Senator O’Connor secures funding for local initiatives and organizations; Bill makes record investments in education, mental health, housing, and substance use treatment
(BOSTON– 5/27/22) The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed a $49.78 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23). Advanced with unanimous support, the budget makes significant, critical, and targeted investments in the areas of education, health care, housing, and community supports to meet the on-the-ground challenges brought on by the global pandemic and ongoing financial uncertainty.
“The budget we passed this week puts the people of the Commonwealth in a position to succeed in the short- and long-term,” said State Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “By making record investments, without raising taxes, in our residents through education, health care, housing, and more, we are ensuring that we all move forward together.”
O’Connor added that he appreciated the support of his colleagues in directing funding to local South Shore organizations. During the budget debate, O’Connor secured:
- $350,000 for the Talking Information Center to support their work providing a reading service that broadcasts newspapers, magazines, books, and special consumer information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to visually impaired and print impaired listeners.
- $100,000 for Weymouth 400 to support the organization’s push to make the events and celebration of the 400th anniversary the best they can be.
- $50,000 to support operations at the Weymouth Food Pantry and their weekend backpack program providing meals to Weymouth Public Schools students in need of assistance on Fridays and the weekend.
- $50,000 for the Wonderfund. The organization works on behalf of children under the care of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and provides comfort and dignity to children in traumatic situations and enriches childhoods that have been impacted by abuse and neglect.
- $45,000 to support the Norwell Grange, an agricultural association aimed at leadership and community improvement, and aid them in beginning the process of updating their facility.
- $25,000 to support Maddie's Promise, a nonprofit that was started in memory of Hingham resident Maddie McCoy, an 11-year-old girl who bravely faced rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive type of cancerous tumor of the soft tissue. Maddie’s Promise works to close the funding gap of rare pediatric cancers.
- $20,000 for the Noreen Deady Memorial Fund to support their mission aiding children who are experiencing serious medical issues or have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling, or caretaker, or faced some other hardship in life.
- $20,000 for the Hull Lifesaving Museum to start the process of renovating the historic coastguard boathouse and continue offering engaging community events.
- $20,000 to Sowing Seeds of Hope in Marshfield to support their mission through providing clothing to those in need, rides for the elderly and chronically ill, and additional resources to those trying to get back on their feet.
- $20,000 to Type One, a Hingham-based nonprofit dedicated to creating a future where Type One diabetes is no more by raising public awareness and funding cure research.
- $20,000 for You're With Us, an organization that creates inclusion opportunities for young adults with disabilities by identifying and training college clubs, groups, and teams to welcome individuals with disabilities into their groups.
- $20,000 for Free Period, a local Hingham-based organization that provides free feminine hygiene products to those in need.
- $20,000 to Campbell Christmas Angels, a Hull-based nonprofit, supporting their efforts to provide families with a gift on Christmas morning.
- $16,000 to support the building of a new Hamilton School Playground in Weymouth.
- $14,000 to the Plymouth County Fire Chiefs Association to support major incident planning and training, and enhance mutual aid operations in the area.
- $10,000 for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Weymouth to ensure that park volunteers are able to keep the space as pristine as possible for visitors paying their respects.
- $10,000 for the Scituate Food Pantry to cover their annual rent and allow them to allocate more resources to help those in need of their services.
- $10,000 to Wicked Good Cause, a Duxbury nonprofit whose mission is to provide philanthropic support to local South Shore families that have been affected by unforeseen illness, accident, or tragedy.
- $10,000 to help the Hingham Sports Partnership continue their mission and provide grants for local programs for new equipment, financial scholarships to student athletes moving on to the next level, and coaching workshops.
- $10,000 for South Shore SNAP to aid their efforts helping young adults with varying disabilities participate in recreational activities.
- 10,000 for South Shore Peer Recovery to support their efforts helping neighbors struggling with addiction.
“These organizations and causes are at the center of our work,” said O’Connor. “They help those who are in need of a helping hand, support our youth, keep us safe, and build community. I am very proud to have secured funding in the budget to help each of their respective mission’s.”
