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Baker Concerned About 'Red Tape' Around $2,000 Bonuses For Massachusetts Essential Workers In ARPA Bill

BOSTON (CBS) -- Gov. Charlie Baker has yet to sign the $4 billion American Rescue Plan Act spending bill passed by the Legislature last week. On Thursday, Baker told reporters that it's not necessarily the price tag, but the ability to get some of those funds distributed quickly that gives him pause.

"We've been talking. . . it's a big bill, obviously. It's got billions of dollars in it and a lot of complexity," Baker said. "I think the thing we're most concerned about at this point is not so much the money, but there's a lot of red tape baked in there."

Baker said one area of concern is the process for handing out bonuses between $500 and $2,000 for essential workers in Massachusetts who worked in-person, not remote, during the governor's state of emergency that began in March 2020 and lasted for more than a year. The Legislature set aside half a billion dollars for that "Premium Pay" program in the bill.

"There's a 30-something-member commission that needs to be established to figure out what to do around premium pay," Baker said. "We would rather just put a premium pay program together and get the dollars out the door to people."

The panel is tasked with deciding who qualifies for the program, and how much they should get.

Eligible employees may include health care, long-term care and home care workers, childcare workers, educators and education staff, farm workers, grocery store workers, food production facility workers, social workers, transportation workers, utility workers and technicians and foster parents. The household income of those essential workers must not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level.

"The panel shall also consider factors including, but not limited to, an essential worker's increased financial burden and increased risk of exposure to 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 legislation states.

Bonuses would be issued no later than March 31, 2022, according to the plan.

Click here to read the bill.

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