Investing in a Stronger Cape Ann

Last week, the House of Representatives passed its FY2020 budget, including substantial investments in education, economic development, and local aid, as well as other areas. Here are a few highlights on issues that are especially important to our district because they will have a positive impact on Cape Ann.

This year, the House Budget makes a down payment toward fulfilling the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, increasing Chapter 70 aid to school districts by $236 million, nearly double the average year-to-year increase over the past five years. In addition, we are also allocating $16.5 million for the Low-Income Student Support program and providing $2 million to establish the Supporting Healthy Alliances Reinforcing Education (SHARE) program, for the purpose of integrated coordination of school and community-based resources, including enhanced access to social services and behavioral health providers. These are investments in the “whole child,” designed to provide critical social and behavioral health resources to children where they can access them, to ensure that Massachusetts remains number one in the nation for education.

Building on previous investments in Gloucester’s growing marine genomics and research industry, the House Budget adopted my amendment, co-sponsored by my colleagues from the North and South Shore, which allocates $200,000 for the continued implementation of a state marine genomics program. Last year, under my leadership, the House provided funding for the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute (GMGI) to develop a state marine genomics program. The primary participants included GMGI, the Division of Marine Fisheries, and UMass Amherst Marine Station Gloucester. The development of the statewide genomics program resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding involving the three entities and their future working relationship on marine genomics research. The first state genomics research program, funded this year, will investigate how norovirus is transmitted from shellfish to humans.

The House Budget allocates over $18 million dollars for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), which helps to fund food pantries around the Commonwealth. These food pantries provide a critical service in our communities. I’m proud to have continued my advocacy for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program. I first learned about MEFAP through Julie LaFontaine of The Open Door, who is also a member of the board of the Greater Boston Food Bank. MEFAP funding provides a critical supply of food to The Open Door, which services Cape Ann. When the federal government failed to provide resources for its workers during the shutdown earlier this year, our community – especially The Open Door – stepped up to help those in the Coast Guard and others affected. My amendment, which was adopted in the House Budget, provides $100,000 for The Open Door to acquire additional cold and dry storage, kitchen space, and training areas so that they may expand to fit the generous spirit of our community and better serve the citizens of Cape Ann.

To celebrate the history of Cape Ann, the House Budget allocates $50,000 for a commemorative publication of the history of the City of Gloucester on the occasion of the 400th year from its founding, inclusive of all its diverse peoples. In past celebrations, each commemorative book included the history of Gloucester. However, the history stated often fails to mention the contributions of Native Americans, women, freed slaves, and immigrants. The 400th commemorative book will recognize and celebrate Gloucester’s entire history with the accomplishments of all her residents. The budget also provides $35,000 for the Essex Bicentennial Committee for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the incorporation of the Town of Essex, which will be celebrated this year. I encourage you to take part in some of its exciting events as we celebrate our history on Cape Ann.

The House Budget also includes an increase in matching funds under the Community Preservation Act, similar to a proposal that I filed with 117 co-sponsors at the beginning of this legislative session with the support of Gloucester resident Jack Clarke of Mass Audubon. A one-time adjustment to filing fees at the state’s Registries of Deeds will increase the state match to local community preservation committees to over 30 percent. The Community Preservation Act is one of the state’s most effective local aid programs and has been a tremendous resource to our cities and towns. On Cape Ann, CPA funds have been used for the restoration of Gloucester City Hall, the Rockport Meeting House, Essex Town Hall, and many other of our treasured local landmarks and spaces. Historic preservation, open space, affordable housing, and recreation are important needs in all communities across the Commonwealth and I was proud to advocate for this increase in funding.

I was also a co-sponsor to several amendments relating to marine industries that were adopted. The House Budget provides $50,000 for a green crab trapping program for applied research and product development, $75,000 for a great white shark research tagging program, and contains language allowing for the expansion of opportunities for the sale and processing of frozen lobster parts in Massachusetts. As we face a changing economic landscape and challenges in our traditional marine industries, it is important that we explore and expand new opportunities for marine-based research and commerce.

To address the unprecedented number of nursing home closures over the past few years, I co-sponsored an amendment to supplement the nursing facility rates paid by MassHealth, which was adopted into the House Budget. It directs MassHealth to increase rates paid to nursing facilities in FY2020 by not less than $35 million above the amount of payments made in FY2019. This supplement will help to bring stability to the Commonwealth’s nursing facilities, provide the care that our seniors need, and avoid the closures that put their safety and well-being at risk.

The House Budget continues funding for grant programs under the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to further the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan, such as the Gap Funding Grant Program. Rockport recently received a Gap II grant for $81,000 for upgrades to the wastewater plant, which I visited last week with Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton. Previously, Rockport received a Gap I grant for LED lighting in the wastewater plant. We are now working with Rockport on coastal resiliency grants.

The House Budget also contains $4.9 million in unrestricted government aid to Gloucester, Rockport, and Essex, and $11.2 million in Chapter 70 aid to the Gloucester Public Schools, Rockport Public Schools, and Manchester Essex Regional School District.

The budget now moves to the Senate for consideration in May. Senator Tarr has been a partner on these issues and I look forward to working with him throughout the budget process to deliver our fair share of resources to Cape Ann.