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Boston-Area COVID Wastewater Data Shows ‘Big Increases”

Posted on April 26, 2022

Boston Herald – This far into the pandemic, it’s clear that the wastewater doesn’t lie — and unfortunately, the Boston-area COVID-19 wastewater data is continuing to shoot up.

The local wastewater samples spiking 109% over the past two weeks, along with a major increase in reported virus cases, led city health officials on Thursday to urge people to take “extra precautions” and mask up indoors.

The most recent update from the Boston-area wastewater tracker shows the highest virus sewage samples since late January when the original omicron variant was on the downturn.

Now, the wastewater data in both the south and north of Boston regions are rising as the omicron BA.2 variant spreads. Also, the subvariant BA.2.12.1 is circulating. The sewage data is the earliest sign of future virus cases in the community.

“We’re seeing some big increases right now,” said Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health.

“We know hospitalizations will go up, but with each progressive surge or swell, we keep uncoupling cases from hospitalizations and deaths,” he added. “None of us know how high things will go this time, but I think we won’t come close to the peak of omicron.”

The south of Boston’s COVID wastewater average has surged 116% in the past two weeks. The north of Boston’s average has gone up 92% during the same time period. The wastewater levels are still much lower than the omicron peak.

The Boston Public Health Commission is recommending that people should wear masks indoors in response to a 65% increase in Covid-19 cases in the city over the last two weeks.

On Thursday morning, the commission said that Boston residents should also get tested for the virus, stay home if they are feeling unwell and stay current on vaccinations.

Community positivity has risen to 6.9% after dropping to 2.2% in early March, the city said. BPHC also warned that cases might still be rising, as the amount of Covid virus detected in local wastewater samples has increased by 109% over a 14-day period. Hospitalizations have also slowly risen in the last two weeks.

“With higher transmission levels, wearing a mask can prevent individuals from getting sick, testing can help stop the spread of Covid-19, and vaccination with boosting reduces the risk of severe illness and hospitalization,” BPHC wrote in a press release. “The recommendation is especially important for those who are at high risk for severe illness or who live with someone who is high risk.”

Biotechs have Cut Hundreds of Jobs So Far in 2022

Boston Business Journal – A slew of Massachusetts-based biopharmaceutical companies have been caught in the crosshairs of an uncertain market.

Just barely into the second quarter of the fiscal year, more than a dozen firms have collectively laid off hundreds of workers. These cuts have a wide variety of immediate reasons — unexpected FDA rejections, disappointing clinical trial data — but they all come amid a down market for the industry. Magenta Therapeutics Inc. (Nasdaq: MGTA), for instance, which laid off 11% of its staff in mid-April, pointed to “the uncertain capital market environment for biotechnology companies” in a press release about the job cuts.

The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index, one indication of the health of the public markets for life sciences companies, is down more than 12% since the start of the year, while the S&P Biotechnology Select Industry Index is down nearly 20%.

No local biopharma companies have held IPOs since the first week of January. The cool environment involves a number of factors, including Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, inflation, the exit of stimulus funds from the economy and the departure of generalist investors from the biotech sector, but they all lead to the same outcome: Workers are losing their jobs.

Private-Pay Child-Care Providers Say They’re Being Forgotten

Commonwealth Magazine – When the state required most daycares to close in the early days of the COVID pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker reassured providers that they would continue getting state subsidies during the closure.

“I thought to myself, he has no idea,” said Gina Tiberio Hamilton, a family child-care provider in Shrewsbury. “Fifty percent of family child-care providers don’t receive subsidies. We have nothing.”

Two-plus years later, day-care providers who are paid privately by families say they continue to feel left out, struggling for acknowledgement in policies that prioritize providers who take state subsidies.

“We had to introduce ourselves to stakeholders and legislators. They didn’t know we existed,” said Alyssa Kelley, a Plymouth child-care provider. “We’re trying to help them understand we’re all following the same regulations, doing the same things. We shouldn’t keep being divided.”

Senate Tees Up Sports Betting Bill for Vote

State House News  – The Senate is poised to debate legislation Thursday to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts, but the bill that emerged Friday afternoon from a Senate committee differs in several important ways from the sports betting bill that has already cleared the House.

