By Bob Katzen
All of the decisions on which senators’ amendments are included or not included in the relief and recovery package are made “behind closed doors in person” or in the COVID-19 era, “behind closed Zoom doors.” Many of the more than 700 amendments proposed were on local projects for cities and towns in individual senators’ districts. Some amendments were considered individually but many were consolidated into “Yes” or “No” bundles, created by the Democratic leadership, and were approved or rejected on a voice vote all at once without debate and without a roll call vote.
Supporters of this system say that any senator who sponsored an amendment that was placed in the “No” bundle can bring it to the floor and ask for an up or down vote on the amendment itself. They say this system has worked well for many years.
Critics say this system gives too much power to the Democratic leadership and leaves all the decisions up to a handful of senators in the leadership whose word is final.
$3.82 BILLION FOR COVID RELIEF AND RECOVERY (S 2564)
Senate 38-0, approved a $3.82 billion package which spends the federal money the state received from the ARPA and the surplus left over from the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget on relief and recovery from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. The plan includes one-time investments in health and human services, education, housing, the environment including climate mitigation, economic development and jobs. The House has already approved a different version of the measure and a House-Senate conference committee will hammer out a compromise version.
Provisions include $400 million in mental and behavioral health support; $118.4 million for public health infrastructure and data sharing; $95 million for grants to local boards of health to be prepared to respond to future public health threats; $60 million for food security infrastructure; $50 million for nursing facilities; $25 million for a grant program for community violence prevention focused on communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to provide relief to small businesses; $75 million for equitable and affordable broadband access and infrastructure improvements to close the digital divide; $75 million for the Mass Cultural Council; $50 million for grants to minority-owned small businesses; $600 million for investments in affordable and accessible housing; $25 million for tree planting; $15 million for parks and recreational projects; $10 million for clean energy retrofitting in affordable housing units; and $7.5 million for community colleges to help train underserved populations for green jobs.
“The Massachusetts State Senate has acted decisively to support our state’s recovery and ensure we do not go back to normal but ‘back to better,'” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “The Senate’s proposal provides a path towards an equitable recovery that benefits residents, businesses and communities through transformational investments in public health, housing and climate change.”
“The Senate demonstrated its commitment to using the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the ARPA funds represent to fuel an equitable recovery and support the communities most impacted by the pandemic,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The Senate has risen to the challenge of making meaningful investments in mental health, public health, workforce development, affordable housing and so much more, ensuring those hit the hardest by COVID-19—families, essential workers and small businesses—are being helped the most.”