When President Joe Biden and a litany of Democratic legislators – including the Massachusetts federal delegation – took to the airwaves and online universe to praise the passage of the American Rescue Plan, they touted it as a lifeline to communities sinking from the sufferings of COVID-19.
No two communities in the state, arguably, have suffered as much as Everett and Chelsea, yet some officials locally are saying the federal delegation and the federal government has left the two communities high and dry.
Numbers from the Rescue Plan began to come out last weekend from the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), and on first glance, many thought there was a mistake for Everett and Chelsea. The Rescue Plan was highly touted from all corners as being able to help communities hardest hit, including local governments that have lost millions in revenues and expended millions to fund local food pantries, rental assistance and small business programs. Leaders in Everett and Chelsea were expecting to get some relief to plug holes in their City Budgets, but were stunned when their numbers became public.
For Everett, the Rescue Plan directed $4.58 million to the City, with a supplement from county funding sources bumping it to $13.59 million. For Chelsea, the Rescue Plan directed $3.91 million in aid to the City, and a total of $11.61 million with the bump up from county funding.
That was compared to affluent communities like Newton, which got $48.14 million and a total of $65.29 million with the county resources. Brookline got $34.21 million, but no county money figures were available. Meanwhile, nearby Medford got $39.25 million and a total of $50.37 million with the county resources. Malden also got much more as well, with $35.04 million from the Plan and $46.76 million in total with the county bump up.
Both Chelsea and Everett’s numbers were more on par with suburban Shrewsbury than an urban community hard-hit by COVID-19.
Officially, City leaders said they were told the funding was determined by the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) formula that designates “entitlement” communities and “non-entitlement” communities – and the allocations didn’t really consider the impact of COVID. Because Chelsea and Everett are below 50,000 people officially, they are non-entitlement communities and didn’t get a lot of funding because of that. Efforts by the federal delegation, sources said, came too late in the process to be able to make adjustments – resulting in the smaller numbers becoming official.
With those numbers, many officials said it looked like the most effected people were the least funded – with both Chelsea and Everett being in the top five most impacted cities in the Commonwealth.
La Colaborativa Director Gladys Vega has been very vocal in the last few days about the lack of funding. On Tuesday afternoon, she held a multi-community rally with representatives from Chelsea and Everett. She said she was deeply hurt by Senator Warren and Congresswoman Pressley, in particular, because both had visited La Colaborativa’s vaccination site in Chelsea in the last few weeks and said nothing about this situation.
She felt betrayed, and she said none are welcome to come back until they make things right.
“Bring a check for $40 million and they can come in and take some more pictures,” she said, extremely upset. “It makes me so made because I feel like we continue to be used and abused. Ayanna Pressley and all the others came here to our office. She told me the stories I send to her are stories that she tells everyone in the halls of Congress. She said that just the other day when she was here. Where are all those stories because the cash didn’t get here?…It felt to me like Sal DiDomenico gave them the news that we were only getting $3.9 million.
“I can’t even buy enough toilet paper to wipe the tears of my community members when they’re being evicted and going hungry with $3.9 million,” she continued. “It’s a disgrace. Where were they when this decision was made? They didn’t try enough. If they didn’t have the guts to fight, I would have. Reach out to me and I’ll make sure it happens…It’s beyond upsetting.”
At the rally, about 100 to 150 residents showed up to protest the funding and the lack of effort by the federal delegation, who they said let them down.
“What do we want?” they yelled in the bullhorn.
“$70 million,” yelled the crowd.
“When do we want it?” they yelled in the bullhorn.
“Ahora! (Now!),” yelled the crowd.
Senator Sal DiDomenico said he thought it was a mistake on first glance, and said the Rescue Plan didn’t deliver for Chelsea and Everett.
“When these numbers were brought to our attention about two weeks ago I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said DiDomenico. “I immediately contacted our Federal Delegation and our city leaders to try and find a solution. The American Rescue Plan was promised to be the relief that we had been waiting for, especially for our hardest hit communities like Chelsea and Everett. It is both appalling and outrageous that two of the hardest hit communities, and Chelsea being ground zero during the COVID crisis, are getting a fraction of the federal funds that neighboring communities are getting – and many being much more affluent… I am extremely upset that my communities did not get the help they needed. The high hopes we had for the American Rescue Plan did not come to fruition for Chelsea and Everett.”
Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the funding doled out to the two communities – and also to Randolph and Methuen, the other two of the four that got “shorted,” – was unconscionable.
“Wealthy communities got windfalls and a lot of other communities like Everett and Chelsea got screwed,” he said. “Of the 20 most impacted communities, there are four that really got adversely impacted by the funding – Chelsea, Everett, Randolph and Methuen. We’re hoping the state will step in and deal with those four…It’s unconscionable and incredibly inequitable. We hope the state will step in to right the situation. We were trying to quietly work behind the scenes (with the federal delegation) to fix this, but it didn’t happen. We are not happy about it. We’re still trying to fix it, but at this point, Gov. Baker is our ally and sole hope.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan said he has been working with DiDomenico and others to try to fix the slight from the federal delegation.
