Mariano Lays Out House Vaccine Rollout Priorities
Will Work With Partners, Or Pass A Bill If Necessary
2/8/21 5:49 PM
FEB. 8, 2021.....Extending hours at the state's vaccine call center, mobile vaccination sites, and other steps aimed at improving the COVID-19 vaccination rollout are among the Massachusetts House's priority areas for future federal funding, Speaker Ron Mariano said in an email to representatives Monday afternoon.
The email update came a few hours after Congressman Richard Neal joined Gov. Charlie Baker for a State House press conference making the case for more federal aid and touting parts of President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.
"Today, as our partners in government joined together to call for additional aid from the federal government, the House redoubles its ongoing calls for such aid," Mariano wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by the News Service. "As those discussions take place in Washington, the Massachusetts House will seek to prioritize funding for extended hours and weekend service at the 211 Call Center."
Mariano said that it would be "vital" to use federal assistance "to specifically address the communications and operational shortcomings of the vaccine rollout" in Massachusetts, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that put the state 13th from the bottom in vaccine distribution per 100,000 residents.
Last week, after the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved $213 million to help with the state's vaccine rollout, Mariano issued a statement knocking "a disconnect between the Department of Public Health and those administering the vaccine, siting and availability issues in many regions across the state, and communications breakdowns in the vaccine booking system."
The Quincy Democrat on Monday said decisions are being made now regarding how the FEMA money will be spent and laid out the House's initial priorities for spending those and future federal dollars.
He listed goals that he said were based on what representatives hear from their constituents and communities: mobile vaccination sites, vaccine site transportation, accomodations for people with disabilities in booking and receiving the shots, an improved and simplified website, regional access to vaccine sites, a specific focus on equity issues, and assistance for local boards of health.
"The Massachusetts House of Representatives believes that we can and must do better," Mariano wrote. "The House stands ready to work with our partners in government and if need be to pass legislation to ensure that these resources are utilized in accordance with these goals."
A mobile vaccination program for communities with the highest positive test rates is among the components of a vaccine equity bill (SD 699) filed last week by Sen. Becca Rausch, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Rep. Liz Miranda and Rep. Mindy Domb.
Asked during his Monday press conference about vaccine equity and geographic access to vaccine sites, Baker described community health centers and regional collaboratives as key players.
"The community health centers are a critical part of how we believe we get folks into the game, especially folks who are hesitant, primarily because of their historic role in those communities as a trusted source of guidance, advice and health care services," the governor said.
Baker said more changes will soon come to the state's online vaccine portal, and described the performance of the 2-1-1 call center, launched Friday to help people having difficulties with the website, as "very successful."
"A lot of people have called it and a lot of people got appointments as a result, which is exactly what it was intended to do," Baker said.
In his email, Mariano also told House lawmakers that he wanted to remind them of moves they've already made "to ensure that the Legislature is actively engaged in a transparent process to allocate federal aid and ensure that the public has the ability to track it."
This year's state budget included language requiring the Baker administration to create a website breaking down the state's spending of federal relief funds.
According to the website, the federal government is currently expected to provide around $68 billion in COVID-19 aid to Massachusetts, including $38 billion to businesses and individuals, $27 billion to state agencies, and $2.9 billion to other public entities through programs like grants to regional transportation authorities and expanded funding for Head Start providers.
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