Sweeping COVID Recovery & Affordable Housing Bill Signed into Law

Prioritizes small business relief, support for workers, and housing development

On Wednesday, January 2, 2021, Senator Jason Lewis voted with the Massachusetts Legislature to pass $627 million in funding for a sweeping economic recovery and development bill which will provide much-needed support to businesses, investments in infrastructure, and creation of new jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was signed into law on January 14, 2021.

An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth provides the residents of Massachusetts a COVID-19 relief and recovery package that will provide support to the restaurant and tourism sectors, small businesses, and those who have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, while also creating a Future of Work Commission, establishing protections for student loan borrowers, and ushering in zoning reforms that will encourage housing development in our communities.

“This new law will help Massachusetts recover from the pandemic by investing more than $600 million in a wide range of programs that support communities, small businesses, job growth, and affordable housing development,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “These critical investments and policy reforms will be an important part of planning a strong and equitable post-pandemic recovery for the state economy and all our residents.”

The bill includes the following bonding authorizations and policy changes.

COVID-19 pandemic relief and recovery

Bonding Authorizations

  • $30 million for the state’s COVID-19 Payroll Protection Program
  • $20 million for restaurant COVID-19 recovery grants

Policy Changes

  • Limits fees charged by third-party delivery services for restaurants to 15% during the COVID-19 state of emergency; prohibits third-party delivery service companies from reducing rates for delivery drivers or garnishing gratuities as result of the limitation
  • Creates a commission to examine and make recommendations on addressing the recovery of the cultural and creative sector, including the arts, humanities and sciences, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

Housing

Bonding Authorizations

  • $40 million for a program to redevelop blighted buildings
  • $50 million for transit-oriented housing developments
  • $10 million for climate-resilient affordable housing developments
  • $5 million for a Gateway Cities housing program

Policy Changes

  • Implements zoning reform to help cities and towns approve smart growth zoning and affordable housing by lowering the required vote threshold for a range of housing-related zoning changes and special permits at the local level from a two-thirds supermajority to a simple majority
  • Requires designated MBTA communities to be zoned for at least one district of reasonable size, in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and requires such housing to be suitable for families with children
  • Increases the state low-income housing tax credit program cap from $20,000,000 to $40,000,000

Employee protections, business growth, and equity

Bonding Authorizations

  • $35 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation matching grant program to community development financial institutions for small business loans and grants
  • $27.7 million for a new Employment Social Enterprise Capital Grant Program
  • $20 million for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation small business grant program
  • $14M million for travel and tourism grants
  • $10 million for regional and community assistance planning grants

Policy Changes

  • Enables, via local option, the creation of tourism destination marketing districts (“TDMDs”), made up of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts, for the purpose of generating local revenue dedicated solely for the promotion and marketing of specific regions of the Commonwealth
  • Amends the statutory definition of wait staff employee to include a person in a quick service restaurant who prepares or serves food or beverages as part of a team of counter staff
  • Provides that the taking of family or medical leave shall not affect an employee’s right to accrue vacation time, sick leave, bonuses, advancement, seniority, length-of-service credit or other employment benefits, plans or programs
  • Exempts natural hair braiding from the definition of hairdressing, and exempts natural hair braiding from rules and regulations pertaining to aesthetics, barbering, cosmetology, electrolysis, hairdressing and manicuring
  • Encourages the PRIM Board to use minority investment managers to manage PRIT Fund assets, where appropriate, and to increase the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of Fund investments
  • Establishes a commission of experts, industry members, academics, and elected officials to research and propose policy solutions that ensure the future and sustainability of local journalism in Massachusetts

Student protections

  • Establishes a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights regulating the licensing and operation of student loan servicers by the Commissioner of Banks
  • Creates a Student Loan Ombudsman within the Office of the Attorney General for the purpose of receiving, reviewing and assisting in the resolution of complaints from student loan borrowers; authorizes the Ombudsman to assist with repayment options, applying for federal loan forgiveness programs, ending wage and tax refund garnishments, resolving billing disputes, and obtaining loan details

Technology and innovation

Bonding Authorizations

  • $52 million for the Technology Research and Development and Innovation Fund
  • $15 million for lottery IT infrastructure
  • $10 million for the expansion of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2)
  • $5 million for the Massachusetts Broadband Incentive Fund

Policy Changes

  • Creates a special commission on the future of work to conduct a comprehensive study relative to the impact of automation, artificial intelligence, global trade, access to new forms of data and the internet of things on the workforce, businesses and economy.
  • Clarifies that carsharing platforms may obtain insurance coverage from non-admitted carrier and that carsharing platforms do not need their own insurance-producer or broker licenses to offer or maintain insurance policies for carsharing vehicles or drivers.

