Daily News

LOWELL — At a press conference at UMass Lowell yesterday, Gov. Charlie Baker outlined initial plans to invest in roads, bridges, public transportation, and environmental infrastructure projects across the Commonwealth with $9.5 billion in funding from the recently passed federal $1.2 trillion infrastructure law.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law will deliver billions in funding to the Commonwealth, helping to build on the investments our administration has made over the past seven years to improve our roads and bridges and make our public transportation system more reliable and resilient,” Baker said. “We are grateful for the efforts of the congressional delegation to secure this funding for Massachusetts and look forward to working with them and our local partners to deliver critical projects across the Commonwealth.”

Distributed over five years, the $9.5 billion in total funding to the Commonwealth includes $5.4 billion in highway funds, $2.2 billion in MBTA funds, $591 million in Regional Transit Authority funds, and $1.4 billion for environmental work.

The federal law also includes $66 billion to address the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, expand intercity rail service, and make improvements to the nation’s freight rail system. Massachusetts intends to work with Amtrak to compete for funds to invest in service improvements between Springfield and Worcester as an initial step to expand service between Boston and Albany, Baker said, noting that his administration plans to advance a transportation bond bill in the coming weeks that will include matching funds for the new federal infrastructure money.

“We are going to figure out some way to take our … state capital dollars and some of the [federal COVID-19 relief] money that’s been appropriated by the Legislature to compound some of the opportunities that are associated with a lot of these resources,” Baker said, according to the Boston Globe. “There’s going to be a lot of money going to work for the people in Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Jamey Tesler added that “significant investments are going to be made in transportation infrastructure thanks to both reauthorized and increased federal funding within the federal bipartisan infrastructure law, and these investments will be transformational. I want to thank members of the congressional delegation for delivering this new funding and express appreciation to state legislators, municipal leaders, planning organizations, and stakeholders who will partner with us to advance the Baker-Polito administration’s FY 2023 budget, advance the transportation bond bill to be filed soon, and support MassDOT as we identify and scope projects which can be accelerated.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — After a two-year delay caused by the pandemic, the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) announced that the 2022 Howdy Awards for Hospitality Excellence will be held on Monday, May 16 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

“We are both thrilled and confident that our event will go off smoothly in May,” GSCVB President Mary Kay Wydra said. “After all the adversity our industry has endured and overcome since March 2020, we’re very eager and excited to salute the most welcoming, professional, and guest-friendly people in this region’s hospitality sector, as nominated by the very people they’ve impressed. And of course, we’ll be saluting our tremendous resilience and determination at the same time.”

The Howdy Awards were first celebrated in 1996, designed to acknowledge the essential role that superior customer service plays in creating positive visitor encounters, and encouraging return trips, glowing online reviews, and positive word of mouth. Thus, Wydra pointed out, the 2020 event would have formally marked the prestigious program’s 25th anniversary.

“Right now, we’re also making our final call for nominations,” she added. “Anyone can nominate a candidate who’s demonstrated outstanding customer service in the categories of Accommodations, Beverage, Attractions, Banquet, Food Casual, Food Tableside, Public Service, Retail, and Transportation. It’s easy to do on the GSCVB website, and we encourage people to make nominations in multiple categories; you are not limited to only one candidate.”

Nominations for the 2022 Awards must be received by Tuesday, March 1. Enter online at www.explorewesternmass.com/howdy-awards.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums announced a call for nominations for the 31th annual Ubora Award and the 12th annual Ahadi Youth Award. These prestigious awards, conferred by the African Hall Subcommittee, honor African-American people from Greater Springfield who have — above and beyond — demonstrated commitment to the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, and/or the arts.

The African Hall Subcommittee is a volunteer group comprised of educators, business people, and community leaders from the African-American community. The nomination deadline for both awards is Thursday, March 31.

True to the Swahili word that comprises its name, the Ubora Award recognizes an adult of African heritage who exemplifies excellence in their commitment to creating a better community through service. In 2021, the Ubora Award was given to Robert “Cee” Jackson as an exemplary philanthropist and humanitarian.

Named for the Swahili word for promise, the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who excels in academics and performs admirable service to the Greater Springfield community. Eligible candidates must be age 19 or younger, live in or have strong ties to the Greater Springfield area, and be currently enrolled in grades 10, 11, or 12. In 2021, the Ahadi Award honored Tigist Dawit Terefe for her remarkable civic-minded volunteerism and outstanding academic record.

The Ubora and Ahadi awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in September. Nominations forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. Nominations may be e-mailed to [email protected] or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Karen Fisk, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Wild-game dinners started decades ago at the Student Prince and the Fort as a treat for the regulars. Former owner Rupprecht Scherff heard the call of the wild from his customers and started game-night dinners to please local hunters and anyone with a curious palate.

The tradition continues in 2022 as the Student Prince and the Fort present Game Month throughout February. It includes two Hunter’s Dinner Nights on Thursday, Feb. 10 and Thursday, Feb. 24.

“We are wild about Game Month at the Student Prince and the Fort,” Assistant Manager John Perry said. “This year, our Hunter’s Dinners are in honor of the late Rudi Scherff. We are commemorating the dinners with limited-edition collectors pins.

