Investments focus on those hardest hit by COVID-19 and supporting the ongoing economic recovery
The Massachusetts State Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a $3.82 billion bill that directs federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to assist the Commonwealth’s ongoing recovery, with a particular focus on making equitable investments and ensuring that communities disproportionately impact by the COVID-19 pandemic are prioritized. Using this framework, the bill delivers targeted, transformational supports to critical sectors such as health care, mental and behavioral health, housing security, environment, and workforce development.
“The Massachusetts State Senate has acted decisively to support our state’s recovery and ensure we do not go back to normal but ‘back to better’,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “The Senate’s proposal provides a path towards an equitable recovery that benefits residents, businesses, and communities through transformational investments in public health, housing, and climate change. I once again thank President Biden and the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation for their work to pass the American Rescue Plan Act at the federal level. I am also grateful to my colleagues in the Senate, the members and staff of the Committee on Ways and Means, and the many members of the public who provided input to help us chart our future.”
“Over the course of Wednesday’s long and productive debate, the Senate demonstrated its commitment to using the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the American Rescue Plan Act funds represent to fuel an equitable recovery and support the communities most impacted by the pandemic,” said State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Under the continued leadership of Senate President Spilka, the Senate has risen to the challenge of making meaningful investments in mental health, public health, workforce development, affordable housing, and so much more, ensuring those hit the hardest by COVID-19—families, essential workers and small businesses—are being helped the most. Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate, whose advocacy and dedication helped to shape the overall direction of this bill to ensure our residents will benefit equitably as we continue to chart a path forward to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The Senate has produced an important bill to respond to the powerful impacts that COVID-10 has had in every community and sector of our Commonwealth. Our American Rescue Plan Act bill directs federal and state surplus dollars towards our highest priorities including; public health and wellness, economic and environmental protection and stewardship, infrastructure improvements, supports for the services people and businesses need to recover and prosper,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R – Gloucester). “The release of these funds won’t cure all our ills, but it will fuel our state’s recovery from a devastating pandemic, and build strength and resilience for the future.”
Investments included in the bill are as follows:
Mental and Behavioral Health, Public Health and Health Care
The Senate’s ARPA spending plan helps families, vulnerable populations, and historically underserved communities by investing more than $1 billion to support the state’s healthcare system and confront the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate’s bill invests $400 million in mental and behavioral health supports, including over $122 million to expand loan repayment programs for behavioral health professionals, including substance use disorder professionals. This investment is expected to help recruit and retain nearly 2,000 mental health professionals across the continuum of care. During debate, $5 million was added by amendment to support grants to higher education institutions to address student behavioral and mental health needs.
The Senate’s plan also revolutionizes the state’s local and regional public health infrastructure and makes a historic investment of $250.9 million to ensure the Commonwealth can protect the public health of residents, workers, and businesses for years to come. This funding includes $118.4 million for public health infrastructure and data sharing upgrades, and $95 million for direct grants to local boards of health to be prepared to respond to future public health threats. To complement this landmark investment, the Senate adopted an amendment that encourages greater collaboration between regional public health systems on workforce standards and policies, while sustaining the Public Health Excellence program established under the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) program. Other health care investments include:
- $300 million for the Home and Community-Based Services Federal Investment Fund to address workforce needs for those caring for vulnerable populations,
- $200 million for acute hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,
- $60 million for food security infrastructure with complementary amendments investing $17 million for the Greater Boston Food Bank for regional food security network improvements across the Commonwealth, $5 million for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, $2 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program to provide loans, grants and technical assistance in a regionally equitable manner to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, $1.92 million for Project Bread to better connect eligible unenrolled residents with federal nutrition programs statewide and $1 million for the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, Inc. for the operation of empowerment centers and to support the distribution of food to veterans in need,
- $55 million to support a robust and diverse home health care and human service workforce through recruitment, retention, and loan forgiveness programming,
- $50 million for nursing facilities, including $25 million for capital support, to increase the quality of patient care and $25 million for workforce initiatives,
- $25 million for a grant program for community violence prevention and re-entry organizations, focused on communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,
- $5 million added by an amendment for Health Care For All to conduct a community-based MassHealth redetermination and vaccination outreach, education, and access campaign targeted in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,
- $5 million added by an amendment for the Disabled Persons Protection Commission to study and review the interrelationship between service-providing agencies for individuals with disabilities within the Commonwealth and to design and implement a system for an interconnected network that will provide a continuum of care for those individuals,
- $2 million added by an amendment for unreimbursed COVID-19 costs for Early Intervention providers, and
- $500,000, added through amendment, to establish transportation services for participants in the Massachusetts Veterans’ Treatment Courts.
