Representative Mike Connolly joined his Cambridge and Somerville colleagues in the House last week to unanimously pass H.4219, An Act Relative to Immediate COVID-19 Recovery Needs. This $3.82 billion spending plan utilizes a portion of our federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding along with a portion of the state's Fiscal Year 2021 surplus.
The COVID-19 Recovery Act addresses disparities exacerbated by the pandemic, aiming to facilitate recovery through one-time investments in housing, environment and climate mitigation, economic development, workforce, health and human services, and education. The bill also includes four of Rep. Connolly's district amendments, directing a total of $200,000 to the Margarett Fuller House in the Port, the East End House in East Cambridge, the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers based in the Wellington-Harrington/Inman Square area, and the Welcome Project in Somerville.
“The appropriation of funds made by the House today address pressing needs here in Cambridge and Somerville and across the Commonwealth, particularly among those who have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Connolly. "I'm grateful to Speaker Mariano, Ways and Means Chair Michlewitz, Chairs Hunt, Ferrante, and Williams, and all of my colleagues for taking this action to better support an equitable recovery from the pandemic."
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. 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 and 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 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 $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.
Rep. Connolly's Local Amendments
The House included four of Rep. Connollys local amendments, setting aside funds for local nonprofits engaged in COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Amendment #863 - Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House
Appropriates $50,000 for the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House in The Port. The Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House provides integrated services including Youth Services, Food Services, and Community Advancement to individuals and families to empower them to overcome challenges, reach their potential and achieve their goals.
Amendment #874 - East End House
Appropriates $50,000 for the East End House in East Cambridge. The East End House community center uses a holistic approach to promote the well-being, academic achievement, and successful transition to adulthood of children and youth from under-resourced families in Cambridge and surrounding communities. As part of this approach, East End House provides support services to a diverse population, from infants to seniors, to strengthen family and community.
Amendment #886 - Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers
Appropriates $50,000 for the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers in Wellington-Harrington. MAPS works with and for the Brazilian, Cabo Verdean, Portuguese and other Portuguese-speaking communities to increase access and remove barriers to health, education and social services through direct services, advocacy, leadership, and community development.
Amendment #895 - The Welcome Project
Appropriates $50,000 for the Welcome Project in East Somerville. The Welcome Project builds the collective power of immigrants to participate in and shape community decision through programming that strengthens the capacity of immigrant youth, adults, and families to advocate for themselves and influence schools, government, and other institutions.
The House bill now goes to the Senate.