“Hunter’s Dinners were Rudi’s favorite time of the year. Our fondest memories are him walking through the restaurant wearing his German hat filled with pins from every dinner from years past. We are honored to celebrate Rudi and keep this tradition alive on Fort Street,” Perry continued. “We introduced wild-game dinners to our customers many decades ago, and today, we’re still cooking the most decadent game dishes you will ever try. We hope to welcome you and your family, local hunting groups, sportsmen heading this way for the Springfield Sportsmen’s Show, and anyone who loves a unique culinary experience. Come try a taste of the wild.”

A special Game Month menu (in addition to the house menu) will be available all month and feature appetizers such as deep-fried frog legs. Entrées include a game wurst trio with pheasant, rabbit, and venison; bison; buffalo ribeye; and the locally famous student Prince veal shank. Hunter’s Dinner menus include an assortment of table appetizers and a six-course dinner. Courses include deep-fried frogs legs, pheasant and venison sausage, duck legs, poussin, and buffalo ribeye, followed by a flaming dessert.

Reservations are recommended and can be made online at www.studentprince.com or by calling (413) 734-7475.


New Year, Same Virus

By Alexander J. Cerbo, Esq.

As we enter a new year, our lives remain subject to COVID-19 and its variants. With cases surging across the country, vaccination has become a thing of the past as booster shots have become all the rage. Tired, worn out, and frustrated with this seemingly never-ending pandemic, it is important that employers remain vigilant of important COVID-related updates which may impact their workforce and, ultimately, their bottom line.


OSHA/CMS Litigation

At the end of 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued vaccine mandates that would have impacted nearly 100 million American workers. The OSHA mandate required employers with 100 or more employees to implement a written policy requiring vaccination or weekly testing. The CMS mandate would have generally required vaccination of employees that work in healthcare facilities which receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

Alexander J. Cerbo

Alexander J. Cerbo

“It may be advantageous for employers who wish to mandate vaccination to require booster shots.”

In a major win for businesses across the country, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the OSHA mandate, concluding that the agency overstepped its authority as COVID-19 is not strictly an occupational hazard.

The Supreme Court’s stay is not a final ruling on the topic. The OSHA mandate continues to proceed in the lower courts, and the court left the door open for narrower regulations. Also, the court did allow the CMS mandate to proceed. The agency, in a recent memo, advised employers that their healthcare workers must be “fully vaccinated” (either two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) by Feb. 28.


Vaccine Mandates

Besides OSHA and CMS, private employers can implement their own vaccine mandates if they wish. They may want to consider whether they want their employees to be ‘fully vaccinated’ as currently defined, or if they want their employees to be boosted as well. It may be advantageous for employers who wish to mandate vaccination to require booster shots. Early research suggests booster shots decrease the severity of symptoms, allowing those who contract the virus to recover more quickly. This, in turn, will allow employees to return to work sooner. Some exemptions do apply, including religious objections or a disability accommodation.

In addition, employers should continue to stay abreast of any updates relating to state and federal employee/contractor mandates. Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order issued last August, requiring all state employees to be fully vaccinated, remains in effect, as does the executive order issued by the Biden administration in September requiring vaccination for all federal contractors and subcontractors.


At-home COVID Tests and Healthcare Coverage

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just authorized use of over-the-counter, at home COVID-19 tests. The departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury collectively released FAQ guidance expanding upon existing requirements for group health plans to cover the cost of these tests, so long as they are taken for diagnostic purposes.

This will impose a major financial burden on self-insured employers, as they must now cover the cost of these tests either directly or through subsequent reimbursement. To incentivize direct coverage, group health plans may limit reimbursement from non-preferred pharmacies, or other retailers, to the lesser of $12 per test or the actual cost of the test if the plan provides direct coverage both through its pharmacy network and a direct-to-consumer shipping program.

Further, a group health plan may limit the number of at home COVID tests covered for each participant to no less than eight tests per 30-day period (no limit if the healthcare provider orders or administers the test following a clinical assessment).

As the pandemic evolves, employers need to carefully consider these and other COVID-related updates in order to adapt and operate accordingly.


Alexander Cerbo is an attorney who specializes in labor and employment-law matters at the Royal Law Firm LLP, a woman-owned, women-managed corporate law firm that is certified as a women’s business enterprise with the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office, the National Assoc. of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council; (413) 586-2288; [email protected]


Shot Down

By John S. Gannon, Esq., and Erica E. Flores, Esq.


John S. Gannon

Erica E. Flores

Erica E. Flores

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of the most significant employment-law decisions in recent memory. In a decision that appeared to be driven (at least in part) by political ideologies, the six conservative justices of the court ruled against the Biden administration in the back-and-forth legal battle over an emergency temporary standard (ETS) issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

If it had gone into effect, the ETS would have required workers at companies with 100 or more employees to either be fully vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 at least weekly. According to the court’s majority, however, OSHA likely does not have the authority to issue such a mandate.

“Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID-19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases,” the court wrote. “Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”

Technically, the ETS is not dead — at least not yet. The court did not rule directly on whether the ETS is legally unenforceable. Instead, the court reinstated a hold on OSHA’s ability to enforce the ETS while litigation is pending elsewhere in lower courts.

“Employers have good reasons to consider implementing a vaccine mandate or ‘shot or test’ rule voluntarily.”

