As vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I recently had the pleasure of serving on the six-member conference committee to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) state budget. The committee reached consensus last week on a compromise spending plan for the new fiscal year that began on July 1, and it was approved by both legislative chambers on July 22. Having passed the House and Senate, the legislation now moves to the Governor’s desk for his review. He has 10 days to review the budget and issue any vetoes.
This $43.1 billion budget makes substantial investments in education, physical and behavioral health care, housing, and local aid, and it includes several key investments to support programs and services for our district and the Commonwealth. Below is an overview of all that my colleagues and I were able to secure on your behalf.
Education Funding and Local Aid:
Consistent with the General Court’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, providing $5.17 billion in education funding. This represents a $268 million increase for public schools over FY19. The budget also increases Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) by nearly $30 million to support community investments in education, health care, public safety, and roads and bridges for cities and towns across the Commonwealth.
Here is the
public school and local aid funding levels for each community in the 4th Middlesex
– each investment represents an increase over FY19:
Public School Funding Local Aid
(“Chapter 70” aid)
Arlington $13,979,327 $8,056,055
Billerica $19,348,854 $6,183,385
Burlington $6,851,477 $2,780,883
Lexington $14,438,034 $1,627,400
Woburn $9,422,229 $6,357,286
In addition to funding Chapter 70 at its highest level ever, the FY20 budget includes a $10.5 million reserve for low-income students while the Joint Committee on Education continues its work on this issue. It also addresses the need for integrated student health and wellness supports, providing $2 million to establish the Supporting Health Alliances Reinforcing Education (SHARE) grant program to address non-academic barriers to school success. Additional education allocations include:
- $345 million for Special Education reimbursement;
- $115 million for Charter School Reimbursement; and
- $75.8 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.
In addition, the budget invests in those who work with children by increasing rates for early education providers by $20 million and supporting continuing education opportunities with community colleges.
Local Priorities I Fought For:
I fought for and secured the following local priorities to benefit programs and services in the 4th Middlesex district:
$175,000 for the Arlington Youth Counseling Center (AYCC)
$100,000 to support English language instruction for immigrants and refugees at English at Large in Woburn
$95,000 for English language tutoring and technical skills training for parents at Woburn Creative Start
$85,000 to support Food Link and help fight food insecurity in Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Lexington, and Woburn
$45,000 to provide late afternoon and evening transportation for METCO students attending public schools in Arlington and Lexington
Statewide Spending Priorities I Secured:
I successfully secured several substantial investments in the budget that reflect my continued support and work on issues related to mental health and substance use disorder:
- $5 million for enhanced harm reduction efforts, including:
- $1.5 million for additional sterile needle exchange services;
- $150,000 for a fentanyl testing pilot program;
- $300,000 for naloxone rescue kits to be distributed prior to discharge after treatment for an opioid overdose; and
- pilot programming to advance the creation of new supportive places for treatment and related observation, medical monitoring, counseling, and connection to mental health and addiction treatment services.
- $250,000 to fund the second year of a 4-year pilot program to establish a Middlesex County Restoration Center;
- $350,000 for expansion of the Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) program, integrating mental health, academic, family, and care coordination supports to address the needs of middle and high school students returning to school following extended physical health- or mental health-related absences.;
- $500,000 for the Juvenile Court Mental Health Advocacy Project (MHAP for Kids) to provide evidence-based community and school interventions to improve the mental health of vulnerable youth and divert them from juvenile detention and inpatient and emergency psychiatric hospitalizations;
- $75,000 for the Disability Law Center’s oversight of Bridgewater State Hospital reforms;
- $100,000 for the Nan Project, which provides peer-to-peer mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs in schools and communities;
- $7.55 million for rental subsidies for Department of Mental Health (DMH) clients – a $1 million increase over FY19;
- $93.99 million for the child and adolescent mental health services – a $1 million increase over FY19; and
- $490.5 million for the adult mental health and support services – a nearly $2 million increase over FY19.
Statewide Policy Priorities I Advocated For:
Finally, I successfully advocated for several policy priorities that were included in the final budget:
Addressing Rising Prescription Drug Costs
This budget takes a meaningful first step towards containing one of MassHealth’s biggest cost-drivers –high-cost prescription drugs. The budget includes provisions that give the Executive Office of Health and Human Services the authority to:
- Directly negotiate with drug manufacturers for supplemental
rebates (i.e., discounts) on prescription drugs;
- Hold a public hearing to receive further information and testimony if supplemental rebate negotiations are unsuccessful on a drug that may be excessively or unreasonably priced;
- Refer drug manufacturers to the Health Policy Commission for further investigation; and
- Examine and report on methods for increasing transparency for pharmacy services provided by pharmacy benefit managers to Medicaid managed care organizations and Medicaid accountable care organizations.