Other bonding authorizations include

  • $102,304,000 for local economic development projects;
  • $12.5 million for the Commonwealth Zoological Corporation;
  • $15 million for trial court virtual mediation services;
  • $6 million for Massachusetts Cultural Council grants;
  • $5 million for Mass Cultural Council public school grants;
  • $20 million for Mass Cultural Council cultural facilities grants;
  • $15 million for vocational technical school expansion grants; and
  • $15 million for higher education workforce grants.

Statement from Sen. Lewis on Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol

A Statement from Senator Jason Lewis Following the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol

Yesterday’s insurrection by pro-Trump domestic terrorists who stormed the U.S. Capitol was a disgraceful assault on our democratic system and institutions, incited by President Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress. President Trump has demonstrated time and again that he is unfit for office and he should immediately resign or face removal from office by impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment (which is also necessary to ensure that he cannot run again for president in 2024).

I am also deeply troubled by the stark contrast between the treatment of the mob yesterday by law enforcement and the treatment of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters. Systemic racism in law enforcement and across our society, along with white supremacy, must be forcefully confronted and rooted out. It is my hope that under the leadership of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris we will finally make major strides working together to achieve racial justice and equity in this country.

Legislature Passes Landmark Climate Change Bill

Sweeping Legislative Package Includes Sen. Lewis Bill to Improve Home Appliance Energy Efficiency Standards

The Massachusetts Legislature on Monday passed breakthrough climate legislation that overhauls the state’s climate laws, drives down greenhouse gas emissions, creates clean energy jobs, and protects environmental justice communities. The bill, supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators in both the House of Representatives and State Senate, included policy language proposed by Senator Jason Lewis to update the Commonwealth’s appliance efficiency standards, a measure which environmental and consumer advocates say will save consumers money, tackle climate change and protect the environment.

The bill, An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy (S.2995), sets a 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions limit, as well as statewide limits every five years; increases the requirements for offshore wind energy procurement bringing the statewide total to 5,600 megawatts; requires emission reduction goals for MassSave, the state’s energy efficiency program; and, for the first time, establishes the criteria in statute that define environmental justice populations. The legislation also increases support for clean energy workforce development programs including those targeting low-income communities and improves gas pipeline safety.

“In Massachusetts we are leading the nation into a clean energy future, and this package of climate legislation offers programs and supports to help our residents and businesses as we tackle the challenge of climate change together,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I’m particularly proud that this ambitious package includes the Energy SAVE Act, a bill I filed with the support of the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. That measure, which updates Massachusetts home appliance efficiency standards, will reduce home energy and water consumption from household appliances and save consumer dollars by improving efficiency.”

The legislation includes, among other items, the following provisions.

  • Sets a statewide net zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandates emissions limits every five years, as well as limits for specific sectors of the economy, including transportation and buildings.
  • Codifies environmental justice provisions into Massachusetts law, defining environmental justice populations and providing new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods.
  • Requires an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind, building on previous legislation action and increases the total to 5,600 megawatts in the Commonwealth.
  • Directs the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), regulator of the state’s electric and natural gas utilities, to balance priorities going forward: system safety, system security, reliability, affordability, equity, and, significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Sets appliance energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliance including plumbing, faucets, computers, and commercial appliances.
  • Adopts several measures aimed at improves gas pipeline safety, including increased fines for safety violations and regulations related to training and certifying utility contractors.
  • Increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 3 percent each year from 2025 – 2029, resulting in 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.
  • Establishes an opt-in municipal net zero energy stretch code, including a definition of “net zero building.”
  • Prioritizes equitable access to the state’s solar programs by low-income communities
  • Establishes $12 million in annual funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in order to create a pathway to the clean energy industry for environmental justice populations and minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
  • Provides solar incentives for businesses by exempting them from the net metering cap to allow them to install solar systems on their premises to help offset their electricity use and save money.
  • Requires utilities to include an explicit value for greenhouse gas reductions when they calculate the cost-effectiveness of an offering of MassSave.
  • Creates a first-time greenhouse gas emissions standard for municipal lighting plants that requires them to purchase 50 percent non-emitting electricity by 2030 and “net zero” by 2050.
  • Sets benchmarks for the adoption of clean energy technologies including electric vehicles, charging stations, solar technology, energy storage, heat pumps and anaerobic digestors.

The bill was sent Monday to the governor for final approval.

