Where is the state’s $1.1b in federal funds going?

Breakdown shows most legislative earmarks were funded

THE LEGISLATURE may control the purse strings – but Gov. Charlie Baker holds the purse.

That Beacon Hill truism was on display clearly in a report Secretary of Administration and Finance Michael Heffernan wrote to the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees on Wednesday.

The report, required by statute, detailed how the administration has been spending the federal money authorized by a $1.1 billion supplemental budget bill that state lawmakers passed in July. The bill authorized spending for both fiscal 2020, which ended June 30, and fiscal 2021.

It was basically authorization to spend money to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with the expectation that the expenditures would be reimbursed by FEMA, the CARES Act, and other federal funding sources. Lawmakers alsopacked the bill full of local earmarks.

The report shows that so far the administration has spent $744 million of the $1 billion authorized for fiscal 2020. It spent another $94 million of the $140 million authorization for fiscal 2021.

More 2020 money could still be spent, since the state has not yet closed the books on the last fiscal year, and Baker just introduced on Wednesday a final 2020 supplemental budget bill.

The report shows how exactly the Baker administration has spent the money so far, and what has not been funded.

For example, as both the administration and lawmakers have pledged to investigate and try to remediate thedisproportionate effects COVID-19 is having on minority communities, the Baker administration has not yet released $20 million earmarked for “statewide efforts to address racial disparities in health during the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic.”

In some cases, the cost of the services may be different than what was predicted in the bill, and the bill gave the administration flexibility to reallocate money. For example, the administration spent $47 million on field hospitals – far less than the $85 million envisioned in the budget bill. It spent $29 million on a statewide contract tracing program, compared to $44 million authorized by the budget. Incentive pay for state employees working at residential facilities was budgeted at $93 million, but the administration spent $54 million.

Other projected costs – like $350 million for personal protective equipment – were on target (actual spending: $356 million).

The report does not specify why the Baker administration has not yet funded things like the racial disparities program, or a $111 million allocation related to hospital, health provider, and nursing home payments.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Many, though not all, of the local earmarks have been funded. The Baker administration established a municipal coronavirus relief program and used it to fund $6.6 million worth of local earmarks that legislators tacked onto the bill. Some larger earmarks include $250,000 apiece to Revere and Winthrop, in the district of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, for monitoring, treatment, and prevention of coronavirus; $500,000 for personal protective equipment in the metrowest region that Senate President Karen Spilka represents; $600,000 for housing stabilization in hard-hit Lawrence; $250,000 for shelter and food programs in hard-hit Chelsea; $300,000 for changes to public meetings in Andover; and $450,000 for remote learning in Medford.

The administration gave out another $2.5 million in school reopening grants, $846,000 in remote learning grants, $1 million to boards of health, $7.2 million for food distribution programs, and $25.7 million for housing programs, much of that for the state’s rental assistance program.

There were several other programs that were awarded money in the bill, for which Baker has not yet released the funding. Many of those are local earmarks that benefit particular community organizations and nonprofits.