Senator O’Connor Secures Funding for Non-Profit Organizations, Local Aid, Education, and Recovery Efforts
The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a $47.7 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) after three days of robust deliberations. Approved with unanimous bipartisan support, the budget maintains fiscal responsibility and recommends targeted investments to address emerging needs, safeguard the health and wellness of the most vulnerable populations and ensure residents will benefit equitably as the state recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth) sponsored a number of amendments that were targeted to advance key priorities in the Plymouth & Norfolk Senate District, including:
- $350,000 for the Talking Information Center to support their programming
- $150,000 for the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association to increase workforce development training opportunities and technical education in schools for careers in the marine trades
- $100,000 for Marshfield Public Schools to further design and implement their mental health education programs
- $80,000 to the Norwell Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice to support their telehealth program
- $50,000 for South Shore Peer Recovery to support operations and programming for those in addiction recovery
- $50,000 to empowerHER, a non-profit organization in Norwell, which provides guidance and mentorship services to young women who have lost their mothers.
- $50,000 to the North River Commission to fund the North River Commission, pursuant to the Legislature’s 1978 Scenic Protective Order
- $40,000 for South Shore Special Needs Athletic Partnership (SNAP) to support their operations and programming
- $25,000 to Free. (pronounced “Free Period”), a program offered by $25,000 to Hingham's St. John the Evangelist Church providing free feminine hygiene products to those in need
- $22,000 for Wellspring Multi-Service Center’s wrap-around services
- $20,000 to The Company Theatre to support their operations and programming as they recover from COVID-19 impacts
- $20,000 to support the Community of Resources for Special Education (CORSE) Foundation
- $20,000 for Drug Story Theater to expand efforts to educate youth on the dangers of substance abuse
- $20,000 to the North Weymouth Civic Association to support the furtherance of local initiatives
- $10,000 to the Scituate Visitors Center to support the launch of their virtual presence
- $10,000 to the Town of Scituate to support their portion of the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail
“Each of these organizations is well-deserving of the support of the Senate,” said Senator O’Connor. “In the months ahead, each of these organizations will help us recover as a community from the effects of COVID-19 in their own way. I am very thankful for the work they do each day and am proud to have been able to secure this funding on their behalf.”
In addition to the funding directed to local organizations in the Senate budget, O’Connor also says that towns on the South Shore should expect millions in support to head their way this Fiscal Year. Senator O’Connor was able to secure $94,781,680 for the Plymouth & Norfolk District divvied up between Chapter 70 and Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA). Chapter 70 is the Commonwealth's program for ensuring adequate and equitable K-12 education funding and UGGA allows municipalities to spend the funds however they see fit.
Unrestricted General Government Aid
“The budget that we passed focuses on the future and ensures that every resident, business, and family can find success in a post-pandemic Massachusetts,” said Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth), Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The past year has been difficult for so many, and this budget strives to put in place programs designed to recover from the effects of COVID-19. Now is the time for us to rebuild and make the Commonwealth an even better place to call home. I am deeply appreciative to my colleagues for the insight and knowledge they expressed during the debate and am proud to say that this budget reflects our values and places people first.”
The Senate’s budget confronts the frontline health care impacts of the pandemic to navigate the challenges posed by COVID-19. It also sustains support for the state’s safety net by funding MassHealth at a total of $18.98 billion, thereby providing over 2 million of the Commonwealth’s children, seniors, and low-income residents access to comprehensive health care coverage. Understanding that the pandemic has strained the health care safety net, the Senate’s budget also invests over $1 billion to support vital mental and behavioral health initiatives while ensuring children and families continue to receive supports across the continuum of services provided.
As a cornerstone of the Commonwealth’s equitable recovery, the Senate’s budget protects access to educational opportunity and charts a path forward for students, families, educators, and institutions. The budget maintains the Senate’s commitment to implementing the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) by FY 2027. The Senate proposal fully funds the first year of the SOA consistent with the $5.503 billion local aid agreement reached in March with the House Committee on Ways and Means, amounting to an increase of $220 million over FY21.
Despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic, this increased level of investment represents a 1/6th implementation of SOA rates and ensures that school districts across the Commonwealth have adequate and equitable resources to provide high quality educational opportunities for all students. The Senate’s budget also includes $387.9 million for the Special Education (SPED) Circuit Breaker, reimbursing school districts for the cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75 per cent reimbursement rate. In addition, recognizing that school districts across the state have experienced fluctuations in student enrollment related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate’s budget creates a $40 million reserve consistent with the March local aid agreement to provide additional aid to districts experiencing increases in student enrollment compared to October 2020.
