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House Panel Votes on Spending Bill with $585 Million Borrowing

The Massachusetts House is preparing for a formal session vote on a redrafted version of Gov. Maura Healey’s fiscal year 2023 supplemental budget. (Photo: Senator Cindy Friedman)

The Massachusetts House is preparing for a formal session vote on a redrafted version of Gov. Maura Healey’s fiscal year 2023 supplemental budget, which includes elements of her nearly $1 billion “immediate needs” spending bill, on Wednesday.

The House Ways and Means Committee bill has a net cost of $223 million ($353 million gross), includes $585 million in bonding authorizations, and extends popular pandemic-era policies such as outdoor dining and cocktails on the go.

This may be the first significant bill to reach the new governor’s desk. However, the spending bill will become law on Thursday, when the final round of enhanced federal food assistance benefits is scheduled to be distributed.

The committee voted 28-0 on the redrafted version of H 47, which was a $282 million spending bill when Healey filed it a month ago and told lawmakers it was necessary to manage a surge in demand for emergency shelter and to keep the free school meals program from running out of money.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Aaron Michlewitz was unavailable for comment on his committee’s new bill on Tuesday (H 57).

Approximately $86 million for the emergency shelter system (the House appears to have increased the total by $1 million), $130 million to extend the extended nutrition assistance program, which expires Thursday, for a few more months, and $65 million for the universal school meals program are stated in the spending bill. The House also redrafted $68 million in early education and care workforce stabilization grants.

Benefits under the federally enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are set to expire on Thursday. Without House and Senate action on the bill or other government intervention, before April’s benefits are distributed, more than 630,000 Massachusetts households could lose about a third of what they received in food assistance over the previous two years.

More than 647,000 Massachusetts households will receive their final increased payment on Thursday and lose an average of $151.46 per month in additional benefits. During the COVID-19 Emergency, the emergency allotments were meant to be temporary, but Project Bread says the extra federal funds “have become a lifeline” for households with children facing food insecurity.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano stated on Monday that funding for school meals “has been a huge request from my membership.”

The House also proposes in the spending bill to make permanent the authorizations for remote notarization services, remote reverse mortgage counseling, and remote shareholder and board of directors meetings for non-profits.

The bill that the House is preparing to bring to the floor on Wednesday addresses much of what was in the first two bills that Healey filed as governor, and the third is also in the works. Her spending bill (H 52), which would allow the state to borrow an additional $400 million to fund road and bridge work under the Chapter 90 program for the next two years, is set to be heard by the Joint Committee on Transportation on March 7.

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