HOLYOKE – U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-MA) said the City of Holyoke will receive nearly $32 million from the American Rescue Plan, part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, joined Acting Mayor Terence Murphy at Holyoke City Hall Friday for the announcement.
With no Republican support, President Joseph R. Biden signed the American Rescue Plan in March. “President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is ambitious, but achievable, and will rescue the American economy and start beating the virus,” according to www.whitehouse.gov.
The plan includes $1,400 in direct stimulus payments to individuals and families, a $3,000 and higher child tax credit, supplemental $300 weekly unemployment payments, billions of dollars for testing and vaccination programs, and money to safely open schools.
The act sets aside $130 billion for local governments ($1.5 billion per state minimum) and $195 billion for states ($500 million per state minimum), $21.6 billion for emergency rental assistance, a small business tax credit, and employee retention and paid leave credit programs.
Of the $1.9 trillion allocated, the Ways and Means Committee oversaw $1 trillion of the funding, according to Neal. “We tried hard to make sure it reaches all segments of the American family,” he said.
Neal said Gov. Charlie Baker was “thrilled” with the spending package, which provides some flexibility at the state and local levels. Massachusetts will receive $5.3 billion in direct relief coupled with an extra $2.6 billion.
Of the nearly $8 billion in funding, Neal’s district will receive $240 million, with $185 million of that money earmarked for Hampden County. Holyoke’s share nears $32 million and falls under federal Community Block Grant guidelines.
Neal’s office will dedicate a staff member to help municipalities navigate the act’s complexity. He told Murphy the funding comes with considerable latitude and flexibility in determining priorities locally.
Another $42 million goes to the region’s public schools, which drew applause from local officials and City Hall staff.
“I was educated in Springfield Public Schools, and I know what it means for upward mobility and opportunity,” Neal said. “You want a chance. It’s a priority in making sure those schools are able to perform as we know they can with the same opportunities.”
Neal added that Holyoke Public School’s teachers were vaccinated against COVID-19, an essential step before the city’s school open for in-person learning. Holyoke’s middle schools are set to reopen April 26.
Around $3.5 million would benefit the Holyoke Health Center, a key provider in the community, Neal said.
“When you look at what we were able to do with this package, there’s another part of this that’s equally important, and it’s called a tax expenditure,” Neal said. He expects the monthly Child Tax Credit would impact household incomes, ensuring a positive cash flow.
The Dependent Care Credit assists families impacted by job losses during the pandemic, with women particularly affected with having to leave the workforce. “They had to choose between caring for a child and their job,” he said.
Neal said the American Rescue Plan was “all-encompassing” and “broad in its integration” but left it to local officials to identify priorities and community needs. He added the Biden Administration would still hold fund recipients accountable.
“This city has led the way for generations and, indeed, centuries. The manufacturing history of this city was extraordinary. It was the Paper City of the world at one time,” Neal said. “But it also has this unique ability where the new settler welcomes the new immigrant. That’s part of the unfolding story about the City of Holyoke.”
While he intends to follow the act’s guidelines, Murphy would seek input from the City Council, School Committee and community on funding goals.
“To make sure our schools provide the educational improvements that our students need to catch up from the year that has been lost, academically, emotionally and physically,” Murphy said.
Murphy wants money allocated for economic development, health care, and overall revitalization efforts in Holyoke. He wants to use a portion of the funding to lower the city’s 27% asthma rate.
Murphy continues to discuss dilapidated buildings downtown, many in need of demolition. He said the buildings must make room for new economic development opportunities.
City Council President Todd McGee, who served two weeks as acting mayor, was joined by Councilors Rebecca Lisi, Peter Tallman and Michael J. Sullivan.
Lisi said the City Council would take up several orders related to the American Rescue Plan funding in the coming weeks.