Senate Passes ENDURE Act to Provide Relief and to Small Businesses, Support for Workers, and Investments in Infrastructure

by | Aug 7, 2020

The Massachusetts State Senate passed a sweeping economic recovery and development bill on Wednesday that provides much-needed support to businesses, invests in infrastructure, and creates new jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Act to encourage new development and usher in a recovering economy (ENDURE Act) includes provisions for small business competitive grant programs, housing production, local economic development projects, capital funding for vocational schools and community colleges, and investments in infrastructure. It also provides support for the tourism and cultural sectors and restaurant industry. Further, to promote equity and protect borrowers and workers across the Commonwealth, the ENDURE Act establishes a Future of Work Commission and creates a Student Loan Bill of Rights.

“Given the economic impacts that COVID-19 has had, it was imperative that we establish a recovery plan,” said Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury), Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. “The ENDURE Act will provide relief for small businesses and restaurants, tourist and cultural attractions, as well as other key sectors. In supporting these industries and our workforce, we have taken a key step in creating a path towards economic recovery as we continue to adjust to the new normal in the Commonwealth.”

The legislation also includes new protections for entrepreneurs by enforcing a ban on making bad faith assertions of patent infringement, a practice known as ‘patent trolling.’ Such claims often entangle new small businesses in costly lawsuits that hamper the companies’ productivity and sap their early seed-stage funds.

To invest in the Commonwealth’s infrastructure and stimulate economic activity, the ENDURE Act authorizes bonding for the following:

• $15M for the site readiness program;
• $35M for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation matching grant program to community development financial institutions for small business loans and grants;
• $5M for the Massachusetts Broadband Incentive Fund;
• $10M for the expansion of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2)
• $50M for the Technology Research and Development and Innovation Fund;
• $20M for rural community development and infrastructure grants;
• $20M for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation small business grant program;
• $20M for financial and capital assistance grants to restaurants impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus;
• $10M for grants to promote marketing and advertising for in-state cultural and tourist activities during the 2019 novel coronavirus reopening process;
• $40M for a program to redevelop blighted buildings;
• $10M for regional and community assistance planning grants;
• $28M for an Employment Social Enterprise Capital Grant Program;
• $50M for local economic development projects;
• $2M for an urban agriculture grant program;
• $20M for grants to support the reopening of cultural facilities impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus;
• $25M for transit-oriented housing developments;
• $10M for climate-resilient affordable housing developments;
• $50M for the neighborhood stabilization program;
• $5M for Gateway Cities market rate housing pilot program;
• $15M for vocational technical school expansion grants; and
• $15M for community college high-demand workforce grants.

The ENDURE Act creates a robust commission to look at the ‘Future of Work’ and examine ways to ensure sustainable jobs, fair benefits and workplace safety standards for all workers in all industries.

It also gives greater protections to student loan borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their loans, requiring servicers to apply for licenses from the state, which the Commissioner of Banks could revoke if the servicer is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits. Student loan servicers that break state licensing requirements or take advantage of students could be fined and forced to repay student borrowers under the bill.

Further, the ENDURE Act:

• Addresses the critical need for housing by enabling municipalities through a simple majority to address building opportunities through zoning reform;
• Authorizes an additional 2800 megawatts of offshore wind development;
• Extends the state and local permits held by a real estate developer unable to proceed with the project due to COVID-19 disruptions for one year;
• Allows farmer brewers and farmer distillers to sell, and provide samples of, their alcoholic beverages at agricultural events and farmers markets;
• Extends protections for cranberry growers under c.61A out to 2023;
• Mandates equitable opportunities in state contracts by expanding an affirmative marketing program that elevates hiring firms owned by women and people of color;
• Reduces onerous and unnecessary regulations for hair braiders;
• Excludes forgiven PPP loans from Massachusetts taxable income for the purposes of personal income taxes; and
• Enables MassDevelopment to better deploy its resources and tools under the TDI program.

The final version of this bill will now be negotiated by the House and Senate before going to the governor’s desk for his consideration.