By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — Massachusetts is one step closer to giving bonuses of up to $2,000 to essential employees who showed up to work in-person during the COVID pandemic.

The Senate Wednesday night unanimously approved a $3.82 billion package that aims to spend billions in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act.

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The Senate still has to work out significant differences in allocations in its legislation with the version of the spending package that the House passed recently. But the State House News Service reports that leaders agree on two “cornerstones” in the bill – $500 million for the state’s unemployment trust fund and another half a billion dollars for the bonuses.

Gov. Charlie Baker also said in late October that he’s generally supportive of the “premium pay program,” saying that “this is something that is the right thing to do.”

Eligible workers must have worked in person during the state of emergency that began on March 10, 2020 and lasted for more than a year. Their household income must not be more than 300% of the federal poverty level.

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Baker’s administration and an advisory panel would determine who exactly qualifies as an “essential worker.” The legislation suggests that those eligible may include but not be limited to health care workers, long-term care workers, public health staff, childcare workers, educators and school staff, farm workers, food production workers, grocery store and other service workers, transportation workers, utility workers and foster care parents.

The panel would offer its recommendations on eligibility no later than Feb. 1, 2022.

“The recommendations shall prioritize lower-income essential workers who performed essential duties in-person since the start of the state of emergency declared by the governor on March 10, 2020,” the bill states. “The panel shall also consider factors including, but not limited to, an essential worker’s increased financial burden and increased risk of exposure to the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, due to the nature of their work and any bonuses or hazard pay a worker has already received for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic and the amount thereof.”

It is possible that the payments may come in the form of a one-time refundable tax credit, the legislation adds.

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The bonuses could be a boost for essential workers in Massachusetts who may have been hoping that Congress would act on a fourth stimulus check, which now appears unlikely. Staff