The Senate’s FY 2022 budget employs a sensible approach to maintain long-term fiscal health by including up to $1.55 billion from the Stabilization Fund. It draws $50M less from reserves than the budget proposed by the Administration, ensuring that the Commonwealth maintains healthy reserves for years beyond the pandemic. Additionally, the Senate’s budget relies on $575 million from enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (eFMAP) reimbursements and $15 million in FEMA reimbursements to take advantage of changes at the federal level to maximize revenue opportunities. It also excludes the use of federal American Rescue Plan funds: the Senate will work collaboratively in the coming months to develop a responsive and thoughtful plan to support the needs of the Commonwealth.
During this week’s debate, the Senate adopted two amendments that highlight its targeted focus on finding opportunities to enhance revenue and be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars. When Massachusetts first regulated ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft, the legislation included a novel $0.20 fee per ride to mitigate the impacts on congestion. Since that time, jurisdictions across the country have adopted fee structures to more appropriately capture the impact that ride share companies have on the roadways, and better incentivize consumer behavior. To that end, the Senate budget increases the current $0.20 fee to $1.20 for solo rides and adds an additional $0.20 fee to rides that begin in end in the MBTA core, among other changes. All increased revenue from the rides will go back to the transportation system to invest in public transit and other mobility improvements.
The Senate also adopted a budget amendment to implement several recommendations of the newly created Tax Expenditure Review Commission. The commission thoroughly reviewed spending through the tax expenditure budget and highlighted several expenditures that no longer serve their desired purpose. The Senate heeded the advice of the commission and eliminated several such expenditures, slated to save taxpayers several million dollars beginning in tax year 2022.
Additional education investments include:
- $5.503 billion for Chapter 70 education funding
- $387.9 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker
- $149.1 million to reimburse public school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools
- $78.6 million to reimburse school districts for regional school transportation costs, after adding $1 million during debate
- $571.2 million for the University of Massachusetts, $321.7 million for the fifteen community colleges, and $298.1 million for the nine state universities
- $40 million reserve to provide additional aid to districts experiencing increases in student enrollment compared to October 2020
- $27.9 million for METCO grants to cities, towns and regional school districts, after adding $1.3 million during debate
- $15 million for grants to the Head Start program to maintain access to early education services for low-income families
- $10 million for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative to expand access to pre-kindergarten and preschool opportunities in underserved areas
- $9 million for a reserve to cover parent fees for families receiving subsidized childcare through the end of calendar year 2021
- $6 million for Dual Enrollment and $5 million for Early College Programs, more than doubling our commitment to these programs that provide high school students with better opportunities for post-graduate success
- $5 million for Social Emotional Learning Grants to help K-12 schools bolster social emotional learning supports for students, and $1 million for a new pilot program to provide mental health screenings for K-12 students
- $4 million for rural school assistance, after adding $1 million during debate
- $2 million for grants offered through the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative to support high school students with intellectual disabilities ages 18–22 with access to higher education opportunities
- $600,000, added during debate, for innovation pathway programs to create partnerships with employers to provide students with experience in specific high-demand industries, such as information technology, engineering, healthcare, life sciences and advanced manufacturing
Additional health investments include:
- $507.5 million for Adult Support Services, including assisted outpatient programming and comprehensive care coordination among health care providers
- $175.3 million for a complete range of substance use disorder treatment and intervention services
- $97.1 million for children’s mental health services
- $50.3 million for domestic violence prevention services
- $39 million for early intervention services, to ensure supports are accessible and available to infants and young toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities, including funds to support health equity initiatives, after adding $1 million during debate
- $23 million for Family Resource Centers to improve and expand access to resources and programming for families
- $13 million for grants to support local boards of health, including funds to build upon the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) Program, after adding $3 million during debate
- $12.3M for the Shannon Grants gang violence prevention and intervention program, after adding $1 million during debate
- $10.5M for the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI), after adding $500,000 during debate
- $10 million to recapitalize the Behavioral Health, Access, Outreach and Support Trust Fund to support targeted behavioral health initiatives, including $5 million for loan forgiveness for mental health clinicians, $3 million of which is for child and adolescent psychiatrists, $1 million for public awareness campaigns, $3.5 million for student access to telebehavioral health services in schools, and $500,000 to enhance the mental health workforce pipeline
- $10 million for new grants to create Programs of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) in each of the six executive office of health and human services regions of the Commonwealth to provide intensive community-based wraparound services to children and adolescents with serious mental and behavioral health needs
- $5.6 million for smoking prevention and cessation programs, after adding $1 million during debate
- $3.9 million for the Office of the Child Advocate, including $1 million for the establishment and operation of a state center on child wellness and trauma
- $2.5 million for Children Advocacy Centers to improve the critical supports available to children that have been neglected or sexually abused
- $2 million for veterans’ mental and behavioral health supports through Mass General’s Home Base Program.
