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WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) announced the return of Air Canada, Canada’s largest airline, at Bradley International Airport. The airline restored its nonstop service between Bradley International Airport (BDL) and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) on Wednesday. 

“We are thrilled to welcome back Air Canada to Bradley International Airport,” said Kevin A. Dillon, A.A.E., executive director of the CAA. “Air Canada’s long-standing partnership with our airport has been and continues to be key to our route network. The airline not only facilitates seamless connectivity between our regions, but it also offers a convenient gateway to the rest of the world via its Toronto-Pearson hub. As we celebrate Air Canada’s return, we look forward to once again offering our passengers an easy way to access Canada and beyond.” 

The airline has returned to Bradley International Airport after a two-year absence due to the international travel disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last Air Canada flights operated at the airport in the spring of 2020. 

“Connecticut is an extremely popular destination, appealing to Canadians and global customers alike who enjoy the leisure activities, recreation, arts and culture, tourism and hospitality the state is renowned for,” said Lisa Pierce, vice president, Canada & USA Sales for Air Canada. “With customer interest in travel resuming post pandemic, we are thrilled to launch our services connecting Bradley International Airport to our Toronto hub. In addition to enabling Canadians and global visitors to come visit Connecticut, our flights also make it especially convenient for area residents to visit and enjoy everything Canada has to offer, or to connect internationally beyond.”  

The newly launched service will utilize a 50-seat CRJ200 aircraft. It will operate daily and year-round, departing Bradley at 12:45 p.m. and arriving in Toronto at 2:07 p.m.; flights leave Toronto at 11 a.m. and arrive at Bradley at 12:14 p.m. 

The resumption of the service was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a festive send-off at the gate on Wednesday. 

Passengers interested in booking a flight should visit www.AirCanada.com. 

Cover Story

The Great Return

Chris Viale, president and CEO of Cambridge Credit Counseling

Chris Viale, president and CEO of Cambridge Credit Counseling

Over the past year or so, most companies have set — and then pushed back — the date when workers would return to the offices they left when COVID-19 arrived in March 2020. Now, such a return seems more real. But what’s also real is a commitment to flexibility among area employers, who recognize not only that employees can work effectively from home, but that hybrid, or fully remote, work schedules are becoming ever-more critical when it comes to attracting and retaining a workforce.

There was the Great Depression. And 75 years later, there was the Great Recession. We’re still struggling with what’s being called the Great Resignation, and now … we have what some are referring to as the Great Return.

This would be the return to the office of all those workers — tens of millions of them — who went home to work right around this time two years ago. Some have already returned, but many haven’t. There have been several scheduled returns over the past two years — indeed, most major corporations have moved back their return dates several times due to surges and new variants — but this time, by most all accounts, it seems real. Very real.

And it also seems complicated, or at least far different than most would have thought a return would look like two years ago.

That’s because the world of work has changed in a profound way, with the matter put in its proper perspective by Kristin Morales-Lemieux, senior vice president and chief Human Resources officer at Baystate Health.

“When we first sent everyone home, no one wanted to be there,” she said, adding that roughly 4,000 of the system’s employees were told to work remotely, if they could. “And for the first six months, we spent all of our time trying to hold back the tide of employees and managers who wanted to come back into the building, and, quite frankly, walking around and finding people who should not be there and shooing them back home again.

“As our employees come back together, our goal is to combine the flexibility and convenience we’ve had working remotely with the energy, connection, and collaboration that comes from being together in person.”

“But somewhere around that six-month mark …. there was a shift, and people starting saying, ‘I don’t want to go back,’ or ‘I certainly don’t want to go back full-time,’” she went on. “And in a few areas where we started to transition departments back, we started to notice that, not in large numbers, but here and there, we began losing people who were taking jobs with other organizations that allowed them to work remotely full-time.”

Kristin Morales-Lemieux

When they first went home, Kristin Morales-Lemieux says, employees were clamoring to come back to the office; six months later, most no longer wanted to.

This phenomenon explains why ‘flexibility’ is the watchword as the Great Return commences, and why the hybrid schedule — whereby people work in the office at least a few days of the week and remotely for the remainder — is becoming the norm among employers, and, increasingly, expected when it comes to employees.

