Business

Here’s how Mass. businesses think the state should spend its billions in COVID relief funds

There appears to be no broad consensus on what to do with the cash, a new poll shows.

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

As state lawmakers consider how to spend Massachusetts’s $5.3 billion share of the federal COVID-19 relief funds — and who gets to —, a new poll shows business owners have a few preferences of their own.

Late last month, the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at advancing principles of individual liberty and fiscal responsibility, sponsored a survey of 374 registered voters in “business-owning/operating households” across the state.

Asked how state leaders should spend the cash coming in under the American Rescue Plan passed by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, results show there is no broad consensus from businesses on what to do with the one-time infusion.

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Nearly 26 percent of respondents indicated the money should go toward tax relief, while another 21.9 percent said they weren’t quite sure, results show.

Others were split on additional options. Some, or 15.51 percent, said cash should fund employee bonuses to incentivize unemployed workers to re-enter the workforce.

The federal government, since the start of the pandemic, has given the unemployed an extra weekly assistance, first at an extra $600 and then later at $300.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is among those who say the extra benefits are convincing people to stay home rather than go back to work, as employers have struggled to attract workers for open positions.

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States across the country are now considering offering bonuses to those who return to work, if they haven’t already rolled out the initiative.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, for example, announced last month that the extra unemployment payments will end on June 19, but officials will offer bonuses of $1,000 for full-time and $500 for part-time workers who land a job, make less than $25 an hour, and work consecutively for at least eight weeks.

In Massachusetts, Senate Republicans tried to spur a $1,200 bonus with certain conditions, but the amendment was rejected by Democrats, who hold a supermajority.

Gov. Charlie Baker said last month the state will continue the $300 extra payments into September.

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Meanwhile, another 15.24 percent of poll respondents said state officials should use the relief cash to replenish the unemployment trust fund, which was hit hard by rising unemployment and business closings during the health crisis.

Last week, Baker signed legislation to allow businesses to avoid hikes to their unemployment insurance taxes this year by spreading the cost over two decades.

According to the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, all businesses will have to pay the fee, regardless if they let workers go during the pandemic.

“The fact that an obscure fee paid to the unemployment trust fund is tied as the second highest priority when polled shows you that businesses owners are really nervous about this issue,” Paul Craney, a spokesman for the foundation, said in a statement. “Lawmakers and the governor should understand that businesses really want this issue addressed and want federal pandemic funds to be used to pay off this unfair debt they have to pay because of the shutdown orders issued by the governor.”

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Out of the other survey participants, 13.64 percent said the money should be used to replenish the state’s rainy-day fund, and another 7.75 percent of those polled said the relief cash should be spent on more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.

According to the foundation, the survey was the first to ask business owners statewide what they think should be done to jumpstart the local economy.

Respondents also overwhelmingly supported Baker’s plan to bump up the state’s lifting of COVID-19 restrictions to last month instead of the initial date of Aug. 1, with just over 79 percent indicating they supported the decision. Another 13.9 percent disagreed with Baker, and 6.95 percent said they weren’t sure.

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“The poll confirms what many of us know intuitively—those most effected by the shutdown are the most eager to get back into the normal swing of things and avoid the loss of a second early summer season,” Craney said in a statement.

The poll was conducted by Advantage Inc. on May 25 and 26 and had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

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