Natalie's December Column in the Leominster Champion: Here's how Massachusetts will spend ARPA, Surplus Funding
"Earlier this month, the Massachusetts House and Senate unanimously passed its spending proposal utilizing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Fiscal Year 2021 surplus funds.
The legislation addresses disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, aiming to facilitate recovery through one-time investments in housing, environment and climate mitigation, economic development, workforce, health and human services, and education.
I was thankful to partner with Sen. John Cronin to secure a number of Leominster-specific projects: $100,000 for HVAC Upgrades at Bennett School, $100,000 for an Early Education Center Feasibility Study, $150,000 for Water Filtration Updates in the Leominster Public Schools, $250,000 for the repair of Monoosnoc Brook, and $300,000 for portable classrooms for elementary schools in the Leominster Public Schools.
Notably, the GREEN Initiative, which I highlighted in October, is being piloted with $6.5 million. As you may remember from a previous column, this aims to retrofit existing low- and moderate-income housing in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities, as well as other communities with similar demographics. The retrofitted housing units will be highly energy-efficient, use clean heating technologies such as heat pumps, and where possible include on-site renewable energy generation like rooftop solar.
Health and Human Services: The legislation allocates vital funding for financially strained hospitals, community health centers, behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment services and workforce needs, our local and regional public health systems, and programs that tackle food insecurity.
Workforce Development: The legislation includes premium pay bonuses for low- and middle-income workers who worked in-person during the COVID-19 State of Emergency, enhancements for workforce opportunities through workforce skills training, and investments in vocational and career and technical schools.
Affordable Housing and Homeownership: The legislation appropriates funds for affordable housing, focused on public housing maintenance, new permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals, survivors of domestic violence, seniors, and veterans, homeownership assistance, and the production and preservation of affordable rental housing.
Environment and Climate Change Mitigation: The legislation includes environmental infrastructure and development spending, with a focus on environmental justice communities, climate change resiliency and clean energy, as well as infrastructure for communities to adapt and become climate resilient, and water and sewer projects.
Education: To improve indoor air-quality in schools and support healthy learning environments, this bill includes grants to public school districts with high concentrations of low-income students, English language learners, and communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, along with additional investments in special education, including workforce development, and programs focused on recruiting and retaining educators of color.
Economic Development: The legislation includes $500 million to replenish the Unemployment Trust Fund which will offset businesses’ contributions for unemployment programs, tax relief for small businesses, and grants to support small businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, with a particular focus on minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses.
Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s column. While my office continues to work remotely, we are still accessible by phone (978-227-5278) or email (Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov). We’ve moved our office hours online — Monday nights and Friday mornings. Please email or call to sign up."
The Department of Housing and Community Development has provided some money for noncongregate sites this year, said Pamela Schwartz, executive director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness. But, the letter asks for the new funding system to ensure a mix of congregate and noncongregate sites.