PROVINCETOWN — Last fall, the state government combined $2.5 billion in federal Covid relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act and an unexpected surplus of $1.5 billion in tax revenues to create a $4-billion supplemental spending bill.
If you haven’t read it yet, the enormous bill, passed and signed in December, has over a dozen major titles — nearly $1 billion for health-care programs, more than $600 million for housing, and $500 million for “premium pay” bonuses for lower-income frontline workers.
That’s only half the picture, though. The legislature is likely to pass another bill this summer that could approach another $4 billion: nearly half of the federal rescue money, about $2.3 billlion, remains to be spent, according to the Mass. Taxpayers’ Foundation, and tax receipts are again on track to be billions above estimates. State Sen. Julian Cyr said he expects to see the second bill pass before July 31.
Together, the two bills are “an unprecedented amount of money,” said Cyr.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to deploy resources to solve some of our biggest problems,” Cyr said. “If people have priorities or ideas, we want to hear about it.”
The bill that passed in December is often referred to simply as “the ARPA bill,” partly because its proper name is forgettable: “An act relative to immediate Covid-19 recovery needs.”
This is confusing because the federal American Rescue Plan Act is known as ARPA. And municipalities across the country did receive some ARPA money directly: Provincetown’s allocation was $309,000; Truro received $210,000; Wellfleet, $285,000; and Eastham, $513,000.
Counties got money, too. Barnstable County received $41 million through ARPA, leaving the County Commission and Assembly of Delegates to iron out how to allocate it.
The lion’s share of federal ARPA money went to state governments, however. Massachusetts got $5.3 billion.
What Does $4 Billion Buy?
Under health care, the largest investment by far is $400 million for mental and behavioral health, including addiction-related care. Of that, $110 million is for a loan forgiveness program for mental health providers. They would need to sign a four-year contract with the state to get the funds and would need to work in certain settings, including community health centers, such as Outer Cape Health Services, or acute-care hospitals, such as Cape Cod Healthcare’s hospitals in Hyannis and Falmouth.
Cyr said he believes the loan program will help communities build up a behavioral care workforce.
Massachusetts does a good job at educating providers, said Cyr, but many of them decamp to more affordable states when they graduate. “This is going to incentivize more providers to stick around and work for organizations like Outer Cape Health and others that take health insurance,” said Cyr.
Then there is $260 million for “fiscally strained hospitals,” followed by $200 million for public health, including almost $100 million for standardized data systems and more than $70 million for direct grants to local boards of health.
Tucked inside the mental health allocations: a $15-million matching grant program to help municipalities develop “pre-arrest co-response programs,” through which municipal police departments and mental health clinicians would collaborate on mental health and substance use calls.
About two-thirds of the $624 million allocated for housing would go to subsidized rental housing, while the other third is for some newer affordable ownership programs.
Infrastructure improvements at public housing would get $150 million. That could benefit the Maushope senior housing complex run by the Provincetown Housing Authority.
Another $150 million is directed to more permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, survivors of domestic violence, people transitioning out of foster care, seniors, and veterans.
Another $115 million is set aside for “the production and preservation of affordable rental housing,” which is the most common type of subsidized housing on the Outer Cape.
The bill commits significant new money to affordable home ownership strategies. The state’s down-payment assistance program, for example, received only $7.5 million over the last three years; this bill provides another $65 million.
The Commonwealth Builder program, which helps create affordable home ownership units for near-median and median earners, was launched in 2019 with a $60 million fund. This bill adds another $115 million to the program.
Two of the largest titles in the bill were calibrated to match each other: $500 million to replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which is normally paid for by employers, and $500 million for “premium pay” bonuses to essential pandemic workers.
The details are unclear because Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed most of the language that tried to guide eligibility for the premium pay, citing potential delays caused by the legislature’s 28-person advisory committee.
But the law and the governor’s signing statement suggest that $500 checks will go to about a million state residents, directed first to people earning 300 percent of federal poverty level or below (that’s $38,600 per year for a single person, or $52,200 per year for a two-person household).
But Wait, There’s More!
Other funding that is important to the Outer Cape includes $100 million for water and sewer improvements, $90 million for marine port infrastructure, and $50 million for broadband (see related story on page A1). There is also $100 million for ventilation improvements at public schools.
And while the overall number is small, the $75 million in small business grants includes a special set-aside that may help those who were new or expanding and could not show a revenue loss for calendar 2020, and therefore did not qualify for previous state relief grants.