The House unanimously passed a $55 million COVID-19 response bill Wednesday afternoon, keeping it on track to clear the Senate and hit Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk early next week.

“There is still much more work to be done before we see the end of this pandemic,” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said as he introduced the bill on the House floor. “We’ve all seen, heard and experienced the struggle that many across the state have had in getting a COVID test or to receive proper masks for our schools. And while the items contained in this proposal are not the panacea, they represent the most immediate and urgent pandemic-related needs that our residents are facing.”

The bill (H 4340) appropriates $30 million to establish and expand COVID testing sites, with at least $5 million dedicated to expanding vaccination rates among kids ages 5 to 11.

The youth vaccination efforts would be focused on communities disproportionately affected by the virus. Another $25 million would go towards “the acquisition and distribution of high-quality personal protective masks for children and faculty in elementary and secondary public school districts.”

Instead of tapping into some of the $2.25 billion that remain in American Rescue Plan Act funds, the bill spends money out of the state’s General Fund but language in the bill instructs the Baker administration to seek FEMA reimbursements, Michlewitz said.

Michlewitz said the House has been “working closely with our colleagues in the Senate on this legislation so that it can move towards the governor’s desk in a timely fashion.”

His Senate counterpart, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, said Tuesday that the Senate plans to take up the COVID-19 spending bill “early next week.”

(Copyright (c) 2022 State House News Service.

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