Budget proposal invests in the most vulnerable amongst us

By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez

On April 26, the House passed a $41.1 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year. In my first year as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, our budget invests in the most vulnerable amongst us and meets people where they’re at in their lives. Throughout the budget process, I felt like I could see the faces of people I’ve met across our community and across Massachusetts. From the DCR ranger atop Mt. Greylock in Western Mass, to the dishwasher working at a small restaurant in Mission Hill, our budget is about investing in people.

Health and human services programs play a crucial role in our commitment to help people, no matter their situation. MassHealth is a key part of that equation: it provides quality healthcare to the frail and working poor, and is arguably the largest economic development initiative we have. Our budget continues this commitment, which has helped bring health insurance to nearly 98 percent of the state’s population. Further, we help those struggling with substance use disorder by allocating $139 million for recovery centers, including enough money for 5 new recovery centers, $5 million for programs that divert people into treatment rather than jail, and $1 million to arm emergency personnel with Narcan, the overdose-reversing drug. We make historic investments in mental health, ensuring people can receive care. We empower the Department of Children and Families to continue its reforms, now that it has hired new social workers and managers to protect children in our communities. And we lift the “cap on kids,” a regressive policy that prevents families from receiving additional benefits when a child is conceived while the family receives benefits.

In addition to health and human services, the House budget makes targeted investments in housing. Since 2013, the House has steadily increased funding for permanent housing solutions, like Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). As we’ve made these investments, the number of people living in homeless shelters has decreased 26 percent, and the number of families living in motels and hotels has decreased to nearly zero. Building on the $1.7 billion housing bond bill the House passed earlier this year, this budget increases funding for permanent housing solutions, and sets aside $5 million to help homeless individuals rapidly find housing. These combined efforts will help better ensure stability amidst record-high housing prices in Boston.

Our House budget commits tangible resources to carry out policies put in place by our recently passed criminal justice reform legislation. On the front end of the criminal justice system, we fund a specialty court expansion to increase access to services for defendants with substance use, mental health, and trauma issues. We increase pay rates for public defenders and assistant district attorneys, recognizing that experienced staff benefits everyone in the criminal justice system, and provide funding for civil legal aid to ensure low-income individuals receive legal assistance. In addition to the $3 million we set aside for the Council of State Governments bill in last year’s budget, we allocate $3 million for Community-Based Re-Entry Programs, which can reduce the number of people going back to jail by assisting with workforce development, supportive housing, and behavioral health treatment.

Massachusetts is committed to lifting people up through quality education and workforce development. The House passed historic levels of local aid to fund public education, including $4.9 billion in Chapter 70 funding, a $124.6 million increase that includes money to address increasing teacher and faculty healthcare costs, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. Additionally, we increase Special Education Circuit Breaker funding 6.7 percent over last fiscal year and inject an additional $9.5 million over last fiscal year to reimburse districts with charter schools. We allocate $32.6 million for Adult Basic Education, which is important for adults pursuing their GED or mastering English language skills. This $3.3 million increase over last year will allow 1,000 more slots to become available off the ELL waitlist. And $14.5M for the Massachusetts Cultural Council will ensure youth and adults alike thrive in creative settings. Combined with investments to increase the pay of early educators, workforce development programs in STEM fields, and summer jobs for at-risk youth, our budget prepares students to be the leaders of tomorrow.

The role of the natural environment in a person’s wellbeing cannot be overlooked. This is especially important considering that communities of color tend to disproportionately bear the impacts of climate change and pollution. We increase funding for the Department of Environmental Protection by 17 percent to $29 million and fully fund the Office of Watershed Management, which is responsible for protecting the drinking water of 2.5 million people, including those of us in Boston. And we provide $40 million for DCR State Parks and Recreation to allow parks, reservations, campgrounds, beaches, pools, rinks, and natural resources stay open and accessible. In addition to increasing funding for core environmental agencies, we recommend an historic $2.2 million investment in the Office of Climate Change and Adaptation. And lastly, understanding the important role transit has in reducing carbon emissions, we fund the MBTA at $154 million, an increase of $27 million over last year. Overall, through the hiring of new inspectors, permit writers, park rangers, and scientists, and in concert with our commitment to solar power, hydropower, and offshore wind, Massachusetts will take the next step to prepare for a climate-resilient future.

Altogether, the House Fiscal Year 2019 Budget is about people and meeting them where they’re at in their lives. We uphold our commitments to healthcare, housing, and so many crucial programs that seek to improve the lives of people across Massachusetts. Together, the House passed a budget for the Commonwealth that supports the most vulnerable amongst us, and ensures our economy grows for the benefit of all residents.

