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Workers who braved the darkest days of COVID-19 earn extra pay

Workers who braved the darkest days of COVID-19 earn extra pay

There is much agreement that workers who put themselves at risk during this pandemic deserve recognition – and some extra monetary compensation. But in Massachusetts, none of the money the state received from the federal government under the US bailout plan has so far been disbursed for that purpose. Meanwhile, a classic Beacon Hill fog has settled over the process of distributing the money, making it difficult to say exactly what is going on between Governor Charlie Baker and the legislature.

Last month, Baker Signed a $4 Billion Package focused on helping the state recover from economic hardships imposed by COVID-19. The package included $460 million in “critical employee benefits,” which Baker backed. But he vetoed a section that included a requirement that the money be distributed by March 31, as well as language reserved for certain low-income workers. In a letter to the legislatorBaker said the main reason for the vetoes was concerns over the creation of a 28-member advisory panel to “consult with and make recommendations to [the administration] on the design of the program, in a way that is almost guaranteed to significantly impede the disbursement of the funds.” He urged lawmakers “to allow our government to move forward with this important program today.” In other words, Baker wants to decide who gets the money and how much.

Baker may be right that a 28-member panel is impractical, especially when it comes to spending nearly half a billion dollars. But if the governor is going to take over the process, there needs to be transparency about who gets the money, and he needs to go through the same… rationale of the original bill: spend the money quickly and do so with a special focus on lower-income workers who continued to come to work under dangerous conditions during the pandemic. That doesn’t mean nurses and police officers, who are relatively well paid, shouldn’t be compensated for their often heroic… attempts. It just means we need to make sure janitors and home care workers aren’t left out.

The language Baker spoke specifically called for direct financial support to “private and public essential workers,” including, but not limited to, health professionals, behavioral health professionals and home health workers; long-term care workers; public health personnel; child carers, educators and other teaching staff; social service personnel and human services; workers on farms, food production facilities, supermarkets and other service workers; transportation workers; utilities and technicians; and foster parents. The language that Baker vetoed also included a call to “prioritize essential lower-income workers.”

The Baker administration says it continues to develop the program and remains confident it can begin handing out payments by the end of March. Lawmakers have asked Baker for a timeline, but haven’t gotten one yet. It would take a two-thirds majority in both chambers to overturn the vetoes. So far that hasn’t happened, indicating that the details are being worked out and that Baker plans to stick to the spirit of the bill. If so, that would be a good thing.

Getting the money out sooner rather than later should be the priority. At the same time, the Baker administration must say how they are going to do it. Practically speaking, it is a big job to send out a million checks while complying with the federal eligibility criteria. When it comes to deciding who gets the money, there are also some challenging public policy questions and tough decisions to make about the different levels of risk different workers face and their different levels of financial needs. At this point – a month after Baker’s veto – it would be good to know more about the governor’s plans to spend the money.

The editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe editorial board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.

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Anna Wintour

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