News Briefs

 Audubon applauds agreement to make significant investments in nature and climate with ARPA plan

As the major $4 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) spending bill moves toward final passage and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for approval, Mass Audubon leaders, who have been lobbying vigorously for investments in climate change mitigation and nature, praised the legislative conference committee for coming to an agreement this week.

“This is a significant moment for Massachusetts to ensure that nature-based climate solutions are put into place in every corner of our state, across rural and suburban settings, and especially in urban communities where residents have been disproportionately impacted by COVID,” said Mass Audubon President David O’Neill.

“Not only will these funds reduce the risks of climate impacts and greenhouse gas emissions and restore critical water infrastructure, they also support investments that expand providing equitable access to nature when so many are seeking respite in the natural resources and amenities that we are so fortunate to have here. For too many years, these investments have been underfunded. This is a critical, once-in-a-generation opportunity to make progress, and we are so pleased to see state lawmakers leading us there.”

Both the House and Senate approved plans over the past few weeks to spend more than $3.82 billion in ARPA federal pandemic relief funds and state surplus money. The bill was accepted by the House on Thursday and is expected to be passed in the Senate on Friday, moving it onto Gov. Baker’s desk. Just shy of $2.5 billion of ARPA funds remain for the state legislature to debate next year.

“We are especially grateful to the members of the conference committee for their hard work over the last two weeks, and for the leadership shown by members in both branches who made a point of prioritizing nature and climate,” O’Neill said. “This is a down payment on our future. We will continue to need to commit sustained funding over time. This is an essential first step.”

“I’m deeply grateful as well for State Rep. Daniel M. Donahue (D-Worcester); State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli (D-Pittsfield); State Rep. Thomas A. Golden, Jr. (D-Lowell); and State Sen. Adam Hinds (D-Berkshire County),” O’Neill continued. “They championed specific earmarks for Mass Audubon projects that are both shovel-ready and shovel-worthy.” Those projects include repairs to storm-damaged trails and forests at the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox; wetland restoration at Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center & Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester; and an open space and parks initiative in Lowell, future site of a nature center at Rollie’s Farm.

Mass Audubon Director of Legislative and Government Affairs Sam Anderson said the final law contains about $377.6 million in investments in climate and nature, including $15 million in parks and open space; $100 million for environmental infrastructure, including local resiliency measures; $100 million for clean drinking water and sewer infrastructure; $25 million for tree planting, particularly in Gateway cities; and $7.5 million for green job workforce development.  

State November Revenue Collections Total $2.416 Billion

Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder has announced that preliminary revenue collections for November 2021 totaled $2.416 billion, which is $289 million or 13.6% more than actual collections in November 2020, and $192 million or 8.7% more than benchmark.[1]

FY2022 year-to-date collections totaled approximately $13.612 billion, which is $2.145 billion or 18.7% more than collections in the same period of FY2021, and $914 million or 7.2% more than year-to-date benchmark. 

“November 2021 revenue collections increased in most of the major tax types in comparison to November 2020 collections, including withholding, sales and use tax, and ‘all other’ tax,” said Commissioner Snyder. “The increase in withholding is likely related to improvements in labor market conditions. The sales and use tax increase in part reflects continued strength in retail sales and the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. The increase in “all other” tax is primarily attributable to estate tax, a category that tends to fluctuate, as well as room occupancy excise.”

In general, November is among the smaller months for revenue collection because neither individual nor business taxpayers make significant estimated payments during the month. Historically, roughly 6.5% of annual revenue, on average, has been received during November.

Given the brief period covered in the report, November and year-to-date results should not be used as predictors for the remainder of the fiscal year.

U.S. Postal Service Introduces Pen Pal Project

The U.S. Postal Service is working with WeAreTeachers to introduce The USPS Pen Pal Project, a free educational program for students in grades three to five, this 2021-2022 school year.

The USPS Pen Pal Project will provide 25,000 classrooms across the country the opportunity to partner with matched classes to write 1 million letters with the goal of building friendships and understanding diverse perspectives.

Each participating classroom will receive a USPS Pen Pal Project kit with a teaching poster, cards, and envelopes. By participating in the program, students will improve their writing, communication, and collaboration skills.

WeAreTeachers offers daily articles, videos and giveaways for educators.

U.S. public, charter, and private school teachers are invited to join The USPS Pen Pal Project. More information, including official rules and instructions for teachers to sign their classes up for the project, is available at WeAreTeachers.com.

The Postal Service generally receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Omicron Variant Detected in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has announced that genetic sequencing has identified the COVID-19 Omicron variant for the first time in a case in Massachusetts. The individual is a female in her 20s and a resident of Middlesex County who traveled out of state. She is fully vaccinated, has experienced mild disease, and did not require hospitalization. The variant was identified through sequencing performed at New England Biolabs.

While Omicron is classified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as a Variant of Concern, scientists are still working to determine how it may compare with the predominant Delta variant in terms of transmissibility and disease severity. There is some limited evidence that Omicron could be more transmissible than other COVID-19 virus variants, including Delta. This variant is being monitored closely by public health authorities around the world, and more information about what we know about Omicron is available on the CDC website.

All three COVID-19 vaccines in use in the U.S have been shown to be highly protective against severe disease resulting in hospitalization or death due to known COVID-19 variants and remain the single best way for people to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their community from COVID-19. There are over 1,000 locations across the Commonwealth to get vaccinated or receive a booster. The vaccine is free, and no ID or insurance is required for vaccination. Visit vaxfinder.mass.gov for a list of vaccination locations.

Other public health prevention measures that help stop the spread of COVID-19 variants include: getting tested and staying home if you are sick, frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer, following masking requirements, and telling your close contacts if you test positive for COVID-19 so they can take appropriate steps. To learn more about protecting yourself from COVID-19, visit www.mass.gov/covidvaccine.

Residents are also urged to enable MassNotify on their smartphone. The service can be accessed through both Android and iPhone settings; it is NOT an application that can be obtained through an app store. This private and anonymous service notifies users of a potential exposure to COVID-19 so they may take the appropriate precautions. For more information and instructions on enabling MassNotify on your smartphone, visithttps://www.mass.gov/info-details/learn-more-about-massnotify.

The State Public Health Laboratory, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and several hospital and academic laboratories have all contributed to sequencing efforts in Massachusetts during the pandemic. This sequencing data contributes to the tracking of clusters and patterns of disease spread. This in-state laboratory capacity to sequence variants allows Massachusetts to not have to rely on out-of-state laboratories.

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