FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: State Rep. Natalie Higgins, email@example.com
May 13, 2018
House Passes Balanced Budget with Focus on Local Aid, Helping People
Prioritizes initiatives to strengthen the economy, support vulnerable residents
BOSTON – Representative Natalie Higgins joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass its FY19 budget which makes investments in programs and services across the Commonwealth. Funded at $41.064 billion, the House budget maintains funding for key programs amidst a fragile revenue picture and uncertainty in Washington. It includes no new broad-based taxes and projects an $88 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund.
“This is a fiscally-sound budget that addresses key House priorities and sets the standard for supporting those facing adversity,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I am particularly proud of the work we have done on early education and care, and I believe that our efforts will have a lasting impact on the lives of countless families. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Chairman Sánchez for his hard work and my colleagues who provided invaluable insight.”
“This budget is all about people and meeting them where they’re at in the lives,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Jamaica Plain). “We uphold our commitments to healthcare, housing, and so many crucial programs that will seek to improve the lives of people across Massachusetts. I’m grateful for the leadership of Speaker DeLeo and my colleagues in the House for their hard work on behalf of their communities. Together, we have passed a budget for the Commonwealth that supports the most vulnerable amongst us, and ensures our economy grows for the benefit of all residents.”
“I am proud of the investments in our communities we have made in this budget,” said Representative Higgins. “Through this budget, I was able to secure additional funding for two important programs in Leominster -- the Leominster Substance Abuse Task Force & Outreach Program and the Domestic Violence Liaison in the Leominster Police Department.”
Recognizing the state’s important relationship with municipalities, the budget increases Unrestricted General Government Aid and local education funding by $220 million over FY18 and $54 million over the Governor’s budget proposal. It provides an unprecedented $4.9 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, including an increase of $39 million from FY18 to address increasing teacher and faculty healthcare costs, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. Additional education and local aid allocations include:
· $300 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;
· $90 million for Charter School Reimbursement;
· $63.5 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.
The House budget continues its commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of children and families by lifting the cap on children receiving benefits for low income families, supporting early childhood metal health and behavioral health efforts, and ensuring children have access to high-quality early education and care (EEC). The budget invests in those who work with our children by increasing rates for early education providers. The House budget also includes $8.5 million to establish an EEC workforce development initiative to coordinate professional development and higher education opportunities in conjunction with Massachusetts’ community colleges. Highlights include:
· Lifting the “cap on kids” that currently prevents families from receiving TAFDC benefits for certain children.
· $2.5 million for continued support for early childhood mental health consultation services.
· $20 million to support high-quality EEC programs though provider rate increase.
Access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing provides the foundation from which families and individuals can lead successful lives. To this end, the House has made investments in permanent housing solutions and efforts to eliminate homelessness. Since 2013, shelter caseload has decreased dramatically, and the number of families living in hotels and motels has decreased to nearly zero. This year, the House continues these efforts by:
· Providing $100 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP);
· Funding the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program at $17 million;
· Allocating $32 million for the HomeBASE program;
· Creating a new $5 million rapid rehousing program for homeless individuals.
The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that continues to take lives at an alarming rate. Recent data show that previous investments have made an impact: the number of opioid-related deaths decreased in 2017. However, hospitals, police departments, and EMTs report an ever-rising number of overdoses, underscoring the need to invest in treatment and recovery. To help those in need, the House budget includes:
· $139 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services which will help create five new recovery centers across Massachusetts;
· $5 million for diversion programs to direct people into community-based treatment programs;
· $4.9 million for step-down recovery services;
· $1 million for the purchase of Narcan for first responders and an expansion of the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund to allow non-profit organizations that contract with the Department of Public Health to access Narcan at a significant discount.
Recognizing that education and economic development are intrinsically paired, the budget enhances the House’s focus on bolstering opportunities for residents of all skillsets through programs including:
· $12.8 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth;
· $2 million for technical assistance grants for small business;
· $2 million for Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership, a program that continues to show results in closing the skills gap;
· $104 million for the Commonwealth’s higher education scholarship and financial aid line item;
· $4.75 million to support STEM programming in community colleges through the STEM Starter Academy, which has shown incredible early success by connecting students with employment opportunities.
