State Shutting Down Child-Care Facilities, Bottle Redemption

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BOSTON – The governor on Wednesday issued an executive order requiring all early education centers and child-care providers to close effective Monday, March 23, except for those determined to be critical to maintaining services. The shutdown runs through April 6. 
The administration had initially resisted closing day-cares even as schools and preschools were ordered closed across the state. Gov. Charlie Baker has said at several press conferences that the need for access to child care was critical for health workers and front-line responders. Guidance had been issued more than a week ago for child-care facilities. 
At a COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Baker said the Department of Early Education and Care had been "spending literally the last three or four days in a pretty intense conversation with the childcare provider community generally to both scope out, which sites are most important with respect to the ability to continue to meet and support essential workers."
Those efforts included finding organizations willing to step up and could implement the advanced guidance issued by the state. The governor said the commissioner was "pretty plugged into the community" and had a good idea which organizations would be involved and where they would be located. 
According to the press release, "families who work to maintain the health, safety, and welfare of all Commonwealth citizens will receive priority access to emergency childcare programs and these centers should only be used by people who must go to work. Vulnerable children will also receive priority access and space will be made for people who must go to work but aren’t necessarily emergency personnel."
In the meantime, child-care providers forced to close will continue to receive subsidy payments to ensure they will be able to re-open and parents will not lose their vouchers. EEC will cover the cost of parent fees for subsidized families enrolled in care.
Health officials have been pushing for residents to socially distance to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus by staying home. That has resulted in the closures of stores, restaurants, schools and other organizations. 
Other orders issued on Wednesday include the suspension of bottle-return requirements to allow grocers and other retailers to manage "the unprecedented volume of customers purchasing provisions." This order from the Department of Environmental Protection and Attorney General's Office is temporarily and will also limit any contamination that potentially could occur from staff handling used beverage containers.
Consumers are encouraged to hold on to their deposit containers for redemption at a later date or to recycle those containers with existing household recycling. 
Administrative tax relief measures are also being put in place for small local businesses that have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, especially in the restaurant and hospitality sectors. This tax relief includes postponing the collection of regular sales tax, meals tax, and room occupancy taxes that would be due in March, April and May so that they will instead be due on June 20. Additionally, all penalties and interest that would otherwise apply will be waived.
Businesses that paid less than $150,000 in regular sales plus meals taxes in the year ending Feb. 29 will be eligible for relief for sales and meals taxes, and business that paid less than $150,000 in room occupancy taxes in the year ending Feb. 29 will be eligible for relief with respect to room occupancy taxes.
Baker also Wednesday signed S.2599 to provide unemployment assistance to workers impacted by COVID-19. This legislation will allow new claims to be paid more quickly by waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits.

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Pittsfield Budget Hearings Begin Next Week

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council will begin a review of the proposed $169,537,880 fiscal 2021 operational budget in early June.
The council referred the bulk of Tuesday night's agenda to the Committee of the Whole and Council President Peter Marchetti said some, if not all, of these meetings will take place remotely.
"At the moment, the meetings of June 2 and June 4 will be via Zoom and we will let folks know about the other three," Marchetti said. "But I would plan on having them all be Zoom meetings."
He said hearings will take place June 2, 4, 11, 15 and 17
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