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.
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.”
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.