MassHealth is the single largest investment that the Commonwealth makes in its most vulnerable residents. In addition to MassHealth funding, which provides health insurance for almost 2 million residents, the budget ensures funding for crucial health and human services including:
· Increases funding for the Department of Mental Health by $97 million over FY18;
· $989 million to continue reforms that protect children at the Department of Children and Families;
· Increases the Councils on Aging formula grant from $10 to $12 per individual, per year;
· $100,000 to establish the Office of Health Equity, which will look at factors like housing and culture to coordinate efforts and eliminate health disparities;
· $4.2 million for veterans outreach centers.
The House budget includes funding for public safety and the judiciary, including investments to implement the recently-signed criminal justice reform law:
· $3 million for a new community-based re-entry program;
· $2.5 million to expand the specialty court to increase access to specialized services for defendants with substance use disorder, mental health, and trauma;
· $20.75 million for civil legal aid to provide representation for low-income individuals;
· $7 million for Shannon Grants, a competitive grant program to individual municipalities to address heightened levels of gang violence.
In light of recent news at the Massachusetts State Police, the House budget recommends a three-tiered approach to address the future of the State Police. The proposed updates will monitor the agency, help develop best practices, and prevent issues from occurring in the future.
Lastly, the House budget makes important investments in environmental programs. These funding levels will help ensure that state parks, environmental protections programs, and the state’s Office of Climate Change and Adaptation have the funds necessary to hire inspectors, permit writers, park rangers and scientists.
The budget now goes to the Senate.
For Immediate Release
February 16, 2018
Contact: Natalie Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 978-227-5278
House Passes Legislation to Enhance Consumer Protection Following Data Breaches
Legislation removes fees for security freezes and increases access to credit reports
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie Higgins joined her colleagues in the House to pass legislation providing added protections and resources for consumers in the event of a data security breach that impacts a credit agency or other business.
Under this legislation, credit freezes, lifts or removals must be provided to consumers without a charge. Credit agencies or businesses must provide one year of free credit monitoring after any breach.
“This legislation includes many powerful consumer protection tools that also modernize the way we do business,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “I thank Chairman Chan for his exhaustive study into this complex problem and Chairwoman Benson for her ongoing commitment.”
“I am proud to see the House of Representatives vote today to protect Massachusetts residents from data breaches and modernize our current laws,” said Representative Tackey Chan (D-Quincy), House Chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “Particularly following numerous high profile breaches over the last year, this legislation is urgently needed to ensure that consumers have more control over their credit protections. This is an issue that impacts every individual, organization and business in the Commonwealth, and I am grateful for the valuable input from so many stakeholders, committee members, and colleagues throughout this process to ensure that we produced the best possible policy for our residents.”
“As an advocate for consumer protection, I filed legislation to make it easier for consumers to freeze their credit reports so that victims of identity theft and fraud could more quickly regain control of their credit,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “In the wake of the Equifax hack last year, I worked with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen the bill with additional language offering further protections. I’m proud of my colleagues in the House for coming together to pass this important legislation to protect and empower Massachusetts consumers.”
The legislation updates the framework for the implementation of a freeze and related communication including:
For the first time in Massachusetts, this legislation establishes specific guidelines for parents and guardians to freeze accounts of children under the age of 16 and incapacitated individuals.
The legislation also updates notification guidelines for breached entities and third party affiliates.
Additionally, the Attorney General must provide information online to consumers regarding the breach.
This bill also updates current law to require companies and organizations to obtain consent before running a credit report.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: State Representative Natalie Higgins, Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov
January 26, 2018
House Takes Action to Finance the Production and Preservation of Affordable Housing
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie HIggins joined her colleagues in the House to pass a $1.7 billion housing bond bill to support low and moderate income housing throughout the Commonwealth. The legislation recapitalizes funding for a variety of programs and extends several housing and economic development tax credits.
