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Baker, Neal Say Federal Aid Vital To MA COVID-19 Recovery

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal speaks with reporters.
Josh Landes
Congressman Richard Neal in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on August 18th, 2020.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Congressman Richard Neal held a joint press conference at the State House today calling for additional federal COVID-19 response aid.

Baker, a Republican, opened with a COVID-19 update.

“Yesterday the Department of Public Health reported 3,000 new COVID cases on 113,000 tests," he said. "Over 14.3 million tests have been reported in total here in the commonwealth. 1,389 individuals are in the hospital being treated for COVID – that number, as you all know, is down dramatically since January 4th, which was the peak – and 318 are in the ICU.”

As of Sunday, almost 860,000 doses have been administered with over 1.2 million doses shipped to providers in the state.

The governor said federal aid will be critical to restarting the Massachusetts economy after the pandemic shutdown began.

“While hundreds of thousands of residents have returned to work over the past few months, there’s still way too many people out of work through no fault of their own," said Baker. "The commonwealth is still down 330,000 jobs from this time last year.”

He said some sectors would never fully recover.

“Including the hospitality, indoor entertainment sectors, and many of the other folks who operate in businesses that were based on what I would describe the benefit of the crowd,” Baker said.

The Republican governor painted a picture of an economically beleaguered state incapable of powering a recovery on its own.

“Tax revenues have fallen significantly since the start of the crisis and they remain unpredictable," he said. "I think this past year was the first time the commonwealth ever went six months before we and the legislature finally managed to figure out what we thought revenue would look like for the rest fiscal year and worked together to pass a budget. But that recently released fiscal plan for fiscal ’22, which we just filed, is built on a projection that is down a billion dollars from the original prediction that we had for fiscal ’21 at the start, before the pandemic.”

Baker said federal aid would support not just COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, but re-opening schools, housing assistance and other ripple effects of the pandemic.

Neal, a Democrat from the 1st district who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said that 10 million jobs lost to the pandemic nationwide have not been replaced, and that 19 million Americans are on unemployment insurance. He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi planned to have the next federal aid package ready by mid-March when current unemployment benefits expire.

“Our plan here is to do these initiatives for at least one year, try to buy some time to find out where the pandemic leaves us," said Neal. "The pandemic is now a year old, and a lot of people in the American family are hurting and we think that this assistance in the timeline that I’ve laid out is entirely reasonable.”

He said that speed has trumped efforts at bipartisanship as the Democrats – who control the House, Senate and White House after the 2020 election – move to pass President Joe Biden’s relief bill.

“The president’s made it clear he’s not coming off $1.9 trillion, and I agree with him," said Neal. "This is about a pandemic, this is about stability. I often hear people say stimulus. This is about stability. Stimulus will come with the infrastructure program. But right now, it’s about stabilizing people who can’t pay their rents, can’t make their mortgage payments.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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