Column: Supporting Our Senior Citizens

Since 1930, the life expectancy for the average American has gone up from about 60 years to approaching 80 years.  As our life expectancies grow higher, we must do all we can to ensure that our senior citizens remain integrated in the fabric of our community.  From housing to healthcare to transportation and more, we have a responsibility to make sure that all aspects of civic life continue to be accessible for and inclusive of our senior citizens.

During my time in the Legislature, supporting our seniors has been a high priority for me, especially when it comes to our annual state budget.  I’m pleased that our Fiscal Year 2015 state budget successfully reflected this value.  We achieved many successes in strengthening resources for seniors in this year’s budget.

For instance, during this past legislative session, the “formula grant” for our Councils on Aging was increased from $7 per elder per year to $8 per elder per year.  What this led to was an increase in funding for the Councils on Aging from $9.4 million in FY13 to $10.5 million last year to over $11.6 million this year.  Another major achievement this past legislative session was the elimination of wait lists for home care thanks to additional funding committed to our home care programs.  Additionally, $750,000 in the FY15 budget was designated specifically to protect the Meals on Wheels program.

Beyond the budget, we also passed important legislation pertaining to unique needs of senior citizens.  This year, we passed legislation to create an Alzheimer’s and related dementias Acute Care Advisory Committee to craft strategies to address dementia-capable care in all acute care settings.  We also passed legislation clarifying and strengthening protections surrounding the process for determining jurisdiction in cases of adult guardianship and protective proceedings.

Still, there are key legislative initiatives that did not get passed during the 2013-2014 legislative session that I will be advocating for next year.  For example, the “spouse as caregiver” bill unanimously passed the Senate but unfortunately did not make it to the Governor’s desk.  That bill would simply allow spouses to join the already-existing list of family members who can currently be paid to be a Personal Care Attendant or Adult Foster Care provider.  Another important piece of legislation is the “Personal Needs Allowance” bill to modestly increase the allowance provided to nursing/rest home residents to cover costs not covered by MassHealth, allowing those senior citizens to live with greater independence and dignity.

As in years past, to alleviate some of the unique burdens that property taxes can create for seniors in particular, we have the senior “Circuit Breaker” tax credit in Massachusetts, which allows seniors to claim a tax credit of up to $1,030 (the maximum last year) if their property tax and water & sewer bills exceed 10% of their income.  Seniors who rent can count 25% of their rent as real estate tax payments.

Keeping our seniors safe in our communities is another critically important goal.  To offer further protections for our senior citizens, the Legislature committed funds in the FY15 budget to establish a financial abuse specialist team that will assist elder protective service workers.  This follows recommendations drafted by the Elder Protective Services Commission to aggressively address neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation of our senior citizens.

This is especially urgent as the Middlesex Sheriff’s office has noted a number of telephone scams targeting senior citizens this year.  The most frequent scam involves callers fraudulently claiming to be collecting money allegedly owed to the IRS.  If you or someone you know receives a fraudulent call of this nature, you are encouraged to alert your local police station as well as the Investigations Unit of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office at 978-932-3220.

Another invaluable resource for our senior citizens, in addition to your community’s local Council on Aging and/or senior center, is Mystic Valley Elder Services (for residents of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, and Wakefield), or Minuteman Senior Services (for residents of Winchester), both of whom provide information, guidance, and services geared toward allowing seniors to continue living with greater independence and dignity.  If you are a senior citizen in the 5th Middlesex district with any questions about available services, feel free to contact Mystic Valley Elder Services at 781-324-7705 or Minuteman Senior Services at 781-272-7177 (depending on your community), or contact my State House office anytime at 617-722-1206.

Melrose Awarded $500,000 Development Grant Through State MassWorks Program

The Melrose state legislative delegation of Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur are pleased to announce that the City of Melrose has been awarded a $500,000 grant through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development’s MassWorks program.

