One of the most remarkable developments in the Legislature this year was the availability of federal relief funds, through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). These funds are designed to offset the negative impacts of the pandemic and make important investments to help us recover. ARPA is the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed by President Biden in March. It represents new federal funding on a truly massive scale – a triumph of the new Biden Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Some ARPA funds were sent directly to entities or organizations within our state that needed help, such as local governments, higher education institutions, and other needy recipients. Each of the fifty states also received direct allocations.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts received $5.3 billion for statewide allocations through the ARPA relief spending plan. The ARPA funds represent a rare and valuable opportunity to address not only pandemic relief, but also some of the inequalities and issues revealed by this last year and a half. In addition to the federal relief money, the Legislature also had significant surplus funds because state tax receipts came in at a higher rate than previously forecasted. The House and Senate decided to spend a substantial portion of the ARPA and state surplus funds now, while also reserving over $2 billion in ARPA funding for subsequent spending.
Earlier this year, Governor Baker proposed a plan and wanted to get the money out the door quickly. While we understood the importance of allocating these funds as quickly as possible to help those in need, the Legislature also believed an open, transparent process with substantial public input was important — plus the ARPA law itself gives states until 2026 to spend all the funds. We knew that careful analysis and thoughtful priority setting were crucial to maximizing the impact of this rare opportunity. So, a legislative committee was formed and held six hearings allowing for substantial public input. Countless groups and individuals weighed in, offering thoughtful advocacy on how to invest these funds. The process really did allow for meaningful conversations to happen, which led to a funding bill that will strengthen many aspects of our communities.
After this detailed process and debate in the House and Senate, the Legislature just this week reached its final version of the spending bill found here: H.4269 – An Act relative to immediate COVID-19 recovery needs. Make no mistake: this far-reaching plan will help people in the Commonwealth bounce back from an incredibly challenging period.
People are hurting all over the Commonwealth because of this pandemic, none more so than those experiencing homelessness and others who have constant fears of food insecurity. In response, the Legislature allocated around $380 million to address issues such as maintenance for public housing, and for permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals, survivors of domestic violence, seniors, and veterans. A portion of funds also will address hunger and food insecurity across the Commonwealth by supporting well-known organizations working on this vital issue such as the Greater Boston Food Bank, Project Bread, and many others. Housing should be a fundamental human right and no one should go hungry. This funding helps make those principles a reality.
Additionally, the Legislature passed a landmark funding initiative aimed at improving indoor air quality in schools and supporting healthy learning environments. Specifically, we are allocating $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. As someone who has long been advocating for improving the quality of air that our students breathe, I am pleased to see that the Legislature has ensured that this was a priority. I filed two bills this session focused on improving indoor air quality in low-income school districts.
Our health system was pushed to the brink by Covid-19. In this bill, the Legislature elected to build upon our longstanding commitment to support and protect community hospitals. We allocated approximately $250 million for financially strained hospitals and additional funding for community health centers. These funds will help our health system to not only recover but build back stronger and ready to take on any future challenge. We also know that the pandemic exacerbated mental health issues and substance abuse. As a consequence, the ARPA measure includes $400 million in funding to enhance and expand access to mental and behavioral health supports and services.
A large portion of the funding ($500 million) addressed the Unemployment Trust Fund which has been depleted over the course of the pandemic. As we all know, small businesses took a critical hit during this health crisis. The Legislature recognized this challenge and put significant funds towards helping them recover, including $75 million to support small businesses impacted by the pandemic. Local businesses, including ones that we all appreciate in Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge, need our support now more than ever.
Throughout the ARPA bill’s process, I heard from many of you who advocated vigorously for allocations to the Commonwealth’s environmental needs. While the main focus of the ARPA funds is for specific human needs related to the pandemic, the Legislature did approve $100 million toward infrastructure for communities to adapt and become climate resilient as well as other investments focused on environmental justice communities and clean energy. We also provided significant funding for the Commonwealth’s parks. Going forward, I will continue to push for more funding for environmental issues, as I have done throughout my time as your Representative.
The new spending also includes countless other, smaller but critically important, funding allocations far too numerous to mention here. Just a few of those noteworthy funding items include $10 million for programs focused on recruiting and retaining educators of color; $10 million for special education; and $12 million for Afghan refugee resettlement.
At the local level, I am pleased to report that I was able to secure funding for several significant local projects within Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge. Several projects will be receiving money in Arlington. These include:
- $250,000 for construction, upgrades, and improvements to Arlington parks and recreational facilities;
- $100,000 for the Arlington housing domestic violence initiative;
- $200,000 for construction, upgrades, and improvements to Mill brook; and
- $200,000 for the acquisition of affordable housing units.
In Belmont, there will be important funding for several projects, including:
- $250,000 for water and sewer infrastructure improvements at Belmont village;
- $100,000 for the predevelopment costs of the Sherman Gardens apartments;
- $150,000 for the improvement of accessibility at Waverley Oaks;
- $100,000 for public realm improvements to be spent under the direction of the Belmont Economic Development Committee;
- $250,000 for planning, conducting a feasibility study, and designing a new skating rink; and
- $250,000 for the design, development, and construction of the new library.
As a member of the Cambridge delegation, we were also able to secure funds for a number of projects. Specifically:
- $50,000 for the East End House;
- $50,000 for the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House;
- $50,000 for the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers;
- $50,000 for the Food For Free Committee, Incorporated;
- $50,000 for the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition;
- $50,000 for the Transition House, Inc.;
- $50,000 for the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, Inc.; and
- $25,000 for the People for Riverbend Park Trust, for a markercommemorating the contributions of Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot to Riverbend Park.
As of the time of writing this newsletter, House and Senate negotiators announced that they had released its finalized version of this bill. Upon final legislative approval, the bill would be sent to the Governor for signature, perhaps as soon as today.
I am pleased that the Legislature crafted such a truly comprehensive and progressive recovery spending plan. This effort shows our commitment to helping people and the economy recover in the short term. Beyond these more immediate impacts, the ARPA spending bill addresses vulnerable communities, ensuring that as we move forward those previously left behind have a better opportunity to succeed in a post-pandemic economy.