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.