First of two parts.
Massachusetts sits on a pile of federal coronavirus relief dollars totaling nearly $ 4.9 billion and watchdogs say ‘the clock is ticking’ as state after state uses their money and lawmakers of Beacon Hill continue to sit on their hands.
“We want to see something happen over the next month,” said Doug Howgate, executive vice president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “Taking action to spend the (relief) dollars this year, I think, is really important.”
Massachusetts is in the bottom 20 when it comes to distributing federal relief dollars, according to a Herald study.
In May, the federal government distributed $ 195.3 billion in direct and unrestricted funds to state governments under President Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion bailout act. The package included billions more for investment projects and local aid.
The money is the latest in a string of coronavirus relief bills designed to reduce economic pressure from the pandemic, but this latest aid package has been seen as an opportunity to restore, rebuild and recover from the pandemic that shook almost every aspect of life for 19 months.
States have until 2024 to allocate the money and until the end of 2026 to spend it, but 33 states have already earmarked money or started spending in order to meet urgent needs exacerbated by the pandemic.
Seven states – California, Indiana, Maine, Montana, Oregon, New York and Connecticut – have already allocated more than 90% of the funds they received.
Seventeen states took no action or information on the disbursement of ARPA funds was not yet available.
Governor Charlie Baker allocated $ 394 million of the nearly $ 5.3 billion donated to Massachusetts before the Democratic-led state legislature took control of the remaining billions in June.
Budget watchdogs this summer at the first of six ARPA spending legislative hearings said they supported lawmakers’ slow approach to handing out one-time funds, but Howgate admitted that “the clock turns “as the year draws to a close. and Massachusetts spent less than 8% of its available funds.
Those hearings are expected to wrap up in the coming weeks, with the next hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, when lawmakers hear about demands for investment education, social equity, safety net and families.
Baker, a Republican, laid out a $ 2.9 billion spending plan and urged lawmakers to act quickly.
Howgate said it was up to lawmakers to strike the balance between planning investments for “transformational” change and “getting money out in a timely manner.”
“We want to make sure that this money helps people as soon as possible,” Howgate said.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano D-Quincy said earlier this month he “hoped” lawmakers would agree on where and how the ARPA money should be spent before Thanksgiving .
Greg Sullivan, research director at the right-wing Pioneer Institute and former state lawmaker, said there is a long list of immediate needs facing Bay State taxpayers, including unfunded pension liabilities. of $ 40 billion, over $ 5 billion in growing maintenance needs at state colleges. and universities, a multi-billion unemployment trust fund deficit and and
“The legislature should stop taking demands from all political walks of life, get down to business and pay for the things we already owe,” the former state inspector general said. “They should use this money to pay the bills already incurred and unpaid.”
ARPA money isn’t the only money Massachusetts officials sit on. Lawmakers have an additional $ 5 billion in excess tax revenue from 2021 that they must decide whether to spend or save.