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policies, regulations, or directives that provide otherwise are in direct conflict with this Order and should be withdrawn,” Ross said in his letter.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