With state tax revenue collections $3.5 billion above the benchmark and with surging inflation and gas prices at all-time highs, Senator O’Connor and a handful of his colleagues offered a tax relief package that was ultimately rejected by the body. The tax relief package would have:
- Provided a temporary 3-month suspension of the 24-cent gas tax
- Doubled the maximum Senior Circuit Breaker Credit to lower the overall tax burden for senior citizens across the Commonwealth
- Changed the short-term capital gains tax rate from 12% to 5%
- Increased the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $5,000
- Increased the Adjusted Gross Income threshold for “no tax status” to $12,400 for single filers, $24,800 for joint filers, and $18,650 for head of households
- Doubled the dependent care tax credit to $480 for one qualifying individual, and to $960 for two or more individuals
- Modernized the Estate Tax to double the threshold from $1 million to $2 million
“The tax break package presented by my colleagues and I would have eased the burden on working families and provided urgently needed financial relief from the economic challenges we continue to face,” said O’Connor. “With record prices for gas, housing, childcare, and basic necessities, we need to act immediately to enact tax reforms to ease the blow on our residents and protect those who simply cannot afford the looming changes our economy will experience.”
In addition to securing funding for local programs, O’Connor was also able to secure funding for a program whose concept stemmed from a conversation he had with a former intern of his, Grace Alves of Cohasset. When Alves was in the office, she was tasked with doing research into potential ideas for the state’s Next Generation Climate Roadmap bill that was taken up in the winter of 2021. Through her research, Alves came up with an idea for a grant program that assists low-income support service providers, such as food banks and homeless shelters, in purchasing solar power equipment.
O’Connor secured $650,000 for the program in the Senate Budget this year.
“After the startup costs are taken care of, these service providers are able to drastically slash their monthly energy costs and put more funding towards helping our neighbors in need,” said O’Connor. “Although Grace has moved on from her internship, she is still making a huge impact and I am very proud to be able to support her idea.”
The Senate’s FY23 budget includes a total of $49.78 billion in spending with $854.4 million deposited into the state’s rainy-day fund, bringing that account’s total to $6.74 billion. Structured upon a consensus revenue estimate of 2.7 per cent growth, the budget also funds Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) at $1.231 billion. Other budget highlights are detailed below.
Drawing on its belief that the state’s recovery is made stronger by a commitment to invest in early education and care, the Senate’s budget makes a $1.13 billion investment into this sector of the care economy, including $300 million in new resources to begin implementation of recommendations made by the Early Education and Care Economy Review Commission. These investments will help to stabilize providers, support the early educator workforce, and provide access to affordable care for children and families. Funding includes:
- $250 million for the Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) Stabilization Grants, stabilizing the early education and care sector by supporting critical operational and workforce needs
- $25 million for a new infrastructure and policy reform reserve to bolster the statewide system of care and assist families in navigating the early education landscape
- $25 million for the center-based childcare rate reserve for reimbursement rates for subsidized care
- $16.5 million for grants to the Head Start program to maintain access to early education services for low-income families
- $15 million for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative to expand access to pre-kindergarten and preschool opportunities in underserved areas
- $5 million for the Early Childhood Educators Scholarship
In K-12 education, the Senate delivers on its promise to fully fund and implement the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) by FY 2027, investing $6 billion in Chapter 70 funding, an increase of $495 million over FY 2022, as well as double minimum Chapter 70 aid from $30 to $60 per pupil. This investment ensures the state remains on schedule to fully implement the law by FY2027, provides school districts with resources to provide high quality educational opportunities, and addresses rising costs and administrative challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This budget also confronts head-on the issue of higher education student costs by providing $175.2 million for the scholarship reserve, including an additional $37.5 million for the MassGrant and MassGrant Plus programs. An amendment adopted by the Senate also dedicate $1 million to pilot a digital textbook and materials program at a community college or state university to provide student with the opportunity to access free textbooks online.
The Senate also expands access to inclusive education opportunities for young adults with disabilities through the removal of existing barriers and codifying the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment grant program. The budget dedicates $4 million in flexible resources for the public higher education system to implement and support inclusive learning options for this diverse student population. Other education investments include:
- $435 million for the special education circuit breaker
- $243.8 million for charter school reimbursements
- $82.2 million to reimburse school districts for regional school transportation costs, representing an 85% reimbursement rate
- $10 million for Early College programs and $9 million for the state’s Dual Enrollment initiative, both of which provide high school students with increased opportunities for post-graduate success
- $5.5 million, after adding $1.5 million through an amendment, for targeted aid to rural schools
- $1.5 million for the Genocide Education Trust Fund, fulfilling our commitment to educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide and support implementation efforts in accordance with Chapter 98 of the Acts of 2021, An Act Concerning Genocide Education, passed by the Legislature in 2021
Health, Mental Health & Family Care
For too many—especially children—the post-pandemic world continues to be wrought with uncertainty. To address these concerns, the Senate’s budget focuses on funding a range of services, including social emotional learning (SEL) support for students, domestic violence prevention, substance use disorder treatment, and strengthening our regional boards of health. The budget also supports the expansion of Family Resource Centers (FRCS), which offer resources to families seeking health, safety, educational, and employment services.
