops, enjoy local outdoor dining and wear a mask, social distance, and maintain good hygiene. #MaskUpMA #FindMyLocalMA
Nancy Creed
President
September 15, 2020
Today, the Governor announced the Commonwealth met a new milestone – more than 3 million tests conducted with more than 2 million people tested and the second lowest COVID-rate in the country. This is great news as we move into the cooler months and as schools reopen, lending hope to our continued economic recovery.
New Mexico has been added to the lower-risk states so travelers and returning residents neither need to quarantine upon arrival nor provide a negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival. However, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware have been removed from this list requiring these travelers and returning residents to adhere to the travel order.
On September 30, the U.S. Census Bureau will close its data collection. Every 10 years, the Bureau conducts a national survey to determine how many people are living in the United States and in each state. This count determines how many representatives each state will have in Congress for the next ten years and how much federal funding communities will receive for roads, schools, housing, and social programs. With the current economic crisis and an estimated $6 billion shortfall in the state’s budget, it is even more critical today to participate so that we can continue to fund necessary programs and services. If you haven’t already completed your census form, I encourage you to be counted and to share with your employees the importance that they be counted, too.
With the estimated shortfall in the state budget and no federal support in sight, the Legislature will need to find ways to close that gap. Your Legislative Steering Committee and its Budget and Tax Policy subcommittee are anticipating what options the state could deploy – from borrowing to use of its “rainy day” fund to the broad-based income tax to specific tax policy changes. As these conversations take place, know that your Chamber is in the room where it happens representing your needs and interests.
Stay safe and stay well and be counted – now more than ever.
Nancy Creed
President
September 11, 2020
Yesterday, Governor Baker announced another $5 million in Massachusetts Department of Transportation and federal CARES Act funding for the state’s Shared Streets and Spaces program. This new allocation will provide additional grants to municipalities for improvements to sidewalks, curbs, streets, on-street parking, and off-street parking to help create space for socially distant retail, dining, and walking. To date, grants have been used to expand sidewalk capacity for retail, increase safe spaces for walking and biking on streets, and to purchase jersey barriers and heaters and special lighting to support outdoor dining. Municipalities have until September 22 to apply for funding. If your business has an innovative idea, we encourage you to speak with your municipal economic development team to take advantage of the program.
The Governor signed executive order to extend the time frame for municipal permitting for expanded outdoor dining so that restaurants can continue to provide this dining experience and extend their outdoor season.
As well, the Governor signed an executive order to allow indoor and outdoor arcades to open next week with sector specific protocols. These businesses were slated to reopen in Phase 4 (NEW NORMAL) when development of a vaccine and/or therapy is available.
Here in our own backyard, the City of Springfield announced that permitting will now be allowed for individuals seeking to hold tag sales. Restrictions will be in place including face coverings, limits on the number of people at a tag sale, gloves, and more.
All this good news is encouraging for our continued recovery and demonstrates that we are all working together to live, work, and play safely by socially distancing, continuing good hygiene, and wearing a mask.
Stay safe and well this weekend and please remember to “find your local” and shop, dine, and travel in and around your neighborhoods to support our local businesses and our regional economy.
Nancy Creed
President
September 9, 2020
Over the weekend, Massachusetts added Oregon, Washington and Wyoming to its list of low-risk states which do not require quarantine for travelers or Massachusetts residents returning home, bringing the total of exempt states to thirteen. This is not only good news for our travel and tourism industry, but signals a continued reopening of our national economy.
The Administration announced today that the city of Framingham has now been added to the communities where COVID-19 cases and transmission rates have been persistently high and which require new supports to bring the rates down. While eastern communities may continue to be hit harder by the pandemic, the Governor commended the city of Springfield as it continues to see success at keeping its levels at bay. This is significant to our regional economy and speaks to the commitment of our community as a whole.
Yesterday, Senate Republicans unveiled a new version of its stimulus COVID-19 relief bill but reports indicate there is not enough Senate support for passage. The bill would allow small businesses to receive additional funding from the Paycheck Protection Program and it would provide expanded unemployment benefits and funding for schools, contact tracing, and vaccine development. However, the bill does not provide funding for states and municipalities. This funding is critical for Massachusetts to continue to maintain programs and services without significant cuts. As well, with unemployment at an all-time high, businesses could be facing a significant increase come 2021 in unemployment insurance taxes as the UI trust fund may be confronted with a multi-billion shortfall. The Legislature is looking at freezing the UI rates to support the business community as they recognize an increase would be detrimental to our recovery, but a freeze could only be made possible through federal support. We will continue to watch this issue and weigh in on your behalf.
As always, stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
September 4, 2020
In anticipation of the holiday weekend and with COVID-19 cases and transmission rates persistently high in five eastern communities (Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lynn, and Revere), the Governor announced today new support for these communities. An enhanced communications strategy, in collaboration with the COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Team, municipal leadership and community organizations, will be deployed to raise further awareness of the health and safety measures necessary to bring these rates down. The campaign will include enhanced advertising communications, multilingual field teams, phone and text outreach, as well as a new website. The Commonwealth is prepared to deploy these resources to other communities if the public health data warrants.
And with just months to go before the Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits begin, the Department has developed an employer toolkit to help employers understand the new benefits program, employer requirements, employee communications, and more. The Department is also developing a new benefits portal for employers and employees to determine eligibility and manage benefits. On January 1, 2021, benefits will be available for paid family leave in order to bond with a new child, to address needs relating to a family member who is a covered service member of the armed forces, and paid medical leave for personal serious health conditions. On July 1, 2021, the benefits program will be extended to include paid family leave to care for any family member with a serious health condition.
