BOSTON (CBS) — Massachusetts lawmakers are voting on a $4 billion spending package this week that includes “premium pay” bonuses of up to $2,000 for essential employees who worked in-person during the COVID state of emergency.

House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka announced that both chambers reached a compromise on plans to spend billions in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act. The House voted to approve the spending on Thursday morning, the State House News Service reports, and the Senate is scheduled to vote Friday.

“The proposal filed this evening will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to build housing that is affordable, transform our public and behavioral health systems, prepare us for the impacts of climate change, strengthen our education system, assist struggling hospitals, and support our frontline workers by providing half-a-billion dollars in direct payments,” they said in a statement.

Lawmakers were unable to reach a deal before their recess, meaning a single legislator could halt the bill.

The compromise plan calls for bonuses of between $500 and $2,000 for essential employees who worked in-person – not remotely – during the state of emergency that was declared on March 10, 2020 and lasted for more than a year.

A “Premium Pay Advisory Panel” will determine which essential workers qualify for the bonuses.  Eligible employees may include health care, long-term care and home care workers, childcare workers, educators and education staff, farm workers, grocery store workers, food production facility workers, social workers, transportation workers, utility workers and technicians and foster parents. The household income of those essential workers must not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level.

“The panel shall also consider factors including, but not limited to, an essential worker’s increased financial burden and increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, due to the nature of their work and any bonuses or hazard pay a worker has already received for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic and the amount thereof,” the legislation states.

Bonuses would be issued no later than March 31, 2022, according to the plan.

Gov. Charlie Baker said in late October that he’s generally supportive of the bonuses, saying that “this is something that is the right thing to do.”

WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller noted that the House and Senate bills have plenty of “lard” – local spending unrelated to the stated goals of the ARPA – and many of those projects made it into the compromise agreement. They include:

  • $25,000 for a marker commemorating the designers of Riverbend Park in Cambridge
  • Restoring obscure historic buildings in out-of-the-way spots, like $75,000 for the Wilder Homestead in Buckland, $40,000 for the Jenkes Store in Douglas, and $50,000 to spruce up a gazebo in Townsend
  • $85,000 to improve The Brookline Chamber of Commerce website (discoverbrookline.com)
  • $200,000 to spruce up the middle school field soccer field in Hanson
  • $5 million to cover debts at the Edward Kennedy Institute

Click here to read the plan.

 

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