The $500,000 grant is committed to the Essex Street revitalization project, which will create safer access for pedestrians between businesses and downtown bus routes to the Cedar Park commuter rail station. In addition, the infrastructure improvements will support the new Senior Housing Development at 116-158 Essex Street. Funding from the $500,000 MassWorks award will also be used to resurface Essex Street and Willow Street. Both streets will receive new sidewalks, improved handicap accessibility, trees, and lighting. Willow Street will also be widened.

“I’m very pleased to see Melrose receive this funding to enhance its infrastructure and pedestrian safety,” said Senator Lewis. “Investing in safer roads and sidewalks benefits our neighborhood businesses and brings our community closer together.”

“This funding will make our neighborhoods safer,” said Representative Brodeur. “Investing in infrastructure pays off, and I think the City of Melrose is a fine example of that. With this grant, we will continue to invest in our community and make it better.”

The MassWorks Infrastructure Program provides a one-stop shop for municipalities and other eligible public entities seeking public infrastructure funding to support economic development and job creation. The program is administered by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, in cooperation with the Department of Transportation and Executive Office for Administration & Finance.

State Senator Jason Lewis and Wakefield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Cohen on Main Street Small Business Walk

State Senator Jason Lewis was recently joined by Wakefield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Cohen on a “Main Street Business Walk” to meet some of Wakefield’s entrepreneurs and small businesspeople, and to hear directly from them the challenges that their businesses face and how state & local government can continue to be a productive partner for them.  Senator Lewis heard positive and thoughtful feedback from the owners of these popular small businesses, and thanks them for their time and valuable insight.

Among the members of the Wakefield business community with whom Senator Lewis and Executive Director Cohen spoke were:

  • Ralph Caira of The Italian Kitchen of Wakefield, who shared some of the challenges that his small business faces;
  • Doug Hart of Hart’s Hardware, whose family has been in the business for over fifty years;
  • Dr. Angela Karogiannis of Wakefield Custom Dental, with whom Senator Lewis discussed health policy;
  • Cheryl Mazzarella of Eastern Bank’s Wakefield branch, who shared insights on neighborhood mortgages and small business loans; and,
  • members of the team at The Farmland.

ItalianKitchen
(left to right) Ralph Caira, owner of The Italian Kitchen of Wakefield, and State Senator Jason Lewis

HartsHardware
(left to right) State Senator Jason Lewis, Doug Hart of Hart’s Hardware, and Wakefield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Cohen

WakefieldCustomDental
(left to right) State Senator Jason Lewis, Dr. Angela Karogiannis of Wakefield Custom Dental, and Wakefield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Cohen

EasternBankWakefield
(left to right) Wakefield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Cohen, State Senator Jason Lewis, and Eastern Bank Assistant Vice President Cheryl Mazzarella

TheFarmland
State Senator Jason Lewis, a member of The Farmland team, Wakefield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Cohen

Senator Jason Lewis Reads to Children at the Malden Public Library

Senator Jason Lewis recently joined several of his youngest constituents at the Malden Public Library for the library’s weekly story time.  Senator Lewis and the kids read “Lulu the Big Little Chick” by Paulette Bogan, “Amelia Bedelia’s First Apple Pie” by Herman Parish and Lynne Avril, and “Construction” by Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock.  Senator Lewis enjoyed the books as much as the kids did!

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MaldenLibrary2

Column: Combatting the Opioid Abuse Crisis

Opioid abuse and addiction in the Commonwealth has reached crisis level, and we need to take aggressive steps to prevent and treat addiction.  With no community and no family immune to the reach of this epidemic, it is critically important that we engage all members of our community to be informed and take action.

That is why I have convened a forum that I hope will be a helpful step toward increasing our community’s engagement on this critical issue.  With organizational partners the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse and the Mystic Valley Public Health Coalition, we will be holding a regional dialogue on opioid abuse.  Residents of the 5th Middlesex district and neighboring communities are encouraged to attend and to share their thoughts and feedback.

The presentation will take place on Thursday, October 23, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm, at the Hawkes Field House at Reading Memorial High School, 62 Oakland Road, Reading.  If you are planning to attend, please RSVP to the Director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse, Erica McNamara, MPH, at emcnamara@ci.reading.ma.us.

