A day after the House speaker gave voice to the idea of spending additional federal relief money to address the omicron-fueled surge in COVID-19 activity and the overwhelming demand for testing, Sen. Adam Hinds said he plans to work with legislative leaders to “immediately move the resources needed for this emergency.”
“It is appalling that this morning, parents and teachers and schools have to choose which they want to sacrifice first: the physical safety of their kids, their intellectual development or their mental health, because it is one of them when so many kids and teachers are forced to enter schools without testing,” Hinds, the co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Revenue and also a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor said at the outset of the committee’s hearing Tuesday.
“What makes this even worse is that we knew this was coming,” said Hinds, D-Pittsfield. “We knew the variant was taking hold and we knew there would be winter and post-holiday surges, and yet we appear to be caught flat-footed once again.”
On Monday, House Speaker Ron Mariano said lawmakers were looking for clarity from the Baker administration on how resources intended to deal with another surge have been used and whether additional money might be necessary. The Legislature and Baker just agreed on a $4 billion spending bill and on Tuesday, Hinds raised the same topic as Mariano and pointed to $2.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds still unspent as proof that “there is money that can be used to ensure every kid and teacher has a free and instantly available test.”
“We’ve given the governor $200 million in anticipation of future surges and it’s important we understand how that has been used today to confront this testing failure,” Hinds said. “I’ll work with the chairs of Ways and Means and Public Health and others to immediately move the resources needed for this emergency.”
In addition to probing how the Baker administration has spent the $200 million in ARPA money at its disposal — Baker previously announced plans to spend $186 million of that money on distressed hospitals, human service worker rate increases, inpatient psychiatric care and workforce development — Mariano on Monday also suggested that the House will be “working with the Senate to provide any needed resources to increase the availability of testing and masks for the residents of the Commonwealth.”
The Legislature has been in a recess for the last seven weeks, but its rules allow both branches to resume debate and recorded votes on Wednesday. The Senate is planning to hold a formal session to mark the start of the second year of the term, but no plans to take up major legislation have been announced. The House meets in an informal session Wednesday.