Last week, City Council President Pro Tempore Matt O’Malley appointed At Large City Councilor Michael Flaherty and District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards as chair and vice chair of the Council’s new Committee on COVID-19 Recovery.
Last Wednesday, the Council unanimously voted in favor of O’Malley’s motion to amend the City Council rules to add the committee. The goals of the Committee are to exercise general oversight and make recommendations on the City of Boston’s distribution of state and federal COVID-19 relief funding and programs.
With the city poised to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal support, Edwards said the new committee makes perfect sense for oversight and transparency.
“This new committee will really help concentrate all of the conversations about COVID recovery, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that’s going to come to the City of Boston,” said Edwards. “Normally as federal grants come in we have them go to the assigned relevant committees and then we have a hearing about it and a vote. But here comes hundreds of millions of dollars and the question is how do we make sure we’re concentrated on COVID recovery and this funding doesn’t just get washed away on other things.”
Edwards said the committee will work to strategically direct federal dollars so they can be used appropriately.
“I don’t want this funding to be used to fill the normal gaps that have to be filled,” said Edwards. “That’s not how this is going to work. We want to make sure we’re talking about real structural changes that need to happen–specifically, aid to individuals and to our businesses because they were hurt in a unique way for a long time by this pandemic. It’s hard enough for people to track where taxpayers’ dollars are going so the idea is if we have one committee where all of the COVID related dollars are going then it’s easier for us to be held accountable and be more transparent to the public. What we want to make sure we are not filling in budget gaps with these funds but really doing something new. If we’re not dedicating a majority of our efforts to bringing people who lost everything back, bringing jobs back, bringing homeowners and tenants back and just dedicating our efforts to business as usual we will fail the city and its citizens.”
With her home neighborhood of Eastie hit harder than nearly every other neighborhood in Boston by the pandemic, Edwards is in a unique position to bring some insight to the committee on how funds should be targeted.
“I have never been more proud of my neighborhood and district than during this pandemic and I know that we’re going to swing back stronger than ever,” said Edwards. “I really think I’m uniquely positioned because my district has been hurt the most by this pandemic. So I want to help navigate a lot of these conversations towards how the funding can help the most and have the biggest impact on the lives of residents.”
These federal funds will support a national vaccination program, small businesses, provide emergency relief and resources for schools’ safe reopening.
“The purpose of the Committee is to elevate incoming federal and state funds, while ensuring there are community voices throughout the entire process ensuring that these funds are distributed equitably, fairly, and effectively,” said O’Malley. “As the city recovers from COVID-19’s devastating inequitable impacts on public health, housing, and the economy, we will work toward building a more resilient future for every Bostonian.”
While Flaherty said, “A critical benefit of having a stand alone committee focused on reviewing this funding is that the Council can now provide a singular public forum for residents to provide input on how the funding is spent. I am looking forward to engaging residents and stakeholders from every neighborhood in our City to make sure that this funding will have the greatest impact on the programs, services and communities that need it most.”
Aside from Edwards and Flaherty, committee members include Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, Chair of Public Health Committee, Councilor Kenzie Bok, Chair of Ways and Means Committee, and Councilor Ed Flynn, Chair of City and Neighborhood Services Committee.