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By Bob Katzen

The House 158-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would provide $1.1 billion to cover expenses related to response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Charlie Baker has been urging the Legislature to quickly get a spending bill to his desk because the state cannot be eligible for federal reimbursements for costs related to the respiratory virus until a package is approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

The package includes $350 million for personal protective equipment; $139 million in increased rates and add-ons for human service providers; $93 million for human service provider incentive pay; $85 million for field hospitals and shelters; $44 million for contact tracing efforts, and more funding for child care providers, food security programs, emergency housing, and “a dedicated fund to address statewide efforts on racial disparities in COVID health care access.”

“Today we are taking one step closer and helping relieve the financial burden that COVID-19 has inflicted while also helping some prepare for the coming months, as the virus continues to inflict pain and with a vaccine still a ways away from being a reality,” said House Ways and Means chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston). “Collectively, these pieces represent a broad range of items that will help a wide variety of people and organizations that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Michlewitz continued, “As the federal government is inundated with reimbursement requests, it is vital that we maximize our options and take advantage of the FEMA funds while we can. That is why it is so critical that we pass this today and get it closer to the governor’s desk, so that we do not fall far behind other states in the race for federal reimbursement.”

“As you can imagine, since COVID-19, calls to the helpline have increased exponentially as thousands of people are in need of health care for the first time,” said Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville). I know many of us have relied on the helpline to aid our constituents, and the funding in this bill helps to increase the capacity to help people who lost their job and their employer-sponsored coverage and need help finding insurance coverage for the first time. They’re helping people who have never had coverage but because of the crisis are now trying to enroll.”

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