The Massachusetts Legislature on Thursday passed a $388.6 million supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23). The legislation funds vital services that support vulnerable populations and address food insecurity, housing instability, the state’s long-term COVID-19 response, economic development, essential support services for incoming immigrants and refugees, and more. Notably, the bill extends initiatives first implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as outdoor dining, remote public meeting access, and support for assisted living residences. The bill further authorizes $740.3 million in bonding to bolster the Commonwealth’s clean water and other public works projects for cities and towns, as well as to support the Commonwealth’s ability to compete for competitive federal grant funds.
“I’m proud that, among several critical investments, this supplemental budget provides support for many of the most vulnerable residents and communities in Massachusetts through funding for free school lunches, financial assistance to homeless shelters facing an increase in their migrant population, and extended enhanced SNAP benefits,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy).
“This relatively modest supplemental budget addresses some of the most pressing needs the Commonwealth is facing. Whether it is ensuring that our school children have access to free meals, essential early childcare education grants, or directing critical resources to deal with the influx of migrants coming into the Commonwealth, these funds will have an immediate and positive effect for the residents of the state,” said House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D Boston).
The bill invests $388.6 million to address several time sensitive needs for an array of programs relied on by some of the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth, including $130 million for SNAP food assistance benefits to provide a path for families who were receiving enhanced SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, $68 million for the Early Education C3 stabilization grant program, $65 million for the continuation of free school meals, $45 million for emergency shelter assistance, and over $40 million to support affordable housing for immigrants and refugees. Other measures funded in the bill include:
· $8.3 million for judgments, settlements, and legal fees
· $7 million for coordinated wraparound services for incoming immigrants and refugees
· $2 million for the reimbursement of SNAP benefits for victims of benefit theft
· $2 million for the preparation and execution of the 114th National NAACP conference, which is taking place in Massachusetts in 2023
· $1 million for a public awareness campaign to educate the public about the misleading tactics of so-called crisis pregnancy centers and their lack of medical services
· $250,000 for Reproductive Equity Now’s free abortion-related legal hotline.
The bill also authorizes $740.3 million in capital expenditures to support economic development projects. Notably, these include $400 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which provides grants to cities, towns, and other public entities for infrastructure projects, and $125 million for state matching funds to compete for federal grant opportunities, including those funded through the CHIPS and Science Act, which encourage innovation in Massachusetts. Other bonding items authorized by the bill include:
· $104 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund
· $34 million for a program to revitalize underutilized properties
· $30 million for state matching funds to compete for federal broadband expansion grants and improve state broadband infrastructure
· $15 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative, which supports innovation within the state’s manufacturing industry, including by offering technical assistance to manufacturers and attracting talent from outside of the state
· $14 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Accelerate Program
· $9.3 million for broadband middle mile supports
· $8 million for the Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund.
Recognizing the societal shifts that have taken place during the pandemic, the bill also addresses several pandemic-era related measures, including:
· Permanently allowing public corporations and nonprofits to hold certain meetings by means of remote communication
· Permanently allowing notaries public to conduct remote online notarization using communication technology
· Extending the ability of graduates and students in their last semester of nursing education programs to practice nursing in accordance with guidance from the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing
· Extending popular pandemic-related provisions including outdoor dining services, and beer, wine and cocktails to-go for a year
· Extending the ability of public bodies to allow remote participation by members in public meetings
· Extending flexibilities given to municipalities to allow for representative town meetings to be held in hybrid or fully remote capacities and that authorize reduced in-person quorum requirements
· Extending the ability of nurses employed by assisted living residences to provide skilled nursing care in accordance with valid medical orders, provided the nurse holds a valid license to provide such care.
The supplemental budget includes the following provisions related to the end of the public health emergency on May 11, 2023:
· Temporarily extending flexibility on ambulance staffing
· Temporarily extending the ability of staff of a community program to administer prepackaged medications if in compliance with DPH guidance
· Temporarily extending staffing flexibilities related to dialysis providers.
Having been passed by the Senate and the House, the supplemental budget now goes to the Governor for her signature.