- $600K for the women veterans’ outreach program, after adding $500K on the floor to expand the program
Added $500,000, during debate, for a contraceptive access public awareness campaign to promote awareness of a 2017 law which gives an individual access to 12-month prescription of co-pay free birth control. In addition to these health care investments and in response to oversight hearings held by the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness, the Senate adopted an amendment requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the office of health equity and the department of public health, to establish a set of quantitative goals and benchmarks to define and achieve equitable vaccine administration in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
As the Senate works to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient, it remains committed to an equitable recovery, expanding opportunity, and building a more inclusive Commonwealth. To that end, the Senate’s budget takes a number of critical steps to support workers and lift up working families with economic opportunities.
Opportunity investments include:
- $50 million for adult basic education services to improve access to skills necessary to join the workforce
- $30 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program
- $23 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth
- $18 million in Healthy Incentives Programs to ensure vulnerable households have continued access to food options during the pandemic
- $15 million for a Community Empowerment and Reinvestment grant program to provide economic supports to communities disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system
- $10 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to connect unemployed and under-employed workers with higher paying jobs
- $8.5 million for Career Technical Institutes to increase our skilled worker population and provide residents access to career technical training opportunities.
- $6 million for Regional Economic Development Organizations to support economic growth in every region
- $5 million for Community Foundations to provide emergency economic relief to historically underserved populations
- $4 million for the Secure Jobs Connect program, providing job placement resources and assistance for homeless individuals
- $2.5 million for the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund, including $1.5 million for new regional security operation centers which will partner with community colleges and state universities to provide cybersecurity workforce training to students and cybersecurity services to municipalities, non-profits, and small businesses
- $2 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership
- $1.5 million for nonprofit security grant program, after adding $500,000 during debate
- $1 million for employment programs for young adults with disabilities
In addition to investments that support an equitable recovery and opportunity for all, the Senate’s budget addresses the increasing costs of caregiving for low-income families by converting existing tax deductions for children under 12, dependent adults and business-related dependent care expenses into refundable tax credits. Coupled with the expanded Child Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care tax credits under the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the Senate’s child tax credit will help to lift 85,000 families out of poverty and support low-income working parents.
Additionally, the Senate’s budget builds on the success of last year’s efforts to tackle ‘deep poverty’ with a 20 per cent increase to Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) benefits over December 2020 levels, ensuring families receive the economic supports they need to live, work and provide stability for their children.
Over a year into the pandemic, the role that access to affordable housing has played in our economic recovery is clear. Recognizing this, the Senate’s budget invests $572 million in housing and homelessness services. In addition to the more than $800 million in federal resources made available to support housing stability efforts, the Senate’s investment will help to keep families in their homes and support tenants and property owners during this uniquely challenging time.
Housing investments include:
- $195.9 million for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters, including funds to create an independent ombudsman’s office to act as a mediator and advocate for households applying to or residing in family shelters
- $150 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), including $20 million in unspent funds carried forward from FY 2021, and recommended changes to the program to cap the share of a household’s income paid towards rent at 30 per cent
- $85 million for assistance to local housing authorities
- $16.3 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), in addition to $350 million in federal emergency rental assistance, and including changes to the RAFT program, adopted through the amendment process, to extend the maximum amount of rental assistance of $10,000 until December 31, 2021, and then maintain the maximum amount of rental assistance at $7,000 through the end of FY 2022, which support households in need during this recovery and helps us avoid sudden changes in benefit levels
- $56.4 million for assistance for homeless individuals
- $14.2 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) providing rental assistance to people with disabilities, including $5.5 million in unspent funds carried forward from FY 2021, and $2.5 million for grants to improve or create accessible affordable housing units
- $8 million for the Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs).
- $8 million for assistance for unaccompanied homeless youth
- $3.9 million for the Home and Healthy for Good re-housing and supportive services program, including $250,000 for homeless LGBTQQ youth
The Senate’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 continue to provide essential services to the public while addressing local impacts caused by the pandemic. This includes $1.168 billion in funding for Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), consistent with the March local aid agreement, to support local level investments and provide predictability for municipalities. In addition to traditional sources of local aid, the Committee’s budget increases payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land to $35 million. 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.
Local investments include:
- $94 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to support regional public transportation system as a public good necessary to helping commuters, students, seniors and people with disabilities and supporting economic mobility
- $36 million for libraries, including $13.5 million for regional library local aid, $13 million for municipal libraries
- $20 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives
- $2 million in additional grants for local tourism around the state
Differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives last month are expected to be reconciled through a Conference Committee.