[Note: After passing in the House on a 150-4 vote, the budget now goes to the Senate for debate.]

Putting our kids first

By Mayor Martin Walsh

Providing students with resources to help foster their physical, emotional, and mental health goes a long way on putting them, and keeping them, on a path to success. In Boston, we believe it’s our job to help ensure every part of a student’s needs are met — through innovative teaching methods; dedicated teachers; healthy school meals; added learning time; and experts who can address children’s physical and mental health. That’s why we’re investing $2.4 million in creating new physical and mental health supports for BPS students.

The City of Boston is proud of its track record of effectively managing healthcare costs, in the face of national trends that have put significant upward pressure our costs. Although they might not seem connected, Boston’s strong fiscal management has real impacts on our residents’ lives — in this case, in the lives of our students. Because of our fiscal policies, we have been able to shift $2.4 million in what were previously healthcare costs, and instead invest those funds in our most important resource — our children.

Our proposed Boston Fiscal Year 2019 budget will now include a new $2.4 million investment that will fund eight additional nurses and 12 additional psychologists and social workers for Boston students. The $1.109 billion BPS budget marks the largest in City history, and a $48 million increase over last year’s budget. In March, the Boston School Committee passed the Fiscal Year 2019 BPS budget with a unanimous vote.

This new $2.4 million investment will add eight nurses, seven psychologists, four social workers, and a director of social work services. Eight new nurses will bring the number of schools with at least one full-time nurse to 74.

The seven new psychologists who will be integrated into student services include five bilingual school psychologists and two district-wide psychologists, which will significantly increase the amount of mental health services available to students. In addition, BPS will hire four bilingual trauma and resiliency social workers, who will focus on helping students and families address trauma that may have occurred in their lives.

A director of social work will also be hired to support these four new front-line social workers, in addition to BPS’ 55 current school-based social workers, as well as student interns deployed to schools. The director will provide supervision of school-based social workers as well as assistance, and will develop partnerships with mental health organizations and higher education institutions, focused on advancing mental health for all BPS students.

Why is this important?

We know many students enter into Boston Public Schools with stresses they need help addressing. If students can’t concentrate on their academics, because of events or circumstances that have happened in their lives in or outside of school, it means BPS isn’t helping the whole child, and that, as we know, plays a critical role in their future. That’s why investments in every part of BPS students’ lives are so important.

I want to thank all of Boston’s nurses, psychologists, social workers, teachers, principals — each and every person who cares deeply about their students, and works every day to ensure Boston’s children receive the best care and education. This new funding will help further that goal, and make a real difference in students’ lives.

Imagine Boston, Imagine Mission Hill

By Mayor Martin Walsh

Every spring, the City of Boston releases our Imagine Boston Capital Plan for the next five years. It outlines where our city’s budget will be focused, our longer-term plans, and our priorities. Essentially, the capital plan details what initiatives and projects in your neighborhood and across the City that we’ll be investing in to make Boston’s future brighter.

From the Parker Hill Library to the McLaughlin Playground, it’s my priority to create growth and opportunity for every Bostonian in every neighborhood. Boston will be at its best when all its residents have the support and opportunity they need to thrive. Investing in initiatives and projects that bring shared growth, success, and greater equity is critical for our city to reach its full potential. Our Capital Plan invests in Boston’s strongest asset: our people. Boston is a city that’s world class because it works for the middle class, and our budget’s priority is to keep supporting the working families that make Boston great.

Here in Mission Hill, we’re investing in some exciting initiatives and projects that we hope you and your neighbors will enjoy for many years to come.

We’re investing in the community spaces residents in Mission Hill use every day: we’re investing $2.4 million in the Parker Hill Library, including replacing windows, repainting masonry walls, and repairing stairs.

We’re also investing $300,000 to renovate courts at the McLaughlin Playground, including two basketball courts and one mini court.

Investments in Mission Hill also include our schools. We’re investing in kitchen upgrades at Fenway High School to enable the implementation of an innovative fresh food program that will launch in fall 2018.

Our longer-term investments are intended to lift up our neighborhoods in ways that take into account the needs and wants of the community. With this Capital Plan, we’re preparing our city for the next year, and the years forward.

What’s the next step for the Capital Plan? I have submitted the City of Boston’s budget to the Boston City Council, where your City Councilor will review the proposed budget. Once the budget is approved, it will go into effect. This is the budget for fiscal year 2019, meaning the budget will take effect in July 2018, and run throughout the next 12 months.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look through the budget proposal, online at budget.boston.gov. Together, I look forward to investing in our neighborhoods, and our people.

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