BOSTON — Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is reaching across the political aisle as he calls for more federal assistance for the state and its cities and towns.
On Monday, Baker joined with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, to call for passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill being considered by Congress. Baker said money for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, local governments, food insecurity, child care, school reopenings and small businesses is at stake.
"It is it critical for Congress to pass significant relief, swiftly, to help us beat down the pandemic and get our economy back on track," Baker said at a briefing.
Neal, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said there is a sense of urgency to get the bill approved by mid-March, when a $300 per week federal unemployment supplement expires.
"Those unemployment benefits are a lifeline for millions and millions of Americans," he said. "This is about stabilizing people who can't make their rent or mortgage payments."
Baker seldom appears publicly with members of the state's all-Democrat congressional delegation, despite having good working relationships with most of them.
He said the bipartisan appeal underscores the need to provide more help for individuals and businesses to survive the next year.
President Joe Biden's proposed relief package would include $1,400 in direct payments to households, a $400 per week unemployment benefit through September, $350 billion in state and local government relief, $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges, and a $30 billion rent and utility assistance fund.
Another provision, spearheaded by Neal, would create a new $3,000 to $3,600 per-child benefit that would be paid out over the next year for families that qualify.
Republicans and some economists question the package's price tag, which they argue will add to a rising national debt and do little to boost overall spending.
Last year, Congress passed emergency bills totaling upward of $4 trillion to deal with the health and economic crisis created by COVID-19.
A group of 10 Republican senators, including Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have pitched a scaled-down alternative relief package of $618 billion, which would not include direct aid to states and cities.
It would also cut direct payments to individuals to $1,000, and limit those to people earning less than $50,000 a year.
Biden says people are still struggling amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus and a new stimulus plan would put the nation on a quicker path to recovery.
He has expressed a willingness to work with Republican lawmakers but says he's prepared to rely on the Democratic majority in Congress to push the package into law.
"A lot of folks are losing hope," Biden said in a speech Friday. "I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help, to do our job, to not let them down. So I’m going to act. I’m going to act fast."
Last week, the House and Senate approved a budget resolution that will allow Congress to fast-track passage of Biden's plan without support from Republicans.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.