U.S. Secretary of Labor (and former Boston Mayor) Marty Walsh issued a forceful statement attacking the decision. “OSHA stands by the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard as the best way to protect the nation’s workforce from a deadly virus that is infecting more than 750,000 Americans each day and has taken the lives of nearly a million Americans,” he said. “The common-sense standards established in the ETS remain critical, especially during the current surge, where unvaccinated people are 15 to 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated people. OSHA will be evaluating all options to ensure workers are protected from this deadly virus.”

Walsh’s statement mirrored the dissenting opinion of the three liberal-leaning Supreme Court justices, who argued that COVID presents a “grave danger” to millions of employees and that the ETS is “necessary” to address these dangers.

It remains to be seen whether OSHA will continue to try to defend the ETS in court or withdraw the ETS entirely. Even if OSHA is successful in lower courts, the ETS appears to be doomed once those cases reach the Supreme Court. President Biden’s executive order requiring employees of federal contractors to get vaccinated is also on hold by court order, and its chances of survival look to be pretty slim.

But the ETS is not the only tool available to OSHA to help stop the spread of COVID in the workplace. Indeed, OSHA still has the power under its ‘general duty clause’ to penalize employers that fail to provide a workplace free of hazards that are likely to cause serious harm. Businesses with low vaccination rates and lackluster masking policies could conceivably get cited by OSHA under the general duty clause if it is clear to the agency that COVID is spreading in the workplace. In addition, private parties have filed numerous wrongful-death lawsuits against businesses where employees and/or their family members died of COVID that is believed to have originated in the workplace. Accordingly, employers have good reasons to consider implementing a vaccine mandate or ‘shot or test’ rule voluntarily.


Different Ruling for Healthcare Facilities

And even if the OSHA ETS and the federal contractor executive order are doomed, another Biden administration vaccine mandate is very much alive. Indeed, on the same day the Supreme Court blocked OSHA from enforcing the ETS for large employers, the court ruled that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) does have the necessary regulatory authority to require many healthcare facilities to mandate the COVID vaccine for all staff members.

Under the restrictive CMS rule, all employees, licensed providers, contractors, trainees, and volunteers of most Medicare- and Medicaid- certified providers and suppliers must be fully vaccinated for COVID, regardless of whether they perform their duties within the actual facility or provide care directly to patients. The rule covers a host of healthcare providers, including (but not limited to) hospitals, programs of all-inclusive care for the elderly, long-term-care facilities, intermediate-care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, home health agencies, comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities, community mental-health centers, and clinics, rehabilitation agencies, and public-health agencies as providers of outpatient physical therapy and speech-language pathology services.

When does the CMS rule go into effect? Covered facilities must demonstrate that all non-exempt staff have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 27, and that all staff are fully vaccinated by Feb. 28. CMS will consider staff to have been fully vaccinated by the Feb. 28 deadline even if it has not yet been 14 days since they received their final dose. Booster doses are not required, but are recommended.

Covered employers must also develop policies and procedures to document and track staff vaccinations, assess requests for exemptions in accordance with federal law, and collect proper documentation of the need for a medical exemption, and must implement additional safety precautions for any staff members who are entitled to a religious or medical exemption. CMS has not offered substantive guidance as to when an employee or other staff member may be entitled to such an exemption, choosing instead to refer covered facilities to guidance published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

To avoid civil penalties, denial of payment, and even termination from the Medicare and Medicaid program, covered employers that have not already taken steps toward compliance with the CMS interim final rule should act immediately to develop and implement the necessary policies and procedures, determine staff vaccination status, collect required documentation, and assess requests for religious and medical exemptions.

When in doubt about requested exemptions, employers should also consider consulting experienced employment counsel, who can offer guidance and advice about when an exemption may be legally required for medical or religious reasons and when such an exemption can be lawfully denied.


John Gannon and Erica Flores are attorneys at the law firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. in Springfield; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]; [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services

The People Have Spoken

Dan Moriarty (left) and Michael Rouette

Dan Moriarty (left) and Michael Rouette say it’s important to give customers a say in which nonprofits Monson Savings Bank supports.


The numbers speak for themselves: 3,500 votes, 373 nonprofits, $15,000.

That’s roughly the number of Monson Savings Bank (MSB) customers who cast votes in the bank’s 12th annual Community Giving Initiative, the number of different nonprofits they wanted to receive donations, and the total money being given to the top 10 vote getters.

“Each and every organization is a well-deserving nonprofit, and it is clear why they were chosen by our community members,” said Dan Moriarty, president and CEO of Monson Savings Bank. “Each nonprofit provides tremendously valuable resources to our communities and their residents.”

The 2022 winners of MSB’s Community Giving Initiative, announced two weeks ago, include Academy Hill School Scholarship, Behavioral Health Network, I Found Light Against All Odds, Miracle League of Western Massachusetts, Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, and Women’s Empowerment Scholarship, all based in Springfield; Rick’s Place and Wilbraham United Players, both based in Wilbraham; Link to Libraries Inc. of Hampden; and Monson Free Library in Monson.

“There are so many nonprofits doing great work, but we don’t know them all; we couldn’t ever know them all.”

“It follows our philosophy of giving back to the local communities. Our local communities help us, so we try to find ways to continually give back, and there are various ways to do that,” Moriarty told BusinessWest.

“There are so many nonprofits doing great work, but we don’t know them all; we couldn’t ever know them all,” he added. “So this is a good way to reach out to the community and all the nonprofits out there by having their followers introduce them to us. It’s been great, and very well-received. We’ve received thousands of votes every year for nonprofits people think are doing worthy things. That’s why we started it, and why we continue to do it.”