At Monson Savings Bank, employees now have a number of options when it comes to working schedules, including a hybrid model that has them in the office at least two days a week, and a four-day work week. MSB President Dan Moriarty said such flexibility, at a time when most have proven they can work effectively from home, is a practical response to the changing work climate.

“We wanted to create some culture for retention for existing employees,” he said, echoing the thoughts of many we spoke with. “And as we compete against other companies in this region, but also well outside, that offer flexibility and remote working, we thought it was a good balance — for the organization and the employee.”

Meanwhile, MassMutual has put in place what it calls a “flexible workplace approach” that is comprised of three work arrangements — full-time in the office, full-time remote, and a hybrid of the two, with the majority of the financial-services giant’s employees working a hybrid arrangement.

“Flexibility is at the heart of our approach,” said Sue Cicco, head of Human Resources and Employee Experience for the company. “As our employees come back together, our goal is to combine the flexibility and convenience we’ve had working remotely with the energy, connection, and collaboration that comes from being together in person.”

Elaborating, she said the flexible-workplace approach has been in place since last summer with employees “testing” it over the past several months. They are now being asked to be at “a more regular cadence” by the beginning of April.

At Cambridge Credit Counseling, Chris Viale, president and CEO of the company, plans to bring employees back to work a hybrid schedule starting later this month. But the longer-term plan is to bring most employees back five days a week, he told BusinessWest, adding that he’s expecting some pushback, will listen to those giving it, and may ultimately change his mind.

“If people thought the labor market was tight going into COVID, we haven’t seen anything yet.”

But for now, that’s the plan, and for reasons that would resonate with many employers across the region.

“We’ve been grappling with this for quite some time,” Viale explained. “Right before the pandemic, we secured a much larger office space with a state-of-the-art call-center environment, and we committed to a seven-year lease, so we have that financial expense baked in to trying to do what’s right for everyone, trying to make sure the company is functioning as we need it to, trying to make sure we’re serving the consumers we’re serving, and meeting the needs of our staff. We’re trying to balance all that — somehow.”

Overall, there are many forces driving the flexibility being exhibited at most workplaces, but perhaps the most significant is common sense when it comes to the matter of attracting and retaining talent, especially at a time when businesses in virtually sector are struggling to do so.

Dan Moriarty says Monson Savings Bank is focusing on flexibility

Dan Moriarty says Monson Savings Bank is focusing on flexibility with its return-to-the-workplace strategies, including hybrid schedules and the option of a four-day work week.

Morales-Lemieux noted that Baystate Health, which regularly employs roughly 13,000 employees, currently has about 1,900 vacancies, three times what might be considered normal and a powerful motivating force when it comes to establishing return-to-the-workplace strategies.

“If people thought the labor market was tight going into COVID,” she said, “we haven’t seen anything yet.”

 

Work in Progress

It’s called ‘Corporate Tuesday.’

That’s the name Monson Savings Bank has attached to the second day of the work week, a day when most, if not all, employees will be in the office, said Moriarty, adding that this is the day, considered better than Monday, or any other day, for that matter, when people would schedule in-person meetings, department meetings, and collaborations.

“The parking lot is pretty full,” he explained, adding that Corporate Tuesday has been in effect since Jan. 1, and has thus far been greeted with a generally positive response.

Beyond Corporate Tuesday and some similar initiatives, there is now unprecedented amounts of flexibility when it comes to work and work schedules, at companies both large and small, a new landscape that has been years (and not just the past two years) in the making.

Indeed, Morales-Lemieux echoed others when she said there was some movement in this direction before the pandemic, especially as the unemployment rate dropped and it became steadily more challenging to attract and retain talent.

Sarah Morgan

Sarah Morgan says employees at Health New England have shown they can be effective working remotely.

“Even pre-COVID, we were really starting to feel the pressure to move into a variety of more flexible work arrangements, even as it relates to our frontline workers,” she told BusinessWest. “As the unemployment rate had dropped over the past decade, coupled with our own unique challenges in Western Massachusetts, such as our aging population and the number of healthcare-related — and non-healthcare-related — companies that we compete with for workers, we had, in the year prior to the pandemic, been talking in earnest about how we needed to change in order to make sure that we could keep a workforce.”

