Mass. Bill to Spend $4 Billion in Federal Relief Moves Forward, Could Be Law This Week

It includes $500-$2,000 payments for lower-income essential workers who stayed on the job in-person during the COVID-19 state of emergency and $500 million to shore up the unemployment insurance trust fund


A roughly $4 billion spending bill advanced in the Massachusetts House on Thursday without fanfare and could reach Gov. Charlie Baker's desk when lawmakers in both branches reconvene on Friday.

After a conference committee on Wednesday night filed a 163-page compromise bill to spend American Rescue Plan Act and surplus state tax revenue funding, the House accepted its report on an unrecorded voice vote during an informal session Thursday.

No lawmakers spoke about the $3.998 billion proposal before the House's vote. A Senate vote to accept the conference committee report is expected on Friday, and then final procedural votes could send the spending package to Baker.

Legislative leaders had hoped to wrap up work on the bill by Thanksgiving but needed a couple of extra weeks to reach consensus on a bill that has been eagerly anticipated by the many stakeholders in line for a piece of the federal economic recovery aid.

Until January, the Legislature is meeting only in informal sessions, where bills need unanimous support to advance and can be halted by any one lawmakers' objections. The House and Senate each passed their original $3.82 billion ARPA spending bills unanimously.

After months of political negotiations and gridlock, President Joe Biden spoke on Saturday morning to celebrate the passage of his $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill late Friday night.

In keeping with a House-Senate agreement announced before either branch voted on the legislation, the final bill (H 4269) allocates $500 million toward payments, in an amount ranging from $500 to $2,000, for lower-income essential workers who stayed on the job in-person during the COVID-19 state of emergency, and another $500 million to shore up the unemployment insurance trust fund.

The 163-page bill, packed with local earmarks, also features major health-related investments, including $400 million "to enhance and expand access to mental and behavioral health supports and services and community-based primary care," a $300 million reserve "to enhance, expand and strengthen Medicaid home and community-based services," $260 million to support financially strained hospitals in communities hit hard by COVID-19, and more than $200 million for local and regional public health systems.

It directs $100 million each to water and sewer infrastructure, to environmental infrastructure, to addressing air quality and ventilation needs in schools with "high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students, English language learners and communities disproportionately impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic," and to capital improvement grants for vocational schools and career technical education programs at public schools. More than $107 million is allocated "to enhance workforce opportunities through workforce and career technical skills training," along with other workforce-development initiatives in the bill, and there is $75 million for small business grants.

Housing-related spending includes $115 million toward the production of for-sale, below-market housing to expand homeownership opportunities, $115 million to produce and preserve affordable rental housing, $150 million for permanent supportive housing, and $150 million to "rehabilitate and modernize state-aided public housing developments."

In a joint statement Wednesday night, Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka said the bill "will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to build housing that is affordable, transform our public and behavioral health systems, prepare us for the impacts of climate change, strengthen our education system, assist struggling hospitals, and support our frontline workers by providing half-a-billion dollars in direct payments."

"From the outset of the process to allocate American Rescue Plan Act and Fiscal Year 2021 surplus funding, our goal has been to ensure every voice across Massachusetts had a chance to engage, provide feedback and collaborate on this historic opportunity to shape our future," they said. "The agreement reached by the Conference Committee meets that mark by investing $4 billion directly in our residents and our hardest hit communities and economic sectors."

Copyright State House News Service
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