Amid a squabble with state lawmakers, Governor Charlie Baker said Friday he is unilaterally releasing $109 million in federal stimulus funds to four communities that received far less than neighboring towns and cities under the federal COVID-19 relief law.
Baker’s decision to seed the money to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen, and Randolph came days after he publicly sparred with legislative leaders, who said they intend to seek control over how the state spends nearly $5.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds currently sitting in an account under Baker’s budget office.
Baker said Friday his administration released $33.3 million to Everett, $28.5 million to Chelsea, $26.3 million to Methuen, and $21 million to Randolph.
In a statement released by his office, Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito did not mention the dispute with legislative leaders. Polito said administration officials were “pleased to work directly with local officials in these communities to deliver this funding.”
“Our Administration committed additional funds to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph to ensure all of the Commonwealth’s communities received the funding they deserved from the federal relief package,” Baker said.
Speaking at an event in Boston later Friday, Baker told reporters he spoke to legislative leaders before releasing the funds to the communities. “I think there was a general agreement that . . . it was important to make sure that they didn’t get lost” in the wider debate about the federal funding, Baker said.
Baker had pledged months earlier to give $100 million to the four hard-hit municipalities that, thanks to antiquated funding formulas the federal government used in the federal relief law, received less in direct funding than other nearby towns. Chelsea, for example, was expected to receive just $11.6 million in direct aid, while Revere was expected to see $30.5 million and Newton — a wealthier, whiter Boston suburb — was projected to get $65.3 million.
After the Legislature began moving a bill that would subject all of the $5.3 billion of the funds to legislative discretion, key members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation — Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston — urged state officials to immediately distribute the $100 million to the four towns and cities.
Baker initially said he did not release the tranche of the money, because the “Legislature put out a press release” — an apparent reference to a statement from House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen E. Spilka a day earlier about their bill to move the money to another account.
The Democratic leaders then shot back, casting the Republican governor as the obstacle and arguing his administration had access to the federal funds for two weeks before state lawmakers said they would seek to assume control of how they were spent. The House passed the bill on Tuesday, though it’s yet to come to the floor in the Senate.
“Like our [congressional] delegation, we have a sense of urgency regarding providing coronavirus relief to our hardest hit communities,” Mariano and Spilka said.
After Baker’s announcement, spokespeople for the legislative leaders said they were glad the money was released and that they “look forward to working with the Administration and the public in an open and transparent process to equitably distribute federal funds.”
Warren, Markey, and Pressley in a separate joint statement praised the money’s release, saying it’s financial help the municipalities “need and deserve.”
“This is one step in a long fight for a full and equitable recovery for these communities, and we will continue to work towards that in partnership with community and city leaders,” the federal lawmakers said.
Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this story.