By Seth Daniel for The Everett Independent
Several City Councilors on Monday night lambasted the federal delegation for being “asleep at the wheel” and not fully advocating for full funding for Everett and Chelsea in the American Rescue Plan – with millions more in aid going to affluent communities like Newton while Everett and Chelsea got far less.
The “slight” for Everett and Chelsea was first made public last week when numbers from the federal Rescue Plan became available and it became apparent that Everett and Chelsea – though far more impacted by COVID-19 – had gotten far less funding in the Plan that more affluent communities that were far less impacted. State Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Everett CFO Eric Demas explained that it was due to a flawed funding formula used for the Community Development Block Grant, but on Monday night Councilors Anthony DiPierro and Michael McLaughlin were none too happy that Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, U.S. Senator Liz Warren and U.S. Senator Ed Markey had not stepped in to fight for the two communities.
“It seems our federal delegation was asleep at the wheel on this one,” said Councilor DiPierro. “I hope my colleagues are as outraged as I am…I want to let everyone know we are upset with our federal delegation…Instead of fixing a bad formula, it appears our federal delegation just passed a passed one bad formula on top of another.”
McLaughlin said the federal delegation is more interested in the limelight that the good fight.
“Quite honestly because of inexperience and disinterest by our federal representatives, we’re in the position we’re in now,” he said. “It is the fault of our federal delegation because they’re more concerned about making headlines and not fighting for communities like Everett. I’m going to continue to speak up and out for Everett and Chelsea for this grievous misallocation…What happened here is communities like Everett and Chelsea were grievously misrepresented by our federal delegation.
“We didn’t have to fight this fight,” he continued. “We’re the sixth hardest hit in the state and Chelsea was #1. We shouldn’t have to fight to get the funding we deserve from the state…They were asleep at the wheel. Imagine voting on something and you don’t know what you’re voting on? That’s what happened here with our federal representatives.”
DiDomenico and Demas were both called before the Council as well on Monday.
Sen. DiDomenico said he was alerted to the issue by Demas and Mayor Carlo DeMaria, and immediately tried to find a fix to the problem with the federal delegation – an effort that went on without success for about two weeks.
The glaring differences in funding included an allocation in the Plan of $4.58 million for Everett, and $3.91 million for Chelsea. Meanwhile, communities like Newton got $48.14 million and Brookline $34.21 million.
“This is outrageous,” said Sen. DiDomenico. “The fact that Everett and Chelsea were two of the hardest hit communities in the Commonwealth and weren’t funded by this Rescue Plan is outrageous. The formula they used had nothing to do with COVID-19. If they had taken COVID-19 into account, there should have been escalators in there. The pain, sacrifice and sadness we had to go through was horrible. I share Councilor DiPierro’s frustration to put it mildly.”
Demas and DiDomenico said they have been working with many officials from the state to try to right the ship. Gov. Charlie Baker was allocated $4.5 billion from the Rescue Plan to give out as he sees fit. Everett and Chelsea officials are hoping – to help them weather the pandemic – the governor will make them whole and restore the funding.
However, DiDomencio said it’s going to be a long fight, and they are having to create a brand new funding formula from scratch with the State Administration and Finance team that would favor communities hard hit, but left out of the Rescue Plan.
“The governor has told me and the mayor he is willing to look at this,” said DiDomenico.
Meanwhile, the federal delegation this week has pivoted to say the plan was always to rely on Gov. Baker to allocate the $4.5 billion equitably in order to make up for the funding formula’s flaws.
A spokesperson for Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said the Congresswoman and her federal colleagues proactively fought to make sure Everett and Chelsea were taken care of by Gov. Baker’s allotment.
“In addition to direct aid to individuals and families, and an initial round of funding through the Community Development Block Grant formula, Congresswoman Pressley and her federal colleagues proactively fought to secure an additional $4.5 billion federal dollars for Massachusetts in the American Rescue Plan,” read a statement sent to the paper on Tuesday. “That funding will be distributed by Governor Baker and his Administration – similar to previous relief packages. Since the legislation’s passage, Congresswoman Pressley and her colleagues have been in constant communication with the Governor’s office and local officials, and are pressing Governor Baker to allocate the additional $4.5 billion in line with Congressional leaders’ intent when they passed the bill – these funds should be distributed quickly, in a manner that reflects the disparate impact of the pandemic on communities like Chelsea and Everett, and ensures those communities receive resources that meaningfully address their needs.”
That followed a series of letters sent by the federal delegation on Friday, March 18, urging Gov. Baker to direct the $4.5 billion to hard-hit communities and/or communities of color. The letter indicated his designation of the 20 hardest hit communities would be a blueprint for distributing this aid.
“We will continue to fight on behalf of all our communities in need, and respectfully call on you to do the same,” read the letter.
However, that narrative was decidedly different than what came out from local officials in Chelsea and Everett last week – a narrative where local officials noticed the glaring deficiency and then and alerted the federal delegation prior to a final vote on the Rescue Plan. Once realized there was a problem, local officials said the case was taken by the federal delegation all the way to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, but it was too late.
DiDomenico said having to fight for the $4.5 billion is going to essentially leave Everett and Chelsea short of where they would have been had the funding been equitable in the first place.
“We have met many times on this,” he said. “The sad reality is communities like Everett and Chelsea, if we were funded equitably from the beginning, then the $4.5 billion figure could have been used to supplement that funding. We could have gotten even more. Now I fear it will just fill the gap and we won’t get any more than that. We’re playing catch-up and it’s not a quick fix or a simple fix.”