State Senator Jason Lewis joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate last week to unanimously pass a $3.82 billion spending 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 impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are prioritized. As Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Senator Lewis played a leadership role in the development and passage of this important legislation.
“Thanks to President Biden and Congressional Democrats, Massachusetts is seizing this historic opportunity to invest in a strong and equitable pandemic recovery for our communities and Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “I’m very grateful for the extensive and constructive input we received from stakeholder groups, advocates, and members of the public, which enabled the Senate to craft legislation that clearly reflects the urgent needs and priorities of residents and communities across the Commonwealth.”
Investments included in this bill are as follows:
Health Care and Public Health
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.
The Senate’s plan also revolutionizes the state’s local and regional public health infrastructure and makes a historic investment of $250 million to ensure the Commonwealth can protect the public health of residents, workers, and businesses for years to come. This funding includes $118 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.
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 care hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,
- $60 million to address food insecurity
- $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 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 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,
- $5 million to support grants to higher education institutions to address student behavioral and mental health needs,
- $2 million for unreimbursed COVID-19 costs for Early Intervention providers, and
- $500,000 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.
Other economic recovery and workforce development investments include:
- $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, providing necessary relief to employers,
- $200 million in tax relief for small-business owners who otherwise would be required to pay personal income taxes on state or federal pandemic relief money,
- $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 arts and 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 million for workforce development and capital assistance grants to the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs, and the Alliance of Massachusetts YWCAs,
- $15 million to enhance and diversify the cybersecurity sector with partnerships between public higher education institutions and private businesses,
- $20 million for the resettlement of Afghan and Haitian refugees
- $10 million for regional tourism councils, and
- $14 million for agricultural economy supports.
The Senate’s ARPA bill 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 all.
Investments in affordable, accessible housing, as well as supportive housing include:
- $150 million for supportive housing, including $75 million for the chronically homeless population, and $20 million 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
Environment and Climate
This legislation prioritizes building a more resilient Commonwealth and ensuring a healthier environment for all. The bill seeks to combat climate change through mitigation initiatives, strengthen environmental infrastructure, fix aging water and sewer 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 the Greening the Gateway Cities program to support tree planting,
- $15 million for parks and recreational assets,
- $10 million for clean energy retrofitting in affordable housing units,
- $7.5 million 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 ARPA 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 businesses have fair participation on procurements issued under the act.
The Senate and the House of Representatives will now reconcile the differences between their respective ARPA bills, and the final bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Baker before the end of the year.