With the dawn of a new year, Massachusetts residents likely will have to navigate many of the things they already have in 2021: a resurgent global pandemic, economic inflation, a shortage of workers.
A slate of changes to state law could make that easier — or harder.
Come Jan. 1, thousands of low-income workers could see a mandatory raise. Some employees who work Sundays may take home a little less per hour. And by the spring, some pandemic-era rules countless people have leaned on will end without action on Beacon Hill.
It’s difficult these days to predict much with certainty. But here are some of the laws coming, and possibly going, in 2022:
For the fourth time in as many years, the minimum wage in Massachusetts will increase, this time from $13.50 per hour to $14.25 per hour. It’s the second-to-last in a series of hikes that will push the state’s wage floor to $15 per hour by 2023.
The service rate for waitstaff and others who earn tips will also increase, from $5.55 per hour to $6.15.
The changes are some of the most far-reaching in a 2018 Massachusetts law known as the grand bargain, which promised years of changes for workers and businesses. It also plunks Massachusetts within a wave of places raising what low-income workers will earn: 21 states, as well 35 cities and counties, will see minimum wage increases with the new year, according to the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.
California’s minimum will rise to $15 on Jan. 1 for employers with 26 or more workers. In New York state, where fast food workers and those in New York City already make at least $15, those on Long Island and in Westchester County will also make at least that per hour on Dec. 31.
Less clear, however, is the impact the hikes could have. The prices consumers are paying are soaring, potentially eating into how far a 5.5 percent jump in the wage floor in Massachusetts will go. That said, even a relatively modest increase in pay could go a long way for low-income workers paying more for everything from gas to groceries compared to a year ago.
“When you think about a full-time worker [making minimum wage], this is a boost from $27,000 to $28,500,” said Phineas Baxandall, a senior analyst at the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. “For people who are earning $27,000 a year, it’s a really meaningful increase for them and their families.”
Two years ago, when the minimum wage jumped 75 cents to $12.75 per hour, the Mass. Budget and Policy Center estimated it raised the pay for 420,600 Massachusetts workers. Baxandall said the center has not done an analysis for the upcoming hike, but economists and business groups say some employers already have tried raising wages in a bid to attract workers.
That could further trim the number that would have to do so come Jan. 1, said Jeannette Wicks-Lim, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
When also considering rising inflation, “the minimum wage hikes that were planned for aren’t going to have the same kick to them as policy makers and advocates had hoped,” Wicks-Lim said. “The other way to think about it is: at least they’re on the books.”
The grand bargain lawmakers passed, and Governor Charlie Baker signed, more than three years ago, includes another change. What once was time-and-a-half pay for some workers on Sundays will slide again, this time from 1.2 times their regular rate to 1.1 times. The premium Sunday pay for retail workers will disappear completely in 2023.
Even with the other increases, some workers may not collect more pay if the restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses they work for have to limit hours because they’re struggling to find enough staff, said Chris Carlozzi, Massachusetts state director for the National Federation of Independent Business,
“They’re starting to recover, but it’s still a very fragile economy,” Carlozzi said of small businesses.
After Baker ended Massachusetts’ COVID-19 state of emergency, the Legislature struck a deal to keep many of the rules in place temporarily.
Now those laws are starting to, or will, dissolve from the books. On Dec. 15, laws allowing for expanded mail-in voting, and for notaries public to remotely perform work central to estate planning and mortgages both expired.
Massachusetts law mandates that those applying for a reverse mortgage undergo in-person counseling. But a temporary law allowing those sessions to be conducted virtually also ended in mid-December — creating a particular challenge given there are just eight state-approved counseling programs.
A host of other temporary laws are in danger of lapsing, too.
The extension law Baker signed in June allows restaurants to sell to-go beer, wine, and cocktails through May 1. It also extended the time towns and cities could allow expanded outdoor dining at restaurants until April 1.
A measure allowing town councils, state boards, and other public bodies to meet remotely also ends in April, as does a temporary measure designed to protect renters. That provision requires that courts delay evictions for people who couldn’t pay their rent because of COVID-19-related financial hardship and have a pending application for rental assistance.
Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said he hopes the Legislature moves to extend several of the laws affecting cities and towns when it returns from recess in January.
“It’s really not helpful to do these extensions last minute,” he said, noting the Legislature has continued to operate under rules allowing its members to meet and vote remotely. “We just ask that local legislative bodies have that authority.”
Shell game diverted
January almost brought potential chaos to Massachusetts supermarkets. Instead, Massachusetts lawmakers on Dec. 20 approved — and Baker signed two days later — a compromise that will reshape a 2016 voter-approved law in the new year and avert a statewide egg shortage that was looming if they hadn’t.
Without legislative action, eggs from hens that have less than 1.5 square feet of space could not be sold in the state. It’s a standard industry leaders had warned is strict enough to effectively destroy the market: Up to 90 percent of the eggs currently being supplied to Massachusetts would disappear from shelves, they said, unless the Legislature changed the standard slated to go in effect in January.
The current law instead requires just 1 square foot per bird in a “multi-tier aviary,” which would allow hens room to move vertically but require less floor space.
For those hoping to make an omelet on New Year’s Day, it likely means it’s one fewer thing to worry about in 2022.