Elaborating, she said this talk involved, among other things, remote-work scenarios not only for attractive job candidates from other states who do not wish to relocate to Massachusetts, but also candidates and existing employees already in the 413.

Suffice it to say the pandemic has served to open more eyes to this need to change and add several layers of urgency to the matter, despite the delayed nature of the return to work.

But change comes hard to many companies, said Meredith Wise, president and CEO of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, noting that, in this case, most employers she’s talked with have seen the wisdom of embracing flexibility and not trying to put in place a one-size — or one-schedule, to be more precise — fits-all policy or strategy.

Indeed, even most old-school managers who would certainly prefer to have everyone back in the office eight hours a day, five days a week, are recognizing the need to embrace the changing landscape and not fight it — for a number of very practical reasons, especially those workforce issues, she said.

“We’re advising people to be flexible and talk with employees about what’s going to work for them. And one of the big reasons why is the retention problem that most employers are facing right now.”

“We’re advising people to be flexible and talk with employees about what’s going to work for them,” she explained. “And one of the big reasons why is the retention problem that most employers are facing right now; there are enough employers that are offering hybrid arrangements that you could easily lose people if you put your foot down and say, ‘I need you here five days a week.’ Those workers can easily find someone who will be flexible and more accommodating.”

 

Balance Sheet

Those we spoke with said there have been a number of fits and starts when it comes to returning employees to the workplace. Most were ready to start the process last spring or last fall, but Delta and then Omicron ultimately pushed back those timetables.

Now, most are looking at later this month or early next month as a return date, although it appears the vast majority of workers will still be working remotely at least a few days a week.

At Health New England, Sarah Morgan, director of Human Resources and Organizational Development, said all but a handful of the company’s 385 employees are currently working remotely, and there is no set date for a return. As for a plan, it involves being flexible, giving employees an opportunity to “volunteer” to return if they should desire to do so and if the conditions with regard to the pandemic warrant such a return.

For many reasons, she said, returning everyone to the office full-time — essentially turning back the clock to early March 2020 — is not practical. For starters, even with COVID subsiding in many respects, the company is no rush for a return to pre-pandemic density levels in its office space in Monarch Place. But over the past two years, employees have shown they can effectively work remotely, she went on, which more than justifies flexible or hybrid work schedules.

“Our associates have proven that they’re capable of working remotely for quite some time; they’re meeting the standards and expectations and doing very, very well,” she told BusinessWest. “They’re meeting all the needs of our members, and so we’ve said that people like to work at home, we understand that, and we’re going to enable a certain amount of flexibility within teams and a hybrid approach.”

Like others, she said such flexibility is becoming ever-more critical when it comes to attracting and retaining employees, but also widening the pool of talent to include those from other regions of the country.

“We recognize that flexibility around remote work and hybrid work schedules is a way to honor the needs of people,” she said, using that word ‘needs’ in reference to everything from family matters to physical disabilities. “We’re seeing more people ask for that flexibility when they apply.”

And at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which employs roughly 150 people, 100 at the Agawam Corporate Center, there will be similar amounts of flexibility, said Jennifer Murphy, director of Human Resources, adding that the employees now working remotely, and that’s most of them, are slated to return in a hybrid format on April 4.

“Part of our new flexible-work policy involves a hybrid work model; when we return, people will be required to work 60% of the time in the office,” Murphy said, adding that this plan of action has been generally well-received by employees. Overall, it represents acknowledgement of both the emergence of remote work as being popular and effective and the importance of face-to-face interaction when it comes to office culture.

“What COVID has taught us is that, given the nature of our work, we can operate our business successfully remotely,” she explained. “But we also feel it’s important for our culture that we work together and collaborate together; there’s real value in those face-to-face interactions. Overall, we’re trying to balance the value and importance of in-person work and collaboration with employees’ desire to also have that flexibility to work remotely.”

