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Rep. Wong supports extending outdoor dining and cocktails-to-go as part of $1.6B supplemental budget

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  State Representative Donald Wong recently supported a proposal to allow restaurants to continue providing outdoor dining and cocktails-to-go with takeout orders until the spring of 2023 as part of a $1.6 billion supplemental budget. The spending plan, which was filed as House Bill 4532, also provides $700 million (M) to fund a wide range of COVID-19-related treatment and vaccination initiatives, including testing in schools and congregate care settings, and extends the state’s emergency eviction protections to March 31, 2023. On March 9 the bill was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives.  On March 10 the Senate referred the bill to its Committee on Ways and Means.

  Wong noted that the actual cost of the supplemental budget to the state will be less than $1.6 billion, as many of the spending items included in the bill are eligible for federal reimbursement. When the initial bill was released by House Ways and Means prior to debate, it was estimated that the actual cost to the state would be $842M or about half of the original bill’s bottom line.

  An additional $6.75M in spending was added to the bill through the amendment process, $5M of which would be allocated to the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), with the remaining $1.75M in funding going to the state’s Department of Fire Services.

  During floor debate, Wong supported an amendment that was filed by State Representative Kelly Pease (R-Westfield) to add $100M to the Chapter 90 municipal road and bridge program to assist cities and towns, but the amendment was defeated on a roll call vote of 28-128. He also supported an amendment that was filed by State Representative Peter Durant to provide relief to the state’s motorists by suspending the 24 cents per gallon gas excise tax until the average cost of a gallon of unleaded gas falls below $3.70, but the amendment was defeated on a voice vote.

  Under House Bill 4532, restaurants are allowed to continue offering outdoor dining as well as certain alcoholic drinks as part of a food takeout order until April 1, 2023. Initiated during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to support Massachusetts’ businesses, the outdoor dining provisions are currently scheduled to expire on April 1, while the ability to offer beer, wine and mixed drinks with food takeout orders is set to expire on May 1.

  The House proposal also includes $100M to provide grant funding to municipalities as part of a winter recovery assistance program, which would be distributed using a formula based on local road miles. Wong noted that this funding could be used for reconstructing, resurfacing and striping roads, as well as for repairing or replacing traffic lights, signage, guardrails and storm grates.

  Other spending initiatives contained in the bill are as follows:

  • $100M for the Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program
  • $2.8M for shelters servicing homeless individuals
  • $359,154 for climate adaptation and preparedness
  • $140M in grants for special education schools to help address the impacts of COVID-19 and its variants
  • $8.4M for guardianship, foster care, adoption, family preservation and kinship services provided by the Department of Children & Families
  • $1.66M for the Department of Conservation & Recreation’s state parks and recreation division
  • $8M for early intervention services
  • $5M for the Department of Public Health’s Suicide Prevention and Intervention Program
  • $5M for adult mental health and support services
  • $10M for emergency aid to the elderly, disabled and children
  • $500,000 for the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women
  • $10M to assist with the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees and immigrants
  • $108.3M for collective bargaining costs

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