U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey speak live during the virtual MMA Annual Business Meeting on Jan. 22.

U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, frequent guests at MMA Annual Meetings over the years, spoke live during the MMA Annual Business Meeting on Jan. 22.

The senators reflected on pandemic response and recovery, discussed the many opportunities contained in new federal funding streams for municipalities, and looked ahead to work still to be done.

Warren acknowledged the “steadfast leadership” of local governments during the pandemic, a sentiment echoed by Markey as well.

“You are on the ground in your communities,” Warren said. “You’re fighting tooth and nail to help people get through the public health crisis and economic crisis.”

Markey and Warren, along with the rest of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, used their strong partnership to get the U.S. Department of the Treasury to make changes in the final rules for using American Rescue Plan Act funds, significantly increasing flexibility in how the funds can be used.

“Ed and I heard you,” Warren said, noting that their teams are always available to hear the concerns of local officials as communities begin to access and deploy federal funds.

Warren discussed the funding opportunities available to cities and towns through the ARPA and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, both in direct payments and through competitive grant programs.

“This funding coming in under the infrastructure package is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle some of the biggest infrastructure challenges facing our communities,” Warren said.

For bridge replacement and repair, the Commonwealth is set to receive $225 million this year and an additional $875 million over the next four years.

“Just think of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges getting replaced, think of east-west rail and additional rail projects,” Markey said.

Warren discussed a $5 billion competitive grant opportunity for replacing school buses and public transit vehicles with zero- and low-emission vehicles.

“A quarter of buses and public transit vehicles in the state are beyond their useful lives,” Warren said, adding that low-emission vehicles can combat climate change as well as its related public health problems, which disproportionately affect black and brown communities. “We have an opportunity to not only improve transportation, but also tackle environmental justice head on.”

In the area of water infrastructure, the state is set to receive $188 million this year, with $65 million set aside for lead service line replacement projects, a concern in numerous communities.

Both Warren and Markey asked local officials to advocate for their most important projects to compete for funding streams that will flow through state government.
“It all starts at your level,” Warren said.

Markey discussed funding that will be available for broadband access — upwards of $800 million for Massachusetts.

“We can ensure that every family has high-speed internet,” Markey said. “To the extent that you have broadband issues, please take advantage of it.”

The ARPA also has $7 billion in emergency connectivity funds, intended in part to help schoolchildren secure internet access at home.

There will be $63 million available to cities and towns for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, in part, Markey said, because of what he was hearing from local leaders.

There is also significant funding for coastal communities “facing the existential threat of climate change,” he said.

Federal legislation
The senators provided updates on legislative matters before Congress, including the Build Back Better package that remains stalled, and shared their priorities in bringing more federal support to small businesses still being impacted by the pandemic and pushing for federal assistance to address the substance use crisis across the state and country.

“We can’t let it fall off the radar screen,” Warren said, adding that her reintroduced CARE Act would allocate $125 billion over 10 years, with Massachusetts receiving $130 million annually.

“For way too long, local leaders like you have been forced to shoulder the burden of the substance use disorder crisis,” Warren said. “It’s time for the federal government to step up and make sure we finally begin treating [it] like the public health emergency that it is.”

Markey said he is working to include a $20 billion to $30 billion “climate bank” program in Build Back Better that would allow cities and towns to apply for low-interest loans and grants to address local climate-related issues, as well as $20 billion t0 $30 billion for a “civilian climate corps” that would employ 300,000 young people domestically to work on climate issues.

Markey said he had been visiting communities over the past week to discuss the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which saw a funding increase this year through the ARPA, and that he is working to increase funding even more for future winters.

“A vision without funding is a hallucination,” Markey said. “And we are getting that funding to you.”

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