Jennifer Murphy

Jennifer Murphy says the 100 employees working at the offices of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation will be returning on April 4 and working hybrid schedules.

At Cambridge Credit Counseling, Viale said his plan to bring employees back to a hybrid schedule was greeted with a generally positive response. Overall, he’s not expecting the same when it comes to his plans to bring all or most employees (there will be exceptions for health considerations and other factors) back full-time.

Elaborating, and echoing Morales-Lemieux’s comments, he said that, as the months went by, employees became increasingly comfortable with working remotely, and increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of returning to the office.

But after weighing all the factors, including that seven-year lease on a significantly larger footprint and other considerations, he decided that bringing everyone back is the best course. But, as noted earlier, he will listen, and he may be open to changing his plans.

And what may be a deciding factor in his ultimate decision is his ability to maintain his workforce.

“What’s really challenging is just finding people to work,” he said. “I just heard an ad coming in to work this morning that Target is hiring people for $24 an hour; our starting wage is between $16 and $18 an hour.”

At Ware-based Country Bank, most all employees have been back to the office since last fall, said Miriam Siegel, first senior vice president and chief culture officer for the institution, adding that she believes that the bank is among the first, if not the first, business of its kind to put a flexible work policy in place.

The employees who have returned are working three days in the office and two remotely, she said, adding that the new policy, or strategy, is not the result of COVID, necessarily, but rather recognition that times and needs are changing, and flexible schedules are the logical, responsible response to the current landscape.

“One of the big things we’ve learned at the bank is that we have to recognize that we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all working world anymore,” she said. “That has become our mantra in many ways.”

Elaborating, she said the pandemic helped drive home the need to communicate with employees, have them articulate their challenges and needs, and then work with them to the extent possible to accommodate those needs.

“What COVID has taught us is that, given the nature of our work, we can operate our business successfully remotely. But we also feel it’s important for our culture that we work together and collaborate together; there’s real value in those face-to-face interactions.”

This is the right thing to do, Siegel said, but it’s also what many companies are willing to do, which is critical during what could only be called an ongoing workforce crisis.

“When you couple this remote-work situation with the Great Resignation, shifting priorities, and our challenge to retain people … we need to be listening to our employees and accommodate them when we can,” she said. “Because they’ll very quickly go somewhere else right now.”

At Baystate, as Morales-Lemieux noted, efforts to bring back — to the extent they are coming back — those 4,000 employees who left for home two years ago have been underway for some time.

There is now an organization-wide communication plan and strategy that will be launched in early April, she said, adding that there are still 3,000 people working “completely or largely” remotely.

 

Bottom Line

At all the workplaces we talked with, the new policies and strategies are in place for what would be called the time being.

Indeed, each company said it reserved to right to re-evaluate and change what is in place, depending on how things work out.

“The program we put in place — we keep the option open to revise or revoke if we don’t see good results,” Moriarty said. “But so far, so good.”

Murphy concurred. “When we initiated this policy and rolled it out, we said we would try it for one year and see how it works, and that we reserve the right to revisit it,” she said, adding that, while there is general confidence that this strategy will succeed given what’s happened over the past two years, it is still, on some levels, an experiment.

But overall, she’s not expecting many changes to the new policies — or to the current landscape in the workplace, for that matter.

“Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see the trend turning back to fully in-person work for most people, especially those who work at a computer all day,” she said. “We’ve shown that that the remote model works; I think it’s here to stay.”

Morgan agreed. “We’re trending in that direction; HR professionals are talking about the trends, and the ‘new normal,’ and what will be the future of work,” she explained. “For so many reasons, we’re engaging in work in a different way; we’re fitting it into our lives in a different way than we could if we had a 30-minute commute to the office — and we’re finding that we can be even more productive.”

Those sentiments are among the many that make it clear that work has changed over the past two years — and probably changed forever.

And this will make the much-anticipated Great Return something to watch.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

 

 

SPRINGFIELD — The Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, known as MOSSO, return to Springfield Symphony Hall with a live performance, MOSSO’S VIRTUOSOS, on March 26, their first performance in Symphony Hall, since October, 2021.