MSB isn’t the only bank running such a program, however; other banks have involved the community in giving initiatives as well, perhaps none longer than Florence Bank, which launched its annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program 20 years ago. Voting runs to the end of each December, and recipients are celebrated in May.

Unlike MSB’s program, which features a set number of recipients and equal funding to all winners, Florence gives grants to all organizations receiving at least 50 votes and distributes the money ($100,500 last year) according to their share of the votes — in last year’s case, more than 7,000 votes in all.

Last May, those funds went to Dakin Humane Society, Cancer Connection, Friends of Forbes Library, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, $5,000 each; Our Lady of the Hills Parish, $4,837; Belchertown Animal Relief Committee Inc., $4,326; Friends of the Williamsburg Library, $3,815; J.F.K. Middle School, $3,303; Riverside Industries Inc. and Friends of Lilly Library, $3,146 each; It Takes a Village and Goshen Firefighters Assoc., $3,107 each; Edward Hopkins Educational Foundation, $2,989; Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, $2,556; Northampton Neighbors, $2,399; Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Granby Senior Center, and Friends of Northampton Legion Baseball, $2,281 each; Northampton Community Music Center and Community Action, $2,202 each; Friends of M.N. Spear Memorial Library, $2,084; Safe Passage, $2,005; R.K. Finn Ryan Road School, $1,966; and Historic Northampton and Belchertown K-9, $1,966 each. In addition, the Williamsburg Firefighters Assoc. and Whole Children of Hadley were each granted $500 for coming close to receiving 50 votes.

“We do normal corporate giving, but 20 years ago, we started doing these Customers’ Choice grants in an effort to listen to our customers,” bank President Kevin Day told BusinessWest. “How better to support the community than to support the nonprofits that our customers feel are important and doing a great job in the community?

“It’s a great program, and we’ve given close to a million and a half dollars,” he went on. “And our event in May is a wonderful event that really links us to the community and our customers who have directed where some of our money should go.”

Just as the pandemic has shifted the giving priorities of some banks and credit unions based on community need (see story on page 17), Florence Bank saw the same phenomenon occur in the Customers’ Choice program last year.

In the second half of 2019, only 10% of customers cast votes for organizations that ease food insecurity. But as more people became aware of those needs in 2020, twice as many votes were cast for food-security causes, and $21,528 of the total $100,500 awarded last May went to five organizations focused on feeding people: the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Amherst and Northampton Survival Centers, Manna Community Kitchen in Northampton, and Easthampton Community Center.

“How better to support the community than to support the nonprofits that our customers feel are important and doing a great job in the community?”

Moriarty said the recipients in Monson Savings Bank’s program have shifted over the years as well, with more than 100 nonprofits benefiting in all.

“Some are repeat winners, and that speaks to their efforts to reach out to their followers to vote for them,” he said. “But it’s nice to see different nonprofits chosen.”

In any case, he added, “they are so genuinely appreciative of winning. It’s always nice to win a contest, but they are genuinely honored and thrilled to receive those donations. Every year, I talk to a few of them, and they seem so, so thankful. Some of these nonprofits count on the donations they receive from us and other community banks and other community businesses.”

Moriarty noted that the internet has been an important driver of the Community Giving Initiative, as social media was still on the rise when the program launched 12 years ago, offering a new way to connect people with the bank and generate enthusiasm online. “That was a catalyst for us in the initial stages. Social media wasn’t that big yet, but we knew it was coming.”

Clearly, customers are excited to wield some influence on this one element of their hometown bank’s giving priorities.

“We love working directly with the community and giving members a voice to ensure that the nonprofits that make a positive impact in our communities are recognized and supported,” said Michael Rouette, executive vice president and chief operating officer at MSB, when the 2022 recipients were announced. “As a local, community bank, we are committed to doing whatever it takes to support our customers, businesses, and communities. We understand that these charitable organizations have the power to truly make a difference for our neighbors. Thank you for casting your votes.”


—Joseph Bednar

Banking and Financial Services

There Are Few Changes, but Some Could Impact Your Return

By Dan Eger and Shannon Shainwald


It’s that time again already: time to file your taxes and close out 2021.

Over the past two years, we have all witnessed rapid changes to how we do business and live our lives. Tax season has been no different and has seen many changes to tax law and deadlines. Unlike the past two years, the 2022 tax season is currently set to complete with the normal deadlines, so be sure to get your taxes in order before the filing deadlines: April 18 for federal returns and April 19 for Massachusetts returns.


What’s New on Your 2021 Tax Return?

New changes to tax law for 2021 individual filing are not as hefty as in prior years, but there are still some changes that may make a difference on your return.

Dan Eger

Dan Eger

Shannon Shainwald

Watch out for letters from the IRS. Letter 6419 will reflect the child tax credit advance payments if you receive any in 2021. The child tax credit is also higher and includes 17-year-old children in 2021, so be sure you know which of your dependents qualify and for how much. Letter 6475 will reflect the third stimulus payment if you qualified to receive one. Letter 4869C will share your identity-protection PIN for your 2021 return if you have opted into the program or have dealt with fraudulent returns in the past.