As we head into a long weekend for many, I send a special thanks to our business community and our residents. Given our region is not impacted in the same way as those communities in the eastern part of the state speaks volumes to the efforts and support of all of you as we #MaskUpMA. We ARE in this together and our public health data demonstrates just that.
I hope you have an opportunity this weekend to take some time to safely enjoy family and friends and to safely shop, dine, and travel local.
Stay well this Labor Day.
Nancy Creed
President
September 1, 2020
As they say in the business, Friday was a busy day behind the news desk.
The Administration updated its Travel Order guidance to add Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the list of lower-risk states, joining Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Vermont. Travelers and Massachusetts residents returning from these states are not required to fill out the Massachusetts Travel Form and do not need to quarantine.
The Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and Lever, Inc. have announced the COVID-19 Health & Safety Challenge, the third in a series of innovation pitch competitions to identify and grow solutions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The Challenge will select established Massachusetts companies to participate in a five-week accelerator with the potential for winning a $25,000 prize to kick start commercial development. Solutions can include UV disinfecting technology; air purification & ventilation technology; sanitization tunnels/booths; smart fabrics; innovations for restaurants and offices; touchless payment technology; touchless door openers, elevator panels, etc.; social distancing monitors; or other innovation that can help slow the spread of COVID-19. Final submissions are due on Friday, September 18th.
The IRS published an updated Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness FAQ document with respect to interaction between the PPP loan and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. It also issued an Interim Final Rule covering owner-employees, certain rental and mortgage interest payments, and related-party rent.
The IRS also issued minimal guidance on the Payroll Tax Holiday which takes effect today. Signed by President Trump under Executive Order, the Payroll Tax Holiday defers the employees’ portion of payroll tax from September 1 through the end of the year with payment due April 30, 2021 before penalties kick in. Employers also have the option of making other arrangements to collect the deferred taxes. Given what little guidance has been issued, employers should seek advice from their accountant.
Last weekend’s sales tax-free weekend kicked off the statewide MyLocalMA advertising campaign to encourage people to shop, dine, and travel local. By keeping your dollars local, you are not only supporting our local economy, you are helping to create jobs. In last year alone, more than 53,000 net new jobs were created by our local small businesses. Your Chamber is pleased to support this new campaign, and we hope you do to.
So stay safe, stay well, and stay local. Our poll results show that it is working.
Nancy Creed
President
August 27, 2020
Today, Governor Baker, Chairman Neal, and Springfield’s Mayor Sarno officially launched the $51.3 million Elm Street Redevelopment and Preservation Project. Through a unique public/private partnership with funding made possible by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, MassMutual, MGM, the Commonwealth, OPAL/Winn Development, Pioneer Valley Building Trades, and state and federal tax credits secured by the Chairman, the project will restore and transform the former Court Square Hotel building and the Byers Block into 74 new market rate and workforce housing units as well as ground floor retail for restaurant, retail, and commercial space. This project was a critical component of the revitalization of downtown Springfield coming out of the Urban Land Institute study which your Chamber supported and is a key investment in the City’s Court Square Urban Renewal Plan. The project which has been in the works for nearly 25 years is expected to be completed in 2022.
Amidst the challenges we continue to face with COVID-19, today we see a bright spot in our economic future. Today, we have a reason to celebrate.
Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
August 25, 2020
The Governor has announced that the state’s application to FEMA for grant funding under the Lost Wages Assistance Program has been approved. This Program, signed through Executive Order by President Trump, provides eligible unemployment recipients with an additional UI benefit. Massachusetts claimants will receive $300 per week for three weeks: the week of August 1, 8 and 15.
The Administration officially launched the sales tax holiday weekend. On August 29 and 30, most retail purchases up to $2,500 will not be subject to the Massachusetts sales tax. This is a critical economic development tool and one which strengthens our retail sector. The Governor also announced a new $2 million statewide “MyLocalMA” advertising campaign to run this weekend through the end of the year to encourage people to dine, shop, and travel locally. Your Chamber is part of this initiative, so help us spread the word by downloading a toolkit of logos and badges to show your business is part of this movement.
The Administration has also announced it will extend its wireless internet program to the end of the year. The program provides free wireless hot spots to 26 rural Western Massachusetts communities that lack high-speed internet to support individuals and students working and going to school remotely.
MassDevelopment has announced a new grant program specifically for taxi, livery, and hackney operators. The Taxi & Livery Business Support Grant Program will provide grants of up to $50,000 for expenses associated with improving the competitiveness of these businesses and enhancing safety capabilities, including dispatch systems, technology-enabled ride-hailing systems, safety enhancements, workforce training programs, business consultant services, and other equipment. Transportation is critical to our economy, so this is good news for these small businesses.
We encourage you take advantage of the tax savings this weekend and to stay local, eat local, shop local and remember to stay safe to help keep our economy growing. #MaskUpMA
Nancy Creed
President
August 20, 2020
As the Commonwealth prepares to bring students back to school, the Administration has announced new initiatives to support a safe and healthy return to the classroom.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has announced that the flu vaccine will be required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, and K-12, as well as colleges and universities. Students will be expected to have received the vaccine by December 31, 2020 for the 2020-2021 flu season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. Students in K-12 who are home schooled and students in higher education who are remote learning only and completely off-campus are also exempt. This new flu immunization requirement to enter school in January is in addition to existing vaccine requirements for all those attending child care, preschool, K-12, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Elementary and secondary students in districts and schools that are using a remote education model are not exempt.
