By Bob Katzen
Governor Charlie Baker, after vetoing several items, signed into law a $4 billion package which spends the $2.55 billion in federal money the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the $1.45 billion 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 package also preserves another $2.3 billion in federal ARPA funds for future use by the state.
A key provision provides $500 million for a COVID-19 Essential Employee Premium Pay Fund for one-time payments to frontline workers who worked during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Baker vetoed a section of that provision that he said would create administrative obstacles that would interfere with the efficient distribution of payments, including the requirement to consult with an extensive 28-member advisory panel on program design. He said that vetoing this section will allow the administration to immediately get to work on the process to distribute these funds.
Other provisions include: $400 million in mental and behavioral health support; $200.1 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 affectedimpacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to provide relief to small businesses; $50 million for equitable and affordable broadband access and infrastructure improvements to close the digital divide; $135 million for the Mass Cultural Council; $75 million for grants to minority-owned small businesses; $595 million for investments in affordable and accessible housing; $25 million for tree planting; $15 million for parks and recreational projects; $6.5 million for clean energy retrofitting in affordable housing units; and $10 million for programs focused on recruiting and maintaining educators of color.
“The pandemic has had a significant impact on Massachusetts workers, families, communities and businesses for nearly two years and today’s signing directs billions of dollars in relief toward those hardest hit across the commonwealth,” said Baker. “While this package falls far short of the investment I called for to address the housing shortage, the important investments included in this bill will help to accelerate Massachusetts’ economic recovery and provide long-lasting benefits to infrastructure, healthcare, education systems and small businesses.”