Sweeping COVID Recovery & Affordable Housing Bill Signed into Law
Prioritizes small business relief, support for workers, and housing development
On Wednesday, January 2, 2021, Senator Jason Lewis voted with the Massachusetts Legislature to pass $627 million in funding for a sweeping economic recovery and development bill which will provide much-needed support to businesses, investments in infrastructure, and creation of new jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was signed into law on January 14, 2021.
An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth provides the residents of Massachusetts a COVID-19 relief and recovery package that will provide support to the restaurant and tourism sectors, small businesses, and those who have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, while also creating a Future of Work Commission, establishing protections for student loan borrowers, and ushering in zoning reforms that will encourage housing development in our communities.
“This new law will help Massachusetts recover from the pandemic by investing more than $600 million in a wide range of programs that support communities, small businesses, job growth, and affordable housing development,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “These critical investments and policy reforms will be an important part of planning a strong and equitable post-pandemic recovery for the state economy and all our residents.”
The bill includes the following bonding authorizations and policy changes.
COVID-19 pandemic relief and recovery
- $30 million for the state’s COVID-19 Payroll Protection Program
- $20 million for restaurant COVID-19 recovery grants
- Limits fees charged by third-party delivery services for restaurants to 15% during the COVID-19 state of emergency; prohibits third-party delivery service companies from reducing rates for delivery drivers or garnishing gratuities as result of the limitation
- Creates a commission to examine and make recommendations on addressing the recovery of the cultural and creative sector, including the arts, humanities and sciences, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
- $40 million for a program to redevelop blighted buildings
- $50 million for transit-oriented housing developments
- $10 million for climate-resilient affordable housing developments
- $5 million for a Gateway Cities housing program
- Implements zoning reform to help cities and towns approve smart growth zoning and affordable housing by lowering the required vote threshold for a range of housing-related zoning changes and special permits at the local level from a two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority
- Requires designated MBTA communities to be zoned for at least one district of reasonable size, in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and requires such housing to be suitable for families with children
- Increases the state low-income housing tax credit program cap from $20,000,000 to $40,000,000
Employee protections, business growth, and equity
- $35 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation matching grant program to community development financial institutions for small business loans and grants
- $27.7 million for a new Employment Social Enterprise Capital Grant Program
- $20 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation small business grant program
- $14M million for travel and tourism grants
- $10 million for regional and community assistance planning grants
- Enables, via local option, the creation of tourism destination marketing districts (“TDMDs”), made up of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts, for the purpose of generating local revenue dedicated solely for the promotion and marketing of specific regions of the Commonwealth
- Amends the statutory definition of wait staff employee to include a person in a quick service restaurant who prepares or serves food or beverages as part of a team of counter staff
- Provides that the taking of family or medical leave shall not affect an employee’s right to accrue vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, seniority, length-of-service credit or other employment benefits, plans or programs
- Exempts natural hair braiding from the definition of hairdressing, and exempts natural hair braiding from rules and regulations pertaining to aesthetics, barbering, cosmetology, electrolysis, hairdressing and manicuring
- Encourages the PRIM Board to use minority investment managers to manage PRIT Fund assets, where appropriate, and to increase the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of Fund investments
- Establishes a commission of experts, industry members, academics, and elected officials to research and propose policy solutions that ensure the future and sustainability of local journalism in Massachusetts
- Establishes a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights regulating the licensing and operation of student loan servicers by the Commissioner of Banks
- Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman within the Office of the Attorney General for the purpose of receiving, reviewing and assisting in the resolution of complaints from student loan borrowers; authorizes the Ombudsman to assist with repayment options, applying for federal loan forgiveness programs, ending wage and tax refund garnishments, resolving billing disputes, and obtaining loan details
Technology and innovation
- $52 million for the Technology Research and Development and Innovation Fund
- $15 million for lottery IT infrastructure
- $10 million for the expansion of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2)
- $5 million for the Massachusetts Broadband Incentive Fund
- Creates a special commission on the future of work to conduct a comprehensive study relative to the impact of automation, artificial intelligence, global trade, access to new forms of data and the internet of things on the workforce, businesses and economy.
- Clarifies that carsharing platforms may obtain insurance coverage from non-admitted carrier and that carsharing platforms do not need their own insurance-producer or broker licenses to offer or maintain insurance policies for carsharing vehicles or drivers.
Other bonding authorizations include
- $102,304,000 for local economic development projects;
- $12.5 million for the Commonwealth Zoological Corporation;
- $15 million for trial court virtual mediation services;
- $6 million for Massachusetts Cultural Council grants;
- $5 million for Mass Cultural Council public school grants;
- $20 million for Mass Cultural Council cultural facilities grants;
- $15 million for vocational technical school expansion grants; and
- $15 million for higher education workforce grants.