Federal Delegation Goes on Defensive, Says Local Officials Didn’t Know Full Details on Rescue Plan

As the federal delegation for Chelsea and Everett rushed this week to prove a point and move the narrative of Chelsea and Everett being “shorted” by the American Rescue Plan in a different direction, local and state legislators remained disappointed with them but have focused on making sure the two hard-hit COVID communities end up getting what the need to move forward.

The news came quickly last week, and stoked rallies from community social services agencies like La Colaborativa – particularly due to the fact that affluent communities like Newton and Brookline were able to secure tens of millions more in the Plan that much needier places like Everett and Chelsea.

This week, members of the federal delegation have hung their hat on a flawed federal formula normally used for housing, but that was used to distribute the original Rescue Plan funding. They are now throwing responsibility to Gov. Charlie Baker to target Everett and Chelsea in another pot of money – $4.5 billion – that came in a separate part of the Rescue Plan.

A spokesperson for Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and another for Sen. Liz Warren both said the plan all along was to remedy the inadequate formula through using the $4.5 billion overseen by Gov. Baker. That was a new revelation that hadn’t been advanced last week when the news was first broken about the low funding numbers.

Sen. Sal DiDomenico on Monday said having to fight for the $4.5 billion is going to essentially leave Everett and Chelsea short of where they would have been had the funding been equitable in the first place.

“We have met many times on this,” he said. “The sad reality is communities like Everett and Chelsea, if we were funded equitably from the beginning, then the $4.5 billion figure could have been used to supplement that funding. We could have gotten even more. Now I fear it will just fill the gap and we won’t get any more than that. We’re playing catch-up and it’s not a quick fix or a simple fix.”

On Monday night as well, several Everett City Councilors lambasted the federal delegation for being “asleep at the wheel” and not fully advocating for full funding for Everett and Chelsea in the American Rescue Plan – with millions more in aid going to affluent communities like Newton while Everett and Chelsea got far less.

“It seems our federal delegation was asleep at the wheel on this one,” said Everett Councilor Anthony DiPierro. “I hope my colleagues are as outraged as I am…I want to let everyone know we are upset with our federal delegation…Instead of fixing a bad formula, it appears our federal delegation just passed one bad formula on top of another.”

Everett Councilor Michael McLaughlin said the federal delegation is more interested in the limelight that the good fight.

“Quite honestly because of inexperience and disinterest by our federal representatives, we’re in the position we’re in now,” he said. “It is the fault of our federal delegation because they’re more concerned about making headlines and not fighting for communities like Everett. I’m going to continue to speak up and out for Everett and Chelsea for this grievous misallocation…What happened here is communities like Everett and Chelsea were grievously misrepresented by our federal delegation.

“We didn’t have to fight this fight,” he continued. “We’re the 6th hardest hit in the state and Chelsea was #1. We shouldn’t have to fight to get the funding we deserve from the state…They were asleep at the wheel. Imagine voting on something and you don’t know what you’re voting on? That’s what happened here with our federal representatives.”

Sen. DiDomenico, who has been critical of the federal effort, said this week that they are focusing on making the situation right now, and City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the same – noting they were working with the state Administration & Finance Department and not interested in politicking.

“This is outrageous,” said Sen. DiDomenico. “The fact that Everett and Chelsea were two of the hardest hit communities in the Commonwealth and weren’t funded by this Rescue Plan is outrageous. The formula they used had nothing to do with COVID-19. If they had taken COVID-19 into account, there should have been escalators in there. The pain, sacrifice and sadness we had to go through was horrible. I share Councilor DiPierro’s frustration to put it mildly.”

He said in meetings between himself, Chelsea officials, Everett officials and state officials, they have found a willing partner so far in Baker – though the effort will require creating a brand new system and formula from scratch that will favor hardest-hit communities.

“The governor has told me…he is willing to look at this,” said DiDomenico.

Meanwhile, while they have been working in that sphere, the federal delegation this week has worked to pivot away from the controversy and the ire of activists like La Colaborativa Director Gladys Vega, saying the plan was always to rely on Gov. Baker to allocate the $4.5 billion equitably in order to make up for the funding formula’s flaws.

A spokesperson for Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said the Congresswoman and her federal colleagues proactively fought to make sure Everett and Chelsea were taken care of by Gov. Baker’s allotment.

“In addition to direct aid to individuals and families, and an initial round of funding through the Community Development Block Grant formula, Congresswoman Pressley and her federal colleagues proactively fought to secure an additional $4.5 billion federal dollars for Massachusetts in the American Rescue Plan,” read a statement sent to the paper on Tuesday. “That funding will be distributed by Governor Baker and his Administration – similar to previous relief packages. Since the legislation’s passage, Congresswoman Pressley and her colleagues have been in constant communication with the Governor’s office and local officials, and are pressing Governor Baker to allocate the additional $4.5 billion in line with Congressional leaders’ intent when they passed the bill – these funds should be distributed quickly, in a manner that reflects the disparate impact of the pandemic on communities like Chelsea and Everett, and ensures those communities receive resources that meaningfully address their needs.”

That followed a series of letters sent by the federal delegation on Friday, March 18, urging Gov. Baker to direct the $4.5 billion to hard-hit communities and/or communities of color. The letter indicated his designation of the 20 hardest hit communities would be a blueprint for distributing this aid.

“We will continue to fight on behalf of all our communities in need, and respectfully call on you to do the same,” read the letter.

However, that narrative was decidedly different than what came out from local officials in Chelsea and Everett last week – a narrative where local officials noticed the glaring deficiency and then and alerted the federal delegation prior to a final vote on the Rescue Plan. Once realizing there was a problem, local officials said the case was taken by the federal delegation all the way to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, but it was too late.

On Wednesday, in a Banking and Housing Committee hearing, Sen. Warren pressured Secretary Yellen in questioning to put the onus on helping Chelsea and Everett on the distribution of the $4.5 billion in the hands of Gov. Baker. The transcript of that conversation appears below:

WARREN: Secretary Yellen, in general communities with populations under 50,000 residents receive some direct federal funding as a result of the American Rescue Plan, but they don’t receive as much direct help as bigger cities-is that correct? 

YELLEN: Well, I believe there is a formula that determines how much they receive and it’s paid to them through states. I believe that that’s, 

WARREN: Good. That’s where I want to go. Because direct funding is not the only money coming into state and local government. In addition, state governments also receive a separate pot of money that was flexibly designed

YELLEN: That’s right.

WARREN: to help our hardest hit communities. 

YELLEN: Sure 

WARREN: And specifically, the statute says that state funding can be used to respond to public health emergency

YELLEN: Sure 

WARREN: With respect to the coronavirus disease or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted communities. Is that correct, Madam Secretary?

YELLEN: Yes, it is correct.

WARREN: Good. And in Massachusetts, it looks like there will be about $4.5 billion going to the state government. So, Secretary Yellen, just to be clear, this statutory language provides our governor with the flexibility to use state funding to provide extra help to address negative economic impacts in smaller communities that did not qualify for larger pots of direct funding, is that right?

YELLEN: That is my understanding but we will put out guidance and work through all of the legalities. But I believe that what you have said is correct. I want to be very careful about the legalities but I believe that what you said is correct.

WARREN: Good.

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