BOSTON (SHNS) – Legislative leaders hope to get a $4 billion spending package to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk this week, after a conference committee on Wednesday night filed a compromise bill spending American Rescue Plan Act money and surplus state tax revenues.
In a joint statement, Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka said the House will take up the bill Thursday, with the Senate planning to follow suit Friday.
Until January, the Legislature is meeting only in informal sessions, where bills need unanimous support to advance and can be halted by any one lawmakers’ objections. The House and Senate each passed their original $3.82 billion ARPA spending bills unanimously, and leaders had originally hoped to strike a deal before Thanksgiving.
In keeping with a House-Senate agreement announced before either branch voted on the legislation, the final bill (H 4269) allocates $500 million toward payments, in an amount ranging from $500 to $2,000, for lower-income essential workers who stayed on the job in-person during the COVID-19 state of emergency, and another $500 million to shore up the unemployment insurance trust fund.
The 163-page bill, packed with local earmarks, also features major health-related investments, including $400 million “to enhance and expand access to mental and behavioral health supports and services and community-based primary care,” a $300 million reserve “to enhance, expand and strengthen Medicaid home and community-based services,” $260 million to support financially strained hospitals in communities hit hard by COVID-19, and more than $200 million for local and regional public health systems.
It directs $100 million each to water and sewer infrastructure, to environmental infrastructure, to addressing air quality and ventilation needs in schools with “high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students, English language learners and communities disproportionately impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic,” and to capital improvement grants for vocational schools and career technical education programs at public schools. More than $107 million is allocated “to enhance workforce opportunities through workforce and career technical skills training,” along with other workforce-development initiatives in the bill, and there is $75 million for small business grants.
Housing-related spending includes $115 million toward the production of for-sale, below-market housing to expand homeownership opportunities, $115 million to produce and preserve affordable rental housing, $150 million for permanent supportive housing, and $150 million to “rehabilitate and modernize state-aided public housing developments.”
Spilka and Mariano said the bill “will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to build housing that is affordable, transform our public and behavioral health systems, prepare us for the impacts of climate change, strengthen our education system, assist struggling hospitals, and support our frontline workers by providing half-a-billion dollars in direct payments.”
“From the outset of the process to allocate American Rescue Plan Act and Fiscal Year 2021 surplus funding, our goal has been to ensure every voice across Massachusetts had a chance to engage, provide feedback and collaborate on this historic opportunity to shape our future,” they said. “The agreement reached by the Conference Committee meets that mark by investing $4 billion directly in our residents and our hardest hit communities and economic sectors.”