Aid for 4 cities tied up in budget spat on Beacon Hill

As $100m sits untouched, everyone is pointing fingers

LEGISLATIVE LEADERS, members of Congress, and Gov. Charlie Baker appear to be in agreement that $100 million in federal funding should be released quickly to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen, and Randolph, even as the money has become part of an ongoing spat over who should control the process of releasing it. 

The four cities with large minority communities were hard-hit by COVID-19, but a federal funding formula established to distribute relief money through the federal American Rescue Plan short-changed them compared to similarly sized cities that were less hard-hit. 

Baker announced in March that he would give the four cities $100 million in American Rescue Plan funds, which he has discretion to distribute, in order to make up for the shortfall. 

The money now is in a fund that is under Baker’s full control, where it has been sitting since May 19. 

But on Tuesday, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka announced that they planned to move the $5.3 billion the state received in American Rescue Plan funding into a “segregated fund,” which would require legislative approval before any money is spent. Baker officials immediately raised concerns that this would delay the release of the money to the four municipalities.  

At a press conference in Chelsea on Wednesday, Baker continued to pay deference to the Legislature on spending the $5.28 billion in federal aid, but he urged lawmakers to get moving, particularly in regards to the $100 million he wants to funnel to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen, and Randolph. 

Baker didn’t object to Mariano and Spilka’s legislation, but he indicated that he had concerns about the Legislature’s ability to dispense the funds in a timely fashion. “We need to put this money to work relatively quickly,” he said.  

Baker said he was preparing to distribute the $100 million to the four cities but backed off after Mariano and Spilka put out their press release indicating their chambers were moving to take control of the federal money. 

“They made a point with respect to this,” Baker said Wednesday morning. “We’ll raise this issue with them. I hope they see it the way we do.” 

Later on Wednesday, Mariano and Spilka issued their response, committing to releasing the money. “We agree that communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and left behind by a flawed funding formula, like Chelsea, Randolph, Everett, and Methuen, should—and will—receive additional financial support,” Mariano and Spilka said in a joint statement. “We applaud our federal delegation for ensuring these funds be committed to these communities. Like our delegation, we have a sense of urgency regarding providing coronavirus relief to our hardest hit communities.”  

The two Democratic leaders also made a not-so-subtle dig at the Republican Baker. “We are glad the Governor, who has been in receipt of these funds for two weeks, is now joining the Legislature in this sense of urgency,” they wrote.  

The legislative leaders also reiterated their commitment to having “an inclusive and open public legislative process” to determine how to spend the money. “Every community in Massachusetts has unique needs. A robust legislative process will help ensure that no one is left behind,” they wrote. “Our communities and residents know their deepest needs firsthand, and we must offer them the opportunity to participate in a democratic process to ensure the funds are distributed equitably.”  

The back and forth between Baker and the lawmakers came after Massachusetts’ US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Democrats, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a 7th District Democrat, issued a joint statement urging state leaders to immediately release the money.  

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.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“Chelsea, Everett, Methuen, and Randolph have borne a disproportionate burden of the coronavirus pandemic and deserve financial support now,” the members of Congress said. “The flexible federal relief funding in the American Rescue Plan we helped secure is currently in the state’s coffers. While state leaders determine allocation of the rest of the $5.3 billion in funding, we should immediately distribute to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen, and Randolph the $100 million dollars committed to them. We must keep this promise now.” 

There are several possible ways money could go to those communities. The House passed legislation on Tuesday to move the American Rescue Plan money into a separate account, and Senate leaders have signaled they plan to act next week. But lawmakers could still modify the bill. Baker could also distribute the money before the Legislature passes the bill. There is also a supplemental budget bill pending before the Legislature, which lawmakers could use as a vehicle to appropriate the money.