Massachusetts federal delegation urges state to ‘keep promise’ as fight over coronavirus funds delays aid

Federal lawmakers urged state officials to keep their “promise” of boosting aid to four Bay State communities hard hit by coronavirus.

But the Legislature doubled down on its move to swipe control of $5.3 billion in COVID relief funds out of Gov. Charlie Baker’s hands.

“What I care about as the congresswoman from the Massachusetts 7th — the district that has been the hardest hit by this pandemic — is that those hardest hit communities are getting what they need and getting it quickly,” U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley said Wednesday when asked about the squabble.

In March, Baker committed $100 million from $5.3 billion in unrestricted funds coming to Massachusetts from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to supplement relief funds headed to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph. Though the communities were among the hardest hit by the deadly virus, they were shortchanged by a federal funding formula that relies on a 50,000-resident threshold.

The Legislature has increasingly signaled a desire in recent months to take on a greater oversight role in doling out pandemic dollars, which up until now has largely been at Baker’s discretion. He has overseen the distribution of about $2.7 billion in unrestricted funds from prior federal relief bills.

On Tuesday, the House took the first steps toward wresting control over the next wave of federal aid when it moved to place the $5.3 billion in ARP discretionary funds into a segregated account through which they would distribute the funds.

During an appearance in Chelsea on Wednesday, Baker appeared to suggest he wouldn’t move forward with distributing the $100 million because “the Legislature put out a press release, they made a point.

“We’ll raise this issue with them and I hope they see it the way we do,” the Republican governor continued.

The Democrat-led Legislature, however, was undeterred. In a joint statement, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano said, “We are glad the Governor, who has been in receipt of these funds for two weeks, is now joining the Legislature in this sense of urgency.”

Pressley and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey urged state officials to “immediately distribute” the funds to hard-hit Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph.

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