“With the passage of this bond bill, we renew our commitment to affordable housing,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I thank Chairs Sánchez, Honan and Cabral and my colleagues in the House for backing a bill that supports many proven programs. I’m particularly proud of the provisions that support housing for those with disabilities and improve facilities used for early education.”
“Successful housing finance is a patchwork of state programs, grants, and partnerships,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means. “Our bill ensures that the state is able to hold up its end of the deal. But beyond the numbers and spreadsheets, these programs help ensure people can have a place to call home.”
“This bond bill will authorize $1.7 billion dollars over the next five years for the production and preservation of affordable housing, smart growth development, and much needed public housing capital improvements,” said Representative Kevin Honan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing. “These are critical investments at a time where our dependence on federal funding is uncertain. Housing is the cornerstone of our society and our economy and the provisions of this bill are the tried and true affordable housing tools that are at our disposal.
“Housing prices are climbing and affordable housing options are dwindling throughout the Commonwealth. We must make timely investments and address the issue head-on, especially for our most vulnerable population,” said Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. “This legislation is a smart step that will ensure the sustainability of our state’s affordable housing stock.”
This legislation prioritizes numerous programs that support vulnerable residents including:
The bill also gives DHCD the option to purchase certain housing units designed for community-based DMH housing at appraised value, to preserve affordable housing, within 120 days of the authorization of affordable restrictions.
This bill continues the House’s 2013 landmark creation of the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund, furthering its commitment to high quality early education and care programming. This $45 million reauthorization provides facility improvement grants for early education and out of school time programs serving low income children.
The legislation authorizes $400 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This program provides flexible funding to create and preserve affordable housing, ranging from transitional homes for homeless to homeownership programs. It also authorizes $600 million for Public Housing Renovation to help modernize and rehabilitate public housing including updates like the abatement of lead.
Other programs include:
The bill features numerous tax credits designed to incentivize building, development and investment for a range of projects. Credits include:
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/remembering-dr-kings-legacy-50-years-later/
In his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I have been reflecting a great deal on the work and legacy of Dr. King, with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. I was not alive during his lifetime, but his passion and his commitment to social justice is universal and inspired many of my mentors. His work, his writings, and above all, his calls to action, continue to move us today.
I am writing this column in the midst of a federal government shutdown when politics seems to get more polarized every week, and just about everyone seems to be frustrated by government. Growing up in a working-class family, that never really felt the government was accessible to them or worked for them, motivated me to get involved in politics and public service.
I joke with our Congressman, Jim McGovern, nearly every time that I’ve seen him this past year, over not being envious of his job. I am lucky because in Massachusetts state politics almost every issue we work on, every bill we pass, is done with bipartisan support.
Yet, we are not immune to these polarizing attacks from the outside. For the second time in my first year in elected office, a dark money group has sent misleading and often just plain false mailers across the city. But I welcome these opportunities to have those hard conversations and talk about real problems and real solutions.
In Dr. King’s 1963 Strength to Love sermons, he said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I hope that in these tough times we can all gather together and have these difficult conversations. I hope to have more community forums like the ones I hosted this summer, and I would love to hear your ideas on how to create more community spaces to share experiences, concerns, and solutions at the state, local, and federal level.
We should be proud of the example Massachusetts sets for the rest of the nation. We advance thinking laws, to protect and move our communities forward. I am looking forward to the rest of the 2017-2018 Legislative Session where we’ll be taking up issues around health care access and affordability, the opioid crisis, and protecting working families, just to name a few.
Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s column. If you have any questions or need to get in touch with me and my office, email me at Natalie. Higgins@mahouse.gov or call (978) 227-5278. Also please drop into my open office hours Monday at the Leominster Public Library from 5:30-7 p.m. and Friday at the Leominster High School from 7-8 a.m.
Originally published in http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/mcgovern-kennedy-visit-two-schools-in-leominster/
Congressmen Jim McGovern and Joe Kennedy III recently joined state Rep. Natalie Higgins in addressing the senior class at Leominster High School about their work in their respective legislative bodies, the importance of public service, and how students can make a difference in their communities.
