Friedman secures critical investments in FY20 Senate budget to support 4th Middlesex communities

BOSTON – On May 24, Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her Senate colleagues in voting on a $42.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 (FY20), making substantial investments in key areas related to healthcare cost and accessibility, mental health services, public education, and regional empowerment. This budget also includes several local budget priorities secured by Friedman.

“Most notably, this Senate budget reflects our strong commitment to increasing access to quality, affordable health care, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to receive a quality education, and expanding access to behavioral health services,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “As our state continues to grapple with the opioid crisis, I’m especially proud that this budget makes strong investments in mental health treatment and harm reduction initiatives to ensure more resources for families and their loved ones. I want to thank Chair Rodrigues and Senate President Spilka for their leadership, hard work, and collaboration during this process and for facilitating a thoughtful and efficient debate.”

The Senate’s budget strengthens Massachusetts’ commitment to being a national leader in ensuring children of all backgrounds have access to greater educational opportunities. Consistent with the Senate’s long-standing commitment to supporting increased investments in education, this budget makes a significant down payment on the work of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), and funds Chapter 70 at its highest level ever; $5.176B, an increase of $268.4M over fiscal year FY19. The communities in the 4th Middlesex would receive the following Chapter 70 public school funding:

  • Arlington – 13,979,327
  • Billerica – $19,348,854
  • Burlington – $6,851,477
  • Lexington – $14,438,034
  • Woburn – $9,422,229

In addition, Friedman secured $175,000 to support direct mental health counseling and case management for Arlington youth and their families provided by the Arlington Youth Counseling Center (AYCC). With additional financial assistance from the budget, the AYCC will continue to provide outpatient community-based mental health treatment to Arlington youth and families. Furthermore, additional capacity will be added to the AYCC, allowing more youth to be treated without being placed on a waitlist for an extended period of time.

Friedman also secured $45,000 to provide late afternoon and evening transportation for Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) students attending public schools in Arlington and Lexington. The METCO program seeks to expand educational opportunities and increase diversity in classrooms by allowing students in various cities and towns to attend public schools in other communities.

Also included in the Senate budget is $100,000 Friedman advocated for to support English language instruction for immigrants and refugees at English at Large in Woburn. English at Large is a non-profit that provides voluntary English language tutoring and instruction to adult learners, helping them to improve their English language skills, adapt to American life, and participate in their communities. 

In addition, the budget includes $95,000 secured by Friedman to provide on-site English language tutoring and technical skills training to parents at Woburn Creative Start, an organization that provides high quality, licenses educational programs and child care in Woburn.

Friedman also advocated for the successful inclusion of $85,000 for Food Link, an organization that delivers nutritious food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and eggs, to over 30 social services that serve low-income individuals in need. Many of the populations that Food Link serves – including at-risk youth, low-income families, seniors, and the homeless – do not have access to healthy food on a regular basis. These funds will help fight food insecurity in Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Lexington, and Woburn.  

The final Senate budget also includes funding to upgrade security at non-profits that are at heightened risk of terrorist attacks or intolerant violence, an initiative filed in direct response to the recent acts of hate toward certain marginalized groups across Massachusetts.

“It hurts me to think that in our state we need such resources, but we are experiencing increased hatred and division in our communities and we need to do everything we can to protect our constituents – particularly those who are most marginalized,” said Friedman. “Places of worship like the Center for Jewish Life in Arlington should remain safe and welcoming places for people of faith to practice without fear. This funding will help take necessary precautions to ensure that.”

On matters of statewide interest, and in line with Friedman’s continued efforts to improve the state’s system of care for those with behavioral health needs, Friedman championed and voted for a budget proposal that includes the following investments:

  • $10M for the new Behavioral Health Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund to support a loan forgiveness initiative for behavioral health workers and a general public awareness campaign;
  • $150.2M for a range of substance misuse treatment and intervention services, including $3.5M in new funding to open five new recovery centers;
  • $5M for investments in the substance use disorder workforce, including training on medication management, medication-assisted treatment and treatment of co-occurring disorders;
  • $93.4M for children’s mental health services including $350,000 to support the continued expansion of the Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) programs, integrating mental health, academic, family, and care coordination supports to assist middle and high school students returning to school following extended physical health- or mental health-related absences and $500,000 for the Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids (“MHAP for Kids”) to provide evidence-based community interventions and school-based interventions to improve the mental health of vulnerable youth and divert them from juvenile detention, inpatient and emergency psychiatric hospitalizations; and
  • $250,000 for the second year of funding for a 4-year pilot program to establish a county restoration center overseen by the Middlesex County Restoration Center Commission to divert individuals with mental illness or substance use disorder away from law enforcement and into appropriate treatment.

In addition, the budget included a portion of Friedman’s bill, S.686, which would require the Center for Health and Information Analysis (CHIA) to submit a biennial report related to patients requiring continuous skilled nursing care. This effort has been championed by Friedman in collaboration with the Massachusetts Pediatric Home Nursing Campaign, led by Woburn resident Angela Ortiz. The report would include such information as the number of pediatric and adult patients requiring such care, the number of hours of such care authorized by MassHealth and the number of hours actually delivered, the number of nurses providing such care, their rate of reimbursement and a comparison of that rate with the rates paid to other nurses.

Friedman also voted in favor of several budget provisions that would close a loophole in the prevailing wage statute and thereby guarantee wage increases for cleaning and maintenance workers in government buildings, establish new transparency and reporting requirements for prescription drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers, create new tools for MassHealth to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies with the goal of lowering the price of prescription drugs, and make significant harm reduction investments to continue to combat the opioid crisis which would be funded by a new tax on opioid manufacturers.

In addition, Friedman helped secure successful passage of several budget amendments that would help cities and towns preserve open space and create affordable housing through the Community Preservation Act (CPA), support the Civics Education Trust Fund to expand civics education in schools, and establish a pilot program to create a common application for benefits to help close the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gap.

The final Senate budget also furthers regional equity and supports cities and towns by directing significant resources to local and regional aid. This includes increased funding for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to $90.5M and ties future funding to inflation, while incentivizing RTAs to adopt best practices to ensure that commuters, students, seniors and people with disabilities are able to rely on public transportation to access jobs, education and opportunity.

Each community in the 4th Middlesex would receive the following unrestricted general government aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges, under the Senate budget proposal:

  • Arlington  –  $8,056,055
  • Billerica –  $6,183,385
  • Burlington  –  $2,780,883
  • Lexington  –  $1,627,400
  • Woburn  –  $6,357,286

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 2020 begins on July 1, 2019.

“As Vice Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I look forward to advocating on behalf of my constituents in the 4th Middlesex as well as my colleagues and their budget priorities during the upcoming conference committee,” said Senator Friedman.