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House Passes COVID Relief Bill, Directs $125M to Cultural Sector Recovery

Bethann Steiner, Public Affairs Director

Late last week the state House of Representatives debated H. 4219, An Act relative to immediate COVID-19 recovery needs, a $3.65 billion proposal to invest federal ARPA funds and state FY21 surplus tax revenues.

House members filed 1,126 amendments, and after two days of debate the final bill was unanimously approved with a vote of 159-0. The final House bill is $3.82 billion investment plan focused on key economic sectors: economic development; health and human services; workforce development; housing and homeownership; environmental and climate change mitigation; and education.

Mass Cultural Council is thrilled to report that the final House bill provides $125 million to the cultural sector. Mass Cultural Council will manage this fund, and the Agency is directed to equitably invest these monies through grant awards across the cultural sector, bolstering capacity building initiatives and providing recovery assistance to artists and nonprofit, municipal, and for-profit cultural organizations. Federal ARPA guidelines state that these ARPA funds must be spent by December 31, 2026.

At the outset of the debate House Leadership explained that more than 400 people and organizations testified seeking ARPA assistance. Since this summer Mass Cultural Council twice testified seeking relief for its stakeholders. We believe that our strategy – to collect economic impact data throughout the pandemic and widely distribute it was successful, and your stories were heard, as the House Committee on Ways & Means included the cultural sector in its proposal. An amendment was not necessary to guarantee artists and cultural organizations would see relief in the House bill.

However, we are deeply appreciative for the leadership and support of Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D- Falmouth), the House Vice Chair of the Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development. Rep. Fernandes filed an amendment, #109, to increase the cultural sector relief account to $175M. This amendment enjoyed the support of 52% of the House; 83 Members added their name as co-sponsors.

Our advocacy partners, MASSCreative and Mass Humanities, deserve recognition for activating the field and ensuring the Chamber’s support for this amendment. They report that more than 900 individual emails were sent to House Members last week. Our sector is passionate, engaged, and ready to mobilize when necessary. The power of your advocacy certainly helped advance the power of culture last week.

While Amendment 109 was ultimately not adopted, the House did preserve the full $125M allotted to cultural sector relief without any earmarks. Dozens of amendments filed seeking to direct these monies to specific local projects and priorities were added to a new $63.1M account, 7002-1530, under the administration of the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development.

The final House bill allows Mass Cultural Council to develop new capacity building and COVID recovery grant programs over the next few years, with input from you, our stakeholders, and to make equitable funding decisions that will support Massachusetts artists and nonprofit, municipal, and for-profit cultural organizations. This is an amazing victory.

Mass Cultural Council thanks Speaker Ron Mariano, House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development Committee Chair Carole Fiola and Vice Chair Dylan Fernandes, House Committee on Federal Stimulus & Census Oversight Chair Dan Hunt, and the 83 House Members who co-sponsored Amendment #109 and indicated to House Leadership that cultural sector relief was a priority to be immediately addressed. Thank you!

The bill now moves to the state Senate, and it is expected that the Upper Chamber will begin its ARPA relief debate shortly.  Formal sessions recess on November 17 this year, so legislators have less than three weeks to get a final bill to the Governor’s desk.

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