On July 29, the Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously to support a sweeping economic recovery and development bill that provides much-needed support to businesses, invests in infrastructure, and creates new jobs. An Act to encourage new development and usher in a recovering economy (ENDURE Act) authorizes $455 million to provide relief to communities and stimulate economic development in an effort to help combat the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This legislation includes provisions for small business competitive grant programs, housing production, local economic development projects, capital funding for vocational schools and community colleges, and investments in infrastructure. It also provides support for the tourism and cultural sectors and restaurant industry. Further, to promote equity and protect borrowers and workers across the Commonwealth, the ENDURE Act establishes a Future of Work Commission and creates a Student Loan Bill of Rights.
“Even as we continue to deal with the public health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fallout is dramatically affecting our communities, families, small businesses, and workers,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This vital legislation responds to this economic crisis by providing relief for small businesses, restaurants, tourism and cultural organizations; supporting workforce development, vocational education, and community colleges; and investing in community and housing development.”
The ENDURE Act capitalizes a wide variety of economic development, community development, and housing programs, including:
- $35M for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation matching grant program to community development financial institutions for small business loans and grants;
- $10M for the expansion of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2)
- $50M for the Technology Research and Development and Innovation Fund;
- $20M for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation small business grant program;
- $20M for financial and capital assistance grants to restaurants impacted by the pandemic;
- $10M for grants to promote marketing for in-state cultural and tourist activities during the pandemic;
- $40M to redevelop blighted buildings;
- $10M for regional and community assistance planning grants;
- $28M for an Employment Social Enterprise Capital Grant Program;
- $50M for local economic development projects;
- $2M for an urban agriculture grant program;
- $20M for grants to support the reopening of arts and cultural facilities impacted by the pandemic
- $25M for transit-oriented housing developments;
- $10M for climate-resilient affordable housing developments;
- $50M for the neighborhood stabilization program;
- $15M for vocational technical school expansion grants; and
- $15M for community college high-demand workforce grants.
During the debate, Senator Lewis was successful in securing support for an amendment that provides $5 million in a matching grant program for Zoo New England, which operates the Stone Zoo in Stoneham and the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.
The ENDURE Act gives greater protections to student loan borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their loans, requiring servicers to apply for licenses from the state, which the Commissioner of Banks could revoke if the servicer is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits. Student loan servicers that break state licensing requirements or take advantage of students could be fined and forced to repay student borrowers under the bill.
This legislation also includes new protections for entrepreneurs by enforcing a ban on making bad faith assertions of patent infringement, a practice known as ‘patent trolling.’ Such claims often entangle new small businesses in costly lawsuits that hamper the companies’ productivity and sap their early seed-stage funds.
Other provisions and reforms included in this sweeping legislation include:
- Zoning reform to address the critical need for housing development (by allowing municipalities to make zoning changes with a simple majority vote rather than requiring a two-thirds vote);
- Authorizes an additional 2800 megawatts of offshore wind development;
- Extends the state and local permits held by a real estate developer unable to proceed with the project due to COVID-19 disruptions for one year;
- Allows farmer brewers and farmer distillers to sell, and provide samples of, their alcoholic beverages at agricultural events and farmers markets;
- Mandates equitable opportunities in state contracts by expanding an affirmative marketing program that elevates hiring firms owned by women and people of color;
- Reduces onerous and unnecessary regulations for hair braiders;
- Excludes forgiven PPP loans from Massachusetts taxable income for the purposes of personal income taxes.
The House and Senate will now work to reconcile differences between their respective economic development bills before the final version is sent to Governor Baker for his signature.