A new rapid response mobile testing program will be launched to support municipalities in need of rapid testing at schools as a result of multiple cases of COVID-19. Guidance on how to request support will be issued prior to the school year.
The Stop the Spread initiative will extend through the end of September. This program opens strategic testing locations to asymptomatic individuals at no charge. These sites join hundreds of other testing sites across the Commonwealth that are open to individuals who have symptoms of or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Yesterday, your Chamber submitted testimony to the Joint Committee on Education opposing a moratorium on the MCAS on the basis that we believe it will diminish the progress we have made and hinder future progress in closing the racial and socio-economic achievement gaps. As education continues to be challenged by COVID, the MCAS is the only statewide solution we have at our disposal to assess student academic growth, and it is a critical tool for schools and policymakers - especially now given the disruptions student learning has faced and will continue to face.
And a special shout-out to Chamber member Square One for making its debut on the national stage as the backdrop for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s remarks at last night’s Democratic National Convention.
As we wind down the summer, remember to stay safe and stay well so that our kids can get back in the classroom and get back to learning. Our future workforce depends on it.
Nancy Creed
President
August 18, 2020
Today, the Governor announced the expansion of free COVID-19 testing sites as part of the Commonwealth’s Stop the Spread strategic testing initiative to include Holyoke, Salem, and Saugus. Through September 12, asymptomatic individuals can be tested free of charge to help stop the spread of COVID-19. These additional communities were identified because cases and positive test rates far exceed the statewide average, and the volume of testing being conducted has declined significantly over recent months.
These three cities join 17 other communities throughout the Commonwealth, including Agawamand Springfield here in our region. As well, Springfield has added additional locations to its testing capacity.
As a result of significant disruption in the food supply chain, the Commonwealth awarded more than $3 million in new grant support to provide local farmers, fishers, food banks, and more with funding to invest in technology, equipment, increased capacity, and safety protocols so that the food grown and caught in Massachusetts reaches all residents.
This morning, the Springfield Regional Chamber met with its colleagues on the Senate Revenue Working Group to begin looking at the state’s budget deficit and find collaborative and innovative ways to close that gap. While our business colleagues across the Commonwealth agree that we must avail ourselves of all the tools in our toolbox to balance the state budget, we are not naïve to the fact that raising revenue is one of those tools and has been used in past recessions. We lent our collective voice to ensure that any consideration of raising revenue must be done simply and in a fair and transparent manner; must recognize the varying economies across the state and support regional equity; must prioritize job creation and job retention; and must maintain our state’s competitiveness and  must be temporary. And we lent our collective voice to ensure that raising revenue is not the only tool that can be used and that the business community, which is already suffering, must not bear the sole burden.
While we continue to reopen safely, we still have a long way to go to get our economy back on track, and your Chamber will continue to work on your behalf.
Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
August 14, 2020
Yesterday, the Commonwealth updated its guidance for residents who live along the Rhode Island border, exempting certain activities such as visiting a doctor or attending to the care needs of a family member. Low-risk states that do not currently fall under the state’s Travel Order include Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Vermont, and New Jersey. Hawaii has since been removed from the list.
On Monday, new guidance will take effect for youth and adult amateur sports activities. This guidance issued by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs covers K-12 school and other youth sports activities. It applies to organizations, businesses, schools, and government entities that operate outdoor or indoor sports facilities such as athletic fields, courts, other playing surfaces, pools, and sailing and boating facilities.
The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts has launched a new round of grant funding for nonprofits impacted by COVID-19. Stabilization Grants of up to $50,000 will provide general operating support to nonprofits who demonstrate a financial need as a result of the pandemic. These organizations must be in or serve Hampden, Hampshire or Franklin Counties, with a preference to those that serve the most vulnerable populations in the region, work to advance equity and opportunity, and have deep roots in the community. Deadline for applications is September 1.
Springfield has announced a delay in the implementation of its plastic bag ban. The ban was set to take effect June 1 for larger retailers and December 1 for smaller retailers but was suspended under the Commonwealth’s emergency orders. The city will now implement this ban for retailers of all sizes on January 1, 2021. At that time, retailers will need to either switch to recyclable paper bags, compostable and marine-degradable plastic bags, or reusable checkout bags as defined by the ordinance.
While we continue to follow all things COVID-19, we encourage you to do the same. Stay safe, stay well, socially distance, practice good hygiene, join your colleagues in wearing a mask, and enjoy the weekend.
Nancy Creed
President
August 12, 2020
Updated restaurant sector-specific protocols and new limits on size gatherings took effect yesterday. These protocols now further defining “restaurant” and what is considered food prepared on site as well as requiring a food order to be placed with an initial alcoholic beverage order.
The new gathering restrictions reduce the number of individuals to 50 for an outdoor gathering while keeping the cap on indoor events at 25. These limits apply to private and public spaces, as well as events hosted at restaurants under the sector-specific protocols for indoor and outdoor events.
Face coverings and six feet of separation are now required at all events when 10 or more people from different households are in attendance. This includes gatherings on private property.
