(Boston) – Pushing for greater enforcement and accountability of contractors receiving federal stimulus money, Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Jamaica Plain) successfully moved three amendments into a bill passed by the State Senate Wednesday. The larger bill (Senate 2047) establishes guidelines for the procurement processes Massachusetts will use as the state spends its portion of federal stimulus funds.
“This bill will increase accountability to our communities as the state is spending federal stimulus money,” said Chang-Díaz. “It will help shine a light on exactly where these dollars are being spent and who is benefitting from the infusion of money, so that we can make sure all communities and workers are sharing in the gains. My amendments also beefs up monitoring and enforcement tools, so that minority- and women-owned businesses, and local neighborhoods, can make sure that large contractors follow through on their commitments to local hiring and minority and women contracting. All too often in the past we’ve seen examples of soft promises being made on the front end, but poor delivery or enforcement for our communities at the end of the day.
Most federal stimulus funding is portioned out using federal and state distribution formulas already set into law. However, federal stimulus dollars being spent on capital improvement projects and construction have greater discretion at the state level. Earlier this spring Governor Patrick filed Senate 2047 to create state-level rules for the expenditure of this money.
One of Chang-Díaz’s amendments addresses a major concern expressed by many minority and women-owned businesses in the area: enforcement of sub-contacting commitments. Chang-Díaz’s amendment will help enforce “minority business enterprise” (MBE) and “women business enterprise” (WBE) contracting commitments made by larger general contractors by requiring them to report how much money they will be paying out to MBEs and WBEs each time they submit an invoice to the state for incremental payment.
“The Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association (MMCA) and the M/WBE community applauds Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and her staff for spearheading the inclusion of Minority and Women Businesses into the federal stimulus bill” said Lonnie Daniels, Executive Director of the MMCA. “These provisions ensure that all constituents can participate in the economic recovery in Massachusetts. We, at the MMCA, look forward to our continued relationship with the Senator's office. We encourage the House Members to include the M/WBE provisions in the final bill.”
Under the same amendment, general contractors will also have to report data on the minority and gender make-up of their employees and on the ZIP code of residence of workers, so officials and the public can see if local workers are being hired. A coalition of community groups across the state, under the name Coalition for Equal Access to Federal Stimulus Funded Jobs, has been pushing for the goal of a 15% set-aside for local hiring. The real-time disclosure requirements in Chang-Díaz’s amendment will give such community groups a tool for making noise if stimulus projects appear to not be hitting these goals along the way.
“We thank Senator Chang-Díaz for her leadership in pressing for strong language on behalf of low wage earners, people of color, and neighborhood residents,” said Lew Finfer of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network— a member of the Coalition for Equal Access to Federal Stimulus Funded Jobs coalition. “The amendment she offered will help people of color and women actually get a fair share of the jobs, which too often does not happen. We will continue to organize to ensure the Patrick Administration implements and enforces this policy goal.”
A second amendment secured by Chang-Díaz will require the Executive Office of Administration and Finance to conduct a comprehensive study regarding the challenges and barriers faced by owners of small businesses, including MBEs and WMBEs, in accessing and obtaining working capital and debt financing. If this provision is adopted by the House of Representatives and signed into law by the Governor, the study must be completed within 90 days or enactment.
Finally, Chang-Díaz successfully pushed a third provision, which had been suggested by a local resident at a Mattapan transportation forum just the night before the Senate debate. The provision bars any businesses with a consistently poor record of follow-through on MBE/WBE commitments in the past from receiving federal stimulus funds going forward. “The idea was such a good, common-sense concept,” said Chang-Díaz. “As soon as I heard him say it, I thought: I’m going to put that into an amendment for tomorrow.”
The bill now goes to the House for further action and then a Conference Committee will send the Governor a final package for his affirmation.