The charitable deduction is once again available for up to $300 to those taking the standard deduction and was expanded to allow up to $600 for those who are married filing jointly in 2021.

For itemized returns, the annual charitable deduction limit for monetary donations is equal to 100% of your adjusted gross income for 2021, which means you can remove all taxable income with your donations.

Cryptocurrency has risen in popularity over the past year. Be aware of the tax implications on your cryptocurrency investments. Speak with a trusted tax preparer to make sure your investments are accounted for properly on your return.


Preparing Your Return

Will you be preparing your return yourself, or will you hire someone to file on your behalf? Have a plan in place now, so you know what required information you need to have at hand and what you expect to pay for completion of all needed forms. If you will be using a new tax preparer for 2021, they will ask for a copy of your prior-year return in addition to all relevant documents for your 2021 tax filing.

The IRS also offers a Free File program if your income is below $72,000. Go to irs.gov or see the IRS2Go app to see your options. You may also qualify for local tax assistance through programs like Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE).


Use Your Resources

The Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) is an IRS online tool (irs.gov) to help you get answers to several tax-law items. ITA can help you determine what income is taxable, which deductions are allowed, filing status, who can be claimed as a dependent, and available tax credits. You can also visit www.mbkcpa.com/2021-tax-filing to find more resources for assistance with your 2021 tax filing, including blogs on the latest changes and links to useful IRS and state resources.


Be Vigilant

Be especially careful during this time of year to protect yourself against those trying to defraud or scam you. The IRS will never call you directly unless you are already in litigation with them. They will not initiate contact by e-mail, text, or social media. The IRS will contact you by U.S. mail. However, you still need to be wary of items received by mail. Anything requesting your Social Security number or any credit-card information is a dead giveaway for scam identification. Watch out for websites and social-media attempts that request money or personal information. You can check the irs.gov website to research any notice you receive or any concerns you may have. You can also contact your tax practitioner for assistance.


What If You Have Been Compromised?

How do you know if someone has filed a return with your information? The most common way is your tax return will get rejected for e-file. These scammers file early. You may also get a letter from the IRS requesting you verify certain information. If this does happen, there are steps to take to get this rectified.

First, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490. Then, file Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit, and paper file your return.

In addition, we recommend you take further steps with agencies outside the IRS:

• Report incidents of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at (877) 438-4338 or TTY (866) 653-4261.

• File a report with the local police.

• Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax: www.equifax.com, (800) 525-6285; Experian: www.experian.com, (888) 397-3742; or TransUnion: www.transunion.com, (800) 680-7289.

• Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.


Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN)

If you are a confirmed identity-theft victim, the IRS will mail you a notice with your IP PIN each year. You need this number to electronically file your tax return.

You may also opt into the IP PIN program. Visit www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/get-an-identity-protection-pin to set up your IP PIN. An IP PIN helps prevent someone else from filing a fraudulent tax return using your Social Security number.


Get Your Paperwork in Order

Get your paperwork in order early to ease the stress of tax season. First, make a note of changes to your life. Did you welcome a child to your family this past year? Get married? Will one of your children be claiming themselves for 2021? Or, if you’ve experienced the unfortunate passing of your spouse or dependents, changes to your family will affect your return. Make sure you have all the necessary documentation in order, and you know how it will be handled for your return.

Below is a list the most common required forms and items to gather, as well as few other things for you to consider as you prepare for filing your 2021 tax return. Please note that this list is not exhaustive because everyone’s tax situation is different.



Documentation of Income

• W-2: Wages, salaries, and tips

• W-2G: Gambling winnings

• 1099-Int & 1099-OID: Interest income statements

• 1099-DIV: Dividend income statements

• 1099-B: Capital gains; sales of stock, land, and other items

• 1099-G: Certain government payments, statement of state tax refunds, unemployment benefits

• 1099-Misc: Miscellaneous income

• 1099-NEC: Independent contractor income

• 1099-S: Sale of real estate (home)

• 1099-R: Retirement income

• 1099-SSA: Social Security income

• K-1: Income from partnerships, trusts, and S-corporations


Documentation for Deductions

If you think all your deductions for Schedule A will not add up to more than $12,550 for single, $18,800 for head of household, or $25,100 for married filing jointly, save your time and plan to take the standard deduction.


Itemized Deductions

• Medical expenses, out of pocket (limited to 7.5% of adjusted gross income)

– Medical insurance (paid with post-tax dollars)

– Long-term-care insurance

– Prescription medicine and drugs

– Hospital expenses

– Long-term-care expenses (in-home nurse, nursing home, etc.)

– Doctor and dentist payments

– Eyeglasses and contacts

– Miles traveled for medical purposes

• State and local taxes you paid (limited to $10,000)

– State withholding from your W-2

– Real-estate taxes paid

– Estimated state tax payments and amount paid with prior-year return

– Personal property (excise)

• Interest you paid

– 1098-Misc: Mortgage interest statement

– Interest paid to private party for home purchase

– Qualified investment interest

– Points paid on purchase of principal residence

– Points paid to refinance (amortized over life of loan)

– Mortgage insurance premiums

• Gifts to charity

– Cash and check receipts from qualified organization

– Non-cash items need a summary list and responsible gift calculation (IRS tables). If the gift is valued more than $5,000, a written appraisal is required

– Donation and acknowledgement letters (over $250)

– Gifts of stocks; you need the market value on the date of gift


Additional Adjustments

• 1098-T: Tuition statement

• Educator expenses (up to $250)

• 1098-E: Student-loan interest deduction

• 5498 HAS: Health savings account contributions

• 1099-SA: Distributions from HSA

• Qualified child and dependent care expenses

• Verify any estimated tax payments (does not include taxes withheld)

Sole proprietors (Schedule C) or owners of rental real estate (Schedule E, Part I) need to compile all income and expenses for the year. You need to retain adequate documentation to substantiate the amounts that are reported.


