With skyrocketing COVID-19 cases putting a strain on public- and private-sector workforces and stretching the state's testing capacity to its limits, House Speaker Ron Mariano on Monday said lawmakers were looking for clarity from the Baker administration on how resources intended to deal with another surge have been used and whether additional money might be necessary.
"The House continues to stand ready to improve the State's COVID-19 response as Massachusetts experiences an alarming uptick in cases," Mariano said in a statement released by his office Monday afternoon.
The Quincy Democrat noted how the Legislature agreed last June to leave $200 million in American Rescue Plan Act under the control of the governor "in anticipation of any future surges." The law passed by the House and Senate swept the bulk of state ARPA funds into a trust controlled by Legislature, but specifically left behind the money "to protect against emergency public health threats, or to support new, heightened or emergency public health response efforts against the 2019 novel Coronavirus and variants thereof."
Gov. Charlie Baker subsequently announced plans to spend $186 million of that money on distressed hospitals, human service worker rate increases, inpatient psychiatric care and workforce development, which was criticized at the time by top Democrats as beyond the scope of how lawmakers envisioned that money would be used.
"The House looks forward to working with the Administration to understand how those funds have been deployed and their plans for future COVID-19 spending, as well as working with the Senate to provide any needed resources to increase the availability of testing and masks for the residents of the Commonwealth," Mariano continued in his statement Monday.
The Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management held an oversight hearing before the holidays as the omicron variant began to spread and case counts surged, but no one from the administration appeared to testify. Baker attributed his team's absence to "calendar conflicts," but acknowledged the chairs' request for his team to appear before the committee in early January.
"We'll just make sure that fits," he said.
Another oversight hearing has not yet been scheduled. The Legislature in December passed a major spending bill allocating $4 billion in state ARPA and surplus funds, but left $2.25 billion in APRA money to be spent at a later date.