The Baker administration will direct $100 million to four of the hardest-hit communities in Massachusetts that are set to receive disproportionately less federal stimulus funding than other cities and towns under the latest rescue package.
Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph will be able to use the additional aid to address a range of COVID-19 needs, such as replacing lost municipal revenue, investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, and mitigating the pandemic's economic impact, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday as he announced the investment.
The injection, which Baker's office said will come from existing or future federal revenue, aims to correct formula hiccups in the American Rescue Plan that left the four communities with smaller funding allocations compared to other municipalities that have not faced the same obstacles.
Looking at the funding breakdown between "relatively better off" cities and towns and Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph, Baker said, "it was pretty clear that there was a problem."
"We believe it's critically important that these communities get the resources that they need to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic," Baker said.
State and local governments in Massachusetts are set to receive $7.9 billion in direct aid from the latest round of stimulus, $3.4 billion of which will go to counties, cities and towns, according to Baker.
Estimates produced by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, though, show some significant gaps in funding available for some communities that have faced the most dire pandemic impacts.
The association projects $11.6 million for Chelsea, $13.6 million for Everett, $14.8 million for Methuen and $3.3 million for Randolph.
By comparison, Fitchburg, which is also among the 20 cities and towns the Department of Public Health has identified as facing the greatest COVID-19 burden and a significantly non-white population, has almost the same number of residents as Chelsea but will receive $32 million, according to MMA.
As the Boston Globe reported last week, whiter communities that have faced less potent outbreaks are also set to receive significant funding, like Newton, which is projected to receive $65.3 million.
House Speaker Ron Mariano said the House was working with the Senate and the Baker administration to identify all the cities and towns that may have been "shortchanged" by the federal government's funding formula, "not just the couple that were in the paper."
"It's a work in progress and we've identified I think three or four towns already, but we think there are more," Mariano told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Thursday morning.
The funds appropriated through the latest round of stimulus will not arrive for several weeks, Baker said.
Community groups and local officials have been voicing concerns about the funding disparities for weeks. Baker's office said in a March 18 statement to the Boston Globe that he would move to distribute additional funding to the cities and towns most in need.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who along with other members of the delegation had called on Baker to reallocate stimulus to hard-hit communities, celebrated the announcement Thursday.
"This relief should be used as Congress intended — to fully support the communities that have been on the frontlines on this pandemic, including our communities of color hit hardest by this public health emergency," Warren said in a statement.
Next week, the new House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight, led by Boston Rep. Dan Hunt, plans to have a hearing focused on the American Rescue Plan, which will also deliver close to $1 billion for public transit in addition to the $4.5 billion for the state and $3.4 billion for cities and towns.
Mariano said the White House has agreed to make Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, available to testify, and the first order of business for House leaders is understanding how the money can be spent and whether the state has any matching responsibilities.
Both House and Senate leaders have said they want to play a more active role in appropriating the latest round of stimulus than they did with the CARES Act relief money, and Mariano said the House does not plan to use any of the American Rescue Act funding in the fiscal 2022 budget it will release and debate next month.
"If we bake the money into the budget, after two years the money's gone and we're not going to see this amount of money, at least in my time as speaker. I doubt I'll get another bite at this apple so we're going to make sure we spend it wisely," Mariano said.
The speaker mentioned job training as one area he'd like to spend the stimulus: "That's how we're going to recover," he said.