The Governor announced that the Commonwealth will now publish enhanced data to identify the infection level of each of the 351 communities across the state. This new public health data will be published on a weekly basis in an effort to raise public awareness, further identify where clusters have occurred and - through contact tracing – why, and to provide this additional information to municipal officials to help them control the spread within their city or town. Thirty-three communities across the state have been identified as having a medium or high risk of infection. In our region, these communities include: Belchertown, Chicopee, Granby, Holyoke, Longmeadow, Northampton, and Springfield. The state will work with each municipality to develop additional enforcement and intervention mitigation strategies unique to each community to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The Small Business Administration has opened its Payroll Protection Program loan forgiveness portal to area lenders. While additional guidance is expected, businesses and organizations that received PPP funding should work directly with their lender. The SBA has issued a new FAQ document on loan forgiveness. You can find this information as well as the loan forgiveness application and more in our Resources Center of our Web site.
And with back to school around the corner, Comcast has announced additional Internet service support to help low-income families have access to remote learning.
With 60% of small businesses across the state seeing revenue reductions of at least 25%, nearly half reporting revenue reductions of 50% or more*, our business community is already in a challenging position. With infections on the rise in some communities in our area and the potential for mitigation measures which could include future rollbacks, we can help the business community and our economy by staying safe, staying well, and following the guidance.
Nancy Creed
President
August 7, 2020
The Governor today announced that the Commonwealth has indefinitely paused progressing to step 2 of Phase 3 (VIGILANT). This updates comes as a consequence of an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases and escalation in noncompliance with the state guidance.
Sadly, the businesses that were waiting to be allowed to reopen in Phase 3 must now wait until the public health data warrants a change.
The Baker Administration has also decreased the size limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 people to 50. Size limits on indoor gatherings remain unchanged: based on square footage and capped at 25 people. These rules not only apply to businesses but also to gatherings on private property.
Guidance for restaurants has also been updated. The new guidance further defines “restaurants” and requires them to follow the Indoor and Outdoor Events guidance, including the capacity limitations.
These changes become effective on August 11.
Furthermore, the Governor has announced new state and local police enforcement efforts to ensure compliance, including significant fines for violations. A new COVID-19 enforcement and intervention team will be deployed into key communities determined as high risk. The communities will be announced next week and will be determined based on public health data.
This is all troubling news for our businesses and our recovering economy. While the Governor recognized the hard work and efforts of most, he acknowledged that the spread of the virus cannot be contained without everyone’s commitment.
For the sake of all of our businesses, please follow the sector-specific guidelines, travel only when necessary, socially distance, follow good hygiene, and wear a mask. Our economy is counting on all of us to pull together for the common good.
Nancy Creed
President
August 5, 2020
On Friday, both the House and the Senate agreed to extend their formal sessions. According to the joint rules governing the Legislature’s work, formal sessions end on July 31. Given COVID-19 and the significant pieces of legislation before them, both chambers agreed to suspend the rule and to continue to hold formal sessions through the end of the year. With proposed bills on economic development, health care, police reform, climate change, and transportation infrastructure still on the table, this is welcome news. These major pieces of legislation are critical to our continued path towards recovery. Each chamber has put forth their legislation, and conference committees have been set to find common ground.
The Legislature and the Administration also agreed to fund local aid and school aid at FY20 levels for FY21 and to provide an additional $107 million in school aid to cover inflation and enrollment factors. With municipalities across the state facing uncertainty about their own budgets and what state supports will be provided, this commitment will allow local governments to continue to deliver the essential services that drive our economy.
When it comes to COVID-19, the Governor has made it clear that if our positive infection rate continues to rise as a result of noncompliance with the health guidelines, we may see changes to size gatherings or additional restrictions placed on businesses. Stay well. #MaskUpMA.
Nancy Creed
President
July 30, 2020
Today, the Governor announced significant progress in the state’s efforts to find a vaccine. The Governor announced that Pfizer, Inc. in Andover has reached the final stage in its work to manufacture a vaccine and has launched an experimental testing program of 30,000 individuals with testing sites to be located in the Commonwealth. Since the Governor has said that we must wait for COVID-19 treatment before moving into Phase 4, this is welcome news.
As a reminder, the Commonwealth’s new travel order will take effect Saturday along with updated workplace standards and sector-specific protocols. Please be sure to review your specific sector should any changes be required.
As we continue to monitor COVID-19 adjustments and our reopening progress, we are closely following the latest legislation coming out of both the Massachusetts House and Senate. Both chambers have passed economic development and health care bills. As there are differences in each chamber’s proposed bills, they will need to find common ground to create final pieces of legislation. Your chamber is taking a deep dive into both bills and weighing in where needed.
As the weekend comes upon us, remember to stay safe and stay well and wear a mask. Our economy is counting on it.
Nancy Creed
President
July 27, 2020
Yesterday, Governor Baker announced 8 additional communities to serve as test sites as part of the Administration’s Stop the Spread Initiative: Agawam, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Springfield, Taunton, and Worcester. Through August 14, asymptomatic individuals can be tested free of charge to help stop the spread of COVID-19. These communities have been identified because cases and positive test rates far exceed the statewide average there, and the volume of testing being conducted has declined significantly over recent months.
As well, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced a delay in the reopening of schools to provide a 10-day period for districts to prepare for reopening school buildings. School districts must begin providing instruction to students by September 16, but can apply for a waiver if they cannot meet that requirement.
And your Chamber is making plans of its own for the fall. Planning is underway to bring you valuable virtual information and, using your feedback, the content you want. Stay tuned as we fine tune our programming for the months ahead.
While we are hopeful that we can resume in-person programming at some point in 2021, we must all remain vigilant over the coming months to make this possible. Continue to follow the guidelines, social distance where possible, wear a mask, and please continue to support your Chamber and your business community. We must all work together to stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