“I’ve been on the phone with State Senator DiDomenico and State Rep. Jessica Giannino since last week, when we first heard of this federal budget shortfall affecting Chelsea,” he said. “We are working with our colleagues on Beacon Hill and the Governor’s office to find a State fix to this federal slight.”
In Everett, Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he and other leaders have been working with the state and federal delegation to try to fix the shortfall, and hopes that something can be done in the coming days to make sure the plan helps communities like Everett that were the hardest hit.
“I recognize that the American Rescue Bill is the first time during the pandemic that our federal delegation was able to secure direct funding for cities and towns,” he said. “However, the bill relies upon a commonly used federal funding formula that does not adequately consider the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on cities such as Everett and Chelsea, which have some of the highest number of cases per capita in Massachusetts. I will continue to work with our federal delegation and the Baker-Polito Administration to achieve an equitable allocation of federal funding for Everett and Chelsea to ensure our fiscal recovery from this public health crisis.”
Everett Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he was disappointed that the money they expected to come, never did, and that is why he said he decided to attend the rally in Chelsea on Tuesday.
“It is extremely disappointing and frustrating to see one of the hardest-hit communities get significantly less in federal funding,” he said. “Two of the hardest hit communities like Everett and Chelsea were not treated equitably. Everett has been designated as majority minority community and should be treated as such by our federal delegation. This situation must be rectified. I hope and have full faith that Mayor DeMaria and Senator DiDomenico will be able to work with the Baker Administration to help off-set as much of this lack in funding by our federal government. Our community needs and deserves these important resources to assist us in recovering as one of the hardest-hit communities in the Commonwealth.”
Everett CFO Eric Demas was one of the first to identify the shortfall in early March, and he and Mayor DeMaria quickly reached out to the federal delegation and other decision-makers. At the same time, Chelsea was also identifying the issue and the two communities rapidly began cooperating in their messaging with Sen. DiDomenico.
“I noticed this back on March 4 before the U.S. Senate even voted on it,” he said. “I was shocked and I notified the mayor and said we need to figure this out and see what we can do before they vote. We immediately reached out to our federal delegation and unfortunately we weren’t able to get anything accomplished before the vote. We are now in the process of seeing what we can do to address the disparity for Everett…We’re not going to stop until we get the situation corrected.”
Said DiDomenico, “COVID ravaged Chelsea and Everett, and our residents dealt with so much pain, suffering, heartache during the past year. These funds were supposed to go to disproportionately affected communities and help cities like ours, but this obviously did not happen. I have spoken to Governor Baker and his team to push for some of the other federal funds to be allocated to Chelsea and Everett, and I will be working with the Governor and our elected leaders to bring in the needed funds that these cities rightfully deserve.”
A lot of the blame is now falling on the federal delegation, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (who represents three out of four of the aggrieved communities), and U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.
The newspaper contacted all three federal officials, and for some time none responded to a request for comment on the situation in Chelsea and Everett, but they did respond late on Tuesday evening.
Two sources close to the situation said the matter went all the way to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen – who indicated it was too late by the time the request came and no changes could be made.
More than three sources close to the situation said none of the federal delegation was aware of the issue until local officials reached out, and when they did, very little happened.
A spokesperson for Sen. Warren put out a statement for Warren, Senator Markey and Congresswoman Pressley that said the funding formula was flawed, and essentially threw responsibility to Gov. Baker to make the fix.
“Cities and towns in the Commonwealth and across the country are on the frontlines of our fight against this pandemic, and they need our support,” read the statement. “While the American Rescue Plan (ARP) provides millions in desperately needed relief, we know that our small to midsize municipalities need more assistance, especially our communities of color who continue to be disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, like Chelsea and Everett. We must make our federal funding formulas more reflective of the impact felt by our most vulnerable communities, and as we look ahead to recovery, we will continue to work with state, local and federal partners help our mayors and local governments mitigate the impact of this crisis on our families so that no community is left behind. That includes urging the Baker Administration to equitably distribute the Commonwealth’s 4.5 billion dollars of relief funding to municipalities that have been disproportionally impacted.”
They did not identify any actions they would take, however, to rectify the situation.
American Rescue Plan Funding for cities and towns in Massachusetts:
Everett – $4.58 million $13.59 million* (*with county allocations added in)
Chelsea – $3.91 million $11.61 million *
Newton – $48.14 million $65.29 million*
Revere $20.24 million $30.54 million*
Boston – $434.68 million $569 million*
Shrewsbury $3.8 million $11.27 million*
Woburn $3.96 million $11.77 million*
Somerville $63.28 million $79.06 million*
Medford $39.25 million $50.37 million*
Malden $35.04 million $46.76 million*
Amherst $3.93 million $11.68 million*
Brookline $34.21 million $Not available*