On Wednesday, Jan. 6, Senator Sal DiDomenico and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature passed $627 million in funding for a sweeping economic recovery and development bill, providing critical support to businesses, investments in infrastructure, and creation of new jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was signed into law on January 14, 2021.
An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth is a COVID-19 relief and recovery package that provides support to the restaurant and tourism sectors, small businesses, and those who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also creates a Future of Work Commission, establishes protections for student loan borrowers, and ushers in zoning reforms to encourage affordable housing development in our communities.
“I am very pleased that this legislation is now law so that we can provide much-need relief to our small business community and the parts of our economy that have been hardest hit by this pandemic,” said Senator DiDomenico. “While the capital investments in this bill will reach every part of our Commonwealth, this legislation will have a profound impact on our district in particular. I was proud to vote for this COVID relief package, and I look forward to continue working with my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure that our communities receive the support and resources that we need and deserve during these trying times.”
Included in this economic development law is critical language limiting the fees charged by third-party delivery services, like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub. From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator DiDomenico began advocating for a cap on delivery fees to protect local restaurants during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
“I heard from many restaurant owners on this specific issue, especially as the industry has transitioned to take-out and delivery service during the COVID emergency,” said DiDomenico. “My district is a hub for independently owned restaurants and these small businesses are in large part what make our community so vibrant. The restaurant industry throughout the Commonwealth has taken a terrible hit during this crisis, and it is the very least we can do to protect them from predatory practices.”
The new law limits fees charged by third-party delivery services for restaurants to 15% during the COVID-19 state of emergency and prohibits third-party delivery service companies from reducing rates for delivery drivers or garnishing gratuities as result of the limitation.
An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth also includes the following bonding authorizations and policy changes:
COVID-19 pandemic relief and recovery
•$30 million for the state’s COVID-19 Payroll Protection Program
•$20 million for restaurant COVID-19 recovery grants
•Creates a commission to examine and make recommendations on addressing the recovery of the cultural and creative sector, including the arts, humanities and sciences, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
•$40 million for a program to redevelop blighted buildings
•$50 million for transit-oriented housing developments
•$10 million for climate-resilient affordable housing developments
•$5 million for a Gateway Cities housing program
•Implements zoning reform to help cities and towns approve smart growth zoning and affordable housing by lowering the required vote threshold for a range of housing-related zoning changes and special permits at the local level from a two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority.
•Requires designated MBTA communities to be zoned for at least one district of reasonable size, in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and requires such housing to be suitable for families with children.
•Increases the state low-income housing tax credit program cap from $20,000,000 to $40,000,000
Employee protections, business growth, and equity
•$35 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation matching grant program to community development financial institutions for small business loans and grants.
•$27.7 million for a new Employment Social Enterprise Capital Grant Program
•$20 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation small business grant program.
•$14M million for travel and tourism grants
•$10 million for regional and community assistance planning grants
•Enables, via local option, the creation of tourism destination marketing districts (“TDMDs”), made up of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts, for the purpose of generating local revenue dedicated solely for the promotion and marketing of specific regions of the Commonwealth.
•Amends the statutory definition of wait staff employee to include a person in a quick service restaurant who prepares or serves food or beverages as part of a team of counter staff.
Provides that the taking of family or medical leave shall not affect an employee’s right to accrue vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, seniority, length-of-service credit or other employment benefits, plans or programs.
•Exempts natural hair braiding from the definition of hairdressing, and exempts natural hair braiding from rules and regulations pertaining to aesthetics, barbering, cosmetology, electrolysis, hairdressing and manicuring.
•Encourages the PRIM Board to use minority investment managers to manage PRIT Fund assets, where appropriate, and to increase the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of Fund investments.
•Establishes a commission of experts, industry members, academics, and elected officials to research and propose policy solutions that ensure the future and sustainability of local journalism in Massachusetts
•Establishes a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights regulating the licensing and operation of student loan servicers by the Commissioner of Banks.
•Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman within the Office of the Attorney General for the purpose of receiving, reviewing and assisting in the resolution of complaints from student loan borrowers; authorizes the Ombudsman to assist with repayment options, applying for federal loan forgiveness programs, ending wage and tax refund garnishments, resolving billing disputes, and obtaining loan details.
Agriculture and rural support
•$20 million for rural community development and infrastructure grants.
$2 million for an urban agriculture grant program.
•Expands the Food Policy Council to include an expert in healthy soil practices; codifies the definition of ‘healthy soils;’ gives the Commission for Conservation of Soil and Water the ability to establish a Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program and Fund
Technology and innovation
•$52 million for the Technology Research and Development and Innovation Fund.
•$15 million for lottery IT infrastructure.
•$10 million for the expansion of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2).
•$5 million for the Massachusetts Broadband Incentive Fund
•Creates a special commission on the future of work to conduct a comprehensive study relative to the impact of automation, artificial intelligence, global trade, access to new forms of data and the internet of things on the workforce, businesses and economy.
•Clarifies that carsharing platforms may obtain insurance coverage from non-admitted carrier and that carsharing platforms do not need their own insurance-producer or broker licenses to offer or maintain insurance policies for carsharing vehicles or drivers.
Other bonding authorizations include:
•$102,304,000 for local economic development projects;
•$12.5 million for the Commonwealth Zoological Corporation;
•$15 million for trial court virtual mediation services;
•$6 million for Massachusetts Cultural Council grants;
•$5 million for Mass Cultural Council public school grants;
•$20 million for Mass Cultural Council cultural facilities grants;
•$15 million for vocational technical school expansion grants; and
•$15 million for higher education workforce grants.