BOSTON (CBS) — The Massachusetts Senate on Friday followed the lead of the House and unanimously passed a $4 billion spending bill that includes half a billion dollars for essential worker bonuses. The spending package, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, is now headed to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.
The bill also includes $500 million for the unemployment insurance trust fund, $400 million in mental health and behavioral support, and hundreds of millions of dollars for climate preparedness, education, housing, economic recovery and workforce development.
“The one-time investments made in this bill address evident needs across all Massachusetts communities and sectors of the economy, particularly those who were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” House Speaker Ron Mariano said in a statement.
The “Premium Pay” program calls for bonuses of between $500 and $2,000 for essential employees who worked in-person – not remotely – during the state of emergency that was declared on March 10, 2020 and lasted for more than a year.
An advisory panel will determine which essential workers qualify for the bonuses. Eligible employees may include health care, long-term care and home care workers, childcare workers, educators and education staff, farm workers, grocery store workers, food production facility workers, social workers, transportation workers, utility workers and technicians and foster parents. The household income of those essential workers must not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level.
“The panel shall also consider factors including, but not limited to, an essential worker’s increased financial burden and increased risk of exposure to 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,” the legislation states.
Bonuses would be issued no later than March 31, 2022, according to the plan.
Gov. Charlie Baker said in late October that he’s generally supportive of the bonuses, saying that “this is something that is the right thing to do.” He has not yet confirmed that he’ll sign the bill into law.
“I’m glad it’s here,” Baker said at a Friday news conference. “We’ll take a good look at it over the next several days.”
WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller noted that the House and Senate bills have plenty of “lard” – local spending unrelated to the stated goals of the ARPA – and many of those projects made it into the compromise agreement. They include:
- $25,000 for a marker commemorating the designers of Riverbend Park in Cambridge
- Restoring obscure historic buildings in out-of-the-way spots, like $75,000 for the Wilder Homestead in Buckland, $40,000 for the Jenkes Store in Douglas, and $50,000 to spruce up a gazebo in Townsend
- $85,000 to improve The Brookline Chamber of Commerce website (discoverbrookline.com)
- $200,000 to spruce up the middle school field soccer field in Hanson
- $5 million to cover debts at the Edward Kennedy Institute
Click here to read the plan.