File with Confidence

Make this tax season smooth by getting your paperwork organized early and letting your tax preparer know about any changes to your life or financial situation. The sooner you file, the sooner you can put 2021 in the past and focus on a great outlook for 2022.


Dan Eger is a tax supervisor at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; Shannon Shainwald is an administrative assistant at the firm.


Banking and Financial Services

The $1 Million Exemption Level Is Among the Lowest in the Country

By Barbara Trombley

Did you ever wonder why all of your Massachusetts neighbors move to Florida when they retire? And they make sure they spend six months and a day at their southern address?

Of course, the warm winter weather in sunny Florida is a draw. But another reason many people in Massachusetts change their state residence is to avoid the Massachusetts estate tax, which is levied on estates valued over $1 million. Given the value of real estate and 401(k) plans in Massachusetts, it is not that hard to pass this threshold for many middle-class people.

Surprisingly, the federal estate tax is $12.06 million per person in 2022. Also, it is portable between spouses. With the correct steps, a married couple can protect $24.12 million after the death of both spouses in 2022. Our state estate tax is shockingly different. Of the 18 states with an estate or inheritance tax, Massachusetts and Oregon have the lowest exemption level of $1 million.

Also, the Massachusetts estate tax has a regressive feature where, if you die with an estate valued at $1,000,001 or more, your heirs will pay a graduated tax starting at the first dollar over $40,000 (which is a small exclusion). The bill on a $1 million estate is about $40,000. The tax rate is a graduated one and rises from 0.8% to 16% depending on the size of the estate. The heirs of an estate worth $3 million could find themselves with a tax bill approaching $200,000.

Massachusetts is shockingly out of step with the nation and with the rest of New England. Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont all have exclusions of more than $5 million, and New Hampshire does not have an inheritance tax at all. Until our legislators raise the exemption to keep up with inflation and make the exemption a true one, residents will continue to flee the state or jump through hoops to help their heirs avoid the tax.

Barbara Trombley

Barbara Trombley

“The tax rate is a graduated one and rises from 0.8% to 16% depending on the size of the estate. The heirs of an estate worth $3 million could find themselves with a tax bill approaching $200,000.”

What is included in your estate? Bank accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, life-insurance proceeds, vehicles, etc. Upon the death of the first spouse, no tax is owed. It is upon the death of the last remaining spouse that the dollar amount of assets is counted and an estate tax will need to be filed if the total value exceeds $1 million. The return must be filed, and any tax must be paid nine months after the death. The state may grant an extension of time, but interest will accrue on any unpaid amounts past the due date.

What can be done to mitigate the tax if the laws don’t change? Perhaps you retitle the ownership of your house to a trust or to an adult child to remove it from your estate. Each spouse can also set up a trust to shelter $1 million upon their death. This keeps the funds out of their estate but available to the surviving spouse to use if set up correctly.

Cash and other assets can be gifted to reduce an estate, but be careful about capital gains or tax owed on retirement funds. Charitable contributions can also be made to reduce the size of the estate. Many retirees move to a tax-friendly state, like Florida, and become residents. Working with a qualified financial planner and an estate attorney is imperative to mitigate the estate tax.


Barbara Trombley is a financial advisor and CPA with Wilbraham-based Trombley, CPA; (413) 596-6992. Securities offered through LPL Financial. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Trombley Associates, a registered investment advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial.


Remote Possibilities

By Elizabeth Sears


Internships have always been known to take different shapes and forms, from a student teacher eagerly helping to prepare classroom activities to the stereotypical unpaid intern making copies and bringing coffee to co-workers while carefully shadowing how the different jobs at their company work.

Now, a new type of internship has been added to the mix: a student sitting at home in front of their laptop. For many students, this has become the new normal.

With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the leaders of internship programs at universities in Western Mass. feared that students would not be able to have as many internship opportunities. George Layng, an internship coordinator at Westfield State University, recalled feelings of uncertainty when the fall 2020 semester approached.

“School was back in session, but it was all virtual … would internship sites be as receptive to having interns as they were in the past? Usually, we have more places that are willing to have interns than we have interns for, but our fear was that we’d be in the reverse, that we’d have more interns than we have places for,” Layng said.

“I think, actually, students are better able to manage that shift now because their classes are online and they are working more independently.”

However, despite the copious amounts of instability in many areas of academic life brought on by the pandemic, internship programs at colleges in the Western Mass. region have been running strongly with abundant student success. Layng said the number of students participating in his internship program has remained steady over the course of the pandemic, even when compared to pre-pandemic years.

“I think, actually, students are better able to manage that shift now because their classes are online and they are working more independently,” he told BusinessWest. “One of the silver linings is that they are more able and more prepared to work somewhat independently, somewhat virtually, and it not being a big issue.”

