City Looking at Expanding Sidewalks, Making Pedestrian Lanes to Help Businesses

Mayor Walsh on Monday said that the City of Boston is exploring different ways to help busi-nesses once the economy starts to reopen, including the expansion of sidewalks and possible creation of temporary bus lanes to increase bus service.

“We have been looking for ways to expand space,” Walsh said at a press conference on Monday. He said possibilities include “expanding sidewalks in business districts to help with physical distances,” and opening lanes for cyclist and pedestrian use, but “we need to do this in a way that does not cut off emergency vehicles” or deliveries, he said.

He said that when restaurants do open, they “probably won’t open at 100 percent capacity,” so exploring ways to give them more space to have outdoor dining on sidewalks is something the City is considering.

Additionally, Walsh said that the City wants to “help the MBTA if they want to increase capaci-ty for buses.” He said that right now, subway ridership is down, “but essential workers con-tinue to rely on bus routes.”

He said that when more and more people start to return to work, they might be concerned about crowded buses, so increased capacity and potential temporary dedicated bus lanes could be a solution.

He stressed the importance of retaining public safety should these things be implemented.

“We’re going to be looking at all the different ideas and reaching out to the community for in-put,” Walsh said. 

Support for Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

Walsh said on Monday that the impact on nursing homes and assisted living and similar facili-ties has been large, and “consistent with impacts we have seen nationwide.” He said that the “focus is on residents and staff struggling with uncertainty.”

He said that as of May 9, 252 Boston residents have passed away from COVID-19 across 39 facilities, representing 48 percent of the citywide total.

Walsh said that the City is in “constant contact” with administrators of these facilities every day, and worked to create staff shifts and administrative support. He said that the City will continue to support these facilities, their staff, the residents, and the families of residents.

“We see you, we are thinking about you, you are loved and valued,” Walsh said.

On Reopening

Walsh said the City “continues to have conversations with different areas on how they can open safely,” saying that “the data is key” when making decisions. As of May 12, Boston had 11,168 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 533 people had died, which was no increase in deaths from the day before.

“A day with no deaths to report is certainly a good day,” Walsh said, but said that there is still more work to do.

He said on Monday that there has been a downward trend in Boston, and “we haven’t been this low in positive cases since March. He said that while this is a good sign, the numbers have to be consistent over a period of 14 days. He said he expects the numbers this week to go up again, as last week the numbers dipped then rose again.

“May 18 is a date that a lot of people are focused on,” Walsh said, as it is the date where the governor’s stay at home advisory is set to expire, and the state’s reopening advisory board is expected to release full details for the phased reopening plan.

“We support a cautious, phased in approach” to reopening, the mayor said, adding that the City has been in contact with employers across industries in the city on a “broad and inclusive conversation with a focus on equity.”

As for City Hall reopening, he said that when the time comes, people will possibly work in shifts so as to not fill the building to its regular capacity. “We’re looking at 20-50 percent capacity,” he said, and recommended the same for other office buildings. He also encouraged people who work in offices to “think about who you’re bringing back,” such as an older person or one with a preexisting condition that is more at-risk for contracting the virus.

Resources to Assist Residents Applying for Federal Economic Stimulus Payment

Mayor Walsh on Wednesday announced that support will be provided by the Boston Tax Help Coalition to people who need help getting their stimulus payments from the federal gov-ernment.

“We know that too many of our low-income residents are having difficulty accessing the federal economic stimulus payment they are entitled to,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement. “If you are eligible under the federal guidelines and have not requested the payment, we encourage you to reach out for assistance. We are here to help make sure that every Boston resident who is eligible for this money receives it.”

Residents can check to see if they are eligible for the stimulus money before calling at https://www.bostontaxhelp.org/stimulus-payment-help/. The hotline can be reached at (781) 399-5330 or by calling 311.

“Residents with incomes under $75,000, including those with no income, may be eligible for the full $1,200 payment,” according to the City. “However, residents who do not usually file a tax return must file an application with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in order to receive their payment. Boston Tax Help Coalition volunteers and staff have been trained to assist resi-dents in filing this application with the IRS.”

Boston Resiliency Fund and Eviction Moratorium

Walsh said on May 13 that more than $30 million had been raised for the Boston Resiliency Fund, and by the end of this week, over $17 million will have been donated to 200 organizations across the City to help people most affected by the impacts of this virus.

Walsh also said that for the last two weeks, the City’s nonprofit partners have been pro-cessing applications for the $3 million that has been set aside to help with housing payments. He said that more than $800,000 has been distributed to over 300 families.

Walsh announced on Wednesday that an additional $5.5 million has been allocated to help eli-gible small businesses to pay their rent, utilities, and employee wages, on top of the $2 million that was given out to businesses last week from the City’s Small Business Relief Fund.

“More than one owner told us that these payments helped them from having to close their doors permanently,” Walsh said. The full list of recipients can be found at boston.gov.

In mid-March, a program to freeze eviction proceedings was launched, and in April, the state legislature passed a statewide eviction moratorium, Walsh said. 

“No one, regardless of income and immigration status can be evicted right now,” Walsh said. “I take my job very seriously,” he added, saying that the City carefully allocates public money to a cause and hopes that people “understand and respect it.”

He also said that he hopes to open Boston Public Schools and colleges in Boston this Sep-tember, and the City continues to work with the state and stakeholders on a framework for businesses to reopen, as well as thinking about public transportation.

“There’s still a lot that has to happen,” Walsh said.

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