Youth, parents, educators, first responders, healthcare professionals, faith leaders, law enforcement, business professionals, prevention advocates, treatment professionals, individuals in recovery and their family members, community leaders and elected officials, and any member of the public interested in substance abuse prevention should attend.

As Penelope Funaiole, the Mystic Valley Opioid Abuse Prevention Coordinator, noted, “To fully tackle this crisis, it is critical to have as many voices at the table as possible.  This is a dynamic disease, and it will take dynamic strategies and approaches to make change in our communities.”

To advance dynamic strategies for combatting this crisis at the state level, earlier this year, our Legislature passed important legislation to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery in the Commonwealth by supporting a continuum of care and removing barriers that stand in the way of effective treatment.

Among many valuable provisions, the new law both increased access to care and improved the standard of care by removing the potential obstacle of prior authorization from one’s health insurance company for substance abuse treatment if the treatment provider is certified or licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Additionally, the law also removed prior authorization for Acute Treatment Services (detoxification) for all MassHealth Managed Care Entities and required coverage of up to fourteen days of Clinical Stabilization Services.  The law also removed prior authorization for Acute Treatment Services and Clinical Stabilization Services for commercial insurers, as well, and required coverage for a total of up to fourteen days.  In short, potential obstacles or barriers to receiving urgently needed services were eliminated.

To further enhance access to substance abuse treatment, the law also required that the medical necessity of substance abuse treatment be determined by the treating clinician in consultation with patient, and that all insurance carriers would reimburse for substance abuse treatment services delivered by a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor.  This provision helped move the decision-making process from insurance companies to medical professionals and their patients.

In addition, the law directed the Center for Health Information and Analysis to review the accessibility of substance abuse treatment and adequacy of insurance coverage, and tasked the Health Policy Commission with recommending policies to ensure access and coverage for substance abuse treatment throughout the Commonwealth, as well as review denial rates for substance abuse treatment coverage by commercial insurers.  These measures will provide policymakers with invaluable information to achieve a level of treatment service provision that is more broadly accessible and truly adequate to meet our communities’ needs.

These steps will prove extremely valuable in not only expanding access to needed substance abuse treatment services but also in expediting the delivery of those services, as time is often of the essence when connecting someone in urgent need of recovery services with those critical, often life-saving services.

Between the efforts we are able to implement through government action; the leadership that municipal officials, substance abuse recovery experts, healthcare providers, and our schools are able to provide; and, the constructive dialogue in which we are able to engage at the local level, I remain hopeful that we have the necessary tools to combat this tragic crisis.  I hope you can join us at the regional forum on October 23 to hear the information discussed and to add your voice to the chorus working toward preventing future substance abuse and addiction in our communities.

Senator Jason Lewis Secures Five New Liquor Licenses for Stoneham

State Senator Jason Lewis announced that a home rule petition for the Town of Stoneham authorizing five new liquor and malt beverage licenses was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick this past week.

“I am very pleased to have been able to work with Governor Patrick to secure passage of these licenses for Stoneham,” said Senator Lewis.  “These licenses will help support and encourage further economic development in Stoneham.”

“This measure will generate more business opportunity in Stoneham,” noted Edward Doherty, President of the Stoneham Chamber of Commerce, and Executive Vice President of StonehamBank.  “Senator Lewis has been an effective advocate for Stoneham, and we appreciate him making Stoneham’s local economy a priority.”

“Thanks to Senator Lewis’ diligence, this important economic development priority for Stoneham was addressed,” said Thomas Boussy, Chairman of the Stoneham Board of Selectmen.  “It has been no small feat for Senator Lewis to pull double-duty on behalf of Stoneham while the Representative seat has been vacant; so, I’m especially appreciative to Senator Lewis’ commitment to getting results for Stoneham’s families and businesses.”

