Both the Massachusetts State Senate and the House of Representatives enacted H.4345, An Act Making Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2022 to Provide for Supplementing Certain Existing Appropriations and for Certain other Activities and Projects. This piece of legislation invests in COVID-19 rapid testing, high-quality masks and vaccination equity.
“Several times during this pandemic, we thought we had seen the worst only for the virus to rear its head and present more challenges for residents throughout the Commonwealth,” said Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury). “Given the ever-changing nature of this pandemic, we in the legislature felt it was vital that we take steps to expand access to our most effective tools in this fight. More masks, tests and vaccines will allow us to set a path towards having COVID-19 in our rear-view mirror, and so I hope that Governor Baker quickly signs this bill into law.”
The $101 million plan that was enacted today by both chambers has grown since it was passed by the Senate last week, which stood at $76 million. The bill was originally passed by the House on January 19th as a $55 million plan.
The legislation earmarks $50 million to establish COVID-19 testing at community health centers, regional vaccination clinics, urgent care centers and other organizations, as well as to expand on current testing capacities at these locations. Additionally, funding to purchase rapid COVID-19 antigen tests will be made available to elementary and secondary public schools, charter schools, educational collaboratives, early education and care programs, congregate care facilities, early intervention programs and homeless shelters.
The bill also earmarks $5 million to increase youth vaccination rates, while also setting aside $5 million to expand infrastructure and staff capacity at community health centers to help deliver vaccines in communities with low vaccination rates.
The legislation also increases the COVID-19 Massachusetts Emergency Sick Leave Program by $25 million. Established last May, this $75 million program offers up to one week of paid sick leave, capped at $850.
A further $1 million is earmarked for the Department of Unemployment Assistance so that they may bolster their public information campaign as it relates to unemployment insurance benefits overpayments.
The bill also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a detailed plan to eliminate vaccination disparities within 120 days of the effective date of the bill.
The bill also sets the date for this year’s state primary election on Tuesday, September 6, 2022.
The legislation will now move to Governor Baker’s desk, who has 10 days to sign the bill, offer a veto, or return the bill to the legislature with and amendment.