First hearing on fed aid $$$ set for next Tuesday

Boston Statehouse

FILE – In this April 23, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump’s name is seen on a stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, in San Antonio. All that aid is now gone. Yet prospects for more federal stimulus this year appear all but dead, clouding the future for the unemployed, for small businesses and for the economy as a whole.(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

BOSTON (SHNS) – More than two months after the state received its $5.3 billion American Rescue Plan Act award from the federal government, the Legislature next Tuesday plans to begin the series of hearings that will inform its spending decisions.

The Joint Ways and Means Committee will convene the first ARPA hearing virtually on Tuesday, July 20 and will initially focus on Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to quickly put about $2.9 billion of the money to work “and on hearing from outside experts on national trends, best practices and recommendations on spending ARPA funds.” A second hearing to discuss how ARPA money could be used to address housing, labor and workforce development issues, is planned for July 27.

The hearings will be held “in collaboration with other Committee Chairs and legislators,” the announcement said. Chairmen Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues said more hearings are being planned “in the coming months,” suggesting the Legislature will not take up rescue plan spending bills until the fall at the earliest. The president signed the law March 11 and Massachusetts got its allocation May 19.

“Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka have made clear that the Legislature is committed to employing a thoughtful, thorough and transparent public hearing process to help us determine the best path forward in how the Commonwealth responsibly and strategically invests one-time federal funds,” the budget chiefs said in a joint statement.

They added, “We invite the Baker Administration, stakeholders and members of the general public to provide feedback and share ideas as we work collaboratively to address our most critical needs, while positioning our Commonwealth for equitable long-term success.”

Baker, who yielded to the Legislature’s desire for a thorough public hearing process when he signed legislation late last month transferring most of the ARPA money into a segregated account, favors a more rapid infusion of the federal dollars and has proposed spending $2.915 billion on areas like housing and homeownership supports, economic development, job training, addiction treatment, and water and sewer infrastructure.

The governor said Tuesday morning that the Legislature starting its hearings later this month “is a good step.” “But some of the initiatives, especially around the retraining, we believe we should try and start as soon as possible,” he said. “There are, you know, hundreds of thousands of people whose extended federal unemployment benefits are going to end in September, and we think it’s really important to be able to provide them with an opportunity to get a credential to develop a skill and to find their way into an open opportunity for work.”

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