Virus notes: MBTA fare revenue off $35m in March

New lines (not those kind of lines) at grocery stores, pharmacies

MBTA OFFICIALS SAID on Wednesday that they expect fare revenue to fall as much as $35 million short of budget targets in March, but the transit authority is also being squeezed financially on a number of other fronts.

T ridership has fallen dramatically, and officials said daily fare revenue, which accounts for a third of the transit authority’s revenue, is down 80 percent as of March 20.

But that’s not the only financial problem the agency is facing. The T’s pension fund, which the transit authority is required to fund if investment income falls short of targets, could take a major hit. Moody’s Investor Service reported on Tuesday that the market crash and the coronavirus epidemic will likely cause pension funds to lose 21 percent of their value on average in the year ending June 30. That’s a $1 trillion loss across the country, according to Moody’s.

“As we monitor system revenues and ridership, the T is reviewing projected expenses and developing financial projections for discussion with the Fiscal and Management Control Board and the administration,” the MBTA said.

Drawing lines at grocery stores, pharmacies

The Department of Public Health ordered pharmacies and supermarkets to set aside one hour a day for shopping for 60-plus adults and required the stores to mark “social distancing lines” on the floor six feet away from all checkout counters.

The stores are also being required to close self-serve food stations and offer shoppers hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes to clean shopping carts and frequent contact points.

Also, politically correct reusable checkout bags are no longer welcome and the single-use plastic bags they were meant to replace are now being welcomed back, at least temporarily.

Baker nudges Walsh, Walsh nudges back

Gov. Charlie Baker’s chief legal counsel Robert Ross sent a letter to local officials across the state Wednesday, gently nudging them to get rid of  any bans on construction in light of a state order deeming construction projects as essential services.

“Local policies, regulations, or directives that provide otherwise are in direct conflict with this Order and should be withdrawn,” Ross said in his letter.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh ordered construction sites to shut down for two weeks starting March 23. Cambridge has done the same.

Walsh isn’t backing down. “Due to the public health emergency in Boston and across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this pause is still in effect until further notice,” the mayor said in his own letter.

“The safety and health of construction workers and all residents of Boston is my first priority, and I am not willing to put that at risk as the virus spreads throughout our communities,” he said.

Policing food court dining

 The food court at the Longwood Galleria was allowing patrons to dine-in at socially distant tables earlier this week in apparent violation of a Baker administration order banning restaurant eating.

He’s alone, but he is dining in. (Photo by Colman Herman)

When officials at the food court, which is located in the Longwood Medical Area and attracts patrons from nearby hospitals, were asked about the apparent violation, they initially said the tables were allowed. But by mid-week the tables had disappeared.

More support for homeowners, tenants

Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday outlined a number of steps his administration is taking to prevent renter evictions and defaults on home loans during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Division of Banks urged Massachusetts financial institutions to implement a 60-day stay for any homeowners facing imminent foreclosure. The Baker administration also had MassHousing make available $5 million to the Department of Housing and Community Development for rental assistance in increments up to $4,000.

The state is also barring the termination of federal rental assistance funds under the state’s control and asking affordable housing owners to cease evictions, except when the tenant is involved in criminal activities. Several of the proposals also bar leasing entities from including any cash assistance tenants receive under the federal stimulus bill in rental subsidy calculations.

Baker said he is also working with state lawmakers on possible legislation designed to prevent people from losing their homes or apartments during the coronavirus emergency.

Stefanie Coxe, executive director of the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, welcomed the new measures, but predicted reduced hours, lost wages, and unemployment will leave many Massachusetts residents owing thousands of dollars in back rent. “To keep folks in their homes, we believe ultimately we will need additional resources,” she said in a statement.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Eastern Bank offers $10m in grants, low-interest loans

Eastern Bank said its charitable foundation will donate $3 million to area nonprofits providing COVID-19 relief, while the bank will offer $7 million in low or no-interest loans to its small business and individual customers.