Although all of the musicians are members of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, MOSSO is not affiliated with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra Inc. Proceeds from this concert will be used by MOSSO to produce additional concerts, including the ongoing chamber music series at The Westfield Athenaeum, and an additional concert celebrating the music of Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, at Symphony Hall in June. 

 

MOSSO’S VIRTUOSOS showcases the members of the MOSSO family, and all of the soloists for the program are principal players of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. Trumpeter Thomas Bergeron and Timpanist Martin Kluger will share the conducting duties. The program comprises: Faure’s Fantaisie for Flute and Orchestra with Ann Bobo; the first movement of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with Thomas Bergeron; Concerto for Alto Trombone by Leopold Mozart with Brian Diehl; two movements from Ney Rosauro’s Concerto No. 1 for Marimba with Nathan Lassell; the first movement of Mozart’s Haffner Symphony; and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, itself a showcase of soloists within the MOSSO chamber orchestra. The evening will be introduced by Patrick Berry, co-host of Mass Appeal on 22 News.

 

“The Springfield Symphony Orchestra Inc. hasn’t produced nor programmed any concerts in Symphony Hall since March, 2020,” said Beth Welty, violinist and MOSSO chair. “The musicians formed MOSSO as a non-profit organization to produce live music to provide employment opportunities for its 70 musicians. When the National Labor Relations Board settlement awarded the musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra $276,000 in January, MOSSO members decided to use that money to produce concerts in Western Massachusetts. Our MOSSO family is investing in the cultural life of our communities.”

Welty added that the Rosauro piece will be dedicated in memory of Springfield Symphony Orchestra percussionist Warren Myers and his late wife, Marlene, who had been part of the SSO family for decades.

 

MOSSO expressed its thanks to Mayor Domenic Sarno, Amanda Spear-Purchase and the staff of Springfield Symphony Hall, Music for Life International, supporting social impact through music, Gerry’s Music Shop,), BusinessWest and Healthcare News, The Republican/MassLive, WWLP-22News & The CW Springfield, Lynn Klock, and other donors. 

 

Tickets for the March 26 performance, general admission, are $20. Producers Circle general admission in the center orchestra and center grand tier sections are $30. Tickets must be purchased in advance. There will be no door sales. Masks will be required inside Symphony Hall. For details and reservations, visit:  www.SpringfieldSymphonyMusicians.com.  

 

Donations can be made online through the MOSSO website: SpringfieldSymphonyMusicians.com or checks can be made out to MOSSO and sent to MOSSO, PO Box 3513, Amherst, MA 01004. All donations made to MOSSO will be used to produce live musical events for the Springfield community. 

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.

 

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Mayor Thomas Bernard

Mayor Thomas Bernard is gratified to see events like the FreshGrass Festival and the Fall Foliage Parade return to North Adams.

While North Adams tries to return to familiar norms, many are prepared to adjust if new pandemic concerns arise.

That’s the perspective of Mayor Thomas Bernard, anyway, who said his community has slowly and cautiously taken steps to bring back the positive routines of daily life.

“The moment that stands out for me is our first concert at Windsor Lake in early to mid-June,” Bernard said. “There were people who hadn’t seen neighbors and friends for more than a year. The sound of kids laughing and playing, great music, the spirit was unbelievable.”

More recently, he pointed to MASS MoCA’s FreshGrass Festival in September as an example of holding a popular event and exercising caution, as attendees had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before entering.

“Returning to these events is the fulfillment of the promise we made to each other when things were shutting down — that we would be back,” Bernard said.

Though no one can predict what the future holds, Nico Dery said North Adams businesses are prepared to make a quick pivot if necessary.

“Businesses now have COVID plans in place that were developed from an entire season of figuring out what worked and what didn’t,” said Dery, business development coordinator for the North Adams Chamber of Commerce.

The city was the site for a robust vaccination effort that began in January and ran through June, during which time volunteers at the Northern Berkshire regional vaccination center held 40 clinics and administered nearly 25,000 vaccines to residents.

Right now, the vaccination rate in North Adams is around 65%, but that percentage does not reflect a fair number of residents who received their vaccine in Vermont or New York, the mayor pointed out. With North Adams located in the northwest corner of the state, the borders to both adjacent states are easily accessible.

