Massachusetts House passes $55 million bill to deal with COVID supply fight | Coronavirus


The 159 members of the Massachusetts House voted Wednesday afternoon to pass a $55 million COVID-19 response bill, keeping it on track to clean up the Senate and hit Governor Charlie Baker’s desk early of the next week.

Nearly two years into the coronavirus pandemic, Massachusetts grapples with omicron variant that has spiked daily case counts to tens of thousands, leads to long lines at COVID testing sites -19 and again tested a health care system already challenged by staffing shortages.

“There’s still a lot of work to do before we see an end to this pandemic,” House Ways and Means President Aaron Michlewitz said as he introduced the bill to the House. “We have all seen, heard, and experienced the struggle many in the state have had to get a COVID test or to receive proper masks for our schools. And while the items contained in this proposal are not a panacea, they represent the most immediate and urgent pandemic-related needs facing our residents. »

Bill (H 4340) earmarks $30 million to create and expand COVID testing sites, with at least $5 million earmarked to increase vaccination rates for children ages 5 to 11 year. Youth vaccination efforts are reportedly focused on communities disproportionately affected by the virus.

An additional $25 million would go to “the acquisition and distribution of high-quality personal protective masks for children and teachers in elementary and secondary public school districts.”

Instead of tapping into some of the remaining $2.25 billion in the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, the bill spends money from the state’s general fund “but the wording of this bill directs the administration to seek reimbursement from FEMA for these needs,” Michlewitz said. .

Youth vaccination rates, mask standards for schools and the availability of COVID-19 testing were all issues lawmakers pressed Baker on during a watchdog hearing last week. This week, Baker has been busy promoting new testing programs his administration has put in place for K-12 daycares and schools.

“The investments made here are intended to complement initiatives that the administration has announced over the past few weeks to present a coordinated effort or a coordinated plan to address the outbreak,” Michlewitz said.

Asked about the $55 million bill on Tuesday, Baker said he didn’t know the specifics but suggested he was fine with sourcing the masks.

“The biggest challenge we have with testing is much more about personnel than supplies or dollars,” the governor said. “We are thinking of keeping – and I said this when I was talking to the oversight committee last week – we are trying to keep about six months worth of masks on hand. If this was funding that would allow us to continue to expand and expand our mask offering, then obviously we would make it work that way.

Michlewitz’s Senate counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, said Tuesday that the Senate plans to consider the COVID-19 spending bill “early next week” and that it is possible the bill will reach Baker before his state of the state address on Tuesday.

The vote to pass the bill was unanimous in the House, 159-0. Prior to the bill’s passage, the House responded to the 23 amendments tabled by Representatives by passing a package that consolidated a handful of the 23 proposals into a single amendment. In a strike against transparency, there was no explanation of what was passed in the amendment or why it was added to the bill.

It also appears to add to the bill an amendment from Rep. John Lawn that would provide liability protections for workers and healthcare facilities during the pandemic. The bill would also extend some of the policies originally enacted in 2020 to reflect pandemic-era realities. Permission for remote public meetings, which was due to expire on April 1, would be extended until July 15, and notarization and reverse mortgage advice could take place remotely until July 15.

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