July 23, 2020
Yesterday, Governor Baker released the first round of grant funding to support food security efforts across the Commonwealth. 26 food sourcing organizations were awarded funding to provide access to fresh, local ingredients. Organizations in our region receiving funding include area schools, Red Apple Farm, Stone Soup, Chestnut Lot Farm, Pioneer Valley Growers Association, Clarkdale Fruit Farms, and Harvest Farm. Rich in agriculture, western Massachusetts was well positioned to receive funding. This is not only welcome assistance for our residents needing access to food, but welcome support for our struggling farmers.
The Administration also announced a new online platform to link food system channels and connect businesses with these local systems. MassGrown Exchange, which will be fully operational on July 29, is open to businesses looking to sell and purchase Massachusetts products and services. Sellers and buyers include farmers, fishers, wholesale specialty food producers, service and equipment providers, restaurants, retail outlets, grocery stores, and more. This is but another way to support our local economy.
We continue to watch activities on the federal level as Congress continues to negotiate the next stimulus package. Another extension of the Payroll Protection Program, liability protections for businesses, state and local aid and return-to-work incentives could be part of the Senate proposal. Time will tell.
In the meantime, continue to stay safe and stay well. And if you have a moment and think our value warrants it, the Springfield RegionalChamber would kindly ask for your vote in this year's Reader Raves Poll. We could all use something to rave about.
Nancy Creed
President
July 21, 2020
Yesterday, the Springfield Regional Chamber hosted Assistant Majority Leader Joseph Wagner for a virtual House Town Hall. Leader Wagner provided his insights into the activities of the House over the last few months and what we can expect over the remaining days of the legislative session. He discussed the challenges businesses are facing as a result of COVID-19, including childcare, transportation, and liability protections. With just 10 days left in the session, he was cautiously optimistic that we could see a final economic development bill, police reform legislation, and transportation bonding, but noted that the Legislature’s number one priority was the state budget. With an estimated $6-8 billion deficit, he suggested that, without significant federal support, the state may not likely see the same level of funding for services in the upcoming budget. Leader Wagner also teased a potential bill coming out on Friday so stay tuned.
While Representative Carlos Gonzalez was scheduled to join the event to provide an overview of the priorities of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, of which he chairs, Rep. Gonzalez got called into an unexpected caucus meeting and was unable to attend our Town Hall. We are hopeful to reschedule.
Last night, the Governor signed legislation allowing restaurants to sell mixed drinks to go with their takeout and delivery orders. With a projected 25% of restaurants closing as a result of COVID-19, this will provide some much needed revenue.
While businesses across the region continue to face workforce challenges heightened by the pandemic, your Chamber has joined forces with chambers across the Commonwealth to form the Massachusetts Businesses Coalition on Skills to develop policy solutions for filling current and future skills gaps.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Commission revised its draft regulations and issued a “save the date” for a virtual hearing on August 3. Among the changes: retail and packaging disclosures about vape products, licensing flexibility for delivery licenses; ability to add new groups to the Social Equity Program; patient expansion for medical marijuana caregivers; and bankruptcy regulations.
Lastly, we have been notified that the Massachusetts Department of Paid and Family Leave will be issuing its final regulations with an advance copy. Among the issues clarified: intermittent leave, the use of telehealth, covered individuals who are unemployed, retaliation, and the waiting period. Beginning January 1, 2021, employers will be required to provide paid family leave benefits for employees bonding with a new child, managing family affairs when a family member is on active duty in the armed forces, to care for a family member who is a covered service member, and paid medical leave benefits will be available for serious personal health conditions. Full benefits take effect July 1, 2021.
So while COVID-19 may be top of mind, there is plenty of other business challenges needed to be addressed, and we will continue to work on these and all the issues that matter most to you and our economy. Stay safe and stay well.
July 16, 2020
Today, the Governor announced an additional $20 million in community development block grants funded through the CARES Act for eligible communities. This additional support will help our small businesses, especially our micro-businesses (less than 5 employees) which have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. This is welcome news and much needed support.
Yesterday, we hosted nearly all of our region’s Senate delegation at a virtual Town Hall to hear directly from our legislators as to what is happening on Beacon Hill. Senators Comerford, Hinds, Lesser, Velis, and Welch joined nearly 100 Springfield Regional Chamber members to provide legislative updates as to the issues that they are working on. They discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the state budget and the overall economy; legislation moving through the process including the transportation bond bill, regional ballot initiatives, funding for higher education, and an economic development bill. They addressed the challenges impacting our business community – from liability to unemployment insurance, childcare to financial support. It was clear from their comments that they understand the business community’s challenges, are listening to our concerns, and are responding to our needs. We are at a critical point in our legislative process with COVID-19 impacting every aspect of our lives, but we are encouraged by these signs.
On Monday, July 20 at noon, we will host a House Town Hall. Assistant Majority Leader Joseph Wagner, the dean of our regional delegation and the highest position of power in our region, will join Representative Carlos Gonzalez as chair of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus to provide their take on Beacon Hill. Engagement in the legislative process has an impact, and I encourage you to participate.
In the meantime, please continue to remain vigilant. Follow the guidelines. Socially distance. Wear a mask. Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
July 14, 2020
Yesterday, the Governor commended the continued efforts of businesses and residents alike to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He noted that the state remains at a low 7-day rolling average of under 2 percent. To continue that low rate, the Administration launched a new compliance Web portal which will allow residents to report non-compliance of the safety protocols in an effort to promote accountability

