Senate leaders cite ‘wisdom in waiting’ to spend ARPA money

Senate President Karen Spilka believes there is “wisdom in waiting” to spend federal COVID-19 recovery money.

“We are no longer in the state of emergency, the major state of emergency at the height of COVID,” Spilka said. “We are no longer in the rescue situation where money needed to be spent urgently and quickly. We are now in recovery mode and back to the more normal budget type of appropriation process.”

As Gov. Charlie Baker pressures lawmakers to act quickly to begin spending part of the $5.3 billion state government received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues both said they would rather wait a bit. The two Senate leaders spoke on this week’s Codcast about the Senate’s priorities for spending the ARPA money.

Rodrigues said Congress designed the program so the money only has to be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026. “They designed it that way so we would be thoughtful and deliberative and ensure that these investments have the biggest impacts in the long term in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Rodrigues said.

Since there are multiple pots of federal money coming to Massachusetts, Spilka said lawmakers want to make sure the ARPA money isn’t used in a way that is duplicative. For example, if an infrastructure bill passes Congress that gives Massachusetts money for building projects or transportation, she wants to use the ARPA money elsewhere.

Baker has made a proposal for spending $2.9 billion. The House and Senate are holding hearings on his plan and hearing from experts and the public regarding how to spend the money. The House will make its proposal next, followed by the Senate, just like during the annual budget debate.

Asked where the Senate might look to spend the money, Spilka ticked off a range of policy areas: housing, climate, racial and economic inequities, intergenerational care, health care, education, and broadband internet. “There’s so many needs in Massachusetts,” she said.

Baker’s proposal would spend $1 billion each on housing and infrastructure, with additional money for downtown development, tourism, job training, addiction treatment, and hospitals. Rodrigues said he does not quibble with those values – in fact, the annual state budget funded all of those areas. But Spilka said other money might become available to fund some of these priorities.

I think that it’s important that we take the time to utilize this once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in bold and transformational change in our communities,” Spilka said. For example, Spilka has promoted a focus on “intergenerational care,” making it easier for families to care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

The pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities that exist in communities of color. Asked how ARPA investments can improve the lives of minority populations, Rodrigues said his priority will be to listen to what the communities want.

Spilka said similarly that she wants to hear from people in the community about how best to improve their lives. “We do know that there are needs in housing, health care, workforce development, clearly, and many other areas,” Spilka said. “But how that trickles down to be specifically what kind of programs for housing would be most helpful? What kinds of workforce opportunities should it be?…These are the types of things that we want to hear.”

Asked what transparency measures will be imposed on the federal spending, Rodrigues pledged to include in any legislation the creation of an online spending portal where the public can see where ARPA money is being spent. “We will build in whatever tools are necessary to ensure accountability so that the public, the taxpayers of the Commonwealth can see for themselves that the dollars are spent exactly as they were intended to,” Rodrigues said.



Parting gift: Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who was nominated by President Biden last week to become the next US Attorney for Massachusetts, received a $175,000 severance agreement and a $45,000 education benefit when she left Massport in 2015. 

— The agreement contains language requiring Rollins and the agency not to bad-mouth each other, but Massport officials say there was no acrimony when she left. Officials say the agency merely wanted to retain her as an advisor over a nine-month period, yet the severance agreement doesn’t spell that out. It also doesn’t spell out that the agency would pay $45,000 for her to attend an eight-month program at Harvard Business School. Read more.

Eviction protections lapse: The federal eviction moratorium came to an end Saturday night, creating uncertainty about whether there will be a sharp uptick in tenants being booted from their lodging for failure to pay their rent. An estimated 100,000 tenants are behind on their rent payments. Read more.

No school mask mandate: The Baker administration refused to mandate the wearing of masks at schools this fall, instead leaving the decision up to individual school districts. Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham called the decision “an epic failure.” Read more.

More work needed on marijuana law: The Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld Salem’s decision denying a host community agreement to a would-be marijuana retailer, but the court also urged the Legislature to clarify the powers municipalities hold in the licensing process, particularly in regard to the fees they can collect. Read more.


Support for guardians: In the wake of Britney Spears’ problems with her guardianship, Scott Harshbarger and Paul Lanzikos say lawmakers should pass a bill to better fund the public guardian process in Massachusetts. Read more.

Pasta shop rethinks its role: Spinelli’s, a mainstay pasta and pastry shop in East Boston, rethought its role in the community and teamed up with nonprofits and governmental offices to help feed those in need during the pandemic. Read more





Sen. Diana DiZoglio files several proposals to give Beacon Hill staff a pay raise. (Gloucester Daily Times)


Plans to house homeless people in a shuttered Best Western hotel near the troubled Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd. intersection are on the ropes in the face of strong opposition to the idea. (Boston Herald


Dr. Frank Stirlacci, a Springfield doctor, was cleared of charges that he falsely prescribed opioids, but now he faces a struggle to rebuild his life. (MassLive)


The US Department of Justice says the IRS must hand over former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to the US House Ways and Means Committee. (MassLive)


Michelle Wu stands alone as the only Boston mayoral candidate who supports reinstating rent control. (Boston Globe)

Right to the City VOTE!, a progressive coalition that previously backed the campaigns of Marty Walsh and Rachael Rollins, endorsed Kim Janey in the Boston mayor’s race. (Boston Globe)

Super PACs are lining up to spend in the Boston mayor’s race, but the role of the groups, which can raise unlimited sums but cannot coordinate their spending with candidate campaigns, doesn’t seem to be generating much outcry. (Boston Globe)

Advocates are pushing for the state to institute free MBTA rides on election days. (Salem News)


The Natick couple that were the target of a bizarre and frightening harassment campaign by eBay officials tell their story. (Boston Globe) 

New Bedford restaurants reaped $16.4 million in relief from the first round of Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants. In all, over 2,500 Massachusetts businesses were awarded a combined $991 million. (Herald News

With the state holding off on imposing new restrictions, some Boston and Cambridge restaurants and music venues are imposing their own rules, requiring patrons to wear masks or show proof of vaccination. (Boston Herald)


Less than a quarter of Boston Public Schools 50,000 students registered for various summer programs, despite the district’s vow to reach out to every family after a disruptive year of learning loss. (Boston Globe)


The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate a collision of two MBTA Green Line trolleys that left 25 people with non-life-threatening injuries. (Boston Globe)

Beginning August 3, Bostonians can hop a flight to New York in a seaplane to reach Manhattan in 75 minutes. The cost of the convenience? $395 to $795 each way. (WBUR)


The Suffolk County sheriff is investigating the death of a 35-year-old woman and a 42 year-old man who died within hours of each other while in custody July 28 at the House of Correction. This comes after the death of a 31-year-old earlier in the month under the sheriff’s custody that is being investigated separately. (WBUR)

The Gloucester police hire a mental health clinician to work full-time responding to mental health-related calls, assessing individuals, and following up with those who need care. (Gloucester Daily Times

Worcester Juvenile Court is inundated with child abuse cases, and court officials say the court is too busy, leading to delays. (Telegram & Gazette)

The trial will begin this week for the man accused of fatally shooting Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon. (MassLive)

Secretary of Public Safety and Security Thomas Turco is retiring. (MassLive)