Baker administration outlines plan for fed ARPA $$$

Having watched the Legislature largely seize control of American Rescue Plan Act spending decisions, the Baker administration is gearing up for public hearings that it expects to get underway this month on plans to spend the state’s roughly $5 billion in federal money, including the governor’s specific proposal to immediately spend more than half of the total.

Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders have been at loggerheads over how and how quickly the state’s ARPA money should be put to use since the comptroller’s office received a $5.3 billion lump sum on May 19.

Baker yielded to the Legislature’s desire for a thorough public hearing process when he signed legislation late last month transferring most of the money into a segregated account.

But he also refiled his proposal to put $2.9 billion of the ARPA money to immediate use, hoping it will get close consideration once lawmakers start their hearings.

More than a third of the total, $1 billion, would be designated for homeownership and housing priorities that the administration views as a generational opportunity to boost housing security.

The administration on Tuesday pointed out that Massachusetts has one of the largest racial homeownership gaps in the country, and said its proposal would help provide economic stability and address the systemic gap that led to more severe pandemic impacts among low-income communities and people of color.

The plan includes $300 million for policies that have proven track records of working to promote homeownership particularly among first-time buyers, like down payment assistance programs, mortgage insurance and mortgage interest rate subsidies, the Executive Office of Administration and Finance said.

There’s also $200 million for MassHousing’s CommonWeath Builder Program and similar initiatives that support housing production.

Another $300 million would go toward supportive housing for veterans and seniors, and $200 million would be earmarked by the administration to subsidize rental housing production, particularly workforce housing, the executive office said.

Baker’s proposal includes another $1 billion for infrastructure — $400 million in water and sewer infrastructure grants, $300 million for improvements to culverts, dams and other environmentally significant infrastructure, $100 million to improve state park facilities, $100 million to increase broadband internet access and $100 million for marine port development.

The governor also proposed $240 million to fund job training programs and address skills gaps, $250 million to support regional collaborations and investments in downtowns, $175 million for addiction treatment and related behavioral health services, and more.

All ARPA money must be committed by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026, which has led some lawmakers to suggest the money should be doled out over a number of years. Baker and his administration have favored a more rapid infusion of federal dollars.

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