McGovern and Kennedy then toured Sky View Middle School and spoke on the Leominster Public Schools getting a 21st Century Grant for fiscal 2018-20 of $375,000 (with $125,000 received each year) for Sky View to run an after-school program and a five-week summer program. Students are provided with snacks, homework help, activities targeted towards minimizing academic achievement gaps, and transportation home at no cost to families. Around 40 students in Grades 6-8 participate.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/end-of-year-reflections-and-lessons-learned/
I was warned that my first session in the House of Representatives would speed on by, but somehow I thought my years working in and around the building would help slow down the pace. Boy, was I wrong! This first year passed in a flash, and I am so thankful for my monthly column in the Leominster Champion to give me a moment to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges and share my experience with you all.
My first priority was establishing as many points of contact in Leominster that I could. That started with opening my district office in the Gallagher Building (24 Church St., Room 29), and setting up my weekly office hours. As promised, I hold twice weekly office hours outside of the normal 9-5 workday. Monday evenings from 5:30-7 I can be found in Room 204 at the Leominster Public Library. Our Friday morning hours from 7-8 are in Leominster High School’s Media Center. I also host three special “Senior Hours” a month at the Leominster Senior Center with the Golden Agers, Sunset Towers and LaPierre East. I also want to give a special shout out to the teams at theLeominster Champion, Leominster Access Television (Comcast 99/Verizon 33), and WPKZ Radio 105.3FM for my monthly segments.
Then, this summer, we went back to meeting you at your doors, to spread the word about a series of Community Conversations we organized around some highly-requested topics: Education, the Economy, the Environment and Health Care. Thank you to everyone who attended in person and watched online. If you’re interested in checking them out, they are still available on my Facebook page and website, RepNatalieHiggins.com. This spring, we are working on organizing two more conversations on issues you’ve requested: Veterans and Transportation.
And, of course, there is all of the work at the State House with my legislation, committee work, and the state budget. I originally filed eight bills, all focused on increased access and affordability for public higher education and protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. And if that wasn’t enough to keep track of, I have filed five more bills at the request of Leominster residents and co-sponsored more than 350 additional pieces of legislation.
But the real “bread and butter” of any state rep’s office is constituent services. This is why I decided to run for state representative — to help Leominster residents better navigate state systems and advocate for solutions to the problems they face. I know many of you have gotten a chance to meet my legislative aide, Taylor Landry, who’s also a Leominster native. Between Taylor and I, we’ve worked on more than 100 constituent cases already this year, from housing and homelessness to health care access, unemployment to the RMV, and so many more in between. Please call my office if you think we could help. While we cannot assist with every issue, we usually can connect you with the right resources. You can reach my office at (978) 227-5278 and Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov.
I look forward to getting to know you all better in 2018. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Representing Leominster -- Episode 8 -- Guests City Councilor Gail Feckley & State Representative Jon Zlotnik
Here's a short excerpt:
BOSTON -- As allegations of misogyny and sexual harassment swirl both inside and outside of the Massachusetts Statehouse, female lawmakers from the Lowell and Fitchburg areas said leaders on Beacon Hill should take tough and swift action against harassers on a zero-tolerance basis.
Though none of the representatives and senators interviewed by the Sentinel & Enterprise said they have personally been victims of sexual harassment during their time in the Statehouse, they said they take issues of sexism in the workplace seriously.
Dialogue surrounding a culture of misogyny on Beacon Hill began when The Boston Globe published a column last month highlighting the stories of a dozen anonymous women who said they were victims of sexual misconduct in and around the Statehouse.
State Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer said she was "very disturbed" to hear the stories of misconduct.
"The Statehouse should be a place that people can feel safe coming to work, and when that's compromised at all, it's not good for the Legislature, it's not good for the state," said Gobi, whose district includes Ashburnham, Ashby, Spencer and Winchendon.
State Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster, a former rape crisis counselor, said this kind of atmosphere is present "in every social situation where we have any kinds of hierarchy" -- and the Statehouse is no exception.
Read the rest of the article at: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31490474/womans-voice-needs-be-heard#ixzz55Waa9QBC