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Biden expected to sign $1.9 trillion Rescue Act on Friday as House passes bill Wednesday



Colin A. Young

More than three million people or families in Massachusetts can expect to soon receive a payment of up to $1,400 per person from the federal government and state and local government can count on about $8 billion in direct government aid under a bill passed by a divided U.S. House on Wednesday afternoon.

Passage of the legislation that will provide state governments with direct federal aid for the first time since the pandemic began happened on the one-year anniversary of Gov. Charlie Baker declaring a state of emergency around the coronavirus that has since gone on to kill more than 16,000 people in Massachusetts and infect almost 550,000 others.

The version of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Act that cleared the U.S. Senate over the weekend was approved by a 220-211 vote of the U.S. House and is expected to be signed by Biden on Friday. Democratic Rep. Jared Golden was the lone member of the House to cross the aisle, joining the entire Republican caucus in voting no. “To contain the public health crisis and make health coverage more accessible, we are making the largest expansion of the Affordable Care Act since it was enacted … We are bringing down the cost for jobless Americans saving them thousands of dollars in health insurance costs and more. We will also include assistance for nursing homes that are desperate to contain this virus. We are going to help those struggling to stay afloat by putting cash in their pockets, simultaneously creating liquidity and demand, and for the jobless we extended federal unemployment benefits to keep them afloat for the better days that lie ahead,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, the Springfield Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said. Neal added, “I cannot stress this enough, that these provisions are going to change lives. We are not creating a narrative talking about changing lives, we are going to do it with this legislation.”

Republicans painted the legislation as a socialist wish-list that recklessly spends money in ways that won’t help fight the virus or stimulate an economic rebound. They said it was the first of six pandemic relief bills to lack bipartisan support, and asserted that $1 trillion in aid from previously approved pandemic response bills has still not been spent.

Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate projected that Massachusetts state government and municipalities would receive more than $8.1 billion in direct government aid, including $4.513 billion for the state, $3.415 for city, county and other local government aid, and $174 million in capital project funding. The state could also be in line for more than $1 billion in transit assistance and $2.68 billion in total education aid, according to the Senate estimates. And that’s on top of other stimulus spending that would flow to schools, businesses, testing and vaccination programs, the unemployed and more than $7.3 billion in direct checks to more than 3.1 million families in Massachusetts.

Baker said Wednesday that the extension of unemployment benefits is “a big deal for a lot of people who are in a pretty crummy place with respect to COVID generally,” and the money for vaccination and testing “will also make a big difference.” As Baker’s administration continues to prod communities to resume full-time in-person learning, the governor said Wednesday that the federal education aid “should make it possible for every school district and every municipality to find a way to do whatever they think they need to do as we go forward to either support summer schools or acceleration academies or additional work around building construct and all the rest to support that stuff going forward.”

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