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Keller @ Large: A Deep Dive Into How Mass. Lawmakers Want To Spend Federal COVID Relief

BOSTON (CBS) -- "Help is here," said President Joe Biden back in March as he celebrated the approval of billions in aid to states to help repair the pandemic's social and economic damage.

But it took the Massachusetts House and Senate months to come up with their own spending plans, which still haven't been finalized.

What took so long?

Here's one answer - they had to lard the bill with local spending unrelated to the stated goals of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). For example:

  • Riverbend Park in Cambridge is a nice spot, but its use and enjoyment does not depend on spending $25,000 for a marker commemorating the long-ago designers of the area, which the House bill does.
  • The Senate version spends freely on restoring obscure historic buildings in out-of-the-way spots, like $75,000 for the Wilder Homestead in Buckland, $40,000 for the Jenkes Store in Douglas, and $50,000 to spruce up a gazebo in Townsend. Quaint? Yes. Tourism engines? No.
  • The Brookline Chamber of Commerce website ( seems just fine, but they still want to sink $85,000 in ARPA funds to somehow pep it up.
  • Youth soccer is an important community activity, but $200,000 to spruce up the middle school field in Hanson?
  • And while the folks at the Edward Kennedy Institute do a great job of teaching school kids about the US Senate, they promised to pay their debt with their own revenues. So why does the legislature want to drop 5 million of those recovery dollars to do it for them?

ARPA was designed to give states broad leeway in how they used the money, and it does look like the bulk of the state's haul will go to legitimate needs. But with a cascade of late amendments ranging from dubious to ridiculous, our legislators have proven once again that they have a vision problem - they see a helping hand, and think it's a cookie jar.

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