The Legislature has just enacted our $3.9B ARPA Relief spending bill compromise. The legislation leverages federal relief and state surplus funds to make significant, targeted investments in housing, climate mitigation, economic development, workforce development & human services.
As chair of the Labor Committee, I am particularly proud that the legislation includes record investments in workforce development programs. Here are some of the highlights:
1599-2027: Human Service Worker Loan Repayment, Retention and Recruitment
This bill puts $30 Million into policies targeted towards supporting current human service workers and building a pipeline to fill current labor gaps in the human services sector. $16.5 Million will be provided for loan repayment assistance for workers who provide services through home-based and community-based human service organizations. $13.5 Million will be utilized for a grant program to support retention and recruitment of human service workers and home health workers.
1599-2029: Nursing Facility Workforce Retention and Recruitment
As part of a reserve created for investments in nursing facilities, the bill sets aside $25 Million to be spent on initiatives to address workforce shortages. Nursing facilities bore the brunt of the pandemic, and their workforce has shrunk because of it, leaving facilities and members of their current labor force in a difficult situation. In developing methodology for distributing these funds, the executive office is required to work with the Massachusetts Senior Care Association and 1199 SEIU.
1599-2037: Workforce Skills Training Programs
The legislature has created a $107.5 Million reserve to be spent on workforce skills training programs. $37.5 Million will be transferred to the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund for training programs, with a priority for training programs targeted at unemployed and underemployed workers displaced by the pandemic. $25 Million will be used for developing and operating career technical institutes in vocational technical school and public schools with career and technical education programs. Remaining funds in the reserve will be used for investments in existing training models, such as apprenticeship programs and expanding support for innovative training models such as the rapid reemployment grant program. Funds from this reserve will also be used to expand adult basic education courses, including English for speakers of other languages.
1599-2037: Capital Improvement Grants for Vocational Technical Programs
As part of the reserve created to fund educational programming, the bill provides $100 Million for capital needs of existing vocational and career and technical education (CTE) programs. Vocational schools and CTE are critical education resources for students who are looking to go into the trades or other skilled professions. Vocational high schools and public schools operating CTE programs have very specific capital needs, as the value of their education is reliant in part on the tools and machinery that students have access to.
1299-2041: High-Demand Community College Workforce Training Programs
The bill also provides $15 Million to community colleges for high demand workforce training. Community colleges in the Commonwealth already serve a large workforce development need, which this funding will help bolster. Money from this bill will be used for training programs in fields where there is a great deal of current demand for workers, including: healthcare, early education, advanced manufacturing, IT, and cybersecurity.
1599-2049: Job Program for At-Risk Youth (YouthWorks)
This bill provides $25 Million to Youth Works, which is in addition to the $24 million that the legislature provided in FY22. This program is administered by the Department of Career Services and provides subsidized job opportunities for low-income and at-risk youth aged 14-21 in over 31 cities across the Commonwealth. Despite the pandemic, Youthworks was able to provide paid opportunities for over 5,000 youth in the Commonwealth last year. Summer jobs teach teenagers the value of accountability and punctuality. These cornerstones of professionalism ensure the success of young adults on their way to college or into the workforce. With a youth unemployment rate that has more than doubled in the past decade, it is vital that we continue to invest in job opportunities for our at-risk teens.
1599-2057: Transfer to the Unemployment Insurance Compensation Fund There will be a transfer of $500 Million to the Unemployment Insurance Compensation Trust Fund. Due to the unparalleled number of individuals receiving unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic, the trust fund became insolvent. In order to continue to provide the benefits that were a lifeline to many, the Commonwealth relied on federal advances to replenish the fund. In combination with the unemployment bond bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year, this $500 million deposit will reduce future liability and help to maintain solvency of the fund.
Section 73, Section 79, and Section 82: Essential Worker Premium Pay
This bill provides $500 Million in premium pay for frontline essential workers. State front-line workers will receive a one-time payment of $2,000 if they worked in-person during the winter of 2020 to 2021. Eligible non-state workers are those who were deemed essential under the governor’s March 10th state of emergency declaration, worked in person during that state of emergency, and whose household income is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level. These workers will receive an amount of between $500 and $2,000.
Section 76: Unemployment Insurance Overpayment Waiver Public Information
A number of workers who are either currently unemployed or had experienced unemployment during the pandemic have received notices from the Department of Unemployment Assistance about recouping overpayments, many of which involve large sums of money. Many workers who are receiving these notices had received these overpayments by no fault of their own. While these workers can get the requirement to repay an overpayment waived in cases where it “would either defeat the purpose of benefits otherwise authorized or would be against equity and good conscience,” many do not know of their rights to file for a waiver. Under this bill, the Department of Unemployment Assistance will be required to run a public information campaign about the overpayment waiver program, specifically targeting many of these beneficiaries.