 

While Boston entered its Phase 3 (VIGILANT) yesterday, Massachusetts state courthouses took a step forward with the physical reopening of state courthouses and court facilities. While most business will continue to be conducted virtually, entry will be allowed for those attending in-person proceedings; conducting business with a clerk’s, register’s, or recorder’s office; meeting with probation officials, and conducting business at other open offices in the courthouses. COVID-19 screening, including screening questions and a temperature check, will be completed prior to anyone entering a courthouse, and face masks and social distancing will also be required.

 

In another step to “normalcy,” the Massachusetts Department of Public Health rescinded its ban on reusable bags at grocery stores – a step that was implemented at the start of the pandemic. Shoppers may now bring their own bags when they shop.

 

We continue to follow COVID-19 related legislation and were pleased to see the Senate pass its version of a new restaurant relief bill which would allow restaurants and bars the ability to sell “to-go” mixed drinks in addition to beer and wine. The House passed a slightly different version. The House and Senate will now come together to find common ground – which, if passed, would be additional support for this struggling sector.

 

We also breathed a sigh of relief for our nonprofit sector. Both Congress and the Senate passed the Protecting Nonprofits from Catastrophic Cash Flow Strain Act of 2020. The CARES Act included a provision that guaranteed the federal government would cover 50-percent of the unemployment benefit costs that self-insured nonprofits are required to pay to their state. However, the Department of Labor issued guidelines in April that said self-insured nonprofits must first pay the state the full amount owed before receiving a reimbursement – putting a significant financial burden on these nonprofits. The bill clarifies the intent of the CARES Act that the federal government would cover the nonprofit percentage upfront prior to their payment to the state. The bill will now go to the President for signature, and it is expected to be signed.

 

And while our focus may still be on COVID-19, we continue to cement our stand against racism and racial inequality, joining forces with our statewide partners to commit ourselves to this fight.

 

While Phase 3 will be with us for some time, we must remain vigilant and stay safe, stay well, wear a mask, and shop local.

 

Nancy Creed
President
July 9, 2020
Yesterday, Governor Baker announced a new testing initiative to reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in communities that are above the state average in total cases and positive test rate, and have experienced a decline in testing levels since April. The initiative will provide free testing sites in Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford. These communities make up approximately 9% of the Commonwealth’s population, but have seen 27% of the Commonwealth’s positive tests in the last two weeks.
The statewide positive test rate over the past two weeks is approximately 2%, but in these eight communities, 8% of tests have been positive. Despite the continued elevated spread in these communities, total testing in these communities has declined 39% since the end of April, and the total cases as a percentage of population for these communities is nearly double the state average.
While these sites may be in these eight communities, the sites are open to all residents of the Commonwealth. The Governor noted that this new testing initiative could expand to other communities should the public health data warrant.
Continue to remain vigilant, wear a mask, and stay safe and well – the public health data demonstrates that our efforts in western Massachusetts are working.
Nancy Creed
President
July 7, 2020

On Saturday, while many were enjoying Independence Day celebrations, President Trump signed legislation extending the deadline for applications for the Payroll Protection Program through August 8. While more than $500 billion in loans were issued, approximately $130 billion in funding remains available. On Monday, the Small Business Administration reopened its application process. With the July 15 federal tax deadline looming, employers should speak with their tax professional about the Employee Retention Tax Credit and its interplay with the PPP program.

Yesterday, the Commonwealth officially entered Phase 3 (VIGILANT) further opening up the economy. Also on Monday, Governor Baker signed legislation expanding mail-in and early voting for the fall. The legislation will allow any voter to cast a ballot by mail without the need to qualify for an absentee ballot. All residents of the Commonwealth will receive a mail-in ballot for the primary election and another for the general election. The new law also allows for early voting for both the primary and the general elections. August 22-28 will be the early voting period for the September primary with October 17-30 for the November general election. While the public health data continues its positive trend, this new law is aimed at not only ensuring maximum participation in the voting process but to minimize the COVID-19 risks.

The Administration also issued new guidance to expand testing of asymptomatic individuals at the discretion of an individual’s health professional. With more than 1 million tests administered to date, Massachusetts remains at the forefront in its testing capacity, its contact tracing program, and -- most importantly -- its low positivity rate.

Continue to follow the public health guidelines, and we can continue to remain a leader.

Stay safe and stay well.

