Five months of preparation, House leaders finally detailed on Monday a $ 3.65 billion spending program that would pour state surplus and federal COVID-19 aid into virtually every aspect of the country. state economy, while setting aside approximately $ 2.75 billion for future allocation.
The state received about $ 5.2 billion in federal discretionary funds in May. That $ 3.65 billion is still a long way off the spending wish list submitted to the Legislature.
With debate underway in the House and consideration by the Senate still a few weeks away, most of the details of the bill remain ripe for negotiation.
However, the two branches appear to agree on two key pieces of the legislation, totaling $ 1 billion.
It is a pair of $ 500 million investments in the unemployment insurance system and bonuses for low-income workers who remained at work during the pandemic.
Employees who worked in person during the state of emergency and earn no more than 300% of the federal poverty line – $ 79,900 for a family of four – would be entitled to a one-time bonus of $ 500 to 2,000 $, according to House Ways and Means. President Aaron Michewitz.
The vast majority of that funding – $ 460 million – would go to the private sector, with the remaining $ 40 million earmarked for state workers.
It is the least that the state can do for these lower paid workers, who filled the aisles of supermarkets and worked at the checkouts while others returned to work at home.
With the remaining $ 500 million, the bill is helping business owners repay a $ 7 billion loan to cover the historic number of jobless claims paid during the pandemic, which has pushed their fund trust fund for insolvency.
The large number of funding targets in the bill cannot all be analyzed here, but a few deserve attention.
This House bill includes many of the same spending priorities that Gov. Charlie Baker proposed previously, but at significantly lower levels.
Baker, for example, suggested that $ 1 billion should be spent on unemployment insurance debt. On Monday, he reiterated his support for a larger investment – a sentiment shared by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
Retailers Association president Jon Hurst said the small businesses he represents will seek additional funding, as well as system reforms to tackle UI abuse and “tax loopholes.” eligibility ”, early next year.
We agree. Small businesses have been disproportionately hit hard during this pandemic, and a billion dollar contribution would certainly help ease their debt burden.
An economic development initiative would dedicate $ 20 million to help resettle Afghans who have started arriving in Massachusetts. This would help pay for housing costs, given the non-refugee status of these evacuees.
That should be more than enough to satisfy State Senator Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and State Representative Vanna Howard, D-Lowell, who have called on the Senate and House Ways and Means Committees. to include $ 12 million in funding for the resettlement of these Afghan allies. Massachusetts plans to absorb at least 1,000 of these evacuees over the next year.
The bill would also allocate $ 100 million for water and sewer infrastructure. This amount is not beginning to meet the water treatment needs of towns along the Merrimack River and communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
And in a surveillance measure advocated by that newspaper, the House offered to give Inspector General Glenn Cunha $ 5 million to set up a public website and database to hopefully identify pork, as well. than to ensure funds reach hard-hit communities.
We will now see how the Senate bill differs from the House version.