UPDATED: $627 Million COVID-19 Recovery Bill Signed Into Law

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BOSTON – On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the Massachusetts Legislature passed $627 million in funding for a sweeping economic recovery and development bill which will provide much-needed support to businesses, investments in infrastructure, and creation of new jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill was signed into law by the Governor on January 14, 2021.

An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth provides the residents of Massachusetts a COVID-19 relief and recovery package that will provide support to the restaurant and tourism sectors, small businesses, and those who have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, while also creating a Future of Work Commission, establishing protections for student loan borrowers, and ushering in zoning reforms that will encourage housing development in our communities.

“I am thrilled this legislation is now law so that we can begin to provide a necessary boost to our economy as it recovers from the dire effects of COVID-19,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “The Legislature recognizes the need to be bold when addressing the challenges facing restaurant and small business owners, cultural attractions and other key sectors that will keep our economy strong. I am particularly pleased this bill includes the long sought-after housing production reforms that the Senate has supported for years. I want to thank Senators Lesser, Rodrigues and my colleagues for their attention to this critical bill and for acting with urgency to move it forward in the legislative process.”

“This new law will help stabilize our economy and lead us to a strong economic recovery from this pandemic,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “This legislation provides immediate relief to those sectors of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic, while making key policy changes, particularly in housing, that will fuel future economic growth. I want to thank Chairman Michlewitz for his stewardship of this bill and for Chairwoman Ferrante and Representative Wong for their work on the conference committee.” 

“The economic development bill will help the Commonwealth rebuild from the devastating effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “This legislation supports our travel and tourism industry in a number of different ways, especially for our struggling restaurants. It will also encourage the Commonwealth’s housing production needs by simplifying zoning laws, encourage job creation in rural areas, and authorizes over $626 million in targeted capital investments that will reach every corner of Massachusetts. I want to thank my colleagues in the Legislature for their input and hard work on making this bill a reality.”

“Tonight, our economic relief package was signed into law by Governor Baker. In a time of crisis for our Commonwealth, the Legislature completed one of the most important economic recovery and investment packages in recent history. With the inclusion of urgently needed small business and restaurant relief, new protections for over 1 million student loan borrowers, and the most progressive and far-reaching housing reform in decades, this legislation will bring needed relief to families, small businesses, and communities hit hardest by COVID-19,” stated Senator Eric P. Lesser, Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies (D-Longmeadow). I want to thank my fellow Conference Committee members, Senator Michael Rodrigues of Westport and Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth, along with our partners in the House, Conference Co-Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz of Boston, Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester, and Rep. Donald Wong of Saugus. A special thank you as well to Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano for your commitment to this legislation. This new set of laws will help millions of people in our Commonwealth and will chart a course toward a faster, more equitable recovery.”

The bill includes the following bonding authorizations and policy changes.

COVID-19 pandemic relief and recovery

Bonding Authorizations

  • $30 million for the state’s COVID-19 Payroll Protection Program
  • $20 million for restaurant COVID-19 recovery grants

Policy Changes

  • Limits fees charged by third-party delivery services for restaurants to 15% during the COVID-19 state of emergency; prohibits third-party delivery service companies from reducing rates for delivery drivers or garnishing gratuities as result of the limitation
  • Creates a commission to examine and make recommendations on addressing the recovery of the cultural and creative sector, including the arts, humanities and sciences, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

Housing

Bonding Authorizations

  • $40 million for a program to redevelop blighted buildings
  • $50 million for transit-oriented housing developments
  • $10 million for climate-resilient affordable housing developments
  • $5 million for a Gateway Cities housing program

Policy Changes

  • Implements zoning reform to help cities and towns approve smart growth zoning and affordable housing by lowering the required vote threshold for a range of housing-related zoning changes and special permits at the local level from a two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority
  • Requires designated MBTA communities to be zoned for at least one district of reasonable size, in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and requires such housing to be suitable for families with children
  • Increases the state low-income housing tax credit program cap from $20,000,000 to $40,000,000

Employee protections, business growth, and equity

Bonding Authorizations

  • $35 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation matching grant program to community development financial institutions for small business loans and grants
  • $27.7 million for a new Employment Social Enterprise Capital Grant Program
  • $20 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation small business grant program
  • $14M million for travel and tourism grants
  • $10 million for regional and community assistance planning grants

Policy Changes

  • Enables, via local option, the creation of tourism destination marketing districts (“TDMDs”), made up of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts, for the purpose of generating local revenue dedicated solely for the promotion and marketing of specific regions of the Commonwealth
  • Amends the statutory definition of wait staff employee to include a person in a quick service restaurant who prepares or serves food or beverages as part of a team of counter staff
  • Provides that the taking of family or medical leave shall not affect an employee’s right to accrue vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, seniority, length-of-service credit or other employment benefits, plans or programs
  • Exempts natural hair braiding from the definition of hairdressing, and exempts natural hair braiding from rules and regulations pertaining to aesthetics, barbering, cosmetology, electrolysis, hairdressing and manicuring
  • Encourages the PRIM Board to use minority investment managers to manage PRIT Fund assets, where appropriate, and to increase the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of Fund investments
  • Establishes a commission of experts, industry members, academics, and elected officials to research and propose policy solutions that ensure the future and sustainability of local journalism in Massachusetts

Student protections

  • Establishes a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights regulating the licensing and operation of student loan servicers by the Commissioner of Banks
  • Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman within the Office of the Attorney General for the purpose of receiving, reviewing and assisting in the resolution of complaints from student loan borrowers; authorizes the Ombudsman to assist with repayment options, applying for federal loan forgiveness programs, ending wage and tax refund garnishments, resolving billing disputes, and obtaining loan details

Agriculture and rural support

Bonding Authorizations

  • $20 million for rural community development and infrastructure grants
  • $2 million for an urban agriculture grant program

Policy Changes

  • Expands the Food Policy Council to include an expert in healthy soil practices; codifies the definition of ‘healthy soils;’ gives the Commission for Conservation of Soil and Water the ability to establish a Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program and Fund

Technology and innovation

Bonding Authorizations

  • $52 million for the Technology Research and Development and Innovation Fund
  • $15 million for lottery IT infrastructure
  • $10 million for the expansion of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2)
  • $5 million for the Massachusetts Broadband Incentive Fund

Policy Changes

  • Creates a special commission on the future of work to conduct a comprehensive study relative to the impact of automation, artificial intelligence, global trade, access to new forms of data and the internet of things on the workforce, businesses and economy.
  • Clarifies that carsharing platforms may obtain insurance coverage from non-admitted carrier and that carsharing platforms do not need their own insurance-producer or broker licenses to offer or maintain insurance policies for carsharing vehicles or drivers.

Other bonding authorizations include

  • $102,304,000 for local economic development projects;
  • $12.5 million for the Commonwealth Zoological Corporation;
  • $15 million for trial court virtual mediation services;
  • $6 million for Massachusetts Cultural Council grants;
  • $5 million for Mass Cultural Council public school grants;
  • $20 million for Mass Cultural Council cultural facilities grants;
  • $15 million for vocational technical school expansion grants; and
  • $15 million for higher education workforce grants.

editor

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