(BOSTON) – This month, State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the State Legislature in a vote to pass an amended $1.1 billion spending bill (H.58) that focuses primarily on supportive housing initiatives. The legislation builds on the supplemental budget originally filed by the Healey-Driscoll administration, with the House and Senate unanimously voting to pass an amended version on Thursday, March 23. The spending budget is in accord with An Act to create and implement a Massachusetts flexible supportive housing subsidy pool program (H.1354), which is a legislative priority bill filed by Representative Meschino.

The supplemental budget directly funds $388.6 million in vital services that support vulnerable populations and address food insecurity, housing instability, the state’s long-term COVID-19 response, economic development, essential support services for incoming immigrants and refugees, and more. Notably, the bill extends initiatives first implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as outdoor dining, remote public meeting access, and support for assisted living residences. The bill further authorizes $740.3 million in bonding to bolster the Commonwealth’s clean water and other public works projects for cities and towns, as well as to support the Commonwealth’s ability to compete for competitive federal grant funds.

“This housing-focused supplemental budget makes critical investments in our state programs that will directly serve Massachusetts citizens from all backgrounds,” said Representative Meschino (D-Hull). “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to foster further development of supportive housing, which directly aligns with the goals of the Caucus to End and Prevent Homelessness.”

The supplemental budget adds funding to programming initially funded in the FY23 budget and continues to respond to the housing and assistance needs of the Commonwealth. Major budget items in the legislation include:

● $130 million for SNAP food assistance benefits to provide a path for families who were receiving enhanced SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic,
● $68 million for the Early Education C3 stabilization grant program,
● $65 million for the continuation of free school meals,
● $45 million for emergency shelter assistance,
● and over $40 million to support affordable housing for immigrants and refugees.

The bill also authorizes $740.3 million in capital expenditures to support economic development projects. Notably, these include $400 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which provides grants to cities, towns, and other public entities for infrastructure projects, and $125 million for state matching funds to compete for federal grant opportunities, including those funded through the CHIPS and Science Act, which encourage innovation in Massachusetts. Other bonding items authorized by the bill include:

● $104 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund,
● $34 million for a program to revitalize underutilized properties,
● $30 million for state matching funds to compete for federal broadband expansion grants and improve state broadband infrastructure,
● $15 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative, which supports innovation within the state’s manufacturing industry, including by offering technical assistance to manufacturers and attracting talent from outside of the state,
● $14 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Accelerate Program,
● $9.3 million for broadband middle mile supports,
● and $8 million for the Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund.

Recognizing the societal shifts that have taken place during the pandemic, the bill also addresses several pandemic-era related measures, including:

● Permanently allowing public corporations and nonprofits to hold certain meetings by means of remote communication,
● Permanently allowing notaries public to conduct remote online notarization using communication technology,
● Extending the ability of graduates and students in their last semester of nursing education programs to practice nursing in accordance with guidance from the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing,
● Extending popular pandemic-related provisions including outdoor dining services, and beer, wine and cocktails to-go for a year,
● Extending the ability of public bodies to allow remote participation by members in public meetings,
● Extending flexibilities given to municipalities to allow for representative town meetings to be held in hybrid or fully remote capacities and that authorize reduced in-person quorum requirements,
● And extending the ability of nurses employed by assisted living residences to provide skilled nursing care in accordance with valid medical orders, provided the nurse holds a valid license to provide such care.

Finally, the supplemental budget includes the following provisions related to the end of the public health emergency on May 11, 2023:
● Temporarily extending flexibility on ambulance staffing,
● Temporarily extending the ability of staff of a community program to administer prepackaged medications if in compliance with DPH guidance,
● And temporarily extending staffing flexibilities related to dialysis providers.

Having been passed by the Senate and the House, Governor Healey signed the supplemental budget to enact it on Wednesday, March 29. In the coming month, the FY24 budget cycle will take shape after the recent release of the Governor’s full FY24 budget recommendation earlier this month. Throughout the month of April, both chambers of the State Legislature will build out and reconcile their budgets as well.