Sen. Lewis Votes for Policing Reform Legislation

Bill emphasizes police accountability and transparency by creating a new, independent commission; increases
de-escalation protocols and puts in place procedures to address structural racism 

Yesterday, Senator Jason Lewis, along with his colleagues in the Senate and House, voted to pass An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement in the CommonwealthThe legislation represents the most comprehensive and intentional legislative response to incidents involving police practices in Massachusetts communities.  It creates an independent, civilian-led commission to standardize the certification, training and decertification of police officers, bans the use of chokeholds, limits the use of deadly force, creates a duty to intervene for police officers when witnessing another officer using force beyond what is necessary or reasonable under the circumstances, and takes steps to break the school-to-prison pipeline. It also creates a first-in-the-nation statewide moratorium on biometric surveillance systems, which include facial recognition technology.

“The vast majority of our law enforcement officers are dedicated public servants who are charged with doing extremely challenging and important work to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “At the same time, this year’s national reckoning with racial injustice shows that we must also recognize both the long history and many recent examples of police violence and bias directed at people of color, including here in Massachusetts. By strengthening police standards, training, and accountability, this legislation is a major step forward in advancing racial justice, equity, and public safety in the Commonwealth.”

The bill creates a Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (MPOSTC)—an independent state entity, the majority of which is composed of civilians—to standardize the certification, training and decertification of police officers. The commission will have independent power to investigate misconduct and will serve as the civil enforcement agency to certify, restrict, revoke, or suspend certification for officers, agencies and academies, among other duties regarding regulations regarding use of force standards, and the maintenance of a publicly available database of decertified officers. Within the Commission, there will be two divisions: The Division of Police Training and Certification, under the management and control of the newly established Committee on Police Training and Certification, and the Division of Police Standards 

The bill establishes strong guardrails governing the use of force, prohibiting certain actions and requiring the use of de-escalation tactics. The Committee on Police Training and Certification will promulgate regulations for use of force standards in areas including the use of physical or deadly force, the discharge of a firearm into a fleeing motor vehicle and the use of tear gas, rubber pellets and dogs. The legislation also bans the use of chokeholds.

The legislation establishes a duty to intervene, requiring that an officer intervene if he or she sees another officer using physical force beyond that which is necessary or objectively reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances, unless intervening will result in imminent harm to the officer or another identifiable person.

In addition, the legislation requires a police department with advance knowledge of a planned mass demonstration or protest to attempt, in good faith, to communicate with the organizers of the event. The department will be required to make plans to avoid and de-escalate potential conflict and designate an officer in charge of these plans. 

The legislation establishes a special legislative commission to study and examine the civil service law. This commission will study the hiring procedures, personnel administration rules, employment, promotion, performance evaluation, and disciplinary procedures for civil service employees, municipalities not subject to the provisions of the civil service law, and the Massachusetts State Police to improve diversity, transparency and representation in the recruitment, hiring and training of these groups. 

The legislation also creates three special legislative commissions to study the presence of institutional racism in the criminal justice system and make policy or legislative recommendations to eliminate disparities.:

  • Special Commission on Structural Racism in Correctional Facilities 
  • Special Commission on Structural Racism in Parole Process 
  • Special Commission on Structural Racism in Probation Services 

The legislation also sets standards for qualified immunity under which qualified immunity would not extend to a law enforcement officer who, while acting under color of law, violates a person’s right to bias-free professional policing if that conduct results in the officer’s decertification by MPOSTC. It also establishes a commission to investigate and study the impact to the administration of justice of the qualified immunity doctrine in the Commonwealth.

The legislation bans a public agency or employee from acquiring, accessing, or using any software that captures biometric data, including facial recognition, except by the Registry of Motor vehicles. A law enforcement agency may only request that the RMV perform a search of its facial recognition database in cases of immediate danger or pursuant to a warrant based on probable cause. The legislation also establishes a special legislative commission to study the use of facial recognition technology by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 

Included in the legislation are a number of measures relating to reforms within the Massachusetts State Police, including a provision that requires MPOSTC to approve training by the state police and certify state police officer and allows the colonel of the state police to be appointed from outside the ranks of the state police.

The legislation sets limits on student record sharing by schools, directs the Committee on Police Training and Certification to develop an in-service training program for school resource officers, and gives the MPOSTC the power to issue a specialized certification for school resource officers. 