The long-awaited wagering bill was advanced favorably out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee late Friday afternoon, according to a Senate source. If it passes the Senate, lawmakers would have about three months to reconcile their differing approaches and get a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker, who has supported legalizing sports wagering for years.

“I am pleased to see the committee has come to agreement on a strong proposal and I look forward to discussing it with my colleagues next week,” Senate President Karen Spilka, who for months resisted calls to debate sports betting while citing a desire to first solidify consensus among senators, said Friday.

The House passed a sports betting bill 156-3 last summer and approved sports betting legalization as part of an economic development bill the year before, but the Senate has been far less interested in tackling the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 gave states the ability to legalize sports wagering.

More than 30 states — including neighboring Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York — have taken action to allow betting on sports contests since May 2018.

There appear to be a number of significant differences between the bill the Senate Ways and Means Committee advanced Friday and the legislation that easily passed the House in July, most notably the Senate bill’s prohibition on wagers on collegiate athletics.

With $3.5 Billion Package, Baker Focuses on Improving Downtowns

State House News – A $3.5 billion economic development bill that Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Thursday looks to chart a post-pandemic pathway for Massachusetts with investments in housing, downtown revitalization and climate resilience, administration officials said.

Baker said the bill pairs the state’s remaining $2.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money with $1.2 billion in state bond authorizations and would direct dedicated project funding to each municipality in the state. It would steer $300 million to the Unemployment Trust Fund to address overpayments and green-light the sale of the Hynes Convention Center.

“This bill will help us adjust our downtowns to the future of work, to address the housing crisis, to invest in innovation — including emerging clusters like artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics — and to position the commonwealth to capitalize on expected federal investments,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said.

“Right now in Massachusetts, there are three things we’ve never had more of: urgent needs, collaboration, and available funding.”

Convention Centers “Starting to Pop” as Events Return

State House News – How is the Boston convention business doing as it rebounds from the pandemic? Officials affiliated with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority used phrases like “surges in demand,” “through the roof,” “off the charts,” “coming back strong” and “maxed out” during a report to the board Thursday.

The convention business, predicated on having large groups of people from all over the country and world gather indoors, was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic and derailed by government-mandated gathering limits. The MCCA saw business start to bounce back in 2021 and Convention Marketing Center Executive Director Milton Herbert Jr. said Thursday that “we’re not losing any business at all, business is coming back strong.”

Baker Wants Lots of New Housing around MBTA Stations. Not So Fast, Towns Say

Boston Globe – Everyone should do their part.

That was the thinking behind the ambitious housing legislation that Massachusetts lawmakers passed just over a year ago.

The basic idea: require suburbs where the single-family home reigns supreme to do more to help address the housing shortage. The legislation mandates new multifamily zones in 175 cities and towns, known as “MBTA Communities” because they have a subway, commuter rail, bus, or ferry station, or neighbor a town that does. It sets the stage for potentially hundreds of thousands of new apartments and condos to be built across Eastern Massachusetts in the coming years.

Simple on paper. Tougher in real life. As Governor Charlie Baker’s administration drafts rules for how the law will be implemented, more than five dozen communities are balking at the new requirements, according to letters they’ve submitted in recent weeks to the state that were obtained through a public records request.

In Hamilton, for example, officials warned that “community character will be severely compromised and likely degraded by poorly designed, cheaply-built projects that are incongruous with the community.” Topsfield officials say more homes would eventually mean hiring four new police officers and six new firefighters. In Nahant and Ipswich, the fear is that roads and schools could be overwhelmed.

Health Care

Massachusetts OKs Optum’s $236 million Atrius Health deal

Berkshire Hospital Review – The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office signed off on Optum’s acquisition of Atrius Health for $236 million April 21, according to the Boston Globe.

Most of the Newton-based nonprofit provider’s assets and employees will be acquired by UnitedHealth subsidiary Optum. The deal still has to be reviewed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

The purchase price was raised from $73 million to $236 million as a result of the state review and will be given to a foundation that does charitable work similar to Atrius’ mission.

Optum will also invest $200 million into Atrius over five years for provider recruitment and infrastructure.

The approval comes after the two organizations first signed an acquisition agreement in March 2021. The proposed deal has also been under scrutiny by state regulators since last summer.

Massachusetts Requires Doctors to Undergo Implicit Bias Training

Boston Globe – Not long ago Dr. Khama Ennis was chatting with an emergency-medicine colleague about incidents in the ER. The colleague recounted his struggle managing an aggressive patient. He described the person as “a big huge Black guy.”

