Worker bonuses, UI relief highlight ARPA bill

Coronavirus Local Impact

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BOSTON (SHNS) – Low- and middle-income workers who provided critical services during the pandemic would receive a total of $500 million in premium pay bonuses and $500 million more would cushion the impact of unemployment insurance increases on businesses, under a bill emerging in the Legislature on Monday that uses American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The legislation will be released Monday from the House Ways and Means Committee and the full House plans to consider the bill this week. The House has a formal session scheduled on Thursday and a potential formal session on Friday.

“The respective House and Senate bills will focus on shared priorities in areas like housing, climate, health care, economic recovery, infrastructure, and workforce needs — all with a focus on communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing economic and racial inequality,” Ways and Means Chairs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Michael Rodrigues said in a statement early Monday.

The Senate budget committee “will follow soon thereafter within the next few weeks,” the statement said.

The Legislature has just over three weeks remaining for formal sessions this year, and the timeline outlined by the legislative leaders puts them on course to potentially get a spending bill to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk by around Nov. 17.

Getting a plan to Baker will require quick resolution of any differences in the bills that eventually clear each branch, but the half-billion dollars investments in frontline workers and unemployment insurance relief are forming cornerstones in the approaches of both branches.

Legislators have been hearing for months from interest groups, and from Baker, who has pressed his own ARPA bill, about ways to put federal money to work to aid the economic recovery and people and groups most heavily and negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“In the coming days, we look forward to working collaboratively with our fellow legislators, stakeholders, and other members of the public to continue working on this spending plan and to get it enacted in a timely fashion so that these funds can support an equitable recovery and be put to work for the residents of the Commonwealth, while preserving flexibility to respond to future needs,” the statement said.

In June, Baker proposed a $2.8 billion plan to spend a portion of the state’s one-time ARPA funds on priorities such as home ownership aid, substance abuse treatment and job training. The governor and administration officials have repeatedly urged legislators to move quickly on ARPA investments. With about $4.8 billion available to spend, legislators have opted for a series of public hearings so solicit feedback.

House Democrats will hold a caucus at noon Monday to discuss the Ways and Means proposal.

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