By Mia McCarthy
Boston University News Service
BOSTON – House Speaker Ronald Mariano said federal aid for vaccine distribution is “vital” as Massachusetts continues to step up its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today, as our partners in government joined together to call for additional aid from the federal government, the House redoubles its ongoing calls for such aid,” Mariano wrote in an email to House colleagues Monday. “As those discussions take place in Washington, the Massachusetts House will seek to prioritize funding for extended hours and weekend service at the 211 Call Center.”
This comes a month after the Quincy Democrat received criticism for claiming he had “no idea” what the current state of vaccine rollout was.
In a copy of the email sent to The Patriot Ledger, Mariano called the funding essential to “address the communications and operational shortcomings of the vaccine rollout.”
The email was sent a few hours after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker was joined by U.S. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Springfield, in calling federal funding crucial for the state’s reopening. The press conference was designed in part to push for quick congressional action on the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion relief plan.
“It would be critical from our point of view for Congress to pass significant relief, swiftly, to help us beat down the pandemic and just as importantly help get our economy back on track,” Baker said.
Mariano wrote in his email that the CDC recently ranked Massachusetts as the 13th lowest state for vaccine distribution per 100,000 residents. He also noted the Biden administration’s approval of the $213 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for vaccine handling and transportation.
“While details have been scant on how this money would be deployed, those decisions are being made now,” Mariano wrote. “Today, we write to share initial priorities the House feels must be included in the spending of this or any subsequent federal funds in order to address the flaws of the plan so far.”
Mariano listed the House’s goals as funding mobile vaccination sites, transportation to vaccine sites, disability accommodations, website improvements, state access to vaccine sites, equity issues, improvements in hard-hit communities and assistance for local boards of health. He said these priorities come from the frustrations expressed by constituents and community organizations in Massachusetts’ cities and towns.
According to a state website dedicated to breaking down the COVID-19 relief funding, Massachusetts is predicted to receive $68 billion in federal aid.
“I also write to remind you of the important tools you have already voted on to ensure that the Legislature is actively engaged in a transparent process to allocate federal aid and ensure that the public has the ability to track it,” Mariano wrote.
Mariano noted the Baker administration’s recent requirement to publish information about the COVID-19 federal funding in Massachusetts, as well as the House’s dedication to working with authorities in order to ensure coronavirus relief.
“The Massachusetts House of Representatives believes that we can and must do better,” Mariano wrote. “The House stands ready to work with our partners in government and, if need be, to pass legislation to ensure that these resources are utilized in accordance with these goals.”
This article was previously published by the Patriot Ledger.