House:
ADJOURNED 'til Monday at 11 a.m. (Informal)
Senate:
ADJOURNED 'til Monday at 11 a.m. (No Calendar)
Baker to Legislature: Allocate $1 Bil, Feds Will Reimburse .: The State House News Service

Baker to Legislature: Allocate $1 Bil, Feds Will Reimburse

Guv Tours Ashland Company Aiding COVID-19 Effort

Senate President Karen Spilka and Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday toured MatTek Life Sciences, an Ashland company that has turned some of its attention to manufacturing things that will assist in the COVID-19 response. [Photo: Matt Stone/Boston Herald/Pool]

BOSTON, MAY 12, 2020.....Gov. Charlie Baker is asking the Legislature to authorize $1 billion in state spending related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is confident that the federal government will reimburse Massachusetts for the cost of things like personal protective equipment and temporary field hospitals.

Baker said Tuesday that he had filed a supplemental budget because it "gives us the leverage that we need to utilize federal financial support, like aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency so-called FEMA, which can only reimburse state spending resulting from eligible disaster response activities."

The bill's passage, he said, will also "ensure that adequate state spending has been authorized to allow the Commonwealth to continue to support our communities, until additional federal reimbursements are provided."

The expenses include payments for many of the areas where the state has been spending during the pandemic: personal protective equipment, rate adjustments for human service providers, incentive pay for state employees on the front lines at certain facilities, costs of temporary field hospitals and shelters, National Guard pay, costs associated with the state's contact tracing program, emergency child care for essential workers, and increased costs of local housing authorities and of the family and individual shelter system.

Baker said he expects that the supplemental budget bill (HD 5083) will carry no additional cost for state government in Massachusetts.

"It's a billion dollars, but it's actually a net zero to the state. This is the money that we need to appropriate and acknowledge to be able to access federal reimbursements under our emergency declaration act under FEMA," he said. "The way FEMA works is, and this is sort of the way it's always worked, is the states spend, the feds reimburse when it comes to FEMA stuff. And for us to access what we believe is a very significant amount of resource that the federal government, through the emergency declaration, has signed up to reimburse us for, we need to spend first to get them to reimburse us and that's basically what that is."

He said that his administration expects that any other COVID-19 costs not reimbursed through FEMA "will, to the extent possible, be matched by other available federal revenue resources including through the recently enacted federal CARES Act."

"We want to ensure that we can take advantage and maximize the federal funds that can come to Massachusetts so we will be looking at it with that in mind, of course, and ensuring that it can help as many areas as possible," Senate President Karen Spilka said, adding that the Senate's review of the bill will begin Tuesday. "The COVID-19 crisis has hit so many different areas from the state funding, to our seniors, to veterans, to our disabled populations, and our schools, our cities and towns -- I mean, just every facet of our life we realize has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, so we will certainly be taking a good look at it and will try to get it through expeditiously."

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose chamber must take up the budget bill first, said in a statement that the House Ways and Means Committee will "conduct significant due diligence to ensure that we fully understand federal guidance and potential reimbursements, as well the concerns of impacted communities" and that the House "will seek to fully determine the extent and format of federal reimbursements while ensuring that the COVID-related needs of House members are given the attention they deserve."

The governor's new bill adds to the constellation of budget-related matters that the Legislature has to deal with. The state is facing what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar shortfall in the current fiscal year and development of the fiscal year 2021 budget -- during which time economists have predicted state tax revenue could come in $4 billion to $6 billion below initial estimates -- is in a holding pattern while budget writers seek clarity on federal reimbursements and the possibility of more direct federal aid to states.

In the letter to lawmakers that accompanied Baker's filing, the governor said the supplemental budget "also includes a section that would attribute federal reimbursements to Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) if they are associated with COVID-19 response costs incurred in FY20, allowing us to optimize the use of revenue sources without putting the FY20 budget out of balance."

The governor's bill announcement came as he and Spilka toured MatTek Life Sciences, an Ashland company that has turned some of its attention to manufacturing things that will assist in the COVID-19 response as part of the state's Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (M-ERT). The company typically focuses on in vitro human tissue models and glass-bottom dishes, but has shifted to producing hand sanitizer and COVID-19 test collection kits.

M-ERT is run through the MassTech Collaborative and was launched to help Massachusetts manufacturers pivot from their normal operations to produce needed materials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Baker said Tuesday that MatTek received $40,000 in grants through the M-ERT program.

"On an average day, the work here at MatTek does include remarkable activity but what they've been able to do with their operations and production to better serve the COVID-19 response and support frontline workers with PPE and other health care researchers with test kits and transport media, is truly inspiring," Baker said.

MatTek is also producing tissue models for scientists and researchers trying to learn more about the new coronavirus.

"Within days of the CDC isolating the virus from the first confirmed United States case, MatTek's EpiAirway lung model was sent to leading infectious disease experts to begin to gain an understanding of this novel coronavirus," MatTek President Alex Armento said. "The project is ongoing. And over the last few weeks, we fast tracked two additional tissue models -- models of the nasal and the alveolar tissue -- to study the impact on the infection in different regions of the lung."

The governor said the work MatTek is doing to produce COVID-19 test transport media -- "the thing you stick the swab into ... that then gets the swab from wherever it is the test was, the specimen, was collected to the lab where it can be processed," as Baker described it -- will be critical to the state's ongoing efforts to increase the amount of tests it can conduct and process.

"If these folks can make 20 or 30,000 or 40 or 50,000 or whatever the number ends up being, transport mediums here in Massachusetts that can be available to folks like us and others that are looking to expand testing, and we can keep them here in Massachusetts, that's a huge win for us in the larger context of trying to get from where we're testing now to a higher and more significant level," he said.

Last week, Baker visited Merrow Manufacturing in Fall River, where the company has adapted its textile operations to produce PPE for health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, particularly isolation gowns. The state has an order with Merrow for 2.5 million gowns. By the end of the summer, the Fall River plant will be able to produce 700,000 gowns per week, Baker said.

During the visit to Merrow Manufacturing, Baker also touted the financial benefits of being able to source PPE and other high-demand products from local companies.

"It's not just that the supply chains seize up when you end up in a situation like this," he said. "The price you pay for whatever you get out of that supply chain is extraordinarily high, and it's extraordinarily high because of the scarcity associated with being able to access the product, but it's also high because the cost of getting it from wherever it is to here is enormous."

-END-
05/12/2020


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