The Senate budget funds MassHealth at a total of $18.56 billion, providing more than 2.1 million people with access to affordable and accessible health care services. Other health investments include:
- $514.6 million for Department of Mental Health adult support services, including assisted outpatient programming and comprehensive care coordination among health care providers
- $210.3 million for a complete range of substance use disorder treatment and intervention services to support these individuals and their families
- $112.5 million for children’s mental health services
- $56 million for domestic violence prevention services
- $40.4 million for Early Intervention services, ensuring supports remain accessible and available to infants and young toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities
- $28.3 million for Family Resource Centers to grow and improve the mental health resources and programming available to families
- $20 million to recapitalize the Behavioral Health, Access, Outreach and Support Trust Fund to support targeted behavioral health initiatives
- $18.5 million, increased during the amendment process, to expand to all correctional facilities the existing pilot program for the delivery of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder
- $18 million for family and adolescent health, including $7.8 million for comprehensive family planning services and $6.7 million to enhance federal Title X family planning funding
- $15 million for grants to support local and regional boards of health, continuing our efforts to build upon the successful State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) Program
- $15 million for emergency department diversion initiatives for children, adolescents, and adults
- $8.2 million to support student behavioral health services at the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges
- $6 million for Social Emotional Learning Grants to help K-12 schools bolster social emotional learning supports for students, and $1 million to provide mental health screenings for K-12 students
- $4.4 million for the Office of the Child Advocate
- $3.5 million for the Massachusetts Center on Child Wellbeing & Trauma
- $3 million for Children Advocacy Centers to improve the critical supports available to children that have been neglected or sexually abused
- $1 million, increased through the amendment process, for an expansion of the Hey Sam text-based mental health support line, a peer-to-peer suicide prevention communications initiative for youth and young adults
The Senate also adopted an amendment that prevents correctional facilities from charging fees to incarcerated persons or their loved ones for prison phone calls, and it also sets a new requirement that commissary items in correctional facilities shall not be sold at more than 3 per cent over the purchase cost. Both changes ensure that our correctional facilities do not unjustly profit off the basic needs of incarcerated persons.
In addition, the Senate adopted an amendment to address the failures that led to the tragic death of Harmony Montgomery, who was released from state custody in 2019 when she was five years old, but then went missing for two years without being reported. To ensure that a tragedy like this will not happen again, this budget establishes a Harmony Montgomery Commission to study, examine and make recommendations regarding the welfare and best interest considerations of children in care and protection cases and petition to dispense with consent cases.
Expanding & Protecting Opportunities
The Senate remains committed to continuing an equitable recovery, expanding opportunity, and supporting the state’s long-term economic health. To that end, the budget includes a record investment in the annual child’s clothing allowance, providing $400 per child for eligible families to buy clothes for the upcoming school year. The budget also includes a 10 per cent increase to Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) benefit levels compared to June 2022 to help families move out of deep poverty.
With skilled workers in high demand and job openings plentiful, the Senate’s budget invests more than $100 million to bolster job training programs, help connect unemployed and under-employed people with higher paying jobs and support career services that help students gain access and skills to apply for future jobs. Economic opportunity investments include:
- $356.6 million for Transitional Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and $140.7 million for Emergency Aid to Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) to provide the necessary support as caseloads increase, and lift families and individuals out of so-called ‘deep poverty’
- $55.3 million for adult basic education services to improve access to skills necessary to join the workforce.