Better Protections for Behavioral Health Clinicians when dealing with Insurance Companies
Currently, insurance companies in Massachusetts have no limit on how far back in time they can audit a clinician and demand to be repaid if they feel the payment was made in error or if there was information missing from the original claim. The process and reasons for doing this are not transparent. The insurer usually provides no explanation for the payment “clawback” and no opportunity for the clinician to correct or appeal the clawback. This problem is particularly pervasive in behavioral health care. Fortunately, I was able to advocate for language in the budget that would substantially restrict an insurer’s ability to clawback payments from behavioral health clinicians for services delivered, ensuring a more transparent process is in place and that clinicians are protected from unreasonable payment clawbacks.
Protecting Children with Complex Medical Needs
The budget includes a portion of legislation I filed (S.686) that would require the Center for Health and Information Analysis (CHIA) to submit a biennial report related to patients requiring complex, continuous skilled nursing care, over 80% of which are children in Massachusetts. The biennial 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 delivered, the number of nurses providing such care and their rate of reimbursement and a comparison of that rate with the rates paid to other nurses. This information is vital for potential future reforms to ensure that this population receives the care that they need at home.
Other Investments by Subject Matter:
HEALTHCARE & OPIOID CRISIS
MassHealth is the single largest investment that the Commonwealth makes in its residents. This program provides health insurance for our most vulnerable populations: the homeless, the recovering, mothers with children, and the working poor. In addition to funding this key safety net program, the budget also ensures funding for crucial health and human services agencies and providers including:
- $109.8 million to continue reforms that protect children at the Department of Children and Families (DCF);
- $50 million increase in the supplemental rates for nursing homes across the Commonwealth and an emergency task force aimed at helping to bring stability to the industry;
- $10 million for a new behavioral health trust fund to support mental health worker loan forgiveness, public awareness campaigns and other initiatives;
- $19 million towards the Councils on Aging to help senior citizens; and
- Fully funds the Lift the Cap on Kids initiative that removes barriers that prevent families from receiving Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) benefits for certain children.
The budget continues make investments in the Commonwealth’s efforts to fight the opioid epidemic – a public health crisis that has touched nearly every household across the Commonwealth. To help those in need, the budget gives all EMS and ambulance companies access to discounted naloxone, making it more available for use in the field. In addition, the budget includes $150.2 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, which will help create five new recovery centers across Massachusetts and support substance use disorder workforce initiatives.
HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS
This budget represents some of the biggest increases seen in a generation when it comes to housing and homelessness funding. Access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing is essential and provides the foundation from which families and individuals can lead successful lives. The budget continues these efforts by providing:
- $116 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP);
- $72 million for Public Housing Subsidies;
- $8 million for Alternative Housing Voucher Program; and
- $53.4 million for Homeless individual shelters.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, the budget will increase the Commonwealth’s contribution into the Community Preservation Act, which will ensure that over $36 million more will be distributed to projects all across the Commonwealth and help raise the state’s match up to 30 percent for investments in open space, affordable housing and historic preservation.
The budget calls for more than $283 million in spending for environmental programs. These funding levels will ensure that state keeps up with the needs of its parks and environmental protections programs. These investments include:
- $47.25 million for State Parks and Recreation;
- $61 million for the Department of Environmental Protection; and
- $1.5 million for Watershed Protection.
In the area of labor and economic development, the budget invests in programs that provide job opportunities for residents to participate in the Commonwealth’s thriving economy. These investments include:
- $90.5 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs);
- $41 million for Adult Basic Education Services;
- $7 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund;
- $2 million to establish a program to promote and support the Massachusetts restaurant industry;
- $500,000 to establish a specialized prevailing wage and construction investigatory and enforcement unit within the Attorney General’s office;
- $16 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth; and
- $4.8 million for the STEM Starter Academy, to support underperforming students at community colleges interested in pursuing STEM subjects.
The budget includes funding for public safety and the judiciary, including investments to implement last session’s criminal justice reform law. The budget includes:
- $4.5million for a new community-based re-entry program;
- $24 million for civil legal aid to provide representation for low-income individuals; and
- $11 million for Shannon Grants, a competitive grant program to individual municipalities to address heightened levels of gang violence.
To view the FY20 conference committee budget report in full, please visit https://malegislature.gov/Budget/ConferenceCommittee.