GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Monday announced that he will spend $186 million in federal COVID relief funding with a focus on health care and workforce training.
“Our administration is putting this $186 million to work now because many communities throughout Massachusetts – especially low-income families and communities of color – have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and cannot wait for assistance,” Baker said in a statement.
The American Rescue Plan Act money had been subject to a brief tussle between Baker and the Democratic-led Legislature over who had control of the money. Ultimately, the Legislature gave Baker $200 million to spend unilaterally, but lawmakers moved the rest of the $5.3 billion in direct government aid to a segregated fund, where they could control legislatively how the money is spent. Lawmakers have said they want to spend several months gathering input on how to spend the money, while Baker has urged quicker action.
In addition to spending the $200 million allotted to his administration, Baker has made a proposal for how to spend another $2.9 billion. Lawmakers plan to hold a hearing on his plan on Tuesday.
The House and Senate have said they are planning a series of public hearings before deciding how to spend the money. Baker has been pressuring lawmakers to act quickly, arguing that the state has immediate needs.
Baker’s plan for the money – which he can start releasing immediately – will put $55 million toward rate increases for human service workers. The 10 percent rate increase will apply from July through December, and the administration’s press release said it will “strengthen and stabilize the state’s provider networks’ workforce in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
The plan will put another $50 million toward shoring up fiscally stressed hospitals. Hospitals generally lost money when they were closed to elective procedures during the pandemic – and as people were slow to return for routine care – and they have had increased expenses for things like personal protective equipment. Community hospitals like Lawrence General Hospital have been vocal about the need for more money to avoid major cuts or layoffs. Baker said the funding will be geared toward hospitals in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 that have financial shortfalls.
The plan will also put $31 million toward inpatient psychiatric facilities. As CommonWealth reported, the is now a serious shortage of psychiatric beds, leading to mental health patients, especially children, spending days or weeks in the emergency room waiting for an inpatient bed to become available. Baker said the money will provide temporary funding to recruit new staff that will help hospitals reopen units.
Baker also wants to spend $50 million on workforce training, to train an estimated 15,000 unemployed or underemployed Massachusetts residents. This could involve training to obtain industry credentials in fields like advanced manufacturing, health care, information technology, and construction. It could also cover workforce readiness programs like teaching English or job skills.