Massachusetts Senate Passes $46 Billion Budget

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BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a $46 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), after adding $36.1 million in targeted investments over the course of two days of deliberations.

Passed with bipartisan support, the budget aims to move the Commonwealth towards an equitable recovery by making critical investments in sectors impacted by COVID-19 including early education and childcare, food security, housing supports, and public health.

“With a second surge of COVID-19 upon us, we must do everything we can to shore up critical resources for those most in need so that we can begin to build towards an equitable recovery,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This unprecedented budget is a testament to the challenges we face as a Commonwealth, but I am confident Massachusetts will emerge stronger and more resilient than before. I am thankful for the hard work of Chair Rodrigues, his team, Vice Chair Friedman, Assistant Vice Chair Lewis and the entire Senate Committee on Ways and Means for the budget they produced and finalized under these very difficult circumstances.”

A Conference Committee will now convene to reconcile the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives last week.

“Under difficult circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am proud of the Senate’s ability during these last two days to meet the moment, engage in respectful debate, take action to protect our most vulnerable and set the Commonwealth on a path toward an equitable recovery,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D- Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Under the leadership of Senate President Spilka, the Senate has taken important steps this week to confront the unprecedented challenges brought on by this public health crisis and pass a fiscally responsible budget plan that further protects access to child care, health care, housing, public transportation and economic opportunity. Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate for their tireless work and passionate advocacy over the course of our debate.”

As COVID-19 continues to spread across our Commonwealth, the Senate budget preserves access to essential services for our most vulnerable residents.

The budget funds MassHealth at a total of $18.2 billion to maintain critical access to affordable health care coverage for over 1.9 million people, ensuring that comprehensive care for our most vulnerable children, seniors and low-income residents is protected in the middle of a public health crisis. The Senate’s budget also includes targeted investments to maintain and expand access to mental health care, while strengthening public health infrastructure at the local, state and regional level to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am proud to have voted in favor of this budget—the $46 billion in funding will help our residents, especially those who are most vulnerable, as the Commonwealth continues to face new and unprecedented challenges that have emerged as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The Senate’s investments in behavioral health services, housing protections, reproductive health access, education, and food insecurity in particular are crucial steps toward ensuring a more equitable economic recovery and a more equitable Commonwealth for all. I thank Senate President Spilka, Chairman Rodrigues, and fellow committee members for their diligent but expeditious efforts in passing this budget.”

The Senate’s budget protects Massachusetts students and educational institutions. Continuing the Senate’s long-standing support of targeted investments in education, this budget holds harmless Chapter 70 funding in a manner consistent with the agreement reached between the Senate, House and Administration in July by providing $5.283 billion, an increase of $107.6 million over FY20.

This additional level of investment will allow all school districts to maintain foundation spending levels while accounting for enrollment and inflation changes. The budget also includes $345 million for the Special Education (SPED) Circuit Breaker, reimbursing school districts for the cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75% reimbursement rate. In addition to ensuring stability for the state’s K-12 population, the
Senate’s budget takes steps to invest in childcare providers and higher education institutions—both of which are critically important to the state’s economy and recovery in midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As our communities continue to struggle with both a public health and economic crisis, this budget represents an essential step forward to help our Commonwealth recover from the pandemic and rebuild a strong and equitable economy,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “I’m especially pleased that despite a significant decline in revenue, this budget invests substantially in early education and childcare — recognizing how critical this sector is for children, working families, and the state’s economic recovery — and also seeks to protect important public transit services that are currently at risk.”

The Senate’s budget recommends a total of $46 billion in spending, a 5.5% increase over the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) General Appropriations Act. This spending recommendation is based on a revised tax revenue estimate of $27.592 billion, which provides for $3.558 billion less in available revenue than the original consensus revenue estimate originally agreed upon in January 2020. To close this anticipated revenue shortfall, the FY21 budget includes $1.5 billion from the Stabilization Fund, ensuring a majority of the Stabilization Fund balance remains for future years; $1.38 billion in available federal supports; and more than $400 million in new revenue initiatives.

Among those initiatives, the budget includes provisions such as accelerated sales tax collection and a new fee structure for Transportation Network Companies. The budget also avoids drastic budget cuts while leaving the Commonwealth in a sound fiscal position moving forward.

Additional education investments include:

  • $5.283 billion for Chapter 70 education funding
  • $345 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker
  • $115 million to reimburse public school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools
  • $82.2 million to reimburse school districts for regional school transportation costs
  • $560.4 million for the University of Massachusetts, $308 million for the fifteen community colleges, and
  • $285.5 million for the nine state universities; and $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
  • $40 million for a new reserve to cover parent fees for families receiving subsidized childcare for the remainder of FY21
  • $25 million for a new Early Education and Care Workforce and COVID-19 Supports Reserve to provide classroom stabilization grants, incentive pay for providers, and support for increased operational costs due to COVID-19
  • $15 million for grants to the Head Start program to maintain access to early education services for low-income families
  • $5 million for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative to expand access to preschool in underserved areas
  • $6.4M for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs, after adding $5M on the floor
  • $3.0 million for Rural School Aid, after adding $1.5M on the floor
  • $1.5 million for the Civics Education Trust Fund

