FY 16 Budget Update, June 2015
The Senate Fiscal Year 2016 Budget included some well-fought victories for not only the 4th Middlesex district but for the Commonwealth as a whole. Funding was included for the Arlington Youth Counseling Center, The Yankee Doodle Bike Path in Billerica, and for the Billerica VFW to assist them with a toxic waste clean-up. I was also pleased to see funding continued for another year for the pilot to expand mental health services, as well as additional funds to provide critical incident stress management to correction officers.
The Senate Ways and Means budget includes language relative to imminent risk in the Emergency Assistance line-item. With the language that is in the final Senate budget, homeless families will no longer have to spend a night in an emergency room, or a bus station, or a vehicle before they can access emergency shelter. I have fought with many of my senate colleagues for years to include this critical language and I was thrilled to see it included in the senate version
The pilot program to expand mental health services that began last year was funded again at $250,000.The pilot is focused on treating people who suffer from serious and persistent mental illness and experience a high rate of interaction with law enforcement and/or recurring hospitalization. Because of the nature and complexity of the cohort of residents this pilot is aiming to serve, there was a longer than usual start up time to begin implementation of the pilot. Additional funding will allow for an extended and more reasonable amount of time to evaluate the pilot and provide valuable feedback on how best to serve one of our most vulnerable and underserved populations.
I filed several amendments to the senate budget and was very pleased to see them adopted. The first allocates $150,000 for the Arlington Youth Counseling Center (AYCC). The AYCC is a licensed mental health counseling facility that supports Arlington youth and families. In addition to direct mental health treatment, clinicians at the agency provide support to victims of domestic violence and offer case management to residents up to age 59. The center currently serves over 390 youth and families across all programs. With financial assistance from the state budget, AYCC will continue to provide outpatient community based mental health treatment to Arlington youth and families. With this budget increase, access to affordable mental health care will remain available to Arlington youth and families. Additional capacity will be added to the agency allowing more youth to be treated without having to be placed on a waitlist for an extended period of time. Access to early mental health treatment will prevent severe psychiatric hospitalizations which will produce financial savings for insurance companies and the Commonwealth. I encourage you to include the funding for the AYCC in the final budget.
Secondly, two amendments were adopted to provide funding for projects in the Town of Billerica. One provides $50,000 in funding for the design of the Yankee Doodle Bike Path. The Town of Billerica has been working for over two decades to advance construction of the bike path throughout town. The construction of Phase 1 of the bikeway will connect the Town of Billerica regionally from the center of town, to the Minuteman Bikeway in Bedford. The completion of this section would provide an alternative mode transportation corridor from Billerica to Arlington, with connections to many other surrounding communities. The addition of this approximately 2.5 mile bike path to the community will provide a handicapped accessible link between educational, recreational and conservation areas in the southern portion of the region. The other amendment allocates $50,000 to the Billerica VFW to assist them with a toxic spill clean-up. The spill occurred on the neighboring property and seeped over to VFW grounds. Before the neighboring company could be assessed for the clean-up, they abandoned the property and the clean-up has been the responsibility of the VFW ever since.
Additionally, $200,000 was included to allow On-Site Academy to provide critical incident stress management for correction officers from the Department of Corrections. There is a mental health and suicide crisis occurring among correctional officers. The suicide rate for these officers is double that of other public safety officers and emergency personnel. According to the US Department of Justice’s Programs Diagnostic Center, a large percentage – about 70%, of correctional officers experience some level of post-traumatic stress disorder during their careers. The fact that there are a large number of veterans among our correctional officers makes the need to address this crisis even more compelling.
The On-Site Academy (located in Gardner and Westminster) is a non-profit residential treatment and training center for critical incident stress management. It has been serving police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, veterans, and public safety personnel who are at risk for suicide or have experienced overwhelming traumatic incidents in performance of their duties.
Finally, $50,000 was included to be expended for the direct payroll costs of a MassHealth liaison to the Trial Court who would be responsible for the administration of health insurance benefits for participants in the specialty courts. Many of the participants in these specialty courts use MassHealth as their primary insurance. When a person is detained by a specialty court, they are not incarcerated or sentenced and should still have access to MassHealth. Unfortunately, because there is no MassHealth liaison to the courts, case workers have difficulty accessing benefits for people in order to begin treatment plans and often must wait days to gain access. Judges don’t want to release these specialty court participants without the necessary services in place so they often must remain incarcerated until benefits can be approved for the first time or in most cases, just restarted. With this liaison, the specialty court participants will be put back into the community sooner so they can receive the treatment they need. This is a small but valuable appropriation that will provide treatment and ultimately save the commonwealth money that would otherwise be spent on keeping people who are ill in prison.
FY 15 Budget Update, January 2014
On January 22, 2014, Governor Deval Patrick released his budget recommendation for Fiscal Year 2015, known as House 2. In it, he highlights his key initiatives for the upcoming fiscal year which include investing in education to close the achievement gap, investing in innovations and infrastructure to create jobs and expand opportunities, building safe communities for youth and their families, and climate change mitigation and preparedness, among several others.
