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House rejects rebates for lowest-income earners in sweeping economic development package

The House chamber in the Massachusetts State House.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Members of the Massachusetts House Wednesday rejected an effort to include the state’s lowest-income taxpayers as part of a stimulus proposal aimed at soothing the sting of record-breaking inflation by giving out one-time $250 payments.

The amendment, filed by progressive Representatives Tami L. Gouveia and Mike Connolly, would have lifted an income requirement for a piece of the chamber’s sweeping economic development bill. Among its many provisions, the bill would give potentially millions of middle income taxpayers a one-time stimulus check of $250 or $500 for joint filers, but only for those who reported at least $38,000 in 2021 income, a caveat that has drawn scrutiny and became central to Wednesday’s debate over the $3.8 billion proposal.

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The amendment was swept into a bundle with dozens of other amendments and rejected on a voice vote without recording the name of each representative, as members began voting on nearly 900 amendments to the multibillion-dollar package, which included what lawmakers said was $1 billion of tax relief for residents.

Gouveia, an Acton Democrat, did not request her amendment be voted on by a roll-call vote.

“Leadership made it clear earlier this week and again today that they were not open to taking up this type of change,” she told the Globe in a statement.

The bill, which serves as a vehicle for nearly $524 million in permanent tax breaks, would increase the deduction renters can claim, increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, and increase the threshold on the state’s estate tax.

Floor debate came as prices for gas, food and rent propelled inflation to a four-decade peak in June, new government data released Wednesday found. The House is expected to vote on the final package Thursday.

“This is a time where our people’s pocketbooks are being stretched very thin,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the chamber’s budget chief.

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Gouveia, who is also running in a statewide election for lieutenant governor, rallied supporters for her amendment on the State House steps Wednesday morning to call on lawmakers to include low-wage workers who are affected by “the uncertainties of inflation, increased rent and wage suppression.”

“Those most in need of support are left behind,” she said.

Connolly, who cosponsored the amendment, said by his math, a worker making the state’s $14.25 minimum wage would need to work more than 50 hours a week in order to reach the $38,000 threshold to qualify for relief.

“Telling things folks that they have been taken care of in a time of skyrocketing inflation . . . it’s something I just cannot be silent about,” he said.

Top lawmakers say that low-income earners were prioritized in the last year, with stimulus payments, enhanced unemployment benefits, and a temporary extension of the federal child tax credit. They pushed back on the notion they were leaving residents behind.

Michlewitz emphasized Wednesday that by passing the economic development package, lawmakers are “providing brand new tax relief to all different spectrums of our income scale.”

Representative Mark J. Cusack, a Braintree Democrat and the House’s revenue chairman, reemphasized Michlewitz’s point, and added that many seniors, renters, and others making under $38,000 a year will still see benefits from this package.

“It’s frustrating,” he told the Globe in an interview. “The activists’ message is fine. They’ll do what they got to do. Obviously it didn’t sway anyone in here. It went through unanimously.”

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After the House is expected to pass the bill Thursday, the Senate will take up the bill next week, spokeswoman Sarah Blodgett said.

Senate President Karen E. Spilka told reporters Wednesday that while she’ll “never say no on almost anything,” the rebate check structure is something she remains firm on.

“For this in particular, we will be moving forward,” she said. “We need to get this income and tax relief to individuals and families.”

Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.