“However you figure it, I’m not going to be happy until the numbers get above 80%,” he added.

“I’m optimistic and believe we’re going to have a great foliage season. Many businesses I’ve spoken with are preparing for lots of visitors this fall.”

Members of the regional emergency-planning committee who ran the COVID-19 operations center were honored at the 65th annual Fall Foliage Parade on Oct. 3.

“Everyone who was involved in the public-health response and the vaccination efforts are the folks who will be celebrated and honored as a sign of how far we have come,” Bernard said the week before the event — and a year after the parade was cancelled due to the coronavirus.

“The theme of this year’s parade was “Games, Movies, Takeout” — “everything that kept many of us going during the darkest times of the pandemic,” the mayor added.

 

No Summertime Blues

Businesses in North Adams experienced what Dery called a “great summer,” with lots of visitors exploring the Berkshires.

“In the past, we had seen many people come here from New York City, but because of COVID, we’ve seen a big increase of people from the Boston metro area,” she noted, crediting the increased visitor traffic to people choosing to forgo a European or cross-country vacation and instead stay closer to home.

Emilee Yawn and Bonnie Marks, co-owners of the Plant Connector

Emilee Yawn and Bonnie Marks, co-owners of the Plant Connector, recently shared this photo on social media depicting their opening day last fall.

“I’m optimistic and believe we’re going to have a great foliage season,” she added. “Many businesses I’ve spoken with are preparing for lots of visitors this fall.”

North Adams has also seen a number of businesses open during the pandemic. Bernard pointed to the Clear Sky Cannabis dispensary, which opened in March, and the Bear and Bee Bookshop in June.

The Plant Connector opened in September 2020 before vaccines were available. Emilee Yawn, a co-owner of the shop, heard from naysayers who said North Adams was a tourist destination and, since there were no tourists during the pandemic, no one would come in.

However, “from the moment we opened, we’ve been bustling,” she said. “I had been growing plants in my one-bedroom apartment, and in no time, we had sold 120 plants. We had to quickly find a wholesaler and become a real business.”

Yawn and co-owner Bonnie Marks met at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, where Yawn was office manager and Marks was a bookkeeper. When Yawn was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, the idea of a store to promote their mutual passion for plants became more real.

Recently celebrating the first anniversary of the Plant Connector, Yawn noted that, since the opening, more than 6,700 people have walked through the door, and they’ve been averaging around 800 people a month — not bad for a 400-square-foot space.

While they have a website and have recently sold plants to customers in New Jersey, nearly 90% of their sales are from local people in the Berkshires.

North Adams at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1878
Population: 13,708
Area: 20.6 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $18.64
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.83
Median Household Income: $35,020
Family Household Income: $57,522
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: BFAIR Inc.; Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
* Latest information available

“We feel very supported by the community,” Yawn said. “North Adams is a special place; I’ve never felt connected to so many awesome people.”

As the weather starts getting cooler, business is picking up, and Yawn is looking forward to leaf peepers drawn to the Mohawk Trail and surrounding areas. “We’re excited for them to come peep around our shop,” she added.

Businesses in North Adams are also gearing up for the holiday season and what’s known as Plaid Friday. The North Adams Chamber promotes this annual effort with posters and through social media to businesses throughout the Northern Berkshires.

“We started this initiative to encourage people to spend money in their communities on the day after Thanksgiving instead of going to the big-box stores,” Dery said. “Many retailers will run Plaid Friday all that weekend.”

Similar to most communities, hiring in North Adams, particularly in restaurants, remains a challenge. So far, many restaurants are operating at reduced hours to retain staff and prevent burnout.

“This upcoming winter will be interesting because many people are thinking outside the box on how to best manage this,” Dery said.

 

The Next Phase

Bernard will also have an interesting winter after deciding not to run again for mayor. On the job since 2018, he called his time in office a “privilege of a lifetime, to serve North Adams, the community where I grew up.”

He looks forward to an historic election as voters will choose the first woman mayor in the city’s history. The two candidates who emerged from the runoff election, Jennifer Macksey and Lynette Bond, will face each other in the mayor’s race in November.

