Charlie Baker invests $186M of ARPA funds as Legislature prepares to launch listening series

The day before lawmakers launch a series of hearings for what could be a years-long process to distribute federal coronavirus relief funds, Gov. Charlie Baker once again signaled his commitment to getting the cash out the door as fast as possible.

The Republican governor on Monday laid out a plan to immediately invest $187 million to support hospitals, health services and workforce development in regions hardest hit by COVID-19.

“Our administration is putting this $186 million to work now because many communities throughout Massachusetts – especially low-income families and communities of color – have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and cannot wait for assistance,” Baker said in a statement.

The plan includes $55 million for health and human services workforce development, $50 million for fiscally distressed hospitals serving communities that were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, $31 million for mental health services and up to $50 million to help train 15,000 unemployed or underemployed Massachusetts workers.

The investment represents the vast majority of the $200 million left to the administration’s control when the Legislature swiped control over who would hold the purse strings for the $5.1 billion in remaining unrestricted federal funds dropped on Massachusetts as part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.

Democratic legislative leaders have expressed an interest in taking their time in spending the one-time funds, saying in a statement last month “these investments may potentially be spread out over a number of years to ensure our continued economic vitality.”

Baker has found himself at odds with the Democrat-led Legislature over the urgency in which to spend the funds.

After leaving decisions over the disbursement of prior federal aid dollars to the executive branch, lawmakers grabbed control of the ARPA funds last month, placing the money into an account that requires legislative approval before disbursement.

Lawmakers’ first hearing considering ARPA spending proposals is Tuesday when they will consider the governor’s plan to “immediately” spend $2.9 billion of the federal relief dollars.

Baker is attending a rare post-coronavirus event out of state with the Republican Governors Association in Aspen, Colorado where he is participating in talks about upcoming elections, but aides confirmed he will attend the hearing virtually.

A second hearing is planned for Tuesday, July 27, where the Joint Committee on Ways and Means will consider “the use of these available federal resources to address housing, labor and workforce development issues,” according to an agenda. Future hearings will be announced, according to aides.

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