Senator Lewis helped shepherd this home rule legislation through the Massachusetts House of Representatives earlier this year, while still a Representative.  After joining the Massachusetts Senate following his special election victory in April, he was able to then shepherd the bill through the Senate, prior to working with the Governor’s office to secure Governor Patrick’s support of the new law.

The bill – H3786: An Act authorizing the town of Stoneham to grant 5 additional licenses for the sale of all alcoholic beverages to be drunk on the premises – will now be known as Chapter 348 of the Acts of 2014.

Senator Jason Lewis to Hold Forums on Ballot Questions

Later this month, Senator Jason Lewis will hold a series of informational forums on the ballot questions that voters will be considering on Election Day.  Residents of the 5th Middlesex district are encouraged to attend and bring their questions.

At each forum, Senator Lewis will provide some background on each question, describe what a yes versus a no vote means, and answer questions.

The schedule for the forums is as follows:

Tuesday, October 21, 1:30-2:30pm
Milano Senior Center, 201 West Foster Street, Melrose

Friday, October 24, 2:00-3:00pm
Stoneham Senior Center, 136 Elm Street, Stoneham

Tuesday, October 28, 6:30-7:30pm
Burbank YMCA, 36 Arthur B. Lord Drive, Reading

If anybody is unable to attend, but would like information on the ballot questions, they are encouraged to contact Senator Lewis’ office at 617-722-1206 or visit the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s web page on the ballot questions at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele14/pip14idx.htm.

State Senator Jason Lewis, Mayor Robert Dolan, and Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau on Main Street Small Business Walk

State Senator Jason Lewis was recently joined by Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan and Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau on a “Main Street Small Business Walk” to meet some of Melrose’s entrepreneurs and small businesspeople, and to hear directly from them the challenges that their businesses face and how state & local government can continue to be a productive partner for them.  Senator Lewis heard positive and thoughtful feedback from the owners of these popular small businesses, and thanks them for their time and valuable insight.

Among the members of the Melrose business community with whom Senator Lewis, Mayor Dolan, and Executive Director Mongeau spoke were the Halligan family who own Miter Biter, Melrose Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President & Edward Jones financial advisor Christopher Cinella, Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet owner Rebecca Beraldi, and Madison Ave of Melrose boutique consignment owner Joanne Cotton.

MainStreetWalk(left to right) Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau,
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, State Senator Jason Lewis

MiterBiter(left to right) Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau,
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, Miter Biter co-owner Jim Halligan,
Miter Biter co-owner Dan Halligan, State Senator Jason Lewis

EdwardJones(left to right) State Senator Jason Lewis, Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan,
Melrose Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President & Edward Jones financial advisor Christopher Cinella

BeaconHillWineGourmet(left to right) Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet owner Rebecca Beraldi, State Senator Jason Lewis

MadisonAveOfMelrose(left to right) Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Ford Mongeau,
State Senator Jason Lewis, Madison Ave of Melrose boutique consignment owner Joanne Cotton

Senator Jason Lewis and Organizational Partners to Hold Regional Forum in Reading on Opioid Abuse

Later this month, Senator Jason Lewis, the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse, and the Mystic Valley Public Health Coalition will present a regional dialogue on opioid abuse.  Residents of the 5th Middlesex district and neighboring communities are encouraged to attend and share their thoughts and feedback.

The presentation will take place on Thursday, October 23, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm, at the Hawkes Field House at Reading Memorial High School, 62 Oakland Road, Reading.

“Opioid addiction in the Commonwealth has reached crisis level, and we need to take aggressive steps to prevent and treat addiction,” said Senator Lewis.  “With no community and no family immune to the reach of this epidemic, it is critically important that we engage all members of our community to be informed and take action.  This forum will be a helpful step in that direction.”

The evening’s agenda will include a panel presentation on the opioid issue from 7:00 to 7:30, followed by a rotating group discussion geared toward action items people can take to combat the opioid epidemic from 7:30 to 8:30, and then concluding from 8:30 to 9:00 with a summary of next steps members of the community can take.  In addition to Senator Lewis, the panel discussion will feature Penelope Funaiole, the Mystic Valley Opioid Abuse Prevention Coordinator, and Erica McNamara, MPH, Director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse.

