Massachusetts legislative leaders said late Tuesday they reached an agreement on a $4 billion pandemic-era spending package, nearly two weeks after they missed a self-imposed deadline and broke for their winter recess without a deal on the long-sought bill.
Despite the declared progress, state Representative Aaron Michlewitz and state Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, who have served as their chambers’ lead negotiators, did not release details of the sweeping legislation Tuesday. They said in a joint statement they intend to publicly file the proposal once the “agreement is finalized.”
Michlewitz, a North End Democrat, said later Tuesday that it could happen as early as Wednesday, setting up the bill to emerge Thursday in the House. The House and Senate are currently meeting in only informal sessions, where a single dissenting vote could derail a bill. But legislative leaders have said they are confident the spending bill would not have trouble passing given previous versions cleared both chambers unanimously.
“The goal is to have it to the governor’s desk, hopefully, Friday,” Michlewitz said.
The lawmakers’ joint statement offered only extremely broad categories of where the massive amounts of money would go, describing them as areas “hardest hit by the global pandemic,” including public health, mental health, and the state’s workforce, among others; towns and cities “disproportionately impacted” by COVID-19; and efforts to address economic and racial inequality.
At $4 billion, the bill marks an increase from the roughly $3.8 billion versions that passed the House and Senate this fall, indicating that a variety of earmarks from both chambers’ survived negotiations, lawmakers resolved some spending differences by opting for the higher total, or both.
The packages had dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars toward housing initiatives, public health systems, the state’s hospitals, and more.
Legislative leaders had previously said they were in agreement on two major pillars of the legislation before either chamber took a vote: putting $500 million toward the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and dedicating another $500 million to fund one-time bonuses to essential workers.
“The majority of the stuff, but not everything” is in the final agreement, Michlewitz said Tuesday. “There were some things that were left on the cutting room floor.”
The package is built using a combination of federal American Rescue Plan Act aid and state surplus funds, though even at the higher amount, the agreement would leave more than $2 billion between the two funding sources at lawmakers’ disposal in the months, or even years, ahead.
Legislative leaders have faced weeks of criticism for not passing the bill before the Thanksgiving holiday, including from Governor Charlie Baker, who had pressed them for months to more quickly spread the money. Lawmakers, however, opted to hold a half-dozen hearings to take public feedback while arguing that deliberation — not speed — was most important in dividing up a “once-in-a-lifetime” pot of money.
Under the House proposal, “premium pay bonuses” would be targeted for low-income essential workers who make up to 300 percent above the federal poverty limit and worked in person during the 16 months of the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency. Under both versions, the individual bonuses could climb as high as $2,000.
It wasn’t clear Tuesday how quickly the bonuses could start reaching residents. The original House proposal had called for them to be distributed by the end of January.