From Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday, the news came in multiple helpings: Four hard-hit cities will receive $100 million in additional aid, and more vaccine doses are headed to Massachusetts from the federal government.
Speaking at a State House press conference, Baker said the administration will supplement funding to Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, and Methuen, which received far less than their peers in the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill. And the constrained federal supply of vaccine is expected to grow, though it will still not be enough for all residents who want a dose to get one, Baker said.
In part due to antiquated federal funding formulas that depend on a population threshold of 50,000 people, the four communities singled out Thursday received far less in direct aid than some of their neighbors, despite suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic more than almost any other cities and towns in Massachusetts.
Chelsea, the original epicenter of the crisis, was initially set to receive $11.6 million in direct aid for its population of just under 40,000, while Newton gets $65.3 million for its population of about 88,000, according to estimates from the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Now Chelsea and the other three hard-hit cities will get millions more. The $100 million headed their way is expected to come out of the $4.5 billion in direct aid Massachusetts received through the recently enacted American Rescue Plan.
“We believe it’s critically important that these communities get the resources they need to continue to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic,” Baker said.
Baker did not say how much money would go to each municipality, but according to officials involved in the discussions, a preliminary estimate would allocate roughly $28 million to Chelsea and $32 million to Everett. The money will likely not be available for several weeks. Baker said he will finalize those figures “when we get final details from the federal government about how exactly the money can be used.”
Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino, who described the initial federal allocations as “unconscionable,” said he was thankful to Baker because the $100 million figure “will provide the opportunity for an equitable fix.”
Other local officials and advocates cheered the governor’s decision.
“We are definitely grateful the governor heard our plea,” said Dinanyili Paulino, chief operating officer for the Chelsea-based nonprofit La Colaborativa, who said she would continue to advocate for more funding for Chelsea, where the need is only growing.
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria praised the administration for a swift response. “The cities of Everett and Chelsea have been deeply impacted by the pandemic and deserve to be compensated equitably,” DeMaria said.
It was Congress that devised the funding package. Local officials say they raised the funding disparities with members of the Massachusetts delegation before the bill was passed, but were told it was too late to change the fast-moving, sprawling legislation.
The Massachusetts delegation had urged Baker to use the state’s allocation to address the disparities, and said the law was intended to leave governors that flexibility.
Representative Ayanna Pressley, whose district includes Chelsea, Everett, and Randolph, said, “Today’s announcement is a critical step toward delivering these communities the relief they need and deserve, and we appreciate the governor for heeding our calls to target these federal dollars to our most impacted communities.”
At a banking committee hearing this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to ensure that governors had the freedom to spend the money on aid to hard-hit municipalities.
The news came on a day when Massachusetts recorded 2,274 new COVID-19 cases — the most since early February. The state reported 39 new confirmed deaths, bringing the total to 16,671.
The number of people fully vaccinated in Massachusetts rose to 1,165,381.
On the vaccine supply front, Baker said that next week he anticipates the state will get an additional one-time allocation of 40,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as 20,000 Pfizer first doses, on top of the state’s regular allocation. Baker called it “great news . . . We’re starting to see an increase in doses provided by the federal government, which has allowed us to continue opening up our eligibility categories.”
Still, he warned that the state will continue to “see a constrained supply” compared with how many people want to be vaccinated.
Massachusetts this week received a total of 330,000 vaccine doses, including first and second doses, and about 140,000 more doses were distributed directly from the federal government to retail pharmacies and federally qualified community health centers.
Baker also announced the state is launching a program next week to bring vaccines to homebound residents. Homebound individuals can call 1-833-983-0485 to reserve a time to get their shot at their residence.
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