A large part of this success was credited to the ability of students, professors, and employers to remain adaptable during the continuously changing protocols throughout the pandemic. The willingness of employers to take on interns remotely and overcome that boundary, along with the determination of students to work through uncertain conditions, has proven to be a winning combination for successfully running internship programs during the pandemic.


New Normal

This is not to say internship programs have been running without their fair share of challenges.

Alan Bloomgarden, director of Experiential Learning at Elms College, spoke of how, even though his students have shown remarkable success at obtaining placements at various internship sites, constantly evolving safety concerns impacted some student internships and experiential-learning experiences.

Alan Bloomgarden

Alan Bloomgarden says students have done well with internship placements during the pandemic, but safety concerns have impacted some experiences.

“The employers themselves are, I think, not necessarily prioritizing construction of internships, where their employees are really required to do an additional amount of work to supervise students,” he said. “That is difficult under normal circumstances, and it may be a bridge too far for some employers under the current pressures of staffing and adapting to changing health and safety conditions.”

Bloomgarden noted that students in the social sciences and humanities have been encountering a greater degree of difficulty in internship placements because of changing circumstances. Even though the internship program at large is functioning well, some students have still found themselves in a place where the pandemic caused certain internships to fall short, when they might have been successful in a normal year.

Layng echoed this sentiment, remembering a particular instance with a student seeking an internship that highlights the recent limitations of certain internship placements caused by the pandemic.

“I had a student who I was trying to place at Baystate [Health] in the public relations department, and he had experience in healthcare public relations and marketing,” Layng noted. “He would have been an excellent candidate to take the next step … but the person at Baystate said they were just so busy, there’s so many cases, they just can’t really work with interns in the way that would really help them. That’s one clear way the pandemic lessened the opportunities for interns.”

On the other hand, one perhaps unexpected benefit of the recent shift to online internships has been the newfound ability for students to be placed at sites whose far-away locations would have typically eliminated them from being realistic options. The normalization of remote work has opened up opportunities for students in Western Mass. to intern at businesses in larger cities like Boston and New York without having to spend an entire semester away from their university.

“I have seen students develop some creative adaptations to the circumstances that we’re all facing,” Bloomgarden said. “Just as we’re seeing a changing workplace as a society, we’re seeing changes in the face of what internships look like.”

He spoke of how Elms College’s teacher-licensure students had been conducting their experiential learning in a hybrid format but are now being placed at schools in-person. The students in the college’s social-work program have also found themselves returning to in-person internship sites, Bloomgarden said.

“Just as we’re seeing a changing workplace as a society, we’re seeing changes in the face of what internships look like.”

While most students have been gradually returning to in-person internships, some students have been doing internships in this fashion throughout the course of the pandemic. This has been especially true for students who are looking to enter the medical field.

Bloomgarden described the experiences of students in the nursing program at the Elms, and how they have been continuing with clinical placements even with the pandemic.

“They are, in many ways, frontline workers,” he said. “Our students are conducting experiential learning in the same way that the permanent, full-time employees of the organizations hosting them are asking of their employees.”

Internship programs in Western Mass. colleges and universities have found that both students and employers now expect a conversation about the possibility of a virtually formatted internship. The high level of adaptability shown by employers has positively impacted students by allowing them internship opportunities even during very uncertain times.

“Employers are seeing the value of interns and the value of internships as an education practice,” Bloomgarden said. “Internships help with career readiness… they deepen one’s understanding of one’s discipline, having a chance to apply the methods, whatever the field is.”


Community Impact

Whether in-person, hybrid, or fully remote, leaders of internship programs still assert that internships in any format are substantially beneficial to students — and for a variety of reasons. Both Layng and Bloomgarden enthusiastically emphasized the importance of internships and the value they provide for a student’s future career.

“It’s a really good stepping stone to a career,” Layng said. “They are going to prepare you for what it’s like, getting ready for the professional world.”

He added that student feedback has been mostly satisfactory, with students expressing that they feel like they are still getting a quality internship even if a fair percentage of them are partially or completely remote.

“Internships and experiential learning can enable active citizenship and the advancement of social action.”

Bloomgarden spoke of the numerous ways that internships are beneficial not only to the students themselves, but also to the businesses they work at and the communities they are a part of.

“Internships and experiential learning can enable active citizenship and the advancement of social action,” he said. “Our job is to encourage and support the development of those pathways to making positive impact on the world. We want to encourage them in becoming meaningful contributors to their communities.”


Innovation and Adaptation

Bill Bither

Bill Bither says employee-retention efforts should consider wages and culture, but also how cutting-edge the company’s technology is.


Manufacturing is a healthy industry, Bill Bither days, and demand for manufactured goods is soaring across all sectors. Meeting that demand is … well, a challenge.

“The first half of 2021 was quite strong; we were actually averaging around 30% higher than we’ve ever seen since we’ve been collecting this data,” said Bither, co-founder and CEO of MachineMetrics, a Northampton company that specializes in predictive analytics for manufacturers and serves hundreds of customers all over the globe.

“Then, after the July 4 holiday, we saw this tick down … it was almost like a shift change. That was likely due to the supply-chain issues that occurred over the summer, and we’re continuing to see that in our data through the second half of the year,” he went on. “But if you look into the beginning of 2022, we’re starting to see some of that come back.”

