BOSTON – Monday, November 1, 2021 – Last Friday, State Representative Andy X. Vargas (D-Haverhill) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in unanimously passing a spending proposal utilizing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) surplus funds. Funded at $3.82 billion, the bill addresses disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, aiming to facilitate recovery through one-time investments in housing, environment and climate mitigation, economic development, workforce, health and human services, and education. The bill also makes a $700,000 investment directly into Haverhill priorities. “This is a historic bill that prioritizes the hardest hit sectors and communities harmed by the global pandemic. In addition to making vital investments in small businesses, housing, education and health and human services, this bill also provides strong accountability measures for the public to see where and how recovery tax dollars are being invested. Through the advocacy of many, the House bill also allocates $100 million to address combined sewer overflows, a major issue in Haverhill. I’m also proud that we were able to secure over $700,000 in direct aid to Haverhill needs” said Rep. Vargas Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to transfer the state’s $5.3 billion allocation from ARPA, which must be allocated by 2024, into a separate fund to ensure public input and resident feedback in a transparent process. Following six public hearings and more than a thousand pieces of testimony received, the House Ways & Means Committee released its proposal which the House approved 159-0 today.
Representative Vargas’s filed amendments to secure $700,000 of direct funding for Haverhill in the final House bill. Vargas’s Haverhill delegation colleagues unanimously co-sponsored and supported his amendments. The other Haverhill delegation members are Representative Linda Dean Campbell (D-Methuen), Representative Christina Minicucci (D-North Andover), and Representative Lenny Mirra (R-Georgetown).
Vargas Haverhill Amendments:
$250,000 to Haverhill Public Schools towards repairs, capital improvements, and safety upgrades for school facilities
$200,000 to Haverhill Public Schools towards the purchase of a new electric school bus. HPS needed a new school bus, and an electric bus will help save costs over the long-term, while also reducing pollution and CO2 emissions
$100,000 towards improvements at Winnekenni Castle/Park. This funding will be used to ensure conservation and renovation of the public space and to promote tourism and recreation in the area.
$50,000 to Sacred Hearts Parish for the operation of its food pantry. Sacred Hearts has done vital work during the pandemic to feed families in the region, sometimes seeing 5x the usually number of clients.
$50,000 to the One Haverhill Fund. The One Haverhill Fund will use this money to assist local social service agencies and to provide emergency relief for families in need that don’t qualify for existing programs.
$50,000 to Leaving the Streets Ministries to assist with violence prevention and street work to reduce gang violence.
The House bill includes $500 million to replenish the Unemployment Trust Fund which will offset businesses’ contributions for unemployment programs. The bill includes $200 million worth of tax relief for small businesses that paid personal income taxes on state or federal relief awards during the pandemic. It also includes $60 million for grants to support small businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, with $35 million of it reserved for minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses.
To assist recovering cultural organizations and artists, the bill appropriates $125 million to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for grants supporting cultural events, education or performances highlighting underrepresented voices. Other economic development investments include $40 million for youth summer and school-year jobs; $50 million to close the digital divide; and $12 million to assist in the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Massachusetts.
Health and Human Services
Building on the House’s longstanding commitment to support and protect community hospitals, the bill allocates $250 million for financially strained hospitals and $20 million for community health centers. This bill includes more than $250 million for behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment services, including $100 million for workforce initiatives with $15 million specifically for community health centers. The bill also includes over $150 million for local and regional public health systems.
Other investments include more than $78 million to address food insecurity; $15 million for prison re-entry grants; $10 million for community-based gun violence prevention programs, $6.5 million for coordination teams for triage treatment and service supports and post-treatment supportive housing in Boston; and $5 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation to bolster access to legal services for the most vulnerable.
The bill includes $500 million towards providing premium pay bonuses for low- and middle-income workers who worked in-person during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. To promote employment, the bill also includes $150 million to enhance workforce opportunities through workforce skills training, as well as $100 million for vocational and career and technical schools.
Affordable Housing and Homeownership
The bill appropriates funds for affordable housing, with $150 million directed toward public housing maintenance and $150 million to create permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals, survivors of domestic violence, seniors, and veterans. The bill also includes $100 million for homeownership assistance and $100 million for production and preservation of affordable rental housing for residents of municipalities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Environment and Climate Change Mitigation
Building on the House’s commitment to the environment and clean energy, the bill includes investments for environmental infrastructure and development spending, with a focus on environmental justice communities, climate change resiliency and clean energy. This bill includes $100 million for port infrastructure development and revitalization to facilitate economic activity and support the offshore wind industry.
Other investments include $100 million toward infrastructure for communities to adapt and become climate resilient; and $100 million for water and sewer projects, including those to remediate combined sewer overflow into waterways.
To improve indoor air-quality in schools and support healthy learning environments, this bill includes more than $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. This bill also includes $75 million for capital and maintenance projects for higher education; $25 million for the Endowment Incentive Program at the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, $20 million for special education, including $10 million for workforce development; and $10 million for programs focused on recruiting and retaining educators of color.
Accountability and Public Engagement
As a tool to inform future ARPA spending, the House’s bill allocates $5 million for the Inspector General’s office to create a public database and website to track total spending, including the percentage of funds spent in communities that were disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to track the number of projects awarded to minority-owned businesses and organizations.
The bill now goes to the Senate before being sent to the Governor for final confirmation.