Home > Uncategorized > Governor signs bill to distribute federal money for direct-care worker pay, but there is still no distribution timeline set

Governor signs bill to distribute federal money for direct-care worker pay, but there is still no distribution timeline set

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday signed legislation that would target hundreds of millions of dollars for human services workforce retention and recruitment as part of a $4 billion federal and state spending package.

According to the State House News Service, the governor signed the bill (H. 4269), which earmarks both federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money and surplus state revenues for immediate needs. The bill also preserves some $2.3 billion in federal ARPA funds for future use.

There is still, however, apparently no clear timeline for distributing the funding to boost wages of direct-care and other staff in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system.

As of November 29, Shannon Guenette, executive director of Almadan, Inc., a DDS provider, told COFAR she still hadn’t seen any of the federal stimulus money even though Congress and the Biden administration had released $8.7 billion in federal stimulus funds to Massachusetts last March.

Guenette first told us in August that her agency and other DDS providers throughout the state desperately needed the additional federal funding to retain workers in light of a worsening shortage of direct-care and clinical staff.

The state Legislature finally voted on December 3 to enact the $4 billion bill and send it to Baker’s desk. The vote came after the House and Senate had failed to reach agreement on the legislation before starting their legislative winter break.

Baker echoes our concern about advisory panel

In signing the legislation, Baker vetoed a section of the bill that would require that an advisory panel be formed and consulted before premium pay could be awarded to frontline employees.

Accordng to the State House News Service, Baker said he was concerned the advisory panel would create “red tape” that could delay distribution of the funding. “We would rather just put a premium pay program together and get the dollars out the door to people,” Baker reportedly said.

We previously raised this same point, noting that the advisory panel sounded like a potential recipe for further delay without necessarily providing a structure for ensuring that the funding goes to the workers.

Timeline still uncertain

But Baker’s veto also apparently has had the effect of eliminating a deadline of March 31, 2022, for the advisory panel to make its recommendations on the funding distribution.

According to the News Service, House Speaker Ron Mariano said Monday he had “requested a timeline from the administration on when they would be able to get the money out to essential workers so we can make an informed decision.” That decision apparently concerns whether and when to attempt to override the governor’s veto.

The News Service stated that in his veto, Baker wrote to lawmakers that he supports the premium pay program, but said the advisory panel was “virtually guaranteed to significantly hinder disbursement of the funds.”

The governor said his veto would allow his administration to “immediately begin the process of distributing these funds.”

“We could send out $500 checks to almost 1 million Massachusetts residents as soon as possible,” Baker wrote, according to the News Service. “Reinstituting the panel-driven process envisioned by the Legislature will simply disrupt the rollout midstream. We urge you to let our administration proceed with this important program today.”

We have raised other concerns about the state’s planned distribution of the federal funding as well.

Even when the ARPA money is finally distributed, we are concerned about a potentially low $2,000 ceiling set on the amount of funding per worker under the legislation. Also of concern is a lack of clear oversight of the distribution of the funding.

And it appears at least some of the funding is intended to be used to move residents out of the state’s two remaining developmental centers and into the already overburdened privatized group home system.

In sum, we’re happy that the bill to distribute the funding has finally been signed. But a half year after the federal money was sent to Massachusetts, it seems far from certain if and when those funds will get to the people the money is supposed to help.

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