Additional health investments include:

  • $500.3 million for Adult Support Services, including assisted outpatient programming and comprehensive care coordination among health care providers
  • $163.6 million for a range of substance abuse treatment and intervention services
  • $94.5 million for children’s mental health services
  • $45.2 million for domestic violence prevention services
  • $35.4 million for early intervention services, to ensure supports are accessible and available to infants and young toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities
  • $20 million for funding to support expanded access to mental health services, including $10M for the Behavioral Health, Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund and $10M for a new inpatient mental health acute care beds grant program to expand access to critical mental health services
  • $17.5 million for Family Resource Centers to meet increased demand for services
  • $10 million for grants to support local boards of health to combat COVID-19
  • $2.5 million for a new matching funds grant program to assist communities making public health-oriented adjustments to their public safety systems, including targeted reforms such as jail diversion programs, de-escalation training and professionals, and behavioral health staffing and supports
  • $1.7 million for the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) program to support a more effective local and regional public health delivery system
  • $1 million for a COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan program, focused on equitable vaccine distribution

In addition to these health care investments, the Senate’s budget takes meaningful steps to expand access to care. It includes provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage for mental health services and primary care services solely because they were delivered on the same day in the same facility. This important measure will remove a significant financial barrier to the integration of primary care and mental health. The budget, through the amendment process, also includes provisions that further expand reproductive health care options.

The Senate is committed to building an equitable recovery while dismantling the systemic barriers that exist in our society. To that end, the Senate’s budget creates and invests in programs to educate, train and prepare Massachusetts workers.

Opportunity investments include:

$46.4 million for a new Economic Planning and Response Program, including grants and loans to small businesses, small business technical assistance and capital improvement supports

$40.6 million for adult basic education services to improve access to skills necessary to join the workforce

$20 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth

$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

$6 million for Regional Economic Development Organizations to support economic growth in all regions of the state

$5 million for Community Foundations to provide emergency economic relief to historically underserved populations across the Commonwealth

$3 million for the Secure Jobs Connect program, providing job placement resources and assistance for homeless individuals

$2 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership

Access to affordable housing, which has taken on new urgency for many during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a key Senate priority for recovery. The Senate’s budget recognizes the crucial importance of housing to the Commonwealth’s recovery efforts and invests over $540 million in housing stability programs to support many families, tenants and property owners in this time of crisis.

Housing investments include:

  • $180.7 million for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters
  • $135 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)
  • $50 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), as well as emergency changes to the RAFT program to increase the maximum amount of rental assistance that a household can receive from $4,000 to $10,000 and allow eligible households facing a housing crisis to access both RAFT and HomeBASE.
  • $53.4 million for assistance for homeless individuals
  • $27.2 million for the HomeBASE diversion and rapid re-housing programs
  • $12.5 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), which provides rental assistance to people with disabilities, and $2.5 million for grants to improve or create accessible affordable housing units
  • $10.5 million for housing vouchers for Department of Mental Health (DMH) clients to transition into housing and community-based services
  • $4.75 million for the Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs)
  • $3.9 million for the Home and Healthy for Good re-housing and supportive services program, including $250,000 for homeless LGBTQ+ youth
  • $2.5 million for the Office of Public Collaboration to support housing dispute mediation efforts across the Commonwealth
  • $1.3 million for the Tenancy Preservation Program

In addition to these critical investments, this budget includes additional protection measures to ensure the state’s residents most at risk of eviction in the middle of a pandemic are kept safe and secure in their homes. Through the amendment process, the budget also includes a provision that would simplify the application process for RAFT and protect the credit rating of individuals who face eviction due to COVID-19 by sealing eviction records. This
proposal provides additional protections and resources to tenants suffering a COVID-19-related financial hardship, as well as stability as they await short-term emergency rental assistance.

Food insecurity has become one of the most prevalent consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting children, adults and seniors alike. The Senate’s budget therefore prioritizes access to food resources across the Commonwealth.

Food insecurity investments include:

  • $30 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program
  • $13 million in Healthy Incentives Programs to ensure vulnerable households have continued access to food options during the pandemic
  • $1.2 million for Project Bread to support the Child Nutrition Outreach Program (CNOP) and the FoodSource Hotline

The Senate’s budget supports cities and towns while allowing them flexibility to confront the unique challenges facing them by directing significant resources to local and regional aid. This includes increased funding for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to $94 million to ensure that commuters, students, seniors and people with disabilities have access to reliable public transportation during this time of critical need. Along with traditional
local aid, the Senate’s budget level funds payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land to $30 million.

PILOT funding has been a beneficial source of local aid that provides cities and towns with additional resources to support core public services.

Local investments include:

$18.2 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives

$17 million for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers in communities across the state.

$1.129 billion for unrestricted general government aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges

$32.6 million for the Board of Library Commissioners, $11.5 million for regional library local aid, $12 million for municipal libraries and $4.4 million for technology and automated resources

editor

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