“The hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” Ennis, who is Black, recalled in an interview. She wondered how the patient’s skin color could be relevant to his violent behavior, although it had clearly contributed to her colleague’s fear.

Ennis, an emergency doctor and president of the medical staff at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, described this incident in a presentation to the Massachusetts Medical Society on combating racism in medicine. To her surprise and delight, a videotape of her hourlong presentation is now among the courses that doctors can take to fulfill a new requirement to receive or renew their medical licenses.

Starting June 1, the Board of Registration in Medicine, which licenses doctors in Massachusetts, is requiring all doctors to take two hours of instruction in implicit bias — mistaken beliefs and prejudices that people hold without realizing it. The training will focus on attitudes toward gender, race, ethnicity, and culture.

Hospitals Seek to Solve Their Own Staffing Shortages

Boston Globe – At Newton-Wellesley Hospital, there has long been a shortage of surgical technologists, the people responsible for setting up operating rooms and equipment. The pandemic only made it more difficult to recruit for those positions.

Now, the hospital has begun a program with Newton’s Lasell University to offer free training and a job for people interested in becoming surgical technologists.

“If you create a culture of investing in your staff, [people] feel valued and invested in and choose to stay,” said Errol Norwitz, the hospital’s president. “That’s the kind of culture I’m trying to create here.”

Since the start of the pandemic, health-care workers have left their professions in droves, burnt out by waves of critically ill patients. In January, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration estimated that critical staffing shortages had contributed to the loss of approximately 700 hospital beds since the beginning of 2021. Now, a number of hospitals have stepped in to try to shore up the health care workforce, by starting or expanding paid programs to recruit staff in response to workforce shortages and the mounting costs of hiring temporary workers.

The new program at Newton-Wellesley and Lasell will begin in May. The university will provide classroom training, and the hospital will provide clinical and simulation training for at least three cohorts of 10 to 12 students per year.


Continued Student Struggles Weigh on Teachers in the Third Year of the Pandemic

6ParkNews – “Everything I’ve trained for, everything that’s worked in the past, none of it is working,” said Laura Messner, a middle school English language arts literacy specialist in Scituate. “I am very concerned about what lies ahead if we don’t think about how we are going to address these challenges that are not temporary challenges.”

While some districts like Boston have added mental health services for students, teachers say it’s not enough to ease the pressure on them, especially as many are dealing with their own pandemic-related mental health issues.

The tension is showing in the teaching ranks. Boston Public Schools, for example, has more than 800 openings for teachers and substitutes, more than 18 percent of its current teaching workforce, according to job postings on its website. The district also said it has 73 long-term substitute openings, up from 37 last April, the most in five years.

Energy, Climate and Sustainability

Fossil Fuels’ Forthright Defender

Boston Herald – The last thing most CEOs want is to court the wrath of politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren. That’s especially true of oil and gas executives, who try to appease their political opponents by talking up investments in renewable energy. Toby Rice is the rare CEO who seems to enjoy the political combat.

The 40-year-old leads EQT Corp. , America’s largest natural-gas producer. Last November Ms. Warren, in her fashion, fired off letters accusing him and 10 other energy executives of “corporate greed” for exporting liquefied natural gas.

Mr. Rice’s fierce nine-page response was chock full of data refuting Ms. Warren’s claim that gas exports increase U.S. energy prices. That assertion, he wrote, is “without merit” and fosters “a narrative that politicizes natural gas and associated infrastructure in a manner that runs counter to one of our key collective goals, one we know you share—addressing climate change.”

Ms. Warren and her ideological compatriots style themselves champions of the little guy and the environment. Nonsense, Mr. Rice says: Their policies mean higher prices for consumers and more carbon emissions.

“If you’re blocking pipelines, you’re blocking the biggest green initiative on the planet,” he says in a Zoom interview from his office in Carnegie, Pa., a former karate studio in a walk-up above a liquor store. In the background are colorful portraits of Andrew Carnegie, Nikola Tesla, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan.

Mr. Rice is a general on the frontlines of an energy war whose outcome matters more than ever after Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. The anti-fossil-fuel left is waging a multifront campaign to keep natural gas “in the ground,” as activists like to say. Along with political efforts, they are leveraging the administrative state and courts to block new pipelines that are essential to deliver more natural gas to customers in the U.S. and overseas.

