COMP NEWS – The Massachusetts Senate approved a bill that will spend $500 million on bonuses for essential workers as well as $500 million for unemployment insurance. The rest of the funds have yet to be allocated.

Legislative leaders agreed to two cornerstones of the bill, a $500 million payment toward the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and a $500 million program to offer one-time bonuses to low-income essential workers who continued to provide in-person services during the COVID-19 crisis, before rolling out the House and Senate proposals.

Although $1 billion of the funds have been allocated, $2.6 billion is remaining. These funds will most likely be spent in areas such as water and health infrastructure.

But that leaves more than $2.6 billion in allocations, and scores of earmarked spending projects, not yet negotiated. Although both branches approved roughly similar bottom lines and spending strategies, the House and Senate each took different approaches to areas such as public health infrastructure, water and sewer infrastructure, mental health investments, youth jobs, and higher education capital projects.

One proposition to double the $500 million allocated to unemployment insurance to $1 billion was denied. The current unemployment insurance funds are almost gone.

A wave of pandemic-era joblessness drained the account, which Bay State businesses fund via taxes, and Baker and the Legislature approved up to $7 billion in borrowing to replenish it. Employers remain on the hook to pay back that borrowing over 20 years.

The final bill will be decided in the next few days, with the current deadline being Nov. 17th.

Both branches on Wednesday adjourned for the next five days, so the earliest a potential six-member conference committee could convene is Monday. That would leave only about 60 hours for its members to find agreement on the bulk of the spending bill, bring a consensus to the floor, and advance it through both chambers before formal lawmaking business for the year ends Nov. 17.

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