Economic Recovery and Workforce Development
The Senate’s ARPA spending plan invests $1.7 billion to robustly support an equitable economic recovery for all by supporting workers, businesses and communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill dedicates $500 million towards premium pay bonuses for essential workers, up to $2,000 per worker, providing much needed relief to the workforce who served on the front lines during the pandemic.
The bill also provides nearly $200 million in tax relief for small-business owners who otherwise would be required to pay personal income taxes on state or federal relief money. During debate, the Senate adopted an amendment to codify into statute an existing safe harbor provision related to the calculation of the advanced sales tax payment law. This time sensitive issue is meant to ease compliance and provide many businesses peace of mind, given that the current rule was set to expire on December 31, 2021.
Other economic recovery and workforce development investments include:
- $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, providing necessary relief to small business,
- $100 million for vocational school infrastructure and capacity building needs,
- $75 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to support organizations working with people displaced from jobs during the pandemic, historically underserved populations, and individuals reentering their communities from the corrections system,
- $75 million for equitable and affordable broadband access and infrastructure improvements to close the digital divide,
- $75 million for Mass Cultural Council grants to support the cultural sector,
- $50 million for direct grants to minority-owned small businesses,
- $30 million for regional high-demand workforce training at community colleges,
- $25 million for the expansion of Career Technical Institutes,
- $24.5 for workforce development and capital assistance grants to the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs, as well $4.5 million added through an amendment for the YWCAs,
- $15 million to enhance and diversify the cybersecurity sector with partnerships between public higher education institutions and private businesses,
- $12 million for the resettlement of Afghani evacuees and $8M added on the floor for Haitian evacuees,
- $10 million added by amendment for regional tourism councils, and
- $14 million for agricultural economy supports.
The spending plan acknowledges the critical role that housing plays in economic recovery. Over a year and a half into the pandemic, access to stable and affordable housing remains at the forefront of the state’s strategy to ensure economic security for those who call the Commonwealth home. Reflecting the Senate’s long-standing commitment, the ARPA spending bill allocates $600 million for investments in affordable, accessible housing, as well as supportive housing.
Housing investments include:
- $150 million for supportive housing, including $75 million for the chronically homeless population, and $20 million, added by amendment, to increase geographic equity and accessibility related to the continuum of long-term care services for veterans not primarily served by the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea or Holyoke,
- $150 million for public housing authorities to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure,
- $125 million for the Commonwealth Builders Program to support housing production and promote homeownership among residents of disproportionately impacted communities,
- $125 million for affordable rental housing production and preservation for the workforce and low- and moderate-income individuals,
- $50 million for homeownership assistance tools, including down payment assistance, and mortgage interest subsidy supports.
The Senate bill prioritizes building a more resilient Commonwealth and ensuring a healthier environment for all. To that end, the bill invests $450 million to combat climate change through mitigation initiatives, strengthen environmental infrastructure, fix aging water infrastructure, and modernize marine port infrastructure to support the state’s emerging offshore wind industry.
Environment and climate investments include:
- $175 million for water and sewer infrastructure investments through the Clean Water Trust,
- $125 million for environmental infrastructure grants, including the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program,
- $100 million for marine port infrastructure investments focused on the promotion of offshore wind development,
- $25 million for Greening the Gateway Cities program to support tree planting, after adding $5 million through an amendment,
- $15 million for parks and recreational assets,
- $10 million for clean energy retrofitting in affordable housing units,
- $7.5 million, added by amendment, for community colleges to help train underserved populations for green jobs, and
- $5 million for the advancement of geothermal technologies.
Transparency and Oversight
To support communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and prioritize historically underserved or marginalized populations, the Senate’s bill establishes an equity and accountability review panel for federal funds to track in near real-time the amount and percentage of ARPA funds spent in these communities and awarded to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises. The bill also takes steps to ensure minority-owned and women-owned business have fair participation on procurements issued under the act.
With both the House and Senate having passed their own versions of ARPA spending plans, the two bills must now be reconciled before heading to the Governor’s desk.