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House Passes Balanced FY18 Budget

Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives this week to pass a $40.4 billion FY18 budget which represents a commitment to fiscal responsibility. The spending bill protects vulnerable residents through investments in early education and care (EEC), substance addiction initiatives, homelessness programs, and funding to help individuals with developmental disabilities.

This budget takes comprehensive action to promote sustained economic health in Massachusetts as we face uncertainty on the national level. For the fourth year in a row, the House budget reduces Massachusetts’ reliance on one-time revenue. It includes a $100 million deposit to the stabilization fund which will result in projected balance of more than $1.4 billion and help preserve the state’s AA+ bond rating, the highest in the Commonwealth’s history.

“This budget extends the House’s legacy of balancing fiscal responsibility with investments in inventive programs, a strategy that has resulted in Massachusetts becoming a national leader,” 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 Dempsey and the members of the House Ways & Means Committee for their hard work and foresight.”

“This is a fiscally responsible budget that makes targeted investments in the shared priorities of our Commonwealth,” said Brian S. Dempsey (D-Haverhill), Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means. “I am proud that the House continues its leadership on early education, local aid and services for our most vulnerable citizens.”

“This budget shows continued fiscal responsibility toward providing funding for important programs for our district including the Community Preservation Act, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Early Education, and other priorities without increasing taxes,” said Ferrante. “We also secured $125,000 for the Department of Marine Fisheries to continue surveys on the abundance of codfish and increased local aid to historic levels, with over $15 million in unrestricted and Chapter 70 aid coming to Cape Ann.”

The FY18 budget makes unprecedented investments to improve Massachusetts’ early education and care system, with a focus on supporting the EEC workforce and providing access to high-quality learning opportunities to ensure children are better prepared for academic success. In response to the findings of Speaker DeLeo’s EEC Business Advisory Group, the budget provides $20 million for the early educator rate reserve and $4 million for quality programming and workforce training. The House also builds on its notable commitment to behavioral health by doubling funding for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation grant to help early detection and prevention efforts.

Recognizing that municipalities have unique and diverse needs, the House continues to fund local aid at historic levels. This budget increases Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) by $40 million and local education aid (Chapter 70) by $106 million. This includes $6,509,407 in Chapter 70 aid for the Gloucester school district as well as $3,989,861 in unrestricted aid to the city of Gloucester, $2,967,368 in Chapter 70 aid to the Manchester Essex school district as well as $244,590 in unrestricted aid to the town of Essex, and $1,461,146 in Chapter 70 aid for the Rockport school district as well as $437,134 in unrestricted aid to the town of Rockport.

The increase to Chapter 70 guarantees that every school district will receive a minimum of $30 per pupil in FY18. The budget also begins to implement the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations by making adjustments to more accurately reflect employee health benefits through a $31 million investment. It also adds $4 million to the special education circuit breaker and increases our investment in regional school transportation by $1 million.

In 2014, under the House’s leadership, Massachusetts passed a nationally-heralded gun safety law which includes the Safe and Supportive Schools initiative. This budget bolsters continued efforts by directing the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission to establish an infrastructure to help schools leverage and coordinate community based health, youth development and social services resources that enable students to achieve well-being and academic success.

In addition to local education investments, the House funds numerous programs to support college students and provides increased funding for higher education campuses across the state including increases from FY17 of:

  • $5.1 million for the University of Massachusetts, including $85,000 for the UMass Marine Station Gloucester;
  • $2.5 million for State Universities;
  • $2.7 million for Community Colleges.

It also:

  • Provides $1.5 million for the Intern Partnership program to help young innovators to get a head start on their futures by matching stipends for interns at innovation start-ups.
  • Creates the UMass Innovation Voucher program and provides $2 million to encourage start-ups and manufacturing companies to partner with the university’s research and development facilities.
  • Increases the state scholarship by $1 million in order to ensure Massachusetts students are able to afford higher education.
  • Invests $4.8 million in the STEM Starter Academy to strengthen and expand STEM programming in community colleges. The program has shown incredible early success by connecting students with employment opportunities. It has also resulted in a national award for Springfield Tech Community College.
  • Provides $50,000 to the Wellspring House in Gloucester to create an adult learning program with North Shore Community College.

Since FY12, the Legislature has increased funding for substance addiction services to unprecedented levels and passed two landmark bills to help address this public health epidemic. This year’s budget makes notable investments related to behavioral health and addiction, including almost $132 million for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS). The budget also proposes changing the name of BSAS to the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services in recognition that addiction is a health issue and should be treated as such. Additional provisions include:

  • $1 million for new substance addiction beds;
  • Funds to open two new recovery centers for family supports;
  • $1 million that will allow for the purchase of 15,000 new doses of Narcan and $1 million for extended release naltrexone;
  • $5 million increase for the Department of Corrections’ Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center;
  • $1 million to grow the Massachusetts Access to Recovery assistance program.

The House, under the leadership of Chairman Dempsey who has put an emphasis on providing increased access to permanent housing options, has proven effective at combating homelessness in Massachusetts. For example, the caseload for hotels and motels is expected to zero out by the end of this fiscal year and projections indicate that caseloads for emergency assistance will return to pre-recession levels. The House’s spending plan invests $18 million in new funding for homelessness including:

  • $100 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program;
  • $15 million for residential assistance for families in transition;
  • $6.5 million for the Department of Mental Health rental assistance;
  • $46.2 for homeless individuals.

The budget includes an increase of $4.75 million to the Department of Mental Health (DMH) to fund several cross-agency initiatives including $2 million in new money for the expansion of the Crisis Intervention Training Team. In addition to behavioral health and substance addiction initiatives, the FY18 budget features numerous provisions to protect residents facing adversity including:

  • $1 million in additional funding for rental subsidies that will support 87 new DMH clients;
  • The House’s budget rejects the Administration’s proposal to change the calculation for supplemental security income, resulting in a $12.6 million increase over the Administration’s FY18 budget to support individuals receiving these benefits;
  • Allows survivors of domestic violence to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit in a safe manner;
  • An increase of $34.2 million for the Department of Children and Families which will allow for 547 new hires to address caseloads.

After healthcare spending and local aid, the budget for developmental services receives the largest increase in the House’s spending bill. Given the growing and changing need for developmental services this budget funds a $87 million increase bringing spending to more than $1.9 billion for these critical programs.

The House budget continues the Commonwealth’s commitment to its most vulnerable citizens, such as low-income residents and seniors. The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), administered through the Commonwealth’s food banks, receives $17.6 million in the budget to ensure that citizens in need have access to a supply of quality food in the Commonwealth. This funding is particularly important because it helps to support Cape Ann’s Open Door food pantry. This budget provides Elder Protective Services with $29.4 million to ensure the safety and health of the Commonwealth’s senior citizens and commits $750,000 to the Meals on Wheels program to provide home-delivered meals to seniors.

It also:

  • Provides $50,000 to the Open Door food pantry for a job training and workforce readiness initiative for high-risk youth, designed to build work skills and increase access to good nutrition for better health through meal preparation and food production.

In anticipation of a criminal justice reform bill later in the session, the budget includes $3.5 million to fund recommendations made by the Council on State Government.

The budget also creates a tax credit for businesses that hire veterans. Eligible businesses would receive $2,000 per year for the first two years of a veteran’s employment. This provision enhances the Commonwealth’s reputation as a national leader in providing benefits to military personnel, veterans and their families.

The budget will now go to the Senate for its consideration.

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