“To fully tackle this crisis, it is critical to have as many voices at the table as possible,” said Funaiole.  “This is a dynamic disease, and it will take dynamic strategies and approaches to make change in our communities.”

“Our coalition leaders look forward to welcoming partners from around the region to our community for a thoughtful discussion on the issues we face in addressing opioid misuse,” said McNamara.

Youth, parents, educators, first responders, healthcare professionals, faith leaders, law enforcement, business professionals, prevention advocates, treatment professionals, individuals in recovery and their family members, community leaders and elected officials, and any member of the public interested in substance abuse prevention should attend.

If you are planning to attend, please RSVP to the Director of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse, Erica McNamara, MPH, at emcnamara@ci.reading.ma.us.

Column: Ensuring Adequate and Equitable Funding for All Our Schools

Throughout our nation’s history, Massachusetts has stood at the forefront on the issue of public education.  The Commonwealth, holding true to that designation, was the first state to provide access to free public school for all children.  A few decades after, we instituted the first special education program for students with additional needs.

Since the time of Horace Mann, we have recognized that education is the critical ingredient to producing a vibrant civil society, as well as a strong economy that continues to grow.  While Massachusetts has enjoyed much success in the area of public education, the good test scores our students achieve cover up increasingly urgent crises in how we finance our public schools, in the areas of both adequacy and fairness.

The funding for our public schools is determined by the Chapter 70 formula which was created as part of the state’s landmark Education Reform Act of 1993.  First, a “foundation budget” is calculated for each school district to determine the resources needed to educate the students in that district.  Then, the “local contribution,” the amount that each municipality must contribute from its own revenues, is calculated based upon each community’s income levels and property values.  Finally, the state government allocates Chapter 70 aid to fill the gap between the “foundation budget” figure and the “local contribution” figure.  Additionally, if it so chooses, each community can put more of its local resources toward education if it wants to spend an amount greater than the foundation budget.

Much has changed in the more than twenty years since we passed education reform.  Unfortunately, the foundation budget has become outdated and no longer accurately reflects the true cost to educate our young people in the 21st century.  This is due to a variety of factors from increasing healthcare costs, to a growth in special education needs, to vast advances in educational technologies, to the foundation budget under-accounting for teachers’ salaries and professional development.

For these reasons, I fought in the Legislature to achieve a Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission, which will enable a careful and thorough examination of current educational needs and best practices, an important step toward achieving more adequate and equitable funding for our public schools.  I am proud of having successfully advocated for the Commission’s inclusion in our FY15 state budget.

The Commission will be made up of legislators, educators, and other stakeholders, with a goal of producing substantive legislative recommendations by the summer of 2015.  The Commission will hold a series of public hearings around the state in order to solicit input from Massachusetts residents.  Once these hearings are scheduled, my office will publicize them to ensure that you have the opportunity to make your voice heard during this important process.

The work of this Commission will be a profound step toward updating the Chapter 70 formula and ensuring that all of our communities have the resources needed to provide our children with an education that is second-to-none and that prepares them for professional success that will contribute to our economy’s growth and our society’s vibrancy.

As it is my highest priority to be accessible to the residents of the 5th Middlesex district and to hear your concerns and feedback on all issues, I recently held a forum on education funding at Wakefield High School.  Members of the community brought their questions and we enjoyed a thoughtful exchange of ideas and information.  For many constituents, we demystified the Chapter 70 education financing formula, and we productively discussed ways to address inadequacy and inequity in state education financing, beginning with the Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission.

If you were unable to attend our recent forum, and would like to access the information we discussed – or if you have any questions or feedback about this or other issues – please don’t hesitate to contact me at my State House office at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or at 617-722-1206.  I welcome our ongoing dialogue, and I remain committed to doing all that I can in the Legislature to ensure that our communities have the resources needed to prepare our young people for successful and productive futures.