Baker signs huge $4 billion COVID-19 relief bill

  • FILE - Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, right, faces reporters as Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey, left, looks on during a news conference, in Boston, Thursday, July 8, 2021. Baker's decision not to seek a third term has sparked a scramble among potential successors in a suddenly wide-open race. And it's raised questions about the GOP's future in the state and whether a woman finally will break through one of the last glass ceilings in Massachusetts' elective politics. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Steven Senne—AP

Published: 12/14/2021 8:35:48 PM
Modified: 12/14/2021 8:35:13 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $4 billion COVID-19 relief bill Monday that targets money from the state’s portion of the American Rescue Plan Act as well as surplus funds from Fiscal Year 2021 to help with the state’s ongoing economic recovery from the pandemic.

The bill makes investments in housing and homeownership, health care, workforce development, premium pay for essential workers, and infrastructure. Supporters of the legislation say it directs investments to communities disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on Massachusetts workers, families, communities, and businesses for nearly two years, and today’s signing directs billions of dollars in relief toward those hardest hit across the Commonwealth,” Baker said in a written statement.

“While this package falls far short of the investment I called for to address the housing shortage, the important investments included in this bill will help to accelerate Massachusetts’ economic recovery and provide long-lasting benefits to infrastructure, healthcare, education systems, and small businesses,” he added.

Baker announced earlier this month he won’t seek a third term as governor, saying the decision frees his administration to focus on the pandemic response.

Highlights of the new law include: $150 million for housing for a range of groups, including seniors and veterans; $400 million for addiction treatment and related behavioral health services; $500 million for premium pay for low-income essential workers; and $100 million for grants for water and sewer infrastructure improvements.

Other spending priorities are: $135 million to support cultural facilities and tourism; $260 million for fiscally stressed hospitals; and $75 million for grants to small businesses. Of those, $50 million will go to businesses reaching underserved markets and minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses.

Baker vetoed a section of the legislation he said would create administrative obstacles for the distribution of payments, including a requirement to consult first with a 28-member advisory panel.

Vetoing this section allows the administration to immediately start the process of distributing funds, Baker said.

The federal aid is intended to support urgent COVID-19 response efforts, replace lost revenue, support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses, and address unequal public health and economic challenges.

Earlier this year, lawmakers transferred the state’s allocation of federal relief funds into a separate state fund. The Legislature then held a series of public hearings before deciding how best to spend the billions.

They sent the bill to Baker earlier this month recommending how the money should be spent.

After accounting for spending in the new law and earlier spending commitments, about $2.3 billion of coronavirus fiscal recovery funds will remain to be further appropriated, according to the administration.


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