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'Door Is Ajar' For Transformational Spending With Federal Relief Money, Baker Says

The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The governor made another push Monday to spend some of the state's stockpile of federal money to help provide economic stability and address a systemic gap that led to more severe pandemic impacts among low-income communities and people of color.

Speaking at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury to celebrate a $1 million gift from the nonprofit King Boston, Gov. Charlie Baker said the organization that seeks to carry on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy "has the potential to not only change the conversation but change the condition of the issues associated with equity, race and justice here in the commonwealth." He said the state is at a place "that my dad would call a seminal moment."

"The windows are open, the door is ajar and the big question in front of us all is are we going to go through it or not," Baker said. "We have a billion dollars currently pending before the Legislature to spend on housing and homeownership in communities of color that were hard hit by the pandemic. If there's one thing we learned during this pandemic, it's that housing insecurity is a public health issue. We have significant opportunities right in front of us to do great work in this space if we reach out with each other, grab it and run with it."

For months, since the Legislature seized control of most American Rescue Plan Act spending decisions, the Baker administration has been pointing out that Massachusetts has one of the largest racial homeownership gaps in the country as it promotes its proposal to designate $1 billion of ARPA funding to homeownership and housing priorities that the administration views as a generational opportunity to boost housing security. That allocation features in a $2.9 billion spending proposal Baker filed.

The Legislature this week is continuing its slate of public hearings on how it should spend the roughly $4.8 billion in ARPA funds that remain. A Tuesday hearing will focus on health care, mental health, substance use disorder, public health and human services. House Speaker Ron Mariano said last week that approving legislation to spend some ARPA money by Thanksgiving is a "reasonable" goal for lawmakers.

King Boston is a privately funded non-profit with a mission of honoring the legacy of Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as addressing economic and racial inequities. The nonprofit is the same group working to install a new sculpture in Boston Common commemorating Dr. King's 1965 speech in downtown Boston.

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