BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is asking the federal government to issue a major disaster declaration for Massachusetts to get more federal assistance to help with the the COVID-19 outbreak.
Baker has also requested access to several aid programs provided under a disaster declaration, including funding for crisis counseling and disaster unemployment assistance. He said the federal aid, if approved by President Donald Trump, would supplement state and local recovery efforts in areas affected by the virus.
"We hope to see the feds move quickly on this so that we can get those resources deployed to residents as soon as possible," Baker told reporters at briefing on Thursday.
In a letter to Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Baker wrote that the state has already spent more than $28 million on personal protective equipment for health care workers alone.
"I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and local governments, and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary," Baker wrote.
The state was previously approved for a small business disaster declaration that paved the way for low-interest federal loans to qualifying business owners and nonprofits. Businesses may apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
A major disaster declaration is generally ordered in the wake of natural disasters, such as major storms and flooding events.
Trump has approved disaster declarations for other states that have been hit hard by the coronavirus including California, Texas and New York.
If the declaration is approved, aid would be administered by FEMA from a nationwide pot of $42 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund.
Disaster unemployment assistance allows workers who aren't eligible for traditional unemployment benefits, such as Uber drivers and other gig economy workers, to receive 26 weeks of benefits if they can attribute their job loss to spread of the coronavirus.
"There are tens of thousands of workers who are ineligible for the regular unemployment insurance program, including self-employed and contract workers or individuals who work for covered ... employers who do not earn enough wages, many of whom are working for food and other service occupations that have been hit hard," Baker wrote to FEMA.
Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, three days after Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts. Baker has also closed schools, bars and restaurants, ordered non-essential businesses to shut down, banned gatherings of 10 or more people, and called up the National Guard to help with the state's response.
Massachusetts has more than 2,417 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 25 deaths from the virus as of Thursday night.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.