BOSTON – On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate passed a $402.2 million supplemental budget to cover costs associated with increased caseloads in the Department of Children and Families, snow and ice removal, the state emergency shelter system, time sensitive deficiencies and other unanticipated cost increases in Fiscal Year 2015, announced State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield).
The supplemental budget includes $7.6 million to support an increase in the Department of Children and Families’ caseloads in foster care, guardianship and adoption and $27.4 million for caseloads in group homes for foster children and community-based services. The bill also includes $51.5 million to address deficiencies in the state emergency assistance homeless shelter program and $3 million to support an increase in the Department of Housing and Community Development’s caseload for HomeBASE, a program that helps families avoid homelessness.
The bill includes $50 million to fund snow and ice removal costs for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and $7 million to reimburse state agencies for extraordinary expenses incurred as a result of severe winter storms.
The bill also allows the University of Massachusetts system to retain tuition collected from in-state students beginning July 1, 2015, which will make the costs to students more transparent. The campuses currently retain tuition collected from out-of-state students only. In addition, the bill makes technical corrections to several sections of the General Laws, allows for changes to the composition of some state boards and validates thirteen collective bargaining agreements.
Downing sponsored an amendment at the request of Berkshire Community Action Council and Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions, who provide LIHEAP Fuel Assistance to income-eligible residents. Downing’s proposal authorized the Department of Housing and Community Development to spend up to $20 million from the state’s General Fund to supplement existing FY15 federal funding for LIHEAP. If passed, the amendment would have provided enough funding for LIHEAP clients to keep their homes warm through the end of the cold season. During the debate Downing withdrew the amendment after securing assurances from Leadership that the Senate would continue to review his proposal for action in the near future.
During the debate, the Senate did adopt amendments to temporarily allow the Committee for Public Counsel Services to waive the billable hours cap for private counsel in the children and family law division, to authorize the use of statewide grand juries and to enhance Health Connector reporting requirements.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a similar supplemental spending bill. The Senate and House must produce and agree on a final compromise bill, which will be enacted and forwarded to the Governor for his review and signature. Fiscal Year 2015 ends on June 30, 2015.