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Lawmakers Unable To Reach Deal On Spending Bill That Includes Essential Worker Bonuses Of Up To $2,000

BOSTON (CBS) -- Lawmakers from the Massachusetts House and Senate failed to reach a compromise to get a massive spending bill - including a bonus of up to $2,000 for pandemic essential workers - to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk in time for Thanksgiving, the State House News Service reports.

It's possible that a deal could be made on how to spend billions in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars during a legislative break, but the News Service reports that it may be on hold until 2022.

Both chambers were in agreement on allocating $500 million for the state's unemployment trust fund and another half a billion dollars for the bonuses in the $3.8 billion package. But there were reportedly differences in priorities for spending in areas such as public health, youth jobs, education and water and sewer infrastructure.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who made his own proposal to spend $2.8 billion of the funds on housing, economic development and workforce training, criticized the delay through a spokesman.

"The Baker-Polito Administration believes the Legislature's original decision six months ago to freeze these funds and subject them to the legislative process created a massive delay in putting these taxpayer dollars to work," Press Secretary Terry MacCormack said in a statement. "Massachusetts was already behind most of the country in utilizing these funds before the latest setback, and further delay will only continue to leave residents, small businesses and hundreds of organizations frozen out from the support the rest of the country is now tapping into to recover from this brutal pandemic. The Administration urges lawmakers to move quickly on this issue."

Baker said in late October that he's generally supportive of the "premium pay program," saying that "this is something that is the right thing to do."

Eligible workers must have worked in person during the state of emergency that began on March 10, 2020 and lasted for more than a year. Their household income must not be more than 300% of the federal poverty level.

Baker's administration and an advisory panel would determine who exactly qualifies as an "essential worker." The legislation suggests that those eligible may include but not be limited to health care workers, long-term care workers, public health staff, childcare workers, educators and school staff, farm workers, food production workers, grocery store and other service workers, transportation workers, utility workers and foster care parents.

"The recommendations shall prioritize lower-income essential workers who performed essential duties in-person since the start of the state of emergency declared by the governor on March 10, 2020," the Senate bill states. "The panel shall also consider factors including, but not limited to, an essential worker's increased financial burden and increased risk of exposure to the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, due to the nature of their work and any bonuses or hazard pay a worker has already received for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic and the amount thereof."

The bonuses could be a boost for essential workers in Massachusetts who may have been hoping that Congress would act on a fourth stimulus check, which now appears unlikely.

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