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Town delegation joins colleagues to pass balanced fiscal '21 budget 

Includes local earmark for Arlington Youth Counseling Center 

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Cindy FriedmanFriedman

Dave RogersRogers

UPDATED, Dec. 14: The town's delegation, all Democrats – Sen. Cindy F. Friedman, Rep. Sean Garballey and Rep. Dave Rogers – joined House and Senate colleagues to pass the fiscal 2021 budget.

Funded at $46.2 billion, the budget aims to address the sweeping effects of the global pandemic by making targeted investments in housing, food security and substance-use addiction services, as well as domestic violence, sexual-assault treatment and prevention programs. The budget also invests in programs that provide Covid-related supports for students and increases funding for developmental services, early education and child care, and public health. 

The final measure passed after a conference committee agreed to details between Senate and House budgets. It goes to the governor for his changes and approval.

“The current surge in positive Covid-19 cases in Massachusetts emphasizes that we must continue to do all we can to support our most vulnerable residents during these challenging times—and this budget helps to accomplish that by investing in much-needed behavioral health services, housing protections, reproductive health access, education and food assistance,” Friedman, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and member of the FY21 Budget Conference Committee, said in a Dec. 11 news release.

“I am extremely proud that we were able to keep crucial investments in place — the $46 billion will go a long way towards ensuring an equitable economic recovery for the Commonwealth. I am incredibly thankful to Senate President Spilka, Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues and the rest of my colleagues in the legislature for their tireless work on behalf of the Commonwealth.” 

Keeps July education accord

Continuing the Senate’s long-standing support of targeted investments in education, this budget holds Chapter 70 funding in a manner consistent with the agreement reached between the Senate, House and Administration in July by providing $5.283 billion, an increase of $107.6 million over fiscal '20. This additional level of investment will allow all school districts to maintain foundation spending levels while accounting for enrollment and inflation changes. Investments in Arlington include $14,566,028 in Chapter 70 funds and $8,056,055 in unrestricted general government aid.

The budget 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. In addition to ensuring stability for the state’s K-12 population, the Senate’s budget takes steps to invest in child-care providers and higher-education institutions—both of which are critically important to the state’s economy and recovery in midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Senate’s budget recommends a total of $46 billion in spending, a 5.5-percent increase over the fiscal 2020 General Appropriations Act. This spending recommendation is based on a revised tax revenue estimate of $27.592 billion, which provides for $3.558 billion less in available revenue than the original consensus revenue estimate originally agreed upon last January.

To close this anticipated revenue shortfall, the fiscal '21 budget includes $1.5 billion from the stabilization fund, ensuring a majority of that fund's balance remains for future years; $1.38 billion in available federal supports; and more than $400 million in new revenue initiatives. Among those initiatives, the budget includes  such provisions as accelerated sales-tax collection and a new fee structure for transportation network companies. The budget also avoids drastic budget cuts while leaving the Commonwealth in a sound fiscal position moving forward.

Added for schools

Additional education investments include:

  • $345 million for the special-education circuit breaker;
  • $560.4 million for the University of Massachusetts, $308 million for the 15 community colleges, and $285.5 million for the nine state universities;
  • $25 million for a new early education and care workforce and Covid-19 supports reserve to provide classroom stabilization grants, incentive pay for providers, and support for increased operational costs due to Covid-19; and
  • $350,000 to support the development of school-based Bridge Programs, which integrate mental health, academic, family and care coordination supports to address the needs of middle and high school students returning to school after physical health- or mental health-related absences. 

As Covid-19 spikes, the Senate budget preserves access to essential services for our most vulnerable residents. The budget funds MassHealth at a total of $18.2 billion to maintain critical access to affordable health-care coverage for more than 1.9 million people, ensuring that comprehensive care for our most vulnerable children, seniors and low-income residents is protected in the middle of a public-health crisis. The Senate’s budget also includes targeted investments to maintain and expand access to mental health care, while strengthening public health infrastructure at the local, state and regional level to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Added for health

Additional health investments include: 

  • $500.3 million for adult support services, including assisted outpatient programming and comprehensive care coordination among health-care providers;
  • $163.6 million for a range of substance-abuse treatment and intervention services;
  • $94.5 million for children’s mental-health services;
  • $45.2 million for domestic-violence prevention services;
  • $35.4 million for early intervention services, to ensure supports are accessible and available to infants and young toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities;
  • $20 million for funding to support expanded access to mental-health services, including $10 million for the Behavioral Health, Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund and $10 million for a new inpatient mental-health, acute-care beds grant program;
  • $17.5 million for Family Resource Centers to meet increased demand for services;
  • $10 million for grants to support local boards of health to combat Covid-19;
  • $2.5 million for a new matching funds grant program to assist communities making public health-oriented adjustments to their public safety systems, including targeted reforms, such as jail-diversion programs, de-escalation training and professionals and behavioral-health staffing and supports;
  • $1.7 million for the State Action for Public Health Excellence program to support a more effective local and regional public-health delivery system; and
  • $1 million for a Covid-19 vaccine-distribution program, focused on equitable vaccine distribution.

