Boston – Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) announces that the Senate tonight engrossed a balanced budget for fiscal year 2017 that supports major investments in education and local aid, as well as providing necessary services for the most vulnerable populations.
Throughout the three days of debate, the Senate adopted a number of amendments filed by Senator Downing, including:
· $18 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program - a $1m increase over Fiscal Year 2016;
· $150,000 to support the efforts of the Berkshire County Education Task Force in envisioning a sustainable, long-term education system for the county;
· $75,000 to fund the operations of Gallery 51 at MCLA;
· $175,000 for the Berkshire County Youth Development Project for youth intervention services;
· $150,000 for the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority for countywide shelter and safety net services coordination;
· $100,000 for the Franklin/Hampshire County CASA Program;
· $100,000 for the Franklin County Opioid Task Force, and;
· A one-year waiver for the Berkshire Sheriff’s Office for payments on energy efficiency upgrades.
In addition, Senator Downing supported a number of successful amendments filed by his colleagues, which reflected his budget priorities:
· $61 million for Regional School Transportation Reimbursements;
· $15 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council;
· $8 million for Shannon Grants for anti-gang violence initiatives;
· Continued funding for programs funded by last year’s Mass in Motion grants;
· Continued funding for the Substance Abuse Trust Fund;
· $100,000 for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program;
· $300,000 for Buy Local Initiatives, and;
· Language directing the Legislature and Administration to create an implementation schedule for the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission.
The Senate’s budget takes a holistic approach to early childhood education and care and elementary and secondary education, with a focus on building family and community relationships.
· $4.63B in Chapter 70 education aid, a $116.1M increase benefiting every school district, including a minimum increase of $55 per pupil and 85% effort reduction.
· $10M for salary increases to early education providers.
· $2.5M for Youth At-Risk Matching Grants to community youth organizations, including Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs.
· $2M for new preschool expansion grants to expand high-quality preschool programs that prepare young children for future educational success.
· $750K for the Mentoring Matching Grant program.
The Senate included landmark language to overhaul the Chapter 70 formula to fund Massachusetts school districts more fairly and adequately in the future. As recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) last year, the new formula better accounts for school districts’ rising health insurance costs and the high cost of educating students with special needs, English Language Learners and low income students. The budget also establishes a taskforce to identify the most accurate way of counting low income students and requires the House, Senate and Administration to determine a schedule for funding the FBRC’s recommendations.
The Senate budget also invests in children’s mental health, safety and welfare in an effort to ensure all children grow up in a supportive environment.
· $223.5M for Department of Children and Families Social Workers, allowing DCF to hire an additional 100 social workers and 125 social worker technicians, moving closer to an 18:1 caseload ratio.
· $88.2M for Children’s Mental Health Services, including $3.6M for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project and $50K for an Early Childhood Mental Health Partnership.
· $12.5M for Family Resource Centers providing crucial mental health, substance abuse treatment and family support services.
· $1M for the Office of the Child Advocate and language to increase its independence to further its mission to protect the health, safety and well-being of children under the care of the Commonwealth.
In order to strengthen families, the Senate’s budget invests in programs to connect individuals, families and vulnerable populations with housing and supportive services.
· $100M for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, allowing for 350 to 400 new rental assistance vouchers.
· $44.8M for assistance for homeless individuals.
· $13M for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, including $500K to serve families with children under the age of 21, elders, persons with disabilities and unaccompanied youth.
· $6.2M for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program to provide nearly 200 new vouchers for low income people with disabilities and help them transition from nursing homes to independent housing.
· $2M for housing and supportive services for unaccompanied homeless youth.
The Senate’s budget also makes targeted investments to support low income families and promote self-sufficiency, including an increase in the Department of Transitional Assistance clothing allowance from $200 per child to $250 per child, $2.6M for a new transportation benefit for approximately 10,000 participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training Program and $18M for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program. The budget invests $1M in a new common application portal to help families enroll in MassHealth, SNAP nutrition and other state benefits in one streamlined process.
The Senate’s budget increases funding for health and human services in a range of areas to improve access to high quality health care and enhance services for individuals with disabilities, seniors and other vulnerable groups that are often under-served.
· $136.4M for substance abuse prevention and treatment, allowing for 150 new residential treatment beds and other lifesaving programs, and $2M for the Substance Abuse Services Trust Fund supporting detox, clinical stabilization, residential treatment, outpatient treatment and counseling services.
· $28.1M for Elder Protective Services to enhance efforts to investigate cases of elder abuse or neglect.
· $20.5M for wages for direct care staff of nursing homes.
· $14.1M for local Councils on Aging, increasing the formula grant to $10 per senior per year and strengthening local senior center community programming and services.
· $13.9M to fully fund Turning 22 Services for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, and $8M for the Department of Developmental Services Turning 22 program to help young people with disabilities transition to the adult services system.
· $1.1M for a pilot program to expand eligibility for the state’s home care program to support more seniors aging in place.
The Senate’s budget invests in the 351 cities and towns across the Commonwealth to strengthen local services and build healthy, safe and resilient communities.
· $1.02B for Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) for municipal investments in education, public safety, roads and bridges and health care.
· $281.1M to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker to reimburse school districts for high costs of educating students with disabilities at the full 75% reimbursement rate.
· $90M to mitigate the financial impact on school districts when students leave to attend charter schools.
· $84.1M for Regional Transit Authorities.
Continuing the Senate’s ongoing criminal justice reform efforts, the budget includes several investments and policy initiatives to improve access to justice, including $1.2M to expand the Housing Court to serve all residents across the state, $18M for civil legal aid for low income residents and $1.5M for Prisoners’ Legal Services. The budget also waives probation fees for juvenile offenders and gives judges the discretion to impose probation fees for other offenders.
The budget invests in workforce training, economic development and public higher education to prepare Massachusetts students and residents to join the workforce and ensure the Commonwealth’s economy continues to grow and lead.
· $521.3M for the University of Massachusetts, a $20.5M increase over FY 2016 funding, in addition to the new flexibility provided by tuition retention.
· $281.7M for the fifteen community colleges and $258.4M for the nine state universities across the Commonwealth, reflecting a combined increase of $24.4M over FY 2016 funding levels.
· $31M for the Adult Basic Education program to reduce the waitlist for adult education and connect adults with skills they need to join the workforce.
· $11.5M for wages for the Youth-At-Risk Summer Jobs program and $3.2M for School to Career Connecting Activities, a public-private partnership linking high school students with job training and mentoring opportunities.
· $4M for Workforce Competitiveness Grants for training and education for unemployed and under-employed workers.
· $3M for the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to foster a favorable environment for the development and growth of technology and innovation clusters across the state.
· $350K for a new public-private partnership matching grant program to establish college savings accounts for children in grades 7 through 12, encouraging low income students to pursue higher education and helping to close income and racial educational attainment gaps.
The Senate budget also includes a provision to move the state into compliance with the federal REAL ID law, allowing Massachusetts residents to access federal buildings and board airplanes after the state’s waiver expires in October.
A Conference Committee will now work out the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2017 begins on July 1, 2016.