When the Massachusetts Legislature's Democratic majority considers what to do with the $5 billion in relief provided by the federal government, they'll weigh competing arguments from organized labor and progressive activists — who want to spend the money on housing security for low-wage workers and tax relief for families — and from Gov. Charlie Baker — who wants to boost the economy and homeownership.
Before a hearing of the Legislature's Ways and Means committees and the special panel put in place to sort out a spending plan for the $5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds, labor unions representing low wage workers, alongside other left-leaning community groups, told lawmakers they want to see retroactive hazard pay for front-line workers who put themselves in harm's way throughout the pandemic.
"The workers I represent need economic support, and they need it now throughout the epidemic," union 32BJ SEIU’s vice president Roxana Rivera said to a crowd of a few dozen supporters gathered outside the State House prior to the virtual hearing.
The coalition of progressive interest groups known as Community Labor United is also pushing for a new, state-level $600-per-month child tax credit to aid families stung by the high cost of childcare.
"Massachusetts need to put the money where their mouth is, so that's why we need to make sure that the American Rescue Plan money are centered around workers and community who are on the front line of COVID-19 pandemic, those who have been struggling to get back on their feet," Chinese Progressive Association executive director Karen Chen told the crowd.
The group is also asking lawmakers to spend nearly $1 billion to prioritize housing stabilization and relief for low earners.
Inside the state house, lawmakers heard from Baker's top housing aide, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who pitched another plan to spend $1 billion to boost homeownership and jumpstart housing construction in one of the tightest housing markets in the country.
"The intention here is to take a billion dollars and fund existing, proven programs and simply to do more through those programs," Kennealy testified. He said that adding the federal dollars to the existing state programs could help build 50% more affordable housing units over the next five years.