Energy companies have already given up on two major pipelines in the Northeast (PennEast and Atlantic Coast) in the past two years. Even after winning legal challenges at the Supreme Court, they faced mounting costs from permitting and legal challenges raising different objections. “The 4,000 pages of permits that we have to submit have created 4,000 opportunities for environmental groups to attack,” Mr. Rice says.

He cites the Mountain Valley pipeline, which aims to deliver cheap gas from Appalachia to the Southeast. A three-member panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals keeps nitpicking the government’s environmental reviews, forcing the energy companies back to the permitting table. (The same three judges blocked the Atlantic Coast pipeline before the Supreme Court later reversed 7-2.)

The pipeline is more than 95% complete, and developers had aimed to bring it into service this summer. But litigation is delaying the final work and inflating costs. “They find themselves in a situation where that project cost was originally $3 billion budgeted. Now it’s $6 billion,” Mr. Rice says.

Meantime, the environment will suffer because of the delays. There will be more greenhouse-gas emissions, because the gas the pipelines transport would replace coal power on the electricity grid.

Solar and wind power could fill some but not all of the gap, as they depend on daylight and weather. Fossil fuel is a necessary backup. “I don’t think residents in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida recognize that a pipeline is being challenged in West Virginia,” Mr. Rice says. “Their energy security is being challenged because of people attempting to block this pipeline.”

Matters are even worse in the Northeast, including Ms. Warren’s state of Massachusetts. Three large pipelines capable of transporting enough gas from Appalachia to serve more than 10 million households in the Northeast have been blocked. As a result, the region must import LNG from abroad at much higher prices to heat homes and power the grid in the winter. (The Jones Act of 1920, a protectionist regulation of maritime commerce, limits the ability to move American LNG from the Gulf Coast to Northern states.)

Natural-gas prices one weekend this January were eight times as high in New England as in Appalachia. “We’ll do a deal with Senator Warren: Build a pipeline to Appalachia, and we’ll fill it for you at Appalachia prices,” Mr. Rice says, adding that it boggles his mind “that New England is burning oil to create electricity” in the winter and “that over a third of the residents use oil to heat their homes.”

Ms. Warren was one of 10 Democratic senators, seven of them from the Northeast, who on Feb. 2 urged Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm “to take swift action to limit U.S. natural gas exports” to ease domestic energy prices. Mr. Rice shot off another blistering response, this time to Ms. Granholm. He made the point that an export ban would reduce the global LNG supply by roughly 22%, raising, not lowering, energy prices in New England and elsewhere.

“The problem is very straight forward,” he wrote: “The pipelines heading to New England are full, and as a result, we cannot physically flow that gas needed to meet growing demand without more infrastructure. That’s it. And the way to solve this problem is equally straight forward: allow the completion of pipeline projects.”

If Mr. Rice is more forthright than the typical CEO, perhaps it’s because he didn’t rise through the corporate ranks. In 2007 he and two of his brothers formed Rice Energy Inc. in his Pittsburgh apartment. Their father, a former BlackRock money manager with energy expertise, helped them scout land in Pennsylvania’s shale-rich country. “Our higher purpose back then—we were young guys with a lot of friends that fought in the war [in Iraq]—was, we wanted to help make America energy-independent,” he says.

The brothers bought drilling rights to some of the most productive land in Appalachia and built their company into one of the country’s top 10 natural gas producers. They also developed a colorful reputation. They played professional wrestler Hulk Hogan’s theme song, “Real American,” as the hold music at their headquarters, and named wells after monster trucks and comic book characters. When coal miner Alpha Natural Resources went bankrupt, they showed up at an asset auction donning Mickey Mouse T-shirts, shorts and blazers. (In our interview, alas, Mr. Rice is staid and professional in a white dress shirt.)

In 2014 the Rice brothers took their family-owned business public. A few years later, Rice Energy merged with rival Appalachian fracking company EQT to form the country’s largest natural-gas producer. Unhappy with EQT’s high costs, Mr. Rice and his brother Derek launched a proxy battle to nominate nine directors to the 12-member board. They won, and Mr. Rice became CEO.

