Unprecedented federal funding is chance to push for priorities

Voters will also get to weigh in on millionaire's tax in the fall

WE ALL WORRY, too many get sick, and all of us are limited by the COVID crisis. We all shudder at what might happen in the 2022 and 2024 elections. But meanwhile, an unprecedented amount of federal money has come to each state, each city and town, and each school system in the US. And more federal and state money may come.  

Under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed in April, Massachusetts received $5.3 billion. The state passed a supplemental budget in December spending several billion of those dollars, but still has several billion left to spend this year. Major investments were funded for affordable housing, public health, job training, payments to essential workers and small businesses, and other important areas. 

The state budget process for fiscal 2023 begins this month with Gov. Baker filing his proposed budget later in January. Then the Legislature passes the budget in a process between February and the end of June. In the next months, legislators get to have one of their most important yearly meetings to talk about their budget priorities with Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, chair of House Ways and Means, and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, chair of Senate Ways and Means. Individuals and organizations can ask their legislators to include their budget priorities for budget increases for these meetings they start having next month with the budget committee chairs.  

Because the state has several billion in remaining ARPA funds to spend and a state budget surplus is developing of probably a few billion more, there is funding for much needed programs that is possible. 

Every city and town also got allocations of this federal ARPA money. For example, the smaller community of Athol got $3.5 million and Boston got $558 million. It can be used for almost anything – housing, human services, economic development, public health. Most communities have not allocated all this funding, so individuals and organizations can approach their local elected officials with their priorities for spending some of these funds. You can see how much your city or town has gotten here.  

Each public school district has received three allocations of funding from federal relief bills, passed in April and December 2020 and April 2021, and they are called Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. Beside public health measures, this funding gives school districts the funding to hire many more teachers and paraprofessionals to support students who suffered learning loss during the pandemic and to hire more clinicians to help with social-emotional challenges that have increased hugely for students, too. Individuals and organizations can ask superintendents how they have allocated these funds and make suggestions for any unallocated funds.   

For example, Worcester schools are getting $78 million in the recent ESSER III funding and Braintree is getting $3.59 million. A new data tool allows you to easily see approximately how much federal relief/recovery funding a school district is expected to receive. Check it out here or at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-roSytZFCcYIbEV6JdxAT8Tt5qbHGOQAbDZMBSl3zOY/edit#gid=0 

Massachusetts will also get $9 billion from the recently passed federal bipartisan Infrastructure Law for highway and transit projects. This is a chance for organizations to bring their priorities to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Our group is working to ensure a policy provision in this new law to enable more people of color and women to get a share of these jobs is implemented on Massachusetts projects. 

There’s also pending in Congress President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which could mean additional funding for climate change, child care, housing, and more.  Only Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema know if this will pass, but let’s hope. 

This November, Massachusetts voters get to decide on the the proposed Fair Share Amendment/Millionaire’s Tax. It’s been placed on the ballot by the Legislature based on an organizing campaign of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community, labor, and religious groups. It would raise somewhere between $1.8 and $2.2 billion annually according to the state Department of Revenue. This would come from raising taxes millionaires pay on any earnings starting after their first $1 million. This new tax revenue would be dedicated to education and transportation. 

Already, the major big business organizations who are opposing this ballot measure are saying we have enough money now. We do have a lot of money for this year to spend, but not for the coming years. The Student Opportunity Act of 2018 committed the state to raise education funding in each of the following seven years. The state did not fund the first year of this commitment because of uncertainties about revenues during the pandemic. Many legislators have said publicly and privately that the chances of being able to fund these annual increases without the Fair Share Amendment/Millionaire’s Tax passing are very unlikely.   

Meet the Author

Lew Finfer

Guest Contributor, Mass. Communities Action Network
Think about what $2 billion could do for K-12 education, for our state’s community college and state college and university system’s affordability, and for our roads, bridges, and public transit systems. This will help our economy, which helps both business and people. 

So there’s a lot to appreciate in this funding. It makes me think by comparison back to the New Deal era programs of the 1930s. My own Dad had a highway construction job back then under one of those programs. This funding gives a lot of opportunity for organizing for the priorities you think are needed at the state and local level. And a chance to continue this for years to come if we also pass the Fair Share Amendment/Millionaire’s Tax this fall. 

Lew Finfer is founder of Massachusetts Communities Action Network.