State officials will provide an update on federal relief funds to MMA members on March 4.

State finance officials briefed members of MMA Fiscal Policy Committee on Feb. 10 on the multiple streams of federal aid, changes to existing programs, and how to maximize these funding sources.

Because the federal aid picture continues to evolve, state officials will be giving an update to MMA members on March 4. The panelists will be Heath Fahle, special director for federal funds at the Executive Office for Administration and Finance; Sean Cronin, senior deputy commissioner at the Division of Local Services; and Bill Bell, associate commissioner/chief financial officer at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Feb. 10 presentation is available on the MMA website.

The state has received a total of $70 billion in federal relief money since the beginning of the pandemic, with 78% of this in the form of direct assistance to businesses, and unemployment insurance and stimulus payments to individuals. Massachusetts municipalities have received $888 million thus far, and $1.1 billion has gone directly to school districts in the state.

Most of the $888 million to municipalities was available through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was allocated for unexpected costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of this funding for municipalities flowed through various grant programs, including Shared Streets, Community Development Block Grants, Emergency Solutions, Assistance to Firefighters, and Justice Assistance Grants.

Federal funds for schools
Following the passage of the CARES Act last year, the Coronavirus Relief Fund provided $181 million for School Reopening Grants and $33 million for Remote Learning Technology Essentials grants. The federal government also established the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant program.

The first round of ESSER funding, now referred to as ESSER I, provided a total of $194 million for schools distributed based on the Title I formula. Eligible expenses were flexible, intended to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the impacts of COVID-19 on school districts.

For ESSER I grant applications that have been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, funding can be used for fiscal 2020 allowable costs dating back to March 13, 2020, and funding will remain available for allowable costs through Sept. 30, 2022.

ESSER II funds became available when Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 at the end of December, providing $735 million to school districts in the state.

Eligible expenses are largely the same as the first round, but with additions for improvements to school ventilation systems and efforts to address “learning loss.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has authorized school districts to apply up to 75% of their total ESSER II grant award toward the increase in their Chapter 70 required local contribution for fiscal 2022. This temporary provision applies only to the upcoming fiscal year, and can only be applied to the increase in the required local contribution, not the total.

Administration officials advised municipal leaders to carefully evaluate the various funding sources to maximize their benefits. They also encouraged local officials to explore ways to minimize the risk of potential financial compliance issues.

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