- $30.5 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program
- $24.1 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth
- $20 million in Healthy Incentives Programs to maintain access to healthy food options for households in need
- $20 million for a Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant Program to provide economic support to communities disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system
- $17 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to connect unemployed and under-employed workers with higher paying jobs
- $15.4 million for Career Technical Institutes to increase our skilled worker population and provide residents access to career technical training opportunities
- $7.5 million for community foundations to provide emergency economic relief to historically underserved populations
- $5 million for the Secure Jobs Connect Program, providing job placement resources and assistance for homeless individuals
- $4.8 million for the Innovation Pathways program to continue to connect students to trainings and post-secondary opportunities in the industry sector with a focus on STEM fields
- $2.5 million for the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund, including $1.5 million to continue partnerships with community colleges and state universities to provide cybersecurity workforce training to students and cybersecurity services to municipalities, non-profits, and small businesses
- $500,000, through an amendment, for the Economic Empowerment Trust Fund to expand the state’s Baby Steps college savings program
An amendment passed by the Senate would also establish a veteran equality review board to ensure that veterans dishonorably discharged under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” receive state-based veterans’ benefits. Another adopted amendment directs the state to develop one common application portal through which residents can simultaneously apply for multiple forms of state-administered needs-based benefits and services.
Based on the Senate’s understanding of the strong link housing security has to positive health and economic outcomes, the Senate FY23 budget invests over $900 million in increased funding for housing stability and homelessness assistance to work towards keeping people in their homes and helping individuals and families find permanent housing solutions.
The budget prioritizes relief for families and individuals who continue to face challenges brought on by both the pandemic and financial insecurity, including $213.2 million for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters and $210 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), including $60 million carried over from the March supplemental budget. The budget also upholds the emergency-level maximum amount of rental assistance that a household can receive at $10,000. Eligible households facing a housing crisis would also be given access to apply for RAFT and HomeBASE. The budget, through adoption of an amendment, also requires the Department of Housing and Community Development to study and report on the execution of no-fault evictions between 2019 and 2022. Other housing investments include:
- $175 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), including $20.7 million in unspent funds carried forward from FY 2022; the budget also recommends structural program changes that, starting January 1, 2023, will allow households to pay no more than 30% of their income for rent to receive rental vouchers for up to 110% of fair market value
- $92 million for assistance to local housing authorities
- $83.3 million for assistance for homeless individuals
- $56.9 million for the HomeBASE diversion and rapid re-housing programs, bolstering assistance under this program to two years with a per household maximum benefit of $20,000
- $19.3 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), which provides rental assistance to people with disabilities, including $5.6 million in unspent funds carried forward from FY 2022 and $2.5 million for grants to improve or create accessible affordable housing units
- $5 million for sponsored-based supportive permanent housing
- $3.9 million for the Home and Healthy for Good re-housing and supportive services program, including $250,000 for homeless LGBTQ+ youth
The Committee’s budget reflects the Senate’s unwavering support for cities and towns and provides a significant amount of local and regional aid to ensure communities can provide essential services to the public while addressing local impacts caused by the pandemic. This includes $1.231 billion in funding for Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), an increase of $63 million over FY 2022, to support additional resources for cities and towns. In addition to traditional sources of local aid, the Committee’s budget increases payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land to $45 million, an increase of $10 million over FY 2022. PILOT funding is a vital source of supplemental local aid for cities and towns working to protect and improve access to essential services and programs during recovery from the pandemic. Other local investments include:
- $96.5 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to support regional public transportation systems, including $2.5 million for the implementation of pilot programs for fare innovation and reduction across the state
- $40.8 million for libraries, including $14.5 million for regional library local aid, $16 million for municipal libraries and $4.7 million for technology and automated resource networks
- $22.3 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives
- $3 million for Non-Profit Security Grants, after an increase of $1.5 million through the amendment process, to cover vital security enhancements to houses of worship, community centers, and other institutions at heightened risk of violence
- $1 million for the New American Voter Grant Program to provide accessible election materials to municipalities with significant non-English speaking populations and promote public awareness about voting
The Senate also adopted an amendment based on recommendations of the PFAS Interagency Task Force, which would provide $250,000 for the continued implementation of the AFFF Take-Back Program that funds the collection and proper disposal of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) stored by municipal fire departments and other public safety partners in Massachusetts.
Another amendment passed in the budget would also extend COVID-19 state-of-emergency provisions related to remote public meetings, flexible town meetings, remote notaries, remote corporate meeting and remote mortgage video conferencing.
The Senate’s FY23 Budget is available on the Massachusetts legislature’s website: https://malegislature.gov/Budget/SenateWaysMeansBudget. Now that the Senate and Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed their respective budget proposals, both branches will now work together, form a conference committee and reconcile differences.
Senator Patrick O’Connor represents the Plymouth and Norfolk district, which includes the towns of Cohasset, Duxbury, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell, Scituate, and Weymouth. Sen. O’Connor and his staff may be reached at the State House at 617-722-1646 or by email at Patrick.O’[email protected]