“Giving people access to cheap, affordable, clean energy is the key to skyrocketing the quality of life,” he says. “There’s a very clear correlation: The more energy people use, the better the quality of life.” And that’s true everywhere in the world: “There’s three billion people around the world that have less electricity than it takes to run a fridge.”

He’s rolling now. “One thing I think that people don’t understand is how much energy demand there is in this world. And when solar and wind aren’t capable of meeting that energy demand, people will turn to their next option, which is coal,” he says. Annual emissions from coal are up 500 million tons over pre-pandemic 2019 levels: “To put that into perspective, that completely offsets all of the emission reductions we’ve done from solar and wind here in the United States in the last 15 years.”

When Russia slowed gas deliveries to Europe last fall, the Continent had few alternatives but to ramp up coal power. As gas prices surged amid a global supply shortage, Asian countries, especially China, burned more coal. Increased emissions from Chinese power and heating generation last year offset all emissions reductions in the rest of the world between 2019 and 2021. The world’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—barely three weeks after the senators wrote to Ms. Granholm—will further constrain fossil-fuel supply.

The only way for the U.S. to make a significant dent in greenhouse-gas emissions, Mr. Rice says, is increasing liquefied natural gas exports. By his calculations, the U.S. could increase gas production 50% and LNG exports fourfold over the next decade based on existing natural-gas plays. Replacing coal power overseas with American LNG, he says, would “have the environmental impact of electrifying every vehicle in the United States, putting solar on every household in America, and adding 54,000 industrial-scale windmills—like that would be double the U.S.’s wind capacity—combined.”

This could be done quickly and would require no technological breakthroughs. Already, he says, the climate impact of U.S. LNG exports replacing international coal over the past five years is greater than that of the U.S. solar industry from 2005 to 2019.

Most of the country’s 20 or so proposed LNG export facilities are on the Gulf Coast. But gas from Texas’ Permian Basin won’t be enough to supply them. So gas from Appalachia would have to be pushed through pipelines to the Gulf. Opponents will surely continue their effort to block any new pipelines. One solution is to build additional pipelines along rights of way for existing pipelines. That can fast-track permitting and minimize environmental disturbance. “There’s space in these right of ways to add another 3 feet worth of pipe,” he says.

The Biden administration’s energy policies are a study in contradiction. On one hand, the president says he wants to help wean Europe off Russian gas. On the other, his administration is making it harder to build more pipelines and LNG export terminals. The White House Council on Environmental Quality this week revised its National Environmental Policy Act regulations to require agencies to consider the “indirect” climate impact of infrastructure projects such as pipelines. That could make it nearly impossible to approve new pipelines.

Surging energy prices since the Ukraine invasion have led European politicians to recognize they can’t replace fossil fuels with renewables overnight. But American politicians haven’t received the wake-up call. “There’s signs of energy insecurity happening here in America too,” Mr. Rice says, pointing to New England’s high energy prices.

“I think, because a lot of people don’t see us—and that’s a good thing by the way, that’s by design—I think a lot of people maybe take us for granted,” he adds. “A lot of people maybe think that they can live in a world that doesn’t rely on hydrocarbons.” That goal is a long way off, if it’s possible at all.

Mr. Rice says his letters are intended to educate politicians. “When you attack oil and gas energy producers here in the United States, you’re attacking their customers, plain and simple,” he says. That makes “it harder for us to do what we do—and that’s to provide cheap, reliable, clean energy to the world. It’s going to have unintended consequences.”

Has he heard back from Ms. Warren? “Not yet. It’s been a couple of months. I’m still waiting for a conversation. I’m still optimistic.”

Baker Renews Push for Clean-Energy Fund in $3.5 Billion Economic Development Bill

Boston Business Journal – Gov. Charlie Baker made another push for his proposed $750 million clean energy fund, folding it into a $3.5 billion economic development bill he unveiled Thursday.

The overall bill would spend the remaining $2.3 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act plus more than $1.25 billion in state bond authorizations. The money would go toward downtown revitalization, climate resiliency, Covid-19 relief, housing and workforce development, with a portion set aside for grants and other resources for clean energy businesses under the clean energy proposal.

“We think this puts Massachusetts in the best possible position to come out of this pandemic and to do a lot of the really important work we need to do, especially with respect to downtown development as we move forward,” Baker said while joining state and local leaders at Breakwater North Harbor, a 331-unit apartment complex in Lynn that was developed with the help of state grants.

