Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) on Saturday signed a new COVID-19 pandemic relief bill into law in his state, adding an additional $101 million to the state’s COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic relief policies. These include bolstering pandemic emergency paid sick leave, and widening access to rapid tests, high-quality masks and vaccines. Most importantly for the state’s reverse mortgage business, the new bill now extends the relief for reverse mortgage counseling sessions to be conducted remotely through telephonic or digital means.
This is according to reporting by the Mass.-based State House News Service and other local media affiliates.
After receiving the governor’s signature, the measure now goes into effect immediately. The new extension will remain in effect through July 15, 2022 barring any additional developments.
“The new law also extends several pandemic-era policies — including remote open meeting law flexibility, remote notarization authorization, flexibility for municipalities to lower town meeting quorums and allowance of remote reverse mortgage counseling — until July 15,” the State House News Service reported.
Previous remote counseling relief expired in December and caught the reverse mortgage industry off guard since longer-term solutions designed to allow for the continuation of phone or video-based counseling have been deliberated for months, predating the last extension of the deadline that was handed down in June, 2021.
At that point, Gov. Baker extended the pre-existing deadline allowing telephonic and video counseling an additional six months. After December’s expiration of that relief, reverse mortgage industry activity was put in danger of moving forward once more and legislators debated another extension.
While the State House passed a bill that would’ve restored remote reverse mortgage counseling through the summer in January, the State Senate amended the bill further, adding $46 million and additional COVID-19 relief to the package. Those alterations required reconciliation between the State House and Senate prior to the passage of the bill that Gov. Baker signed into law.
Massachusetts remains the only state in the country that requires reverse mortgage counseling sessions to be completed in person, and like much of the rest of the nation is grappling with a new wave of COVID-19 infections brought on by the more virulent “Omicron” variant.
While a bill that aimed to permanently address the in-person counseling requirement was filed as early as March 2021, the proposed legislation had stalled without additional deliberation based on publicly-filed information made available by the Massachusetts state legislature. That proposed bill — designated H.1146 — was referred to the Joint Committee on Financial Services at the end of March 2021 with no additional movement.
However, that bill was reported out favorably from the Joint Financial Service Committee earlier this month, according to a reverse mortgage professional that is active within the state. It remains to be seen whether or not the proposed bill can make it through the full legislative process to also be sent to the governor’s desk, but if it manages to do so then reverse mortgage counseling sessions would be permitted “by synchronous real-time video conference or by telephone” on a permanent basis, according to the text of the proposed bill.
Read the report on the bill’s signing at the State House News Service.