Nancy Creed
President

June 30, 2020
Today, Governor Baker amended the travel advisory for the Commonwealth, effective July 1, 2020. The advisory, which directs travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days, now exempts Massachusetts residents returning home as well as travelers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and New Jersey. With the holiday weekend approaching, this is good news for our hospitality, lodging, and tourism sectors. I encourage you to check out our region’s Convention and Visitors Bureau to enjoy what western Massachusetts has to offer or visit the web sites of the chambers of commerce and visitors bureaus where you may be headed.
The Administration also announced the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance program, a $20 million fund to support emergency housing for families in need. Eligible low-income families struggling to pay their rent or mortgage can apply for assistance through Wayfinders in Springfield, Berkshire Housing Development Corporation in Pittsfield, and Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority in Turners Falls.
In addition to housing assistance, a new round of collaborative workspace grants is available. Established co-working spaces can receive up to $100,000 to purchase equipment or make improvements necessary to support the COVID-19 sector-specific safety protocols, allowing them to continue to fuel our innovation economy. Applications must be submitted by August 10, 2020.
As we await word as to the next phase of our reopening, continue to stay safe and well, and welcome visitors to our region and our Commonwealth.
Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
June 25, 2020
Today, the Commonwealth took another step towards reopening. The Administration issued its initial guidance for the safe return of our students to school this fall and the safety protocols required. Face coverings, socially distancing, smaller class sizes, and lunch in the classroom will become the norm. School districts will be required to draft three options for their reopening to include a mix of in-person and remote learning, exclusive remote learning, or a full-scale return to school. In the coming weeks, additional guidance will be provided to schools and districts.
We recognize and appreciate the challenges our teachers, school districts, and educational leadership faced to quickly employ remote learning. We understand the hurdles our employees faced while juggling the needs of working, parenting, and teaching. We appreciate the challenges our employers faced when balancing the needs of their employees with the needs of the business.
The disruption caused by the pandemic and the pivot to digital learning further illuminated our region’s digital equity gaps, achievement gaps, and disparities across the region and the Commonwealth. Reopening our school systems will make significant progress on our journey to COVID-19 recovery, but we will need to work together so that our student population can get back on track without leaving a generation of students behind.
We continue to hear of new grant opportunities for our small businesses. Some of the Springfield neighborhood councils are stepping up grant programs for businesses within those councils' geographic footprints. I encourage Springfield-based businesses to reach out to your neighborhood council to discover what opportunities may be available.
To better support the positive trajectory of our economic path, we want to be sure that we are developing economic recovery programs and policies that are informed by the real needs of our business community. And so, we have partnered with MassINC Polling Group and organizations across the state to conduct an important statewide survey about how the coronavirus has impacted small businesses in Massachusetts. We’re asking for your input to ensure our work is informed by your current needs.
The survey is targeting small businesses with 500 or fewer employees and is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and Mandarin. It should take less than 10 minutes of your time and will be open through July 6.
Today, we will join some of the nation’s top business leaders to discuss closing the opportunity gaps in four critical areas: education, employment, entrepreneurship, and the criminal justice system. We all must work together, not only regionally, or even statewide, but on a national basis to move all parts of our community and economy forward.
Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President

