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Gov. Charlie Baker, seen in this image from his press conference via YouTube, announces he filed a $1 billion supplement bill.

Baker Files Spending Bill Aimed at Accessing Federal Funds

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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ASHLAND, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday filed a supplemental budget bill to authorize about $1 billion to cover costs related to COVID-19.
 
But he explained at Tuesday's daily press briefing that the bill is designed to keep the commonwealth in line for more federal funding.
 
"The bill gives us the leverage we need to utilize federal financial support, like aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which can only reimburse state spending resulting from eligible disaster response activities," Baker said. "The supplemental budget would also ensure that adequate state spending has been authorized to allow the commonwealth to continue to support our communities until additional federal reimbursements are provided.
 
"We anticipate the COVID-19 costs that are not supported by FEMA reimbursement will, to the extent possible, be supported by other available federal resources, including through the recently enacted federal CARES Act."
 
Baker said his administration would work with the legislature to get the supplemental funding bill enacted as quickly as possible.
 
Later, during a back-and-forth with reporters, Baker characterized the $1 billion as a "net zero" for state taxpayers.
 
"This is the money that we need to appropriate and acknowledge to be able to access federal reimbursements under our emergency declaration," Baker said. "The way FEMA works is … the states spend, the feds reimburse.
 
"For us to access what we believe is a very significant amount of resource that the federal government, through the emergency declaration has signed up to reimburse us for, we need to spend first in order to get them to reimburse us. That's basically what that is."
 
The money in the supplemental spending bill is designated for items like personal protective equipment, rate adjustments for essential human service providers, temporary field hospitals and shelters, the first statewide contact tracing program in the country, "and a whole bunch of other stuff," Baker said.
 
Among other Massachusetts expenditures in the wake of the novel coronavirus was $10 million spent through the Manufacturing Emergency Response Team to help Massachusetts businesses pivot to producing PPE and other COVID-19 needs.
 
Baker held his daily briefing Tuesday at MatTek Life Sciences, which has adapted its operations in a couple of different ways to respond to the public health emergency. The eastern Mass firm outside of Framingham is producing thousands of liters of hand sanitizer and is ramping up production to turn out 20,000 to 30,000 units per week of a viral transport media that can be used to take COVID-19 test samples from the testing site to the lab.
 
"There are basically three key elements to testing," Baker said. "One is the labs to process the tests. … Point No. 2 is the … swabs.
 
"The third point is the transport, the thing you stick the swab into, what these folks are talking about making, that gets the swab from where the specimen was collected to the lab where it can be tested. All three of those issues have been a challenge for states and nations, in some cases, in their desire to ramp up their ability to this.
 
"If these folks can make 20 to 30,000 or 40 to 50,000 transport mediums here in Massachusetts, that can be available to folks like us and others who are looking to expand testing and we can keep them here in Massachusetts, that's a huge win for us in the context of trying to get from where we're testing now to a higher and more significant level."
 
Baker did not reveal many more details on the phased approach to reopening the state's economy that he announced on Monday except to say he does not expect industries to learn whether they are in Phase 1 until the Advisory Board report is released on Monday.
 
"The first thing [businesses] should do is take a look at those global standards and see how they would do against those," Baker said. "Part of the reason we put those out was to make clear that there's going to be a standard everyone has to abide by and comply to."

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Mount Greylock Interim Superintendent Proposing Fully Remote Start to School Year

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School District's interim superintendent Tuesday told the community he will propose the district start the year with fully remote learning for general education students.
 
In a virtual town hall, Robert Putnam previewed the proposal for the start of school that he will present to the School Committee for a vote on Thursday evening. Districts throughout the commonwealth must present their reopening plans, approved by school committees, to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by Friday.
 
Putnam emphasized throughout his presentation that all of his plans for the preK-12, three school district are still subject to negotiation with the district's teachers union. He mentioned "bargaining" at least four times in his half-hour presentation before addressing attendees' questions.
 
As he has throughout his six-week tenure as interim superintendent, Putnam said remote learning will be the cornerstone of the district's planning for the 2020-21 school year. And when classes resume in mid-September, Putnam expects remote learning to be the only mode of instruction.
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