On Oct. 29, the House unanimously passed a $3.82 billion bill to spend a significant portion of the state’s multi-billion dollar fiscal 2021 surplus and its allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act’s State and Local Coronavirus Relief Fund.

During debate, the House added $174 million to the bill released by the Ways and Means Committee on Oct. 25, mostly in the form of legislative earmarks.

The House included funding for a number of programs supported by the MMA in the areas of housing, water and sewer infrastructure, and environmental infrastructure, but did not include two amendments that were strongly backed by the MMA: one to provide $50 million in supplemental funding for the Chapter 90 local roads and bridges program and one to provide an additional $10 million for the Community Preservation Trust Fund.

The House bill (H. 4219) targets seven major spending categories: housing, environment and climate change mitigation, economic development, workforce, health and human services, education, and food insecurity.

The Senate is expected to take up its own surplus/ARPA spending bill in the coming weeks. It is unclear if the Legislature will be able to get a final bill to the governor before the end of formal legislative sessions on Nov. 17.

The following are the highlights of the House bill:

The $600 million proposed for housing programs includes targeted investments in supportive housing production, public housing maintenance, homeownership assistance, the CommonWealth Building Program, and affordable housing production.

Environment and climate
The bill includes $350 million for environmental infrastructure and development spending, with a focus on environmental justice communities. Targeted investments include Marine Port Development and Offshore Wind, environmental infrastructure projects aimed at bolstering communities’ climate resiliency, water and sewer infrastructure improvements, greening the Gateway Cities, and upgrades to state parks and recreational facilities.

Of the $350 million, $100 million would go to low-income, environmental justice and urban communities to improve climate resiliency. A $100 million water and sewer infrastructure component also prioritizes projects that support environmental justice populations and those disproportionately impacted by the public health emergency.

Economic development
With $777 million allocated for economic development, the House proposal includes a $500 million investment in the Unemployment Trust Fund, aid for the recovery of the cultural sector of the economy through the Massachusetts Cultural Council, funding for the YouthWorks summer jobs program, tax relief for small businesses, and money to help close the digital divide and assist in the resettlement of Afghan refugees.

The bill would focus $750 million on workforce issues, including $500 million for premium pay bonuses for essential workers who worked in-person during the state of emergency, as well as funds for the Workforce Competitive Trust Fund and career technical institutes and vocational schools.

Health and human services
The bill targets relief for financially strained providers, such as hospital and nursing facilities, and investments in workforce initiatives, behavioral health programs, technical infrastructure for community health center improvements, prison reentry grants, and community-based violence prevention.

The House proposal seeks to address disparities in public school facilities, including $100 million for HVAC grants to be distributed through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education under the guidance of the Racial Imbalance Advisory Council. Additional education investments include higher education capital projects, the endowment incentive program, special education needs, and pathways to educator licensure for Black, indigenous, and people of color.

Food insecurity
The bill includes $78 million to address food insecurity, focusing on infrastructure grants.

In June, Gov. Charlie Baker proposed his plan to spend roughly half of the Commonwealth’s State and Local Coronavirus Relief Funds, and in August, the governor filed a separate supplemental budget bill to spend a large portion of the fiscal 2021 state surplus. The Legislature passed a scaled-back supplemental budget — signed by the governor on Oct. 21 — that delayed decisions on how to spend much of the state surplus.

While the House and Senate may have to reconcile differing plans for ARPA and surplus spending, their leadership has agreed on two large items: a $500 million deposit into the state’s unemployment trust fund and $500 million for one-time bonus payments to low-income essential workers who remained on the job in-person throughout the COVID-19 state of emergency.

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