(TNS) – As Massachusetts lawmakers decide this fall on how to spend an estimated $ 5 billion in federal COVID aid, a Senate committee is considering slashing MBTA rates, strengthening broadband infrastructure and supporting first-time buyers – among a series of other proposals to overcome the racial disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.
The general policy framework released Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Reinventing Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resilience could take years to materialize, depending on its trajectory in other Beacon Hill committees.
But the Commonwealth now faces an “unprecedented opportunity” to close the gaping equity gap between communities of color, said Sen. Adam Hinds, who chairs the committee.
“The implication of not taking action is that we are not prepared for the next pandemic and the next economic downturn,” Hinds told MassLive. “We wanted to look at vulnerabilities, and also how do we make sure we’re prepared for future shocks to the system? “
The committee’s report – which recommends using the influx of funds from the US federal bailout law, along with last year’s surplus and other budget allocations – is based on the priorities gleaned during of several public hearings, Hinds said.
Low-income residents in all corners of Massachusetts do not have access to the Internet and about 750,000 households do not have a computer, according to the report shared with MassLive.
The Resilience Committee recommends that Massachusetts invest about $ 150-200 million to help meet local infrastructure needs, including Wi-Fi and fiber optic networks. According to the report, residents eligible for MassHealth or SNAP benefits would automatically qualify for low-cost broadband options, costing the state between $ 50 million and $ 100 million per year.
Those same residents are expected to benefit from reduced MBTA fare cards, similar to benefits already offered to seniors, people with disabilities and some young drivers, according to the report. In another approach, the MBTA could offer freebies to households below 200% of the federal poverty line.
The initiative would cost around $ 100 million per year, Hinds said.
“It’s about using this time when we have extra resources and income,” Hinds said. “If ever there was a time to try this, it’s now. “
In its report, the committee unveiled a series of housing assistance and housing assistance efforts, including using $ 250 million in ARPA funds to support first-time home buyers. The report says “deliberate action” is needed to overcome the legacy of redlining and other discrimination.
Hinds said the committee also suggested a new approach to protect tenants during eviction proceedings, with an annual cost of around $ 100 million.
According to the report, tenants would be guaranteed access to a lawyer and would be connected to rental assistance programs. Courts would also be required to better track data on race and ethnicity, helping policymakers document and address persistent disparities.
Providing care is another priority for the resilience committee, Hinds said. This reflects the disproportionate impact working mothers have faced with closing daycares during the pandemic, as well as “the inability to protect nursing home residents,” the report says.
The proposals include $ 300 million for stabilization grants for child care; refundable tax credits for caregivers that would cost between $ 100 and $ 150 million annually; and an initial investment of $ 50 million for intergenerational care centers, linking services to children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Workforce participation – and addressing disparities between residents and communities that can work from home safely – is another focal point of the committee, Hinds said. Reports indicate that Massachusetts residents earning more than $ 100,000 are twice as likely to work in remote-friendly jobs as those earning less than $ 50,000.
The report proposes spending between $ 500 million and $ 1 billion on a public bank with “an explicit mission to support racial and ethnic equity … by providing loans to municipalities and various applicants with higher risk profiles.” Or, according to the report, Massachusetts could increase funding for existing programs that support small businesses in underserved communities.
Investments in workforce development, stable income support for households and college obligations can also help overcome “the scourge of inequality” in Massachusetts, according to the report.
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