BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker has signed a COVID-19 aid package that includes tens of thousands of millions of dollars to extend testing, masking and other precautions.
The measure calls for spending $ 101 million on emergency measures ranging from expanding vaccine sites and testing facilities, to providing surgical-grade masks to schools and expanding emergency legislation that allows state and local governments to continue using remote public meetings and authorize digital notaries.
It also pumps an additional $ 25 million in federal funds into the state’s emergency-paid sick leave program.
Baker said the aid is crucial to addressing the ongoing effects of the pandemic and ensuring the state has the resources to deal with yet another wave of infections.
“These spending permits will be useful as we continue our COVID-19 public health efforts,” Baker said in a letter to lawmakers.
But Baker also vetoed two sections of the supplementary budget plan, sending two other provisions back to lawmakers with several recommended changes.
One of the provisions on which Baker used his veto would have required the state Department of Public Health to publish COVID-19 guidelines on mask use, testing and quarantine. He said the state agency is already issuing such a guide.
Baker also called for changes in part of the bill that would have required the state to implement a COVID-19 vaccination plan within 120 days.
In his letter, Baker said the timeline was unrealistic, pointing to efforts to address differences in COVID-19 vaccination rates among minorities. He cited public health data showing the state has some of the highest vaccination rates in the country among blacks, Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups.
He says his administration will file a “vaccination equity plan” within the next 30 days and will keep legislators updated with regular progress reports.
“Our administration is committed to continuing our efforts to reduce differences in vaccination rates in Massachusetts,” he wrote. “But the challenge of completely eliminating differences in vaccination rates is a project that will require us all to work behind the 120-day deadline provided by the section’s language.”
The Expenditure Plan signed by Baker was previously adopted by Parliament and the Senate, and a six-member Legislative Conference Committee drafted the differences between the two bills. That adds up to billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief that has already flowed into the state over the past two years.
In December, Baker signed a $ 4 billion spending package that included money for the state’s health care system, housing, workforce development, transportation upgrades and environmental protection.
The money comes from the state’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funding and surplus revenue from better-than-expected tax collections this year.
Heads of state say much of the funding in the latest aid bill will be reimbursed to the state through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Massachusetts Medical Society, which represents physicians, praised the final approval of the COVID-19 help package and said it will help accelerate recovery from the pandemic.
“This law demonstrates the state’s continued commitment to our patients and the healthcare system as we strive to provide optimal care at an incredibly challenging time in the pandemic, marked by unprecedented workforce challenges and medical burnout,” Dr. Carole Allen, President of the Society. , said in a statement.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for the newspapers and websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected].