Governor unveils plan to spend $2.8B in federal relief funds

COVID vaccination. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

HAVERHILL, Mass. (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday he plans to use nearly $3 billion in federal pandemic-relief funds to support homeownership, economic development, job training, health care and infrastructure with a focus on populations and areas that suffered the most from COVID-19.

“Our proposal will immediately invest $2.8 billion toward key priorities that will help jump-start our economic recovery, with a particular focus on those hit hardest by COVID-19, such as communities of color,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

The announcement was made at the Mount Washington Homes in Haverhill, a project supported by a state program that promotes homeownership in low- and moderate-income communities, particularly communities of color.

The plan is being filed as an amendment to a spending bill on Baker’s desk that is being returned to the Democratic-majority Legislature for its approval.

The plan devotes most of the money — $1 billion — to funding homeownership and housing priorities, to spur home building and reduce barriers to homeownership, the administration said. The money is on top of $1.6 billion in federal funding that has already been allocated for housing purposes since the start of the pandemic.

The plan also calls for a $450 million investment to spark economic development in downtown areas disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 and to support cultural facilities and sites popular with tourists.

More than $400 would go to job training programs. The plan also assigns $50 million for financially stressed hospitals located in hard-hit cities, and $175 million for treatment of addiction, which has increased during the pandemic.

Another $900 million would fund water and sewer infrastructure and the modernization of state park facilities and close the digital divide by increasing broadband internet access.

The $2.8 billion is part of a total of approximately $5.3 billion in direct aid to the state from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Baker said he would let the Legislature decide what to do with the rest.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by about 80 on Thursday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by three.

The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,593 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 663,000.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were more than 120 people reported hospitalized Thursday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 30 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 59. There were an estimated 2,100 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

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IMMUNIZATIONS

Nearly 8.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts as of Thursday.

That includes more than 4.3 million first doses and more than 3.7 million second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

There have been more than 267,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered.

More than 4 million people have been fully immunized.

Gov. Charlie Baker has set a goal of 4.1 million people in the state fully vaccinated.