Legislation includes additional bond authorization for geographic equity and accessibility for veterans
BOSTON (04/29/2021) – On Thursday, April 29, 2021, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate to pass a bill authorizing $400 million in bonds for the design and construction of a new facility for the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. The bill also authorizes the issuance of $200 million in general obligation bonds to increase geographic equity and accessibility related to the continuum of long-term care services for Massachusetts veterans across the state, with an emphasis on those areas not primarily served by the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.
“This funding will ensure that veterans in the Home, and across the Commonwealth, are provided the best care for their diverse needs,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Committee on Ways and Means. “I want to thank Senate President Spilka and Chair Rodrigues for their leadership and my Senate colleagues for their contributions in making this bill stronger to better serve our veterans for generations to come.”
In passing the $400 million bond authorization for a new soldiers’ home in Holyoke, Massachusetts is eligible to receive up to 65 per cent in federal reimbursement through the Veterans Affairs State Home Construction Grant Program. The existing soldiers’ home in Holyoke was built in 1952 with many triple and quadruple-bed rooms. The bill passed by the Senate will advance the construction of a modern facility with a “small house” concept to meet the needs of future generations of veterans.
The Senate adopted an amendment on the floor to ensure that construction of the project utilizes a diverse workforce and provides for well-paying, middle class jobs. The amendment inserts Project Labor Agreement language that mandates a pre-bid, pre-hire labor agreement for the construction of the new facility in Holyoke, which will ensure that the workforce is local, diverse, inclusive, well-trained, safe, and skilled.
Historically, such agreements on large taxpayer funded projects result in the completion of construction on-time and on or under budget. Additionally, this amendment mandates bold action to establish, recruit, and assist women-, minority-, and veteran-owned businesses who may participate in the design and construction of the facility. The bill establishes the Access, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee to help set and monitor progress of diversity and inclusion goals and recommend solutions and programs to meet them, throughout the design and construction of the facility.
As part of the Senate’s commitment to increase geographic equity and accessibility for all veterans, the bill requires the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), in consultation with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), to hold hearings across the state to better understand the regional long-term care needs of veterans throughout the Commonwealth. Based on these hearings, communities will be better positioned to advocate for the $200 million authorized in new capital spending for long-term care services for veterans across the continuum of care, including potentially new “small home” satellite veterans’ homes, or new or expanded capital supports for community or home-based care.
One of many amendments adopted on the floor also requires the Department of Veteran’s Services to consider the needs of veterans in designing facilities to ensure new facilities meet the needs of a changing veteran population, while another requires plans for new long-term care facilities to prioritize equitable access, regardless of race, religion, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
The bill must now be reconciled with the version recently passed by the House of Representatives.