On November 2, State Representative Joseph McGonagle, along with his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, unanimously passed An Act relative to immediate COVID-19 recovery needs (H.4234) a spending proposal (originally sponsored by Governor Charlie Baker) using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Fiscal Year 2021 surplus funds. Funded at $3.82 billion, H.4234 addresses disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, aiming to facilitate recovery through one-time investments in housing, environment and climate mitigation, economic development, workforce, health and human services, and education. McGonagle was able to secure $700,000 for Everett in this bill, which now goes to the Senate.
“The investments made by the House today address evident needs across all Massachusetts communities and sectors of the economy, particularly among those who have been disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano. “I thank Chair Michlewitz and the members of the Committee on Ways & Means, as well as all legislators, stakeholders and residents for their advocacy, guidance and work in making this bill a reality.”
In this bill, McGonagle was able to secure $400,000 to create a financial assistance program to benefit first-time homebuyers in Everett. Additionally, he locked down $300,000 for the city’s police and public health departments to hire additional substance abuse counselors to work with and support unhoused members of the community. Both of these projects were identified as priorities for the city and the community.
“I am so thrilled with the outcome of this bill for the Commonwealth as a whole but especially for Everett,” said McGonagle. “There were 1127 amendments filed, 1127 requests for funds across the 351 cities and towns across Massachusetts. For us to get both these requests is huge for our community. I am excited to see how these programs will better our city and I’m grateful to Speaker Mariano and Chair Michlewitz for their hard work on this bill and listening to the needs of Everett. I am also grateful to Mayor DeMaria and his staff for always being great partners in these endeavors.”
“This spending package makes significant, targeted investments into areas such as affordable housing, workforce development, and boosting our health care system that will give a much-needed boost to our residents who were hit the hardest by this pandemic,” said State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, who is chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means. “Throughout this legislation, the needs of communities that were disproportionally affected by the pandemic are prioritized. By doing so, the House has passed a truly equitable spending plan.”
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to transfer the state’s $5.3 billion allocation from ARPA, which must be allocated by 2024, into a separate fund to ensure stakeholder and resident engagement in a public process. On October 26, 2021, following six public hearings and more than a thousand pieces of testimony received, the House Ways & Means Committee released its proposal, which the House approved 159-0.
The House bill includes $500 million to replenish the Unemployment Trust Fund, which will offset businesses’ contributions for unemployment programs. The bill includes $200 million worth of tax relief for small businesses that paid personal income taxes on state or federal relief awards during the pandemic. It also includes $60 million for grants to support small businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, with $35 million of it reserved for minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.
To assist recovering cultural organizations and artists, the bill appropriates $125 million to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for grants supporting cultural events, education or performances highlighting underrepresented voices. Other economic development investments include $40 million for youth summer and school-year jobs, $50 million to close the digital divide and $12 million to assist in the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Massachusetts.
Health and human services
Building on the House’s longstanding commitment to support and protect community hospitals, the bill allocates $250 million for financially strained hospitals and $20 million for community health centers. This bill includes more than $250 million for behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment services, including $100 million for workforce initiatives with $15 million specifically for community health centers. The bill also includes over $150 million for local and regional public health systems.
Other investments include more than $78 million to address food insecurity, $15 million for prison re-entry grants, $10 million for community-based gun violence–prevention programs, $6.5 million for coordination teams for triage treatment and service supports and post-treatment supportive housing in Boston and $5 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation to bolster access to legal services for the most vulnerable.
The bill includes $500 million towards providing premium pay bonuses for low- and middle-income workers who worked in person during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. To promote employment, the bill also includes $150 million to enhance workforce opportunities through workforce skills training as well as $100 million for vocational, career and technical schools.
Affordable housing and homeownership
The bill appropriates funds for affordable housing, with $150 million directed toward public housing maintenance and $150 million to create permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals, survivors of domestic violence, seniors and veterans. The bill also includes $100 million for homeownership assistance and $100 million for production and preservation of affordable rental housing for residents of municipalities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Environment and climate change mitigation
Building on the House’s commitment to the environment and clean energy, the bill includes investments for environmental infrastructure and development spending, with a focus on Environmental Justice (EJ) communities, climate change resiliency and clean energy. This bill includes $100 million for port infrastructure development and revitalization to facilitate economic activity and support the offshore wind industry. Other investments include $100 million toward infrastructure for communities to adapt and become climate resilient and $100 million for water and sewer projects, including those to remediate combined sewer overflow into waterways.
To improve indoor air quality in schools and support healthy learning environments, this bill includes more than $100 million for grants to public school districts with high concentrations of low-income students, English language learners, and communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. This bill also includes the following: $75 million for capital and maintenance projects for higher education; $25 million for the Endowment Incentive Program at the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges; $20 million for special education, including $10 million for workforce development; and $10 million for programs focused on recruiting and retaining educators of color.
Accountability and public engagement
As a tool to inform future ARPA spending, the House’s bill allocates $5 million for the Inspector General’s Office to create a public database and website to track total spending, including the percentage of funds spent in communities that were disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to track the number of projects awarded to minority-owned businesses and organizations.