By Bob Katzen
The House and Senate approved, on voice votes, without a roll call, and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a $1.6 billion supplemental budget that contains $700 million for COVID-19 related expenses including testing, treatments, expanded vaccination access and personal protective equipment.
The measure also includes a section requiring the state’s pension funds to terminate investments with any company that has been sanctioned by the United States as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or is incorporated in Russia. Another provision provides $10 million for the Office of Immigrants and Refugees to support the resettlement of Ukrainian and other international refugees.
The House and Senate had each approved its own versions of this budget weeks ago. The leaders of the two branches worked out the differences and came up with a compromise version without appointing a conference committee to do so. Although no one voted against the bill, some critics said that the 42-page bill is being rushed through the Legislature without representatives and senators having much time to read and understand the new version.
Other provisions include $140 million for grants to special education schools to address the impacts of COVID-19 and subsequent variants; $100 million for cities and towns for road repairs; $100 million for rental assistance for needy families; extending eviction protections for tenants who have active assistance applications; and $20 million for low-income home energy assistance;
The package also extends from April 1, 2022 to April 1, 2023 outdoor dining at restaurants and from May 1, 2022 to April 1, 2023 the law allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails with takeout orders.
“The supplemental budget … is emblematic of the Legislature’s consistent response to the economic needs and priorities of the commonwealth,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D -Quincy). “In addition to critical investments in health care, education, transportation infrastructure and housing, this package also includes funding for the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees here in Massachusetts, ensuring that we do our part in the global effort to help those suffering from the war.”
“Massachusetts has avoided the worst of the financial downside from this pandemic and its effects thanks to a history of careful financial planning and consistent investment in those programs and services which support public health and build resiliency in our communities and our commonwealth,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “The supplemental budget … continues this trend by providing targeted funding to healthcare, housing, education, and transportation needs. Importantly, this budget ensures that Massachusetts can continue to offer sanctuary to refugees fleeing from violence abroad even as war continues in Ukraine.”
“This supplemental budget agreement passed this evening responds to the needs of our residents, continues our long-term response to COVID-19 and supports our commonwealth’s ongoing recovery,” said Senator Mike. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “With this agreement, we make meaningful investments in areas like health care, education and local infrastructure, while divesting state pension funds from Russian assets in response to the Russian war in Ukraine and providing funds to resettle refugees, including Ukrainian refugees. This supplemental spending agreement also provides timely supports for families experiencing housing and energy insecurity and extends popular pandemic-related provisions like outdoor dining.”