How Should Massachusetts Tackle Climate Change? Here’s What the Candidates for Governor Say

WBUR – The two major Democrats running for governor, State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Attorney General Maura Healey, have unveiled ambitious, but complicated plans.

Healey’s plan calls for 100% clean electricity by 2030 while Chang-Díaz wants 100% renewable, carbon-free energy by the same date. The terms largely mean the same thing — no electricity in the state will come from fossil fuels by 2030. However, Chang-Díaz’s wording suggests she would try to get utilities to move away from nuclear power, while Healey would not. Massachusetts no longer has any nuclear power plants running, but draws some power from plants elsewhere in New England.

State Bet on Clean Energy Paying Off

Boston Business Journal – Offshore wind development in the U.S. is finally a reality, and Massachusetts is poised to see plenty of economic activity as a result.

Over the next several years, two staging ports in New Bedford and Salem will serve as primary construction ports for a series of offshore wind farms. Components for building the farms — such as nacelles, blades, and turbines — will be transported from manufacturing sites around the globe. Those parts will be delivered to the staging ports, laid down, loaded onto 400-foot barges and towed to final installation sites around 35 miles off the coast.

Although the ill-fated Cape Wind is long dead, Massachusetts has committed to 3,200 megawatts of offshore capacity — enough to power 1.6 million homes.

Employment Law and Workforce Development

Workers Compensation Rates to Fall by an Average of 3.5 Percent

Massachusetts businesses will collectively save about $80 million on workers’ compensation costs under an average 3.5 percent insurance rate rollback that was announced Monday afternoon by the attorney general’s office.

The new rates are set to take effect July 1 and are part of a settlement reached between the attorney general’s office, the State Rating Bureau, and the Workers’ Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau of Massachusetts (WCRIB).

“This settlement will save millions of dollars for Massachusetts businesses – many of whom are still struggling to recover from the pandemic,” AG Maura Healey said in a statement. “Not only does lowering workers’ compensation insurance rates help small businesses, allowing them to invest in higher wages and growth, but it also helps protect workers.”

The rates are set periodically as part of administrative hearings before the Division of Insurance involving insurance companies. The AG’s office can intervene and litigate against the proposal to protect the public interest. In a December filing, the industry sought a statewide average rate increase of 2.7 percent.

Taxation and Budget

House Rejects Series of Tax Relief Proposals

State House News – House Democrats shot down a series of Republican-led attempts to add tax breaks into the annual state budget, voting Monday to reject a proposed two-month holiday for the 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax and a trio of other tax reforms.

The House voted 32-124, mostly along party lines, against a Rep. Paul Frost amendment to the fiscal 2023 budget that would have paused collection of the gas tax for 60 days. Frost said he aimed for the suspension to take place during the summer months, when many Massachusetts families are traveling and the Bay State’s tourism business surges.

Frost’s amendment called for the state to use money from its General Fund to cover transportation costs funded by the gas tax, such as road and bridge maintenance, during the two-month holiday.

“That two months can make a world of difference for families who are struggling to pay higher prices at the grocery store, higher prices for goods and services, who are paying higher prices to drive to work,” Frost said on the House floor.

Legislative Democrats for weeks have resisted calls to lift the gas tax on a short-term basis amid surging prices at the pump and soaring inflation elsewhere.

Rep. William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said Frost’s proposal would have amounted to a break of tens of millions of dollars per month for “Big Oil” rather than for individual taxpayers.

The House also rejected a trio of amendments from Southwick Republican Rep. Nicholas Boldyga that aimed to weave some of Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed tax breaks into the budget.

Revenue Committee Co-chair Rep. Mark Cusack, a Braintree Democrat, noted the governor’s broader $700 million tax relief package (H 4361) is still under review by his panel and called Boldyga’s amendments “premature” without specifying any House plans to take up tax relief.

Representatives voted 31-125 to reject Boldyga’s senior circuit breaker tax credit amendment, 30-126 to reject his estate tax amendment, and 29-127 to reject his capital gains tax amendment.

The House on Monday kicked off several days of full formal sessions to work through more than 1,500 proposed changes to the $49.6 billion House Ways and Means Committee budget, which carries a bottom line nearly $1.4 billion higher than the version Baker filed in January.