A Better City’s Advocacy for Federal Funding: American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)


The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, is an economic stimulus bill that was passed by U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021. Once passed, ARPA provided $1.9T nationally for continued COVID-19 response and recovery; this money is intended to speed up the country’s resurgence from the public health and economic crises of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of ARPA’s $350B dedicated to the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, the Commonwealth received $5.3B to be applied at the state-level, whereas Municipalities and functional counties in the Commonwealth received a collective $3.4B from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. Tribes within the Commonwealth also received $25M from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds for Tribal Governments.

Over the summer and early fall of 2021, the Baker Administration and the State Legislature have been debating how to best appropriate the $5.3B allocated to the Commonwealth. There have been a series of ARPA hearings before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means to discuss the best use of ARPA funds, ranging in topics from water and sewer infrastructure, to parks and open space, natural and working lands, and marine port infrastructure.

The Baker Administration put forward an initial proposal accounting for $900M of the ARPA funds to be split across climate resilient infrastructure and marine port needs, with Secretary Theoharides testifying from a combined sewer overflow (CSO) in Lawrence to demonstrate the need for resilient water infrastructure. The Baker Administration’s proposal for a portion of ARPA funds included:

  • $400M: grants to support water and sewer infrastructure
  • $300M: climate resilient infrastructure, including improving culverts and dams
  • $100M: parks, recreation, and open spaces
  • $100M: marine port infrastructure development

In response to the Baker Administration’s proposal, A Better City submitted to House and Senate leadership within the State Legislature, cc’ing the Chairs of the Joint Committee of Ways and Means, Energy and Environment Affairs Secretary Theoharides, Transportation Secretary Tesler, and Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Chang. In our comments, we begin by acknowledging that while we support many of the Baker Administration’s recommendations for ARPA funds, we recommend including and prioritizing additional ARPA appropriations to address needs related to:

  1. Climate mitigation, resilience, and district energy solutions: A Better City recommends prioritizing the following climate mitigation, resilience, and clean energy priorities: prioritizing deep energy retrofits in large existing buildings; expanding electric grid and building electricity capacity, with particular consideration for addressing interconnection challenges for renewable energy; establishing a statewide financing program or climate infrastructure bank; investing in digital infrastructure for state-level emissions and energy use tracking in large existing buildings; investing in a pilot for a GeoMicroDistrict/“GeoGrid” in multi-use urban environments, and; coordinating resilient critical infrastructure projects at a regional scale.
  2. Funding Transportation Infrastructure and Investing in Public Transit: A Better City recommends prioritizing targeted transportation infrastructure investments that improve safety, fix roads & bridges, and address a maintenance backlog at the MBTA. This effort would not only deliver an immediate boost to our economy but also bring productivity gains to the region after work is completed. A Better City recommends the legislature invest in public transit and promotional fare options; support additional funding for the Chapter 90 Municipal Road and Bridge Program, and; modernize procurement laws to effectively prepare for the anticipated federal infrastructure bill, while maximizing the impact of the Commonwealth’s federally funded projects.
  3. New Incentives for the Future of Work: As the Commonwealth addresses return to workplace commuting trends and embarks on a hybrid work model across many sectors, A Better City recommends emphasizing key transportation demand management strategies in ARPA spending through: broadband connectivity to enable long-term remote work capabilities; expanded bike share incentive programs, and; coordination of ARPA investments across municipalities to promote safe, accessible commuting corridors that also double as climate resilient green infrastructure projects, like the Emerald Network. 

These once-in-a-generation ARPA funds can only be appropriated towards one-time capital investments rather than operational expenses, and ABC recommended that ARPA appropriations deliver long-term climate and mobility benefits for our regional economy and for our most vulnerable communities. Especially as the Legislature considers strategies to support our region’s economic recovery and to shape the future of work in Massachusetts, strategic investments must be made to help catalyze equitable, sustainable growth and community resilience.

On Monday, October 25th, the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means released a $3.65B ARPA appropriations bill package that proposes to spend around $1.15B of ARPA funds and leave up to $2.4B of ARPA funds untouched. An Act Relative to Immediate COVID-19 Recovery Needs appropriates ARPA funds to the following categories: housing, environment & climate change mitigation, economic development, workforce, health and human services, and education.

Within the category for environment and climate change mitigation, the bill appropriates $350M for environmental infrastructure and development spending, with a focus on environmental justice communities, climate change resilience, and clean energy:

  • $100M: Marine port development and offshore wind
  • $100M: Environmental infrastructure for communities to become more climate resilient
  • $100M: Water and sewer infrastructure improvements
  • $25M: Greening gateway cities
  • $25M: State parks and recreational facilities upgrades

A Better City will continue to monitor the advancements of the House bill, especially as the House Formal Session convenes today, October 28th. Since around $2.4B of the Commonwealth’s ARPA funds are not currently appropriated in the House bill package, A Better City will continue to advocate for the recommendations from our ARPA written comments, both for ARPA spending as well as for anticipated additional federal funding.

For any questions regarding ARPA and A Better City’s advocacy for federal funding, please contact Isabella Gambill.


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