Quickly Evolving News

June 23, 2020
A Message from the President
Yesterday was an exciting day for our business community with many businesses coming back online for the first time along with our restaurant community being able to expand to indoor dining. The Administration will now monitor the next two weeks of public health data to make its determination as to when Phase 3 (VIGILANT) will begin. We can all support the reopening efforts by continuing to wear a mask, socially distance, and follow sector-specific guidelines.
The Administration also announced a tax-free holiday on the weekend of August 29 and 30. Retail items of up to $2,500, purchased in Massachusetts for personal use on these two days, will be exempt from sales tax.
The deadline is fast approaching for businesses to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program. All applications for the Program must be submitted by June 30.
The SBA has posted a new streamlined process to apply for the forgiveness of the PPP loan along with an EZ version for eligible businesses. To be eligible for the EZ version, businesses must be:
  • Self-employed and have no employees; OR
  • Did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25%, and did not reduce the number or hours of their employees; OR
  • Experienced reductions in business activity as a result of health directives related to COVID-19, and did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25%.
Continue to visit our Online Resource Center for additional information about funding programs, reopening support, and more.
Stay safe, stay well, and stay cool.
Nancy Creed
President
June 12, 2020
Today, your Chamber held its annual meeting – for the first time, virtually. Typically, this in-person meeting doubles as a grand celebration of our collective success. But, clearly, nothing is typical anymore. While anything pre COVID-19 seems like a distant blur, it is important that we still remember what we have accomplished together to drive the economic vitality of our region.
As your Board Chair Mark French remarked, coming into this pandemic, we were well positioned to weather the economic impact of COVID-19, due in part to adding 61 new members. We completed our second year of our three-year strategic plan, accomplishing more than 80% of our identified tactics; graduated our second cohort of RiseUp Springfield, our small business development program; held our first-ever cannabis conference to support this new economy, and launched a new website, which, now more than ever, will be critical to our members for accessing valuable information.
And then came COVID-19.
Within three days of the Commonwealth formulating a Command Center, your Chamber moved to remote operations without any glitches. We pivoted the Leadership Institute class of 2020 to an entirely online program; hosted more than 10 virtual events; developed a COVID-19 communications plan with over 50 valuable outreach messages while initiating a Good Newssection to market member businesses. We initiated relevant polling questions to attain the pulse of the business community, which has been used by all media outlets; connected members with more than 1.5 million pieces of PPE; met with the Baker/Polito Administration on a weekly basis; was the only area chamber that presented to the Reopening Advisory Board; launched a Spanish-language section of the website; developed a comprehensive Guide for Reopening, saving members thousands of dollars in time, energy, and consulting fees; identified more than 100 resources for businesses; completed more than 1,500 outreach calls and emails to members to check-in and offer assistance where possible; advocated for legislation supporting local businesses through this crisis, and participated in every single press conference held by Governor Baker all in just 12 weeks' time.
But our work is not done.
Today, the Baker/Polito Administration announced a new municipal grant program to support the efforts of municipalities in creating safe outdoor dining and commerce spaces for our struggling restaurant and retail sectors.
The Federal Reserve has expanded its Main Street Lending Program to make it possible for more small and midsize businesses to receive financial loan support.
National Grid and Eversource have doubled their incentives on energy efficiency programs, agreeing to pay up to 100% of these programs for small businesses.
Statewide workforce training fund grants are available to help employers and employees adapt to the new workplace.
And we have partnered with MassInc. to survey businesses on commuting and remote work to ensure that the Commonwealth develops strategic and smart transportation policies for our region moving forward. I encourage you to lend your voice to this process.
We may have a ways to go, but we will continue to be there alongside you.
Congratulations to our newly-elected Board of Directors, and thank you to all of our members. I am humbled by your continued support of our work.
Nancy Creed
President
June 6, 2020
Today was a great day for our business community, our visitors and our Commonwealth.
The Governor announced the onset of Phase 2 (CAUTIOUS).
As of Monday, June 8, restaurant, lodging, retail, childcare, summer camps and more will reopen under the new guidance required for each industry sector.
As well, preventative health care services may resume and sector-specific protocols for close contact personal services such as nail salons, massage therapy, personal training and other sectors not otherwise addressed in Phase 2, have been issued. These sectors, along with indoor dining, will be allowed to reopen later in the phase. The public health data will continue to guide when we take the next step in Phase 2.
Springfield has released its notice, application, and guidelines for restaurants interested in providing outdoor dining to customers. While the permitting process may take some time, Mayor Sarno has committed his administration to expedite the process as best it can while maintaining the safety of all involved. Applications and supporting documentation should be emailed. If a restaurant does not have access to email, an appointment may be made to drop off the application by calling the Licensing Department at (413) 787-6140.
We also learned of two new grant opportunities. The Red Backpack Fund will provide grants up to $5,000 for support majority-women owned and led businesses and nonprofits. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, in partnership with MassDevelopment, has launched a new grant program for state and municipal agencies that coordinate transportation services; regional transit authorities, and Health and Human Services Transportation providers
MassMutual, in partnership with Western New England University, joined the COVID Relief Coalition to provide free legal support to small business and nonprofits.
And Peter Pan buses are hitting the road again.
Continue to stay safe and stay well. Continue to follow the guidance so that we can continue to make progress.
While we still have a ways to go, today was a great day.
June 4, 2020
Last night, the Payroll Protection Flexibility Act was passed. The Act, which will now go to the President for signature, makes changes to the original PPP program by:
  • Extending the eight-week loan term, now allowing borrowers 24 weeks to use the PPP funding in order to be eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Lowering the threshold of the required loan forgiveness payroll percentage from a 75/25 ratio to 60% or more of payroll and up to 40% on other costs.
  • Extending the covered period from June 30 to December 31
  • Extending the loan repayment period from two years to five years
  • Allowing borrowers whose loan is forgiven to be able to defer payroll taxes
This much-needed flexibility is a welcome relief to our small business community who continues to be challenged by COVID-19.
We took another step yesterday towards our reopening with Governor Baker releasing guidance for outdoor sports, and indoor facilities for sports camps to open in Phase 2 (CAUTIOUS). This will be welcome news for the youth of our region and this sector of our economy. Guidance was also released for golf facilities to expand their operations in Phase 2. On Saturday, Governor Baker is expected to announce when this next phase will begin.
Your Chamber is working with the City of Springfield for restaurants to reopen in Phase 2 for outdoor dining. We expect the City to finalize its application process no later than tomorrow, June 5. In an effort to streamline the process, applications will be submitted to the City’s Licensing Commission via email. The Commission will then convene all appropriate City departments in an effort to quickly move an application through the process. Applicants will not need to apply through the state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission; no public hearings will be required, and most fees will be waived.
While the City is still finalizing the application details, applicants will be required to provide a layout of the proposed outdoor space, note what safety barriers will be used to keep patrons safe if the outdoor dining will use on-street parking, sidewalks, etc., and include letters of support from landlords and neighboring businesses should the space needed be on properties not in direct control by the restaurant or spill out onto adjacent properties. If restaurants are proposing street closures, there will be an additional step in the process to work through those details. Restaurants which are currently licensed for outdoor dining/alcohol consumption will still need to apply as the permit will cover the new COVID-19 restrictions. We will post more information and the link to the application in our Resource Center once it is available.
When we met about this virtually yesterday, I was encouraged to see our City leaders working side by side with our restaurant community - committed to a successful reopening. It was clear that we are all working together.
Continue to stay safe and stay well.

A Brief Pause for In-Person Programming

All around us, our region is taking action to minimize the spread of COVID-19. In congruence with the guidance of Governor Baker as well as the actions of other chambers and organizations, the Springfield Regional Chamber will pause in-person programming until May 1, at which point we will determine next steps.

We intend to reschedule our current events, including Fire & Ice, the Mayors' Forum and our Beacon Hill Summit, when it is safe to do so. Just like you, we are taking this situation seriously and day-by-day.

BUSINESS DOESN'T STOP... AND NEITHER DO WE

Business hasn't stopped, and your Chamber hasn't either. Our legislative advocacy work in Boston continues. Board and Committee meetings will continue virtually. And our staff will continue to work, be it in the office or from home, to serve our members during this challenging time.

A NEW STRATEGY

New developments call for a new strategy. To that end, we're refocusing some of our resources to support digital member and community engagement.

Be on the lookout for webinars, our regular newsletters, as well as exciting member stories and engagement opportunities on our social platforms. We will continue to build community and support commerce, even "from home.”

REFUNDS

We will be processing refunds for anyone who has already purchased admission to events previously scheduled in the near future: Multi-Chamber Speed Networking Breakfast, Mayor's Forum 2020, Fire & Ice, Beacon Hill Summit 2020.

Thank you for your patience and support, and please reach out to us with questions or concerns.