In addition to these health-care investments, the Senate’s budget takes meaningful steps to expand access to care. It includes provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage for mental health services and primary care services solely because they were delivered on the same day in the same facility. This important measure will remove a significant financial barrier to the integration of primary care and mental health. The budget, through the amendment process, also includes provisions that further expand reproductive health care options.

Worker training

The Senate is committed to building an equitable recovery while dismantling the systemic barriers in society. To that end, the Senate’s budget creates and invests in programs to educate, train and prepare Massachusetts workers. 

Opportunity investments include: 

  • $46.4 million for a new Economic Planning and Response Program, including grants and loans to small businesses, small business technical assistance and capital improvement supports;
  • $40.6 million for adult basic-education services to improve access to skills and tools necessary to join the workforce;
  • $20 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth;
  • $15 million for a Community Empowerment and Reinvestment grant program to provide economic supports to communities disproportionately affected by the criminal-justice system;
  • $10 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to connect unemployed and underemployed workers with higher-paying jobs;
  • $6 million for regional economic-development organizations to support economic growth in all regions of the state;
  • $5 million for community foundations to provide emergency economic relief to historically underserved populations across the Commonwealth; and
  • $3 million for the Secure Jobs Connect program, providing job-placement resources and assistance for homeless individuals.

Housing initiatives

Access to affordable housing, which has taken on new urgency for many during the Covid-19 pandemic, is a key Senate priority for recovery. The Senate’s budget recognizes the crucial importance of housing to the Commonwealth’s recovery efforts and invests over $540 million in housing-stability programs to support many families, tenants and property owners in this time of crisis. 

Housing investments include:

  • $180.7 million for emergency-assistance family shelters;
  • $135 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program;
  • $53.4 million for assistance for homeless individuals;
  • $50 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), as well as emergency changes to the RAFT program to increase the maximum amount of rental assistance that a household can receive from $4,000 to $10,000 and allow eligible households facing a housing crisis to access both RAFT and HomeBASE;
  • $27.2 million for the HomeBASE diversion and rapid rehousing programs;
  • $12.5 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program, which provides rental assistance to people with disabilities, and $2.5 million for grants to improve or create accessible affordable housing units;
  • $10.5 million for housing vouchers for Department of Mental Health clients to transition into housing and community-based services;
  • $4.75 million for the housing consumer-education centers; and
  • $3.9 million for the Home and Healthy for Good rehousing and supportive services program, including $250,000 for homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

In addition to these investments, this budget includes additional protection measures to ensure the state’s residents most at risk of eviction in the middle of a pandemic are kept safe and secure in their homes. Through the amendment process, the budget includes a provision that would simplify the application process for RAFT and protect the credit rating of individuals who face eviction due to Covid-19 by sealing eviction records. This proposal provides additional protections and resources to tenants suffering a Covid-19-related financial hardship, as well as stability as they await short-term emergency rental assistance.

Food security

Food insecurity has become one of the most prevalent consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting children, adults and seniors alike. The Senate’s budget therefore prioritizes access to food resources across the Commonwealth. 

Food insecurity investments include:

  • $30 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program;
  • $13 million in Healthy Incentives Programs to ensure vulnerable households have continued access to food options during the pandemic; and
  • $1.2 million for Project Bread to support the child nutrition outreach and the food-source hotline.

The Senate’s budget supports cities and towns while allowing them flexibility to confront the unique challenges facing them by directing significant resources to local and regional aid. This includes increased funding for regional transit authorities to $94 million to ensure that commuters, students, seniors and people with disabilities have access to reliable public transportation during this time of critical need. Along with traditional local aid, the Senate’s budget level-funds payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land to $30 million.  

Climate change

In Massachusetts, people have a right to clean air and water, and we have a duty to help prepare our communities for the impacts of climate change. After years of relentless attacks on these common-sense ideas; preserving the environment, protecting public lands, and conserving our natural resources have only become more important in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Senate’s budget ensures these truths remain in the Commonwealth and invests nearly $300 million to enhance our state’s environmental resources through several programs and initiatives including:

  • Support for the Commonwealth’s state parks system;
  • Additional funding for a team to remediate water contamination in the Commonwealth;
  • Funding for mosquito spraying to mitigate the risk of the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus; and
  • Funding for climate-change adaptation and preparedness programs to enhance resilience and to address the mounting threat of climate change. 

Nov. 11, 2020: Friedman honored for personal cause: mental-health service

This news announcement was published Monday, Nov. 22, 2020, and updated Dec. 14, to include final-budget details. 

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