In addition, the legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Banning racial profiling by prohibiting law enforcement agencies from engaging in racial profiling;
  • Requiring the Department of Public Health to collect and report data on law enforcement-related injuries and deaths
  • Expanding eligibility for record expungement from one criminal or juvenile record to two. The legislation also allows multiple charges stemming from the same incident to be treated as once offense for the purposes of expungement;
  • Criminalizing the submission of a false timesheet by a law enforcement officer, punishable by a fine of three times the amount of the fraudulent wages paid or by imprisonment for not more than two years;
  • Strengthening the penalties for law enforcement officers who have sexual intercourse with, or who commit indecent assault and battery on, a person in custody or control of the law enforcement officer; and
  • Strengthening the criteria for which a no-knock warrant may be issued. 

The legislation establishes the following commissions, task forces and studies: 

  • Body Camera Taskforce;
  • Community Policing and Behavioral Health Advisory Council study of community-based crisis response;
  • Permanent Commission on the status of African Americans;
  • Permanent Commission on the status of Latinos and Latinas;
  • Permanent Commission on the status of people with disabilities;
  • Permanent Commission on the status of Black men and boys;
  • Commission to study the feasibility of establishing a statewide law enforcement officer cadet program;
  • Commission on corrections officer training and certification; 
  • Commission to investigate and study the benefits and costs of consolidating existing municipal police training committee training academies; and
  • Commission on emergency hospitalizations.

The bill now goes to the Governor.

Sen. Lewis Supports Passage of FY 2021 Budget

Includes increased funding for sectors impacted by COVID-19, including housing and childcare

The Massachusetts State Senate on November 18 unanimously passed a $46 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21). 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.

“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.”

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.

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.

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 FY 21
  • $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:

  • $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
  • $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, including remote programs and assistance for vulnerable seniors.

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

Senate Budget Debate Remarks from Sen. Lewis on Emergency Paid Sick Time

During the November 18 Senate budget debate, Senator Jason Lewis offered the following remarks regarding his proposal to expand Emergency Paid Sick Time for Massachusetts workers during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“My remarks are in reference to amendment 360, which was dealing with emergency paid sick time. It was withdrawn a short while ago.

“Protecting the health and safety of residents is no doubt our top priority in this pandemic. All workers must have the ability to take care of themselves and their loved ones without losing their paycheck. Low-wage workers are our first line of defense against COVID-19 but these people are seeing the worst devastation from this pandemic. Many frontline workers are struggling desperately and lack adequate paid sick time.

“We provided earned sick time in a 2014 ballot law and the federal government recently made paid sick time available to many workers. But it isn’t totally adequate and many workers still do not have enough paid sick time. My amendment would fill the gaps by providing up to 10 additional days of paid sick time.

“We are not able to adopt this tonight, but an identical bill I filed received a favorable report from committee earlier this year and it is still pending in Senate Ways and Means. Many [senators] support this and we will continue to advocate for it.”

Senate Passes Sen. Lewis Bill to Require Insurance Coverage for Children with PANS/PANDAS

The Massachusetts Senate passed legislation Thursday that would mandate insurance coverage for children with pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndromes (PANS) and pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS). The bill, An Act relative to insurance coverage for PANDAS/PANS, was filed by Senator Jason Lewis. It would ensure that children with PANS or PANDAS receive optimal care by helping patients and their families access specialized diagnostic tests and effective treatments.

“With the passage of this legislation, children and families struggling with the debilitating impacts of this terrible illness will no longer also have to struggle to access the treatment that they desperately need,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the lead sponsor of the bill. “I want to thank my constituent Sheilah Gauch and her brave children Abby and Ian who, along with other amazing advocates, made this legislative victory possible.”

“This legislation means that the most acute and critically ill PANDAS/PANS patients will not have to live a tortured life of illness and symptom management. The Senate has put the medical treatment for this horrible disease back where it belongs: between the patient and their medical provider, said Sheilah Gauch and Jennifer Vitelli, co-leaders with the Massachusetts Coalition of PANDAS/PANS Legislation. “It has been inspiring and incredibly emotional for our families to have their children’s voices heard by both the Senate and the House during this session.  To listen to children, especially during this pandemic, shows the true character of those who serve the Commonwealth.   We look forward to getting this bill to the Governor’s desk before the end of the year.”

PANS/PANDAS is a life-changing condition often triggered by an infection such as “strep throat,” that can occur suddenly in previously happy, healthy children between the ages of two and twelve. The condition results in a marked detrimental personality change – typically including obsessions and compulsions, extreme anxiety, angry rages, trouble sleeping, difficulty with schoolwork, bodily tics and urinary frequency or incontinence.