Jerry Foster, chief technology officer at Plex Systems Inc., a software company based in Michigan, saw a similar trend in 2021. He noted a steady, 18% decline in production from the end of the first quarter to the end of the third quarter, when companies were feeling the pinch of labor shortages (see story on page 36) and supply-chain issues.

“This was not due to the economy shrinking or decreased demand; it’s just the opposite. Our customers are reporting three to six months of backlogged orders just waiting to be fulfilled, waiting for raw materials or the workers to do that work. So this downturn is definitely due to those two main issues of labor and supply chain.”

Bither and Foster were joined last week by Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Assoc. of Manufacturers (NAM), at a MachineMetrics-hosted webinar on the state of the manufacturing industry and the challenges that will continue to impact companies in 2022 and beyond.

To be sure, the past year was nothing like 2020 for many manufacturers. Foster estimates that Plex customers lost 26% of their normal year’s business during a deep trough in the spring of 2020. “Manufacturing really took it on the chin,” he said. “So 2021 had a lot of ground to catch up.”

It has done so — to a point. NAM has conducted a member outlook survey quarterly since 1997, and the sector has certainly rebounded since the recession of 2020, “but we have seen more recently that data pull back a little from where it was last summer,” Moutray said. Specifically, last June, 90.1% of members felt positive about their company’s outlook, but that crept down to 87.5% at the start of fall and 86.8% toward the end of 2021.

Manufacturing demand is really not the problem, he explained, despite a slight dip in production recently due to the surging Omicron variant. “In general, employment is the issue; it’s the ability to meet that demand that has been the larger issue we’ve continued to hear from our members.”

The survey revealed that members’ top four business challeges in the fourth quarter of 2021 — by far — were rising raw-material costs, supply-chain challenges, attracting and retaining a quality workforce, and transportation and logistics costs. Moutray noted that these are all issues that have arisen amid the global economic impact of the pandemic.

“They are intertwined,” he said. “Each of those issues, in my mind, are wrapped up and one and the same.”

They have also lent momentum to wage pressure on companies, the NAM survey suggests, with wages at an all-time high and expected to inch higher as manufacturers try to stay competitive for a shrinking pool of talent.

Add it up, and it all poses an interconnected, global series of manufacturing challenges that may not have an immediate end in sight — but could also bring about more innovation down the line.


Frustrating Shortages

The past year has not treated all manufacturers equally. According to NAM survey data, aerospace, computers and electronic products, chemicals, and machinery bounced back the most in 2021, while motor vehicles and automotive parts, printing, furniture, and petroleum and coal products lagged the most.

Bither noted the struggles of the automotive space in the second half of 2021. “That’s where those supply-chain issues with the chip shortage seemed to have the biggest impact.”

Moutray noted that just 1.9% of NAM survey respondents feel the supply-chain issues have already cleared up for them. Of the rest, 53.4% believe they will improve this year, 27.6% say the situation will stabilize in 2023 or beyond, and 17% are uncertain.

“It’s important to note some of these issues will take longer than that; the chip shortage could take a lot longer than 2022. The workforce issues are structural issues and are going to take a little bit longer.”

That said, Moutray is pleased that the majority of NAM members are optimistic about seeing supply-chain improvements between now and the end of 2022.

Even with that cautious optimism, however, “manufacturers still need to be smart about how they navigate the supply-chain challenges and workforce challenges,” he added. “Right now, obviously, Omicron is hitting manufacturers pretty hard; we’ve seen a number of stories that it’s affected overall production. So 2022 is shaping up to be much like the last couple of years — another year of uncertainty, which we’ve kind of gotten used to of late.”

Foster and Bither both said companies need to think about how employees are treated in terms of both wages and culture.

“We need to treat employees better because it is an employees’ market,” Bither said. “Part of that is having systems and technology that the younger generation of workers are used to and expect. If you’re an old-school manufacturer and you’re not leveraging these technologies, you’re going to have more difficulty bringing on this newer workforce. So leveraging these technologies and a really good user experience are going to be really important.”

That said, the current situation is also an opportunity to invest in technology, Moutray noted.

Foster agreed; when asked if robotics and AI will help relieve a qualified labor shortage, he answered, “most definitely. We used to be afraid that automation, robotics, and AI were going to take jobs. Now, we are desperate for these technologies just to keep our heads above water by filling gaps and compensating for labor issues.”


Investing in the Future

Moutray admits these have been trying times, not just during the pandemic, but before it, with trade wars and workforce issues that predate COVID-19.

“We’ve been talking about uncertainty as long as I’ve been at the NAM,” he said. “But I think manufacturers have had to be smart about some of the moves they’ve made over the past couple years when it comes to supply-chain management or technology adoption or upscaling their workers, and that’s going to pay off in spades moving forward. It’s not hard to be bullish about the manufacturing sector in terms of predicting growth and where it’s headed over the next few years.”

That said, he’s keeping a sharp eye on wage growth in 2022 as one of the key factors impacting manufacturers. Bither agreed, but added that the supply chain is still the problem of the day when he considers why machines are down across the industry.

In truth, all these factors are important — and none are easily solved. But the webinar participants agreed that manufacturers are an innovative bunch, and ready for the challenges ahead.

“Manufacturing has been behind other industries, but it’s catching up. There’s a lot more investment on this space, more adaptation,” Bither said. “It’s a really exciting time to be in the industry. As technology providers, we know we can get through the pandemic and all the other problems thrown our way.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]