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Fiscal '20 Senate budget plan includes funds to local groups

Cindy FriedmanFriedman, Ways and Means vice chair

$175K for AYCC, amounts for METCO, Food Link

UPDATED, May 10: The Senate Committee on Ways and Means has announced a $42.7 billion budget for fiscal 2020. The budget recommends targeted investments to provide access to opportunity and economic vitality across the Commonwealth, and includes several local earmarks and budget priorities secured by Sen. Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington).

The committee’s budget recommends a total of $42.7 billion in spending, a 3.1-percent increase over fiscal '19's General Appropriations Act. This spending recommendation is based on a projected $770 million (2.7%) increase in tax revenue for fiscal '20, as agreed to during the consensus revenue process in January. Thee fiscal '20 budget reduces reliance on the use of one-time revenue sources and directs $268 million to the stabilization fund to continue to build the Commonwealth’s financial safety net.

Globe, May 10: Senate goes bigger, bolder

“This budget reflects the values of the Commonwealth by continuing to make strong investments in education, health-care cost and accessibility, and workforce development,” said Friedman, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I applaud Chairman Rodrigues and Senate President Spilka for both the content and the process utilized in producing this budget. I look forward to participating in healthy debate alongside my colleagues in the coming weeks.”

Local earmarks

Friedman was able to secure the following local earmarks to benefit the communities in the 4th Middlesex district:

  • $175,000 to support the Arlington Youth Counseling Center (AYCC) to help provide behavioral health services to youth in Arlington;
  • $95,000 to provide on-site English language tutoring and technical skills training to parents at Woburn Creative Start;

    $45,000 to provide late afternoon and evening transportation for METCO students attending public schools in the Towns of Arlington and Lexington;
  • $85,000 to support Food Link MA to address food insecurity in Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Lexington and Woburn; and
  • $100,000 to support English language tutoring and small group instruction to adult learners at English At Large in Woburn.

On matters of statewide interest, and in line with Friedman’s efforts to improve the state’s system of care for those with mental health needs, the senator secured the following investments:

  • $250,000 for the second year of funding of a 4-year pilot program to establish a county restoration center overseen by the Middlesex County Restoration Center Commission to divert individuals with mental illness or substance use disorder away from law enforcement and into appropriate treatment;
  • $350,000 to support the continued expansion of the Brookline Center for Community Mental Health’s Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) programs, integrating mental health, academic, family, and care coordination supports to assist middle and high school students returning to school following extended physical health- or mental health-related absences;
  • $500,000 for the Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids (MHAP for Kids) to provide evidence-based community and school-based interventions to improve the mental health of vulnerable youth and divert them from juvenile detention, inpatient and emergency psychiatric hospitalizations; and
  • $75,000 for Bridgewater State Hospital oversight by the Disability Law Center.

Local earmarks

In addition, the Senate Ways and Means fiscal '20 budget strengthens Massachusetts’ commitment to being a national leader in ensuring children of all backgrounds have access to greater educational opportunities. Consistent with the Senate’s long-standing commitment to supporting increased investments in education, this budget makes a significant down payment on the work of the Foundation Budget Review Commission and funds Chapter 70 at its highest level ever -- $5.176 billion, an increase of $268.4 million over fiscal '19.

This historic education investment allows for a minimum aid increase of at least $30 per pupil over fiscal '19 for every school district across the state, as well as 100-percent effort reduction to bring all school districts to their target local contribution.

With this record level of investment, this budget focuses on school districts with the most pressing needs and addresses four key areas identified by the FBRC: employee health benefits, special education, English language learners and low-income students in economically disadvantaged communities. Consequentially, the budget also includes $345 million for the special-education circuit breaker, reimbursing school districts for the cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75-percent reimbursement rate.

The committee’s budget continues Massachusetts’ leadership in keeping health care accessible and affordable, increasing resources, making investments to deliver services to our most vulnerable residents, and ensuring the well-being of individuals and families.

The budget funds MassHealth at a total of $16.55 billion to maintain access to affordable health-care coverage for more than 1.8 million people, ensuring comprehensive care for our most vulnerable children, seniors and low income residents. In an effort to contain program costs and keep health care affordable and accessible to all, the budget takes many steps including providing MassHealth with additional tools to tackle the rapidly growing cost of pharmaceutical drugs by permitting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate for fair and additional rebates or cost effective payment arrangements with pharmaceutical manufacturers. The budget also explores new and creative cost savings initiatives for MassHealth to purchase prescription drugs and requires greater transparency from pharmacy benefit managers.

The budget includes two of Friedman’s bills -- S.589, An Act relative to limits on insurers’ retroactive clawbacks for mental-health and substance-use disorder services, and S.686, An Act to protect medically fragile kids.

S.589 provides important protections to providers of essential behavioral health services by setting limits on an insurer's ability to impose a retroactive claims denial, or “clawback,” for those services -- an initiative championed by Friedman. Currently, insurance companies in Massachusetts have no limit on how far back in time they can audit a clinician -- and demand to be repaid if they feel the payment was made in error, or if there was information missing from the original claim.

The process and reasons for doing this are not transparent, as the insurer usually provides no explanation for the clawback and no opportunity for the provider to correct or appeal the clawback – a problem particularly prevalent in the behavioral health system. As such, including the language of S.589 in the budget would restrict MassHealth and commercial health insurers to a 12-month period for recovering payments to behavioral health providers for services delivered, and require the insurer to provide a written explanation of the reason for the clawback.

In addition, the budget included a portion of Friedman’s S.686, requiring the Center for Health and Information Analysis to submit a biennial report related to patients requiring continuous skilled nursing care. This effort has been championed by Friedman in collaboration with the Massachusetts Pediatric Home Nursing Campaign, led by Woburn resident Angela Ortiz. The report would include such information as the number of pediatric and adult patients requiring such care, the number of hours of such care authorized by MassHealth and the number of hours actually delivered, the number of nurses providing such care, their rate of reimbursement and a comparison of that rate with the rates paid to other nurses.

Additionally, the committee’s budget invests in programs and policies to educate, train, and prepare Massachusetts workers in order to provide them with opportunities to grow and succeed. The budget also supports working families by investing $13 million to ensure more than 8,700 families with children will receive the transitional assistance benefits to which they are entitled.

The fiscal '20 budget furthers regional equity and supports cities and towns by directing significant resources to local and regional aid. This includes increased funding for Regional Transit Authorities to $90.5 million and ties future funding to inflation, while making incentives for such authorities to adopt best practices to ensure that commuters, students, seniors and people with disabilities are able to rely on public transportation to access jobs, education and opportunity. In addition to traditional local aid, the committee’s budget increases payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land to $30 million. Such funding has been a beneficial source of local aid that provides cities and towns with additional resources to support core public services.

The committee's budget also maintains the Senate’s commitment to increasing access to quality, affordable housing, investing more than $495 million in low-income housing and homelessness services and supports.

Senators can file amendments to the Senate Ways and Means recommendations until noon Friday, May 10. The full Senate will then debate the fiscal 'Y20 budget in formal session beginning Tuesday, May 21.

The fiscal '20 Senate Ways and Means' budget recommendations are available here >>

Friedman represents the 4th Middlesex district, which includes Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Woburn, and precincts 1-2 and 4-7 in Lexington.

This extended news announcement was published Wednesday, May 8, 2019, and updated May 10, to add a Globe link.

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