On March 24, Senator Sal DiDomenico and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate passed a $1.65 billion supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22). The legislation makes investments in the state’s long-term COVID-19 response, addresses staffing shortages in schools, provides support for home- and community-based services and assistance and protections for families experiencing housing and energy insecurity, funds winter road improvements, extends outdoor dining services and beer, wine and cocktails to-go and provides for the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees in Massachusetts. Notably, the bill would divest the state pension fund from Russian assets in response to the Russian war in Ukraine.
“Repeatedly throughout this pandemic, the Massachusetts Senate has demonstrated our commitment to investing in our Commonwealth’s most critical program and services, and this supplemental budget is no exception,” said DiDomenico. “With this legislation, we prioritize our most vulnerable population, continue supporting our health care workers and education sector, and make key investments in our local infrastructure to help Massachusetts build back stronger. I would like to thank Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in moving our Commonwealth forward and prioritizing an equitable COVID-19 recovery.”
A version of this bill having been previously passed by the Massachusetts House, the differences between the two bill versions will be worked out by a Conference Committee before the bill advances to the governor’s desk.
Responding to COVID-19: To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure robust preparation in the event of a future variant outbreak, the bill invests $700 million (M) for the state’s COVID-19 response. This funding would ensure the continued no-cost availability of crucial services offered to residents during the pandemic, including on-site testing, vaccinations and treatment, as well as public health staffing needs resulting from COVID-19.
To further protect families facing housing challenges, the supplemental budget extends through March 2023 several protections for tenants experiencing COVID-19-related financial hardship, including extending the requirement that a court grant a continuance in an eviction case for nonpayment of rent when the tenant has a pending rental assistance application.
The supplemental budget also extends popular pandemic-related provisions – including outdoor dining services and beer, wine and cocktails to-go – through April 2023. The legislation also extends COVID-19-related bonuses for members of the Massachusetts National Guard.
Responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: The supplemental budget responds to the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent violence against Ukrainians. An amendment unanimously adopted on the floor of the Senate requires the Commonwealth’s Pension Reserves Investment Management (PRIM) Board to divest any holdings from companies officially sanctioned by the Biden administration or incorporated in Russia. The supplemental budget also allocates $10M for the Office of Immigrants and Refugees to support the resettlement of international evacuees, including Ukrainians.
Housing and energy assistance: The supplemental budget includes several provisions relating to housing stability and support for individuals currently experiencing or near homelessness. The Senate proposal includes $100M for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, which provides eligible families with funds that they can use to keep their housing or obtain new housing. One amendment added to the budget on the Senate floor would increase the cap of the RAFT program to $10,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year. Another amendment clarifies existing law to ensure that in all eviction cases where the only valid reason for the eviction is nonpayment of rent the tenant has access to protections. The supplemental budget also dedicates $20M to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides crucial assistance to families facing high utility bills. To increase oversight, the bill also directs the Department of Housing and Community Development to make detailed quarterly reports on the state’s eviction diversion initiative.
The supplemental budget allocates $2.8M for shelters for homeless individuals and also ensures that down-payment assistance funds received from the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency or the Massachusetts Housing Partnership will not be considered taxable income.
Health care and mental health: The bill allocates $346M in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) resources to ensure that eligible Medicaid users throughout the Commonwealth can receive health care and medical services in their own homes or local communities. Alongside this investment, the bill appropriates $55M in state resources to support reimbursement rates for human and social service providers who have also been doing crucial work during the pandemic. To address the crisis of mental health care, the bill dedicates $10M to suicide prevention and intervention services, focused on staffing and other resources at crisis centers, and the establishment of a statewide 988 suicide prevention hotline.
Other mental health funding:
- $24M of the state’s ARPA funds allocated specifically for the creation of new behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment beds
- $5M for the Department of Mental Health to expand clientele housing supports
- $1.8M for mental health services for international evacuees resettled in the Commonwealth
Education: In response to reports of staffing shortages in public schools, the supplemental budget includes a provision authorizing the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to issue emergency educator licenses until 180 days after the end of the public health emergency. For private special education schools operating under Chapter 766, the budget allocates $140M to fill immediate staffing needs.
Other funding items of note:
- $100M for a new Winter Road Recovery Assistance Program for cities and towns to repair potholes and roads and bridges worn down by adverse weather conditions.
- $20M for Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) funding, which supports no-cost counseling, advocacy, and intervention services to victims of crime, thereby covering the immediate needs of the Victim and Witness Assistance Board as they are experiencing a shortage of federal funding
- $10M for Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC)
- $8.4M for Department of Children & Families foster family rates
- $8M for Early Intervention staff stabilization supports
- $5M for state election costs
- $1.7M for state park investments, including water safety initiatives
- $609,000 for additional staffing to implement the Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy legislation, which was passed early in the session
• $500,000 to expand the capacity of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women