At the end of April, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a $40.4 billion FY18 budget. The spending bill protects vulnerable residents through investments in early education and care (EEC), higher education, mental health and substance use disorder initiatives, trauma prevention and intervention, homelessness programs, developmental disability services, veteran employment support, and anticipated criminal justice reforms.
This budget takes comprehensive action to promote sustained economic health in Massachusetts as we face uncertainty on the national level. It includes a $100 million deposit to the stabilization fund which will result in projected balance of more than $1.4 billion and help preserve the state’s AA+ bond rating, the highest in the Commonwealth’s history.
The FY18 budget makes unprecedented investments to improve Massachusetts’ early education and care system, with a focus on supporting the EEC workforce and providing access to high-quality learning opportunities to ensure children are better prepared for academic success. It provides $20 million for the early educator rate reserve and $4 million for quality programming and workforce training. The House also builds on its notable commitment to behavioral health by doubling funding for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation grant to help early detection and prevention efforts.
In addition to local education investments, the House funds numerous programs to support college students and provides increased funding for higher education campuses across the state including increases from FY17 of:
● $5.1 million for the University of Massachusetts;
● $2.5 million for State Universities;
● $2.7 million for Community Colleges.
● Provides $1.5 million for the Intern Partnership program to help young innovators to get a head start on their futures by matching stipends for interns at innovation start-ups.
● Creates the UMass Innovation Voucher program and provides $2 million to encourage start-ups and manufacturing companies to partner with the university’s research and development facilities.
● Increases the state scholarship by $1 million in order to ensure Massachusetts students are able to afford higher education.
● Invests $4.8 million in the STEM Starter Academy to strengthen and expand STEM programming in community colleges. The program has shown incredible early success by connecting students with employment opportunities.
The budget includes $773.5 million in funding for the Department of Mental Health (DMH), an increase of nearly $6 million over FY17 spending, to fund several cross-agency initiatives including $2 million in new money for the expansion of the Crisis Intervention Training Team. Additionally, the FY18 budget features numerous provisions to protect residents facing adversity including:
● $1 million in additional funding for rental subsidies that will support 87 new DMH clients;
● The House’s budget rejects the Administration’s proposal to change the calculation for supplemental security income, resulting in a $12.6 million increase over the Administration’s FY18 budget to support individuals receiving these benefits;
● Allows survivors of domestic violence to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit in a safe manner;
● An increase of $34.2 million for the Department of Children and Families which will allow for 547 new hires to address caseloads.
Since FY12, the Legislature has increased funding for substance use disorder services to unprecedented levels and passed two landmark bills to help address this public health epidemic. This year’s budget makes notable investments related to behavioral health and addiction, including $144 million for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS), almost $4 million above projected FY17 spending. The budget also proposes changing the name of BSAS to the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services in recognition that addiction is a health issue and should be treated as such. Additional priority provisions include:
● $1 million for new substance addiction beds;
● Funds to open two new recovery centers for family supports;
● $1 million for the purchase of 15,000 new doses of Narcan and $1 million for extended release naltrexone for first responders;
● $5 million increase for the Department of Corrections’ Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center;
● $1 million to continue the Massachusetts Access to Recovery assistance program after a 5 year federal grant expired.
Additionally, through the amendment process, I secured $200,000 to further support Project RIGHT, a non-profit that provides substance use and trauma outreach, prevention and intervention services for at-risk youth in the Grove Hall area of Boston. In terms of local programming, I also helped secure:
● $150,000 for Dimock Community Health Center to provide counseling and treatment for individuals suffering from behavioral health challenges;
● $100,000 for Community Servings to provide families with medically and culturally appropriate, free home-delivered meals, nutrition education, and workforce development opportunities for people battling chronic illness, including substance use disorder;
● $100,000 for school-based trauma counseling for youth struggling and many of whom are unable to see a provider outside of school.
The House continues the emphasis on providing increased access to permanent housing options. The caseload for hotels and motels is expected to zero out by the end of this fiscal year and projections indicate that caseloads for emergency assistance will return to pre-recession levels. The House’s spending plan invests $18 million in new funding for homelessness including:
● $100 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program;
● $15 million for residential assistance for families in transition;
● $6.5 million for the Department of Mental Health rental assistance;
● $46.2 for homeless individuals.
After healthcare spending and local aid, the budget for developmental services receives the largest increase in the House’s spending bill. Given the growing and changing need for developmental services this budget funds a $87 million increase bringing spending to more than $1.9 billion for these critical programs.
Finally, the budget creates a tax credit for businesses that hire veterans. Eligible businesses would receive $2,000 per year for the first two years of a veteran’s employment. This provision enhances the Commonwealth’s reputation as a national leader in providing benefits to military personnel, veterans and their families. And in anticipation of a criminal justice reform bill later in the session, the budget includes $3.5 million to fund recommendations made by the Council on State Government.
The budget is now being considered by the Senate with debate expected the week of May 22. After each chamber approved its version, a conference committee will be named to resolve differences between the House and Senate and produce a final legislative budget. The Governor will have ten days to review the budget and return his vetoes and recommendations for amendment.