House 2 will now be analyzed by the Legislature, executive agencies, and advocacy groups alike before the House Ways and Means Committee submits their recommended FY15 budget in April, followed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee budget in May. The release of House 2 is the first step in a six month process of creating a balanced, effective budget for the fiscal year that begin son July 1, 2014.
FY 14 Budget Update, May 2013
After much discussion and deliberation, the FY2014 Senate budget was passed on May 23. Many programs received important and long-requested funding increases, and while Massachusetts continues to recover from the recession, this budget still reflects caution. The bill now awaits a compromise report from the Conference Committee, which will bridge differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.
Local aid and Chapter 70 education received an important increase in funding in both the Senate and House budgets. This additional aid will continue to alleviate some of the financial stress local authorities have experienced in the last four years. The Special Education Circuit Breaker also received full funding by the Senate. This gives cities and towns extra money for special needs children in addition to what is paid through local school funding.
I have been working for the past year to ensure that children and their families who are truly on the verge of living on the streets have access to shelter. The Senate adopted my amendment to address language in the FY13 budget that caused families to first live in a place unfit for human habitation before they could access emergency shelter. I will continue to work to include this final safety net in the FY14 budget. In addition to updating this language, the Senate also increased monies for rental assistance for families. Housing continues to be a serious issue in the Commonwealth as rents and home prices rise and wages remain stagnant for working families. This problem is being exacerbated by federal sequestration which causes significant reductions in rental vouchers and aid to the working poor.
As always, I continued my focus on middle skills jobs by co-sponsoring several amendments that restored funding for youth and young adult workforce training in growing Massachusetts’ industries. Young people continue to face barriers to employment after the 2008 recession at a rate significantly higher than the general population.
I once again co-sponsored an amendment updating the bottle bill and was pleased to see it pass with bipartisan support. This amendment extends the deposit to all bottled water, updating the law to reflect how bottles are used today. This is a very popular and common-sense expansion and I will continue to work with my colleagues to include the amendment in the final budget.
I began advocating for two of my top priorities early on in this budget cycle. Mass HomeCare and Councils on Aging are programs that provide critical care for our elders and saw increases in funding in the Senate budget for the first time in years.
Senator Karen Spilka and I joined together to sponsor an amendment protecting elderly and disabled users of the Ride program from being targeted for dramatic fare increases. I originally proposed this same tiered fare structure in a comprehensive transportation reform bill earlier this session. The structure caps fares based upon rider income and goes a long way toward protecting the most vulnerable users of public transportation who have seen 100% fare increases over the last year.
I was pleased to advocate for the above changes to the budget in addition to filing and co-sponsoring amendments to fund important state programs including METCO, the Department of Public Health’s Hinton State Lab, and the hazardous waste cleanup program.
The FY2014 Senate budget reflects some much needed funding increases to critical programs and services that Massachusetts residents rely on every day. I will continue my work to increase crucial funding that serves our most vulnerable populations, strengthens our local communities, and protects our Commonwealth.
FY 12 Supplemental Budget Update, November 2011
The Senate recently approved a $52 million supplemental budget to address shelter assistance funding, storm costs and bed holds for nursing home residents. The spending plan provides assistance to some of the Commonwealth’s neediest residents and protection to key programs.
The legislation changed the date of the 2012 state primary election to September 6 to avoid a conflict with Rosh Hashanah, and ensures that troops voting from overseas are able to have their votes counted. The Senate has ensured that MassHealth will continue a program that allows nursing home residents to return to their own bed after short leaves for medical treatment or other reasons.
$10 million has been allocated to assist with storm cleanup after the rare snowstorm on October 29th.
$38 million was added to the HomeBASE housing assistance program, which has faced a funding shortage due to high demands. The program is designed to provide permanent housing to families who are homeless rather than going into a family shelter or motel.
The plan includes $10 million in advanced funding for the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program to help low- income families and individuals pay to heat their homes. $308,000 was included in the supplemental budget for the Department of Veterans Services, along with $800,000 for disability access to the State House.
FY 12 Supplemental Budget Update, October 2011
Governor Patrick released a supplemental budget in August that included funding for job creation and storm relief efforts. A portion of the $300 million in surplus funds will be put back into the state’s rainy day fund, bringing the balance of the fund to around $1 billion. This will ensure that reserves are available to support critical state programs and services, should the Commonwealth face fiscal challenges in the future.
In the district, $1.5 million was allocated for public infrastructure improvements at Northwest Park in the town of Burlington. The Northwest Park is part of Growth District Initiative, a program of the Patrick Administration and the Office of Housing and Economic Development. This initiative focuses on supporting and streamlining new residential and commercial development throughout the state as a way to spur economic growth and development.
