(TNS) — Absent a federal stimulus, the Gov. Baker administration cobbled together a hodgepodge of federal and state funds to help stimulate the Massachusetts economy.
The result? A multimillion-dollar package that involves a patchwork of federal coronavirus relief funds, capital spending and other state money, some of which needs legislative approval.
There’s the $115 million in new funding — all federal — for small business owners and job seekers, grants taken from existing state programs and close to $175 million in proposed small business and housing assistance that’s already in the revised fiscal 2021 budget. The budget itself, which is under legislative review, relies on emergency federal funds, nearly one-third of reserves and state tax revenue to close a projected $3.6 billion gross spending gap.
“This is a giant quilt of funds coming from a whole bunch of different places that add up here,” the Republican governor said Thursday when asked by MassLive about the overlap with the recovery measures proposed in the budget. In a perfect world, Baker added, the Legislature would pass the budget, including the $175 million tied to his economic recovery plan, around Thanksgiving and the Republican governor could see additional, separate capital funds come in through the economic development bond bill.
The proposal remains in conference committee, where lawmakers are debating what the final version will entail.
Thursday’s funding announcement, dubbed the $774 million “Partnerships for Recovery” economic recovery plan, doesn’t hinge on the economic development bill, Baker said. Most of that plan takes capital spending or earmarks funds that already exist for state programs meant to help people with job training, housing assistance and other issues.
Who are the partners working on the state on these initiatives? They range from MassHire Career Centers and Housing Consumer Education Centers to a number of other institutions the state did not name. Those include municipalities, vocational schools, small businesses, workforce training organizations, colleges and universities and manufacturers, among others, according to the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
Nearly half of the funding for the initiative, about $323 million, comes from capital funding from the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, which is used for job training and placement.
The recovery plan also incorporates $171 million for housing relief, including $112 million in new funds announced last week as part of an eviction diversion program the governor announced in lieu of extending the eviction moratorium.
Of the nearly $175 million held up in the budget process, $52.4 million is set aside in funding housing assistance, such as the funding for emergency housing placement and mediation announced last week. Nearly $18 million would fund job training and placement, with nearly half of those funds going to Baker’s plan to turn vocational high schools into Career Technical Institutes that run three sessions daily. Baker says the initiative would train more than 20,000 new workers over four years in plumbing, manufacturing, HVAC and robotics.
The other $104.2 million that requires legislative approval would cover small business assistance, including including $35 million in grants and loans to certain small businesses and $15 million in matching funds for capital investments for businesses that have 20 or fewer employees. The businesses with under 20 employees must also report under $2.5 million in revenue a year, according to a line item in the revised budget proposal.
Asked about Baker’s announcement and the portion that needs legislative approval, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues' office said the committee is “actively reviewing the Governor’s revised FY 2021 budget plan and will have more to say once that review is completed in the coming weeks.”
Senate Vice Chair Cindy Friedman’s office said the Arlington Democrat is still reviewing the small business recovery plan and could not comment on it.
House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Then there’s the $115 million in new funding that’s available now. The new funding involves a mix of small business grants and technological programs.
About $50.8 million in small business grants were set aside for businesses that were hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation is accepting applications for those grants on its website as of Thursday.
Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said that includes businesses that aren’t allowed to open yet, operate in high-risk communities or other factors. He said businesses owned by women, veterans and minorities get priority.
The new funding also sets aside another $10 million for local recovery planning grants, $10 million for museums, theaters and other cultural spaces and $8.3 million in technical help for businesses seeking grant programs and loans.
Another $10 million goes to the Shared Streets and Spaces program. The program started out with $5 million when it was first announced in June. Thursday’s announcement brings the total funding up to $20 million.
Additional programs are getting federal funding, including a $9.2 million investment in improving internet access in 49 cities and towns, according to the MassTech Collaborative. Those include adding hot spots in parts of Boston and pockets of the state’s Gateway Cities, particularly to low-income residents, as well as broadband expansion for several unserved communities under the Last Mile program.
It’s unclear how much of the recovery plan relies on emergency COVID-19 money, versus money from coming from community development block grants. But the state is pressed for time to use up money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The money must be spent by Dec. 30 or it goes back to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Baker doesn’t see any other major influx of federal funding on the horizon. Little has changed since the White House called off negotiations with House Democrats on a COVID-19 bill that would send money to states and municipalities.
“To be clear, there’s no substitute for the size and scope that a federal aid package could deliver,” he said, “but that doesn’t seem to be in the offing, and we certainly don’t believe we can wait.”
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