Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Since March, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated economic challenges and halted prosperity throughout the state. Today, nearly one in eight Massachusetts workers are unemployed and businesses continue to close their doors as the Commonwealth faces the highest unemployment rate in the country. While support from the federal government remains uncertain, I am proud that the House of Representative reaffirmed our commitment to continuing economic development and supporting individuals throughout our Commonwealth.
I recently joined my colleagues to pass An Act enabling partnerships for growth, which makes significant investments in the Commonwealth to promote economic development for all residents, support job growth in the face of significant economic challenges, and pave the way for a more equitable recovery.
First and foremost, the legislation provides for $459 million in bond funding. These programs will stimulate every corner of the Commonwealth, from MetroWest communities like ours to rural towns in Western Massachusetts. The bill directs these funds with a keen eye toward equity to ensure that every person is benefitted by the state’s recovery efforts, especially communities of color who have been hardest hit by COVID-19.
Key programs receiving funding include:
- $30 million for a Payroll Protection Program loan type program, of which $20 million would be dedicated for minority, women, and veteran owned businesses that, for various reasons, were often excluded from federal assistance despite being impacted by COVID-19;
- $100 million for various housing programs, including $40M neighborhood stabilization and preservation, $10 million for climate resilient housing construction, and $50M to fund high-density mixed income transit-oriented housing; and
$5 million in competitive grant program with Department of Elementary and Secondary education to assist public school districts in providing access to cultural experiences in the community, including arts, humanities and sciences, through the use of information technology to provide remote experiences. While classes may be remote, students will be able to access cultural experiences that are critical to their development.
The legislation also includes various policy initiatives, notably the changes to housing laws and the creation of a framework for sports wagering in Massachusetts.
The present housing crisis is an issue that affects communities across our commonwealth. Given the economic challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, residents are in need of affordable housing more than ever before. On average, rents have increased by 75 percent statewide in most communities since 2000. Today, housing costs in Massachusetts rank third in the nation.
This economic development bill includes the “Housing Choice” provision that has been a major policy goal of the Governor. A component of the bill would reduce the threshold for town meeting to approve certain zoning changes from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority. In Needham, the Planning Board and Select Board both voiced their opposition to Housing Choice, and I have amplified those concerns to the Baker Administration and to my colleagues in the House since they took that stance last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated and amplified the great needs for housing. During debate, I filed an amendment to add a level of accountability to zoning changes, namely preserving the new language for a simple majority vote of Town Meeting and adding a simple majority vote of the Select Board. Two of the three Towns that I represent have open Town meetings that can be “packed” by any single interest group- a developer or a group of like-minded residents. An elected body empowered to also be involved in the decision making would be a fair way to balance the needs of the whole community. Despite my strenuous efforts with the Baker administration the amendment was not adopted. I believe that I had offered a helpful strategy but I understand the severe shortage of housing in our Commonwealth, and the disparate impact of historical zoning laws on communities of color. My goal was to strengthen not defeat the housing initiative. I voted for the final legislation.
The bill also initiates a system for legal sports gaming in Massachusetts, enabling the independent Massachusetts Gaming Commission to grant in-person licenses to existing casinos and racing facilities. Mobile applications and casinos will also eligible to receive mobile gaming licenses. In addition to licensing fees, the state will receive 15% of all sports betting proceeds — $50 million annually — (with an additional 1% for games played in Massachusetts going to a fund to ensure the integrity of the game). The proceeds will be distributed in the following fashion:
- 40% to a workforce development fund for at-risk youth in low-income/minority communities;
- 30% to a Distressed Restaurant Fund that would help over 1,000 restaurants pay for things like rent, payroll, and PPE for a period of two years;
- 10% to Youth Development Initiatives (raised to 25% after January 2023), including scholarships and after-School programs;
- 10% to Local Aid (raised to 25% after January 2023);
- 9% to Public Health, including Gaming Addiction; and
- 1% to a Player’s Benevolent fund to pay for local player connected charity foundations.
I continue to have concerns with increasing access to gambling. However, I am not naïve to the fact that, even as sports have slowed during the COVID-19 crisis, a robust black market continues. I supported this legislation to bring that activity into the light and, thereby, reducing ancillary crimes and protecting the Commonwealth’s investments in the gaming industry and the high technology software design innovation sector.
Arts and Culture
Consistently throughout my tenure as your State Representative, I have supported the arts and culture in our communities and our Commonwealth. The arts and cultural community play an integral role throughout our community, whether it is in restoring our spirits in these difficult days, enhancing the vibrancy of our communities or promoting creative development not only in our schools for students but for people of all ages. Additionally, the arts and culture are an economic driver that contributes to a strong community.
Keeping in mind the importance of arts and culture, the House of Representatives prioritized key provisions in this legislation by:
- Creating a special commission to make recommendations on addressing the recovery of the cultural and creative sector, including the arts, humanities and sciences, as a result of COVID-19;
- Designating $6 million for a competitive grant program administered by the Massachusetts Cultural Council to promote artists, among all disciplines and sectors in creating new mediums to showcase their art, including showcasing their work in a variety of media formats and platforms and to promote local museums to showcase their exhibits and events by using remote access; and
- Designating $5 million for a competitive grant program with Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist public school districts in providing access to cultural experiences in the community, including arts, humanities and sciences, through the use of information technology to provide remote experiences.
With the affirmative vote of the House of Representatives, the bill is now in conference committee to be reconciled before advancing to the Governor’s desk.
Yours in Service,