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State officials give the daily COVID-19 briefing in a livestream from Boston.

Massachusetts Unemployment Numbers Rocket to 470,000

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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 BOSTON — Massachusetts could see its unemployment rate jump from 2.5 percent to 25 percent by June. 

Gov. Charlie Baker at Thursday's daily COVID-19 briefing said an astonishing 470,000 unemployment claims had been filed in the past three weeks with 140,000 in the last week alone. 
"Typically in the course of the past six or seven months, we will get roughly seven to 10,000 new points a month," he said. "These numbers obviously are staggering. And we all know the story behind all of them is about more than just numbers because every new claim is a story of economic disruption and hardship caused by the unprecedented impact of this virus."
Public policy research group Pioneer Institute this week estimated that the state's jobless numbers — which had been below the national average for some time — could reach 975,000 by June. Once those who did not qualify for unemployment claims are calculated in, the jobless rate could reach 25.4, on par with the national rate at the depths of the Great Depression. 
The Department of Unemployment Assistance has been scrambling to service the record number of claims being filed. The governor acknowledged there have been frustrations in filing claims through the website and waiting for callbacks. 
"I want you to know that the administration is working this one hard, and we continue to expand our capacity and develop new resources to help people who are filing applications," he said, adding "We're glad the online system that we have has been able to withstand the new volume without crashing that hasn't been the case in many other states."
A move to the cloud a few years ago has aided in expanding capabilities and further efforts are being made to address shortfalls. The governor said service staff was scaled up from 50 people working in a single call center to more than 600 people now working remotely. 
"That team has made over 60,000 calls back to constituents to help them resolve their issues and get their claims and their applications processed," Baker said. "That group is now making over 6,000 calls per day. And that number will continue to trend up as we go forward."
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act is now being implemented at the state level. This allows people not normally covered by unemployment — self-employed, 1099 consultants, gig workers — to file claims. 
An additional $600 per week for individuals collecting benefits from regular unemployment compensation is also being implemented retroactive to March 29 and in effect until July. Those funds will be disbursed beginning this week. 
The DUA is also holding virtual town halls in English and Spanish to aid people in filling out claims and explaining benefits. More than 100,000 people have participated in these town halls. 
The governor also announced three new orders to strengthen medical staffing as the state prepares for a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus over the next few weeks.
• Allow graduates of international medical schools who have successfully completed at least two years of postgraduate resident medical training in the United States to be eligible for licensure.
• Allow nursing school graduates and students in their final semesters to practice in advance of receiving a license, provided that they are directly supervised by other licensed medical professionals. 
• Mandate insurers to cover all medically required costs of COVID-19 treatment in out-of-network hospitals or other medical facilities with no charge to the patient, including co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance payments.
Baker also updated on setups of 1,000 beds at the DCU in Worcester and the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for COVID-19 recovery and for providers and the homeless. 
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced the expansion of SafeLink, the statewide, 24/7, toll-free and confidential domestic violence hotline to now include resources and support for survivors of sexual assault. SafeLink will triage calls to local area rape crisis centers and create a centralized number for any survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault to call and receive services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 
The SafeLink toll-free number is 877-785-2020 and the resource is also available through 211; hearing-impaired, 877-521-2601. Advocates are available in English and Spanish and can provide translation in more than 130 languages.

Tags: COVID-19,   unemployment,   

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Berkshire Immigrant Center Celebrates National Immigrant Heritage Month

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Beginning June 1, the Berkshire Immigrant Center invites the community to honor the more than 10,000 immigrants in the Berkshires and by joining the annual observance of national Immigrant Heritage Month and helping to launch a $10,000 fundraising campaign for the center.

"During Immigrant Heritage Month, we proudly honor the many ways immigrants make the Berkshires a better place," said BIC Executive Director Michelle Lopez. "This year we are especially grateful for the hundreds of foreign-born doctors, medical technicians, nurses and staff who are caring for people at Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital, and nursing homes, and for local immigrants who are essential workers at our grocery stores, restaurants and farms."

Since March 20, BIC has raised more than $70,000 for a COVID-19 Relief Fund. Through this fund, BIC has helped more than 140 clients and their families pay for basic needs like rent and utilities.

"We know that so many local people are hurting, both our clients and our supporters, yet even during this crisis people are asking us how they can help," Lopez said.

While 100 percent of emergency relief has been passed through to clients, donations to the Immigrant Heritage Month Campaign help ensure that BIC can serve the local immigrant community in crisis and beyond, including helping immigrants become US citizens. In this year of the U.S. Census count, BIC has also worked diligently to make sure that immigrants are counted and that Berkshire communities thus receive every dollar of federal aid that they should get.

Tax-deductible donations of any amount are welcome online. Contributions can also be made by check made out to Berkshire Immigrant Center and mailed to BIC, 67 East Street, Pittsfield MA 01201.

The center remains the only program in Berkshire County that focuses exclusively on meeting the unique challenges of a continuously growing immigrant and refugee population. In 2018 BIC was named "Best Small Nonprofit" in the state by Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

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