COVID-19 community updates

Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 11, 2020

CISA, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, reports that local farms, restaurants, and other local businesses have adapted quickly and thoughtfully in response to the COVID-19 crisis so they can keep feeding and serving communities, and need support to keep it going.

Purchasing options include:

Earn HIP in April — HIP (Healthy Incentives Program) is up and running again, providing an instant rebate when you use SNAP to buy produce from participating farms. The HIP-Pioneer Valley Facebook page is up to date with participating locations.

Sign up for your CSA — Signing up for a summer farm share now is an excellent way to support a local farm and to ensure a steady flow of local veggies, meat, herbs, etc. this summer. CSA farms are making plans to adapt to whatever circumstances the summer brings, and they need your support to do it.

Farmers’ market update—– Many farmers’ markets open in April and May, and farmers’ market managers and vendors are working closely with local boards of health and other town agencies to figure out plans for this spring.

CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund is now accepting applications from farms in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties that have experienced income loss because of sales outlet closures or other disruptions due to COVID-19. The Emergency Farm Fund offers zero-interest loans to assist farmers and farm businesses struggling to meet their immediate financial needs. In partnership with the Franklin County CDC and the Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund, it offers zero-interest loans up to $25,000. The first application deadline is April 13, and a second round of applications is expected to open later in the spring.

COVID-19 resources for businesses. CISA is compiling resources found to be most useful for Massachusetts farmers and other businesses.

Get in touch. How is this affecting you, your employees, your sales? What sort of support do you need? Are you making changes to your business that CISA can help promote? Please get in touch with Devon, Zoey, or Stevie, or call the office at 413-665-7100. Staff is working remotely but will receive phone messages.

Grants for Northampton small businesses

The city of Northampton has announced plans for $125,00 in COVID-19 Community Development Block Grant Emergency Funding to help small businesses. Grant amounts will vary, with the max being around $10,000 and the lowest amount being $2,500. Valley Community Development Corporation will be administe the grant. More information is available at

New pandemic unemployment assistance

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will provide up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who are not working as a result of COVID-19 and are self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and others who otherwise would not qualify for regular state or federal unemployment laws.

These individuals will not be able to claim benefits directly through the UI Online System in Massachusetts, as of this time. The Department of Unemployment Assistance has hired a vendor to build a new platform to disburse PUA benefits. The platform is expected to begin accepting PUA claims on or around April 30.

Peole who are eligible will be receive compensation retroactively, with this benefit beginning Feb. 2 or the first week a claimant was unable to work as a result of COVID-19, whichever date is later. The last week this benefit is payable is the week ending Dec. 26, 2020.

Eligible claimants should continue to check for updates at

Payroll Protection Program

Self-employed entrepreneurs, freelancers or independent contractors in the U.S. are eligible for the Payroll Protection Program by applying through their current bank. Those who are self-employed and have no employees fall under a second part of the program. The application period for self-employed entrepreneurs who have no employees was expected to open up on April 10.

Some restrictions apply. Businesses can only get one PPP loan, and they must have been in operation as of Feb. 15.

Undocumented Workers Fund

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center has launched a fund for undocumented workers to assist them through the COVID-19 crisis. This fund assists undocumented workers in western Massachusetts who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but are excluded from unemployment insurance and other federally-funded safety net programs.

MCAS, evictions and foreclosures

The following updates comes from State Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

MCAS: The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that requires that MCAS requirements be waived for the current school year and permits the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive high school graduation competency requirements as another means to address the disruptions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.

“There have been significant educational disruptions placed on our students due to COVID-19,” said Hinds. “Minimizing the burden placed on our students right now is critical. Waiving MCAS requirements and permitting flexibility for graduation requirements are two necessary measures.”

Housing: To address the COVID-19 public health crisis and its adverse impacts on renters, homeowners and small businesses, the state Senate passed a bill that places a moratorium on all stages of the eviction and foreclosure processes.

“Massachusetts is in the bottom tier of housing affordability and rents are the third highest in the nation. The outbreak and economic impact of COVID-19 worsens the existing strain on renters and homeowners,” Hinds said.

The bill includes the following components:

■Mortgage forbearance for homeowners experiencing financial hardship from COVID-19. The Senate bill protects homeowners by requiring mortgage lenders to grant a forbearance of up to 180-days on required mortgage payments, if a homeowner submits a forbearance request demonstrating a financial impact from COVID-19.

In addition, the bill protects homeowners by prohibiting mortgage lenders from furnishing negative mortgage payment information to a consumer reporting agency and prohibits the accrual of fees, penalties or interest during the life of the forbearance granted.

■A prohibition on late fees and negative credit reporting. The Senate bill also provides renters and homeowners struggling financially with additional protections during this uncertain time and prohibits landlords from imposing late fees for non-payment of rent for a residential dwelling or small business. Similarly, the bill prohibits landlords from sending payment data to credit reporting agencies related to the non-payment of rent. These protections are available to a tenant if the tenant provides notice and documentation to the landlord within 30 days of the missed rent payment that the non-payment was related to a financial impact from COVID-19.

■The use of video conferencing or phone for reverse mortgage real-time counseling. To promote strict adherence to social distance measures during this public health crisis, the bill allows a person applying for a reverse mortgage to receive counseling conducted virtually through real-time video conference or by phone in lieu of in-person counseling until the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted by the governor.

Food bank donation

Berkshire Gas, a subsidiary of AVANGRID Inc., has made $50,000 in donations to western Massachusetts organizations providing assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was among the organizations receiving support, and received $20,000. This gifts are part of a broader $2 million commitment by AVANGRID to provide coronavirus relief and recovery in communities where its companies operate.

Dunkin’ Donuts supports nonprofits

The Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation activated $1.25 million in emergency funding to support community-based health and hunger relief organizations across the country during the COVID-19 health crisis.

The foundation announced that $30,000 of that funding has been granted to two nonprofit organizations in Western Massachusetts.

Local organizations that received funding include The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which received $25,000 in funding that will be used to purchase meal kits, and Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Inc., a food pantry serving South Hadley and Granby, which received $5,000 in funding that will be used to provide food for children and families.

The grants are making a difference by funding such vital services as emergency food boxes and meal kits for families.