Bernard said he is still exploring the next move in his career. “I’m asked so often about my future plans, I feel like a senior in college,” he said with a laugh.

As she reflected on the success of the Plant Connector, Yawn admitted she thought the store would flop and she would have to sell plants on eBay and Etsy to survive. Shortly after opening, however, she saw they had something special there.

“I always say this about North Adams,” Yawn said. “This city chooses its people, and people don’t choose it. That’s why there’s a high concentration of awesome people here.”

Law

Changing the Dynamic

By Jeremy M. Forgue

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the workplace forever.

According to a report titled “Women in the Workplace – 2020,” women have been hit especially hard. As the report explains, “the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted corporate America in ways we’ve never seen before. No one is experiencing business as usual, but women — especially mothers, senior-level women, and black women — have faced distinct challenges. One in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19.”

Gender and racial diversity are unquestionably beneficial to the workplace as it can lead to a wider talent pool with people who provide different perspectives and skill sets to utilize. With job rates slowly climbing back towards pre-pandemic levels, businesses need to put a conscious effort on recruiting and retaining female employees, and females of color in particular. Businesses small and large should re-evaluate their current practices and consider several ways to increase or maintain women in the workforce. Here are some suggestions from an employment-law attorney.

 

Flexible Schedules and Core Hours

This can be the easiest strategy, depending on your business. Allowing employees to establish their own schedules or flex the typical 9-5 business model can assist them in better balancing their home and work responsibilities. This option can allow parents to mold their schedule around daycare availability (e.g., 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) or split their shift around home responsibilities.

 

Forgiving Gaps in Workers’ Employment History

According to a study by ResumeGo, applicants with work gaps of greater than six months have a 45% lower chance of receiving job interviews. Millions have lost their jobs during the pandemic and remain unemployed. With so many individuals forced to exit the workforce over the past year, accepting gaps in employment is critical to eliminating these hiring barriers.

 

Offering Job Training or Cross-training

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that new job skills are critical in a more digitized working environment. Remote work and Zoom meetings are here to stay. Offering initial job training for skills and requirements that do not require certification or a degree will allow displaced workers a chance to gain useful skills in a new working environment. Similarly, cross-training employees to learn each other’s responsibilities (so long as their positions have enough overlap) can be effective when emergencies arise due to absences from work or other staffing challenges.

 

Create Mentorship Programs or Opportunities

A female-led or minority-led mentorship program can support and promote the advancement of under-represented groups within the workplace. Seasoned women employees can be great support structures for other women trying to begin their careers or advance within the company. Women who are currently excelling at their position or working in an executive-level position can assist other women dealing with similar daily challenges, such as work-life balance.

 

Re-evaluate the Businesses Culture

This one is more abstract and requires internal inquiries, but you should ask if your business provides a culture where women are valued or has a diverse demographic that is often desired by applicants. Ask yourself: is your workforce gender-diverse? What about the leadership positions? If the answer to these questions suggests unequal gender representation in the workplace, ask whether it is because of a culture that does not support women. Perhaps it’s more of a recruiting issue. In any event, you should dig deep for answers and insist on change.

 

 

Childcare Options

Providing on-site childcare is probably an option only for larger businesses. However, here are a few suggestions for all businesses to consider:

• Revisit your employee benefits. Do you already, or can you afford to, provide a childcare subsidy, childcare referral services for nearby locations, or extended paid leave?

• Partner with surrounding businesses. If your business space is too small to provide on-site childcare, reach out to nearby childcare locations and discuss rates and hours that could create a partnership between the businesses or, at the very least, a referral resource.

• Offer extended FFCRA benefits, which are available until Sept. 30, 2021, and can be used by employees to take time off for childcare or other COVID-19-related reasons.

 

Final Thoughts

After making positive strides in the workforce over the past decade, women’s participation in the workforce declined over the last year. To correct this trend, businesses will need to put a conscious effort toward recruiting women into their workforce.

 

Jeremy M. Forgue is an attorney with the law firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. in Springfield; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]

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