The supplemental budget included funding for summer employment opportunities for at-risk youth across the state. Investments were also made in workforce training for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiatives, adult basic education and English as a second language programs. I was pleased to see money appropriated for workforce development as I have been advocating for funding STEM job training and healthcare workforce training, which also received money in the supplemental budget.
Surplus funds will also be used to address cuts in health and human service programs that impact the state’s most vulnerable populations. The bill restored $8.2 million for the Department of Transitional Assistance to fund the clothing allowance provided to low-income families receiving temporary assistance. It supports programs for at-risk children, and other public health functions.
It is important to note that the Commonwealth has lost over $1.75 billion in federal funding this year, and was faced with the incredibly difficult task of balancing the state budget without these funds. Revenue has been forecasted to improve over the next few months, and I will continue to advocate funding some of the Commonwealth’s most critical human service programs. For example, I support raising funding levels to programs including Respite and Intensive Family Support Services, the oversight of proper hazardous waste disposal, service coordination and administration for the Department of Developmental Services, and the Hinton State Laboratory.
July FY 2012 Budget Update
Governor Deval Patrick signed the Fiscal Year 2012 budget for the Commonwealth on Monday, July 11, 2011, The FY2012 budget closes a $1.9 billion budget gap, does not include new taxes, and reduces the amount of money withdrawn from the Stabilization Fund by $15 million.
This budget has been balanced through deep cuts to state programs. These include very important programs like hazardous waste disposal oversight, which would assure that toxic waste sites are cleaned safely and honestly. Funding was cut for the Hinton State Laboratory, which is responsible for responding to public health emergencies and the identification and control of tuberculosis, botulism, mosquito-borne diseases, rabies, and other diseases. Senator Donnelly filed amendments to increase funding to these two important programs, but they were ultimately rejected by the Senate.
The Senate budget worked to balance the two somewhat opposing tasks of cutting costs while maintaining essential services that our residents rely on. Some programs that serve our neediest citizens were restored or even saw a very slight increase, which the Senator supported.
Many constituents contacted Senator Donnelly in support of the Senate version of the Municipal Health Care Proposal. The bill, as amended by the Governor, provides protections for retirees and heavy users of health care services while giving cities and towns tools to slow their rising cost of health insurance. The amendments put back important clarifications and protections that were included in the Senate language.
While there are protections in place and a greater share of the savings will go toward mitigating the increase in co-pays, deductibles, and other cost sharing options for subscribers, it is still a cost shift. The Senate must do the hard work of reining in health care costs so health care is both accessible and affordable. The Senate is committed to taking on this important issue, and Senator Donnelly hopes that you will share any thoughts you have on ways to reach this goal.
Protecting retirees and heavy users of health services as part of Municipal Healthcare Reform was one of Senator Donnelly’s major priorities; however there were a number of other areas in the budget that were of concern as well. Senator Donnelly paid particular attention to the following:
- SPED circuit breaker: $213 million for special education circuit breaker funding, an increase of $80 million over FY11 funding levels. The SPED circuit breaker provides funding to school districts that need assistance in paying for special education programs.
- Mental Health In-Patient Beds: Full funding of $146.7 million for the state’s inpatient mental health beds, club houses and mental health community services. The Governor and the House initially proposed cutting this fund by $18 million, which would have eliminated 160 in- patient treatment beds. There was no alternative placement for patients that need these beds; the full funding of this account has prevented the displacement of patients.
- Early Intervention Program: Full funding of $31 million for the Early Intervention program that addresses developmental delays in children up to the age of 3. The Senate voted to fully fund this account, which reflects an increase of $8 million more than what the House and the Governor proposed.
- Elder Home Services: $97.79 million to fund elder home care services, which provides elders with respite and other services, and allows them to stay in the comfort of their homes. This funding also ensures that elders aren’t placed on waiting lists for services for extensive periods, and saves money by keeping them out of nursing homes.
- Adult Day Health Services: $2.5 billion for Adult Day Health Services, which helps to meet the physical, social, and functional needs of elderly and adult disabled persons.
Senator Donnelly also filed an amendment to the budget that would have increased funding to the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, but the amendment was rejected. This fund provides the primary source of funding for the “Middle Skills” bill that Senator Donnelly sponsored, which would promote and support activities and programs for people that seek jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a 4-year college degree. Senator Donnelly will continue to work with my colleagues to secure funding for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, as well as for hazardous waste disposal oversight and the Hinton State Laboratory.
The FY2012 budget ends the year with a stabilization fund balance that exceeds $800 million, an amount greater than the stabilization fund balance entering FY11. The budget plan also marks the smallest year-to-year spending increase in the past decade, creating a spending plan based on transparency, accountability, and performance.
Legislators had to balance a budget without $1.5 billion in federal stimulus relief funding this year, and were faced with resolving the most difficult budget since the economy collapsed in 2008. The Senate worked to preserve services for the neediest citizens in the Commonwealth, while targeting programs aimed to provide financial assistance to education initiatives, municipalities and families.