PANS/PANDAS are challenging conditions – obtaining a correct diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms mimic other illnesses and treatment for PANS/PANDAS is not always covered by insurance. This legislation would change that by ensuring that treatment for PANS/PANDAS is covered by insurance in the Commonwealth. Medical professionals would be authorized to prescribe and execute courses of treatment for PANS/PANDAS patients, including intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG) in the most acute cases, in order to help patients receive the best possible care.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Joint Committee on Education Hosts Informational Oversight Hearing on K-12 School Reopening

Testimony Focused on Observations and Insights from K-12 School Reopenings in the Commonwealth During the COVID-19 Emergency.

BOSTON – On Tuesday, October 27, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education hosted an informational oversight hearing featuring testimony from state education officials, school superintendents, teachers, and other stakeholders from the K-12 education community. Participants were invited to offer testimony about what is working for students and what needs further attention as students continue to learn in the midst of a pandemic.

State Representative Alice Peisch and State Senator Jason Lewis, the House and Senate chairs of the Joint Committee on Education, posed a variety of questions to the witnesses, many on behalf of committee members. The hearing covered a wide variety of topics including COVID-19 protocols in K-12 institutions, school instructional models and return-to-school plans, support for vulnerable student populations, technology limitations and supply chain issues, and the state’s standardized assessment system.

“There is no doubt that students, parents, faculty and staff are facing many challenges as they navigate the realities of education in the middle of a pandemic,” said Representative Alice Peisch, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education Committee. “The Legislature is closely monitoring the changing education landscape and we are committed to supporting our students and districts to ensure that every child receives the highest quality education possible, especially the students in the highest risk environments. The hearing provided invaluable information about what is currently working in schools and areas that need further attention as we move forward in the academic year. I’d like to thank the statewide and district-level education leaders who took the time out of their busy days to testify, as well as the members of the public who continue to submit helpful written testimony to the Committee.”

“We must do everything possible to support the academic and social-emotional needs of all of our students during this crisis. There is a significant risk that the pandemic will exacerbate opportunity and equity gaps that existed prior to the pandemic and further harm our most disadvantaged students,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary effort and hard work from superintendents, principals, teachers, school nurses and other staff, students, parents, school committee members, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. I’m sure for most people involved in K-12 education this has been the most difficult, uncertain, and stressful period in their entire careers.”

The committee heard invited testimony from the following individuals:

  • Secretary Jim Peyser, Executive Office of Education
  • Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents
  • Glenn Koocher, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Associaiton of School Committees
  • Superintendent Tim Piwowar, Billerica Public Schools
  • Principal David Marble, Kennedy Elementary School in Billerica
  • Superintendent Dan Warwick, Springfield Public Schools
  • Principal Siobhan Conz, White St. School in Springfield
  • Kaitlin Hogue, Teacher, White St. School in Springfield
  • Superintendent Annie McKenzie, Hadley Public Schools
  • Paul Phifer, Parent of Hadley Public Schools and Amherst Regional Public Schools Students, Vice-Chair of Hadley School Committee
  • Tracy Fuller, Regional Executive Director, YMCA North Shore

The recorded hearing is available to stream on www.malegislature.gov on the “Hearings & Events” page. The Joint Committee on Education will accept written testimony as part of this hearing until 5:00PM on Friday, October 30. Testimony should be submitted by email to Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov and Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov.

Malden Teacher Jennifer Hedrington is 2021 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

MALDEN – Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley today announced that Jennifer Hedrington, a seventh-grade math teacher at Ferryway School in Malden, is the 2021 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.

The Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Program is the state’s top award for educators and annually recognizes excellence in teaching across the Commonwealth by selecting a teacher who exemplifies the dedication, commitment and positive contributions of educators statewide.

Ms. Hedrington is the 59th recipient of this award and automatically becomes Massachusetts’ candidate for the National Teacher of the Year program.

“The relationships that teachers like Ms. Hedrington build with their students and their students’ families are important to children’s growth and development and have been made more critical as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “I am pleased to see Ms. Hedrington recognized for her work, and I know that she represents many other dedicated educators across the Commonwealth”

“As co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, I know that Massachusetts is lucky to have many, many strong educators, and I’m thrilled that Ms. Hedrington, who works right here in Malden, is being honored and will represent all of them,” said Senator Jason Lewis, who represents Malden in the State Senate.

Ms. Hedrington is in her 16th year of teaching secondary school mathematics and her 10th year of teaching in Malden. She works hard to develop lessons that promote higher order thinking skills and that encourage her students to explore mathematical concepts, and she also teaches her students’ whole selves. She takes time for “commercial breaks” during her math lessons to