The Senate voted today on a $41.49 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019, including targeted investments to create opportunities and ensure access to the tools that individuals, children and families need to succeed in the economy and in their communities. The budget invests in key areas related to education, local aid, health and human services, housing and tools for low income families, while limiting the use of one-time revenue sources and directing $88.5M to the state’s Stabilization Fund.
“The Senate budget adopted today fulfills the dual promises of opportunity and fairness that our Commonwealth makes to all residents,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “The Senate stands as a strong partner to our local municipalities, providing crucial funding for affordable healthcare, education, workforce development for young people, and support for working families. I’m proud that this budget lays a strong framework for investing in and supporting the people of Massachusetts and defending their civil rights, raising up the most vulnerable, and ultimately empowering them to succeed. I thank my colleagues for their collaboration, advocacy and partnership, and I look forward to the passage of the final FY19 budget later this year.”
The budget invests significantly in education for people of all ages and backgrounds and focuses in particular on elementary and secondary education, including $4.91B for the Chapter 70 education formula, its highest level ever. This funding allows for a minimum aid increase of $30 per pupil for every school district across the state and 100% effort reduction to bring all school districts to their target local contribution. The budget also continues to phase in the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) recommendations to more adequately fund school districts and ensure high quality education for all students. The Commission was created through Senator Lewis’s advocacy in the State Legislature over the last decade, and the unanimous adoption of the FBRC recommendations by the State Senate earlier this month marked a major victory for school funding reform advocates, led by Senator Lewis.
On education matters, the Senate budget includes record Chapter 70 funding; major investment in the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges; full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, a longtime goal of special education advocates; substantial investment in reimbursements to school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools; and a new School Breakfast program and a policy change to ensure free and reduced-price breakfast is served after the start of the school day. Senator Lewis sponsored amendments to the budget which, when adopted, allocated key funding for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs, and created a new registered apprenticeship program in the Commonwealth to provide post-high school pathways to well-paying middle class jobs for Massachusetts youth.
The budget continues Massachusetts’ leadership in providing health and human services, investing in health care for low income residents and vulnerable populations, services for people struggling with mental illness and substance misuse and resources for children, seniors, veterans and individuals with disabilities.
In line with the Senate’s continued efforts on health care cost containment, the budget provides MassHealth with new tools to tackle the rising cost of pharmaceutical drugs, setting an annual spending target and permitting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to pursue rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers. This policy change allows for savings without changing eligibility standards, reducing access to certain pharmaceuticals or compromising access to comprehensive health coverage.
Major new healthcare investments and innovations include a range of substance abuse treatment, intervention and recovery support services, including funding to open five new recovery centers; full funding for Department of Developmental Services Turning 22 services to help young people with disabilities transition to adulthood; and increasing salaries of providers of mental health services for both children and adults and improve access to this critical care. Senator Lewis was proud to champion and secure funding for five new School Based Health Centers in the state, which have been shown to reduce rates of student absenteeism, tardiness, STI transmission and teen pregnancy, while supporting the physical, social and emotional health of students. The senator’s advocacy for School Based Health Centers was inspired in part by the planned opening of a School Health Center at Malden High School later this year.
The budget invests in programs and advances policies to encourage self-sufficiency and economic mobility for low income families, providing them with the tools to secure their essential needs and develop skills to join the workforce. Policy changes include raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) state match to 30% of the federal credit, eliminating the failed state policy that denies Department of Transitional Assistance benefits to children conceived while the family was receiving assistance and increasing the clothing allowance to $350 per child to help families secure their basic needs.
The budget also continues to finance initiatives that connect Massachusetts workers with economic opportunities and boost thriving sectors of our economy. The Senate budget increases funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program by 30% over the previous year, which will allow access to the credit for nearly 450,000 Massachusetts families. Senator Lewis won major new funding for Low Income Tax Clinics to help families navigate the tax filing process and access resources like the EITC.
The Senate budget invests substantially in low income housing and homelessness services to increase access to quality, affordable housing, a necessary foundation for people seeking to climb the economic ladder. Services like Emergency Assistance Family Shelters, Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), rental subsidies for individuals with mental health challenges, and housing and supportive services for unaccompanied homeless youth promote a Commonwealth where every resident can be safe and healthy while pursuing a better life for themselves and their families, and Senator Lewis continues to champion affordable housing and support for the most vulnerable members of Massachusetts communities.
Recognizing that each community in the Commonwealth has unique assets and needs, the Senate budget directs significant investments to local aid and community services and empowers municipalities to provide vital education, public safety and infrastructure services. The budget includes over one billion dollars for unrestricted general government aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges, as well as support for the statewide Board of library Commissioners, local Councils on Aging, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
The Senate also adopted an amendment to protect the civil rights of immigrants and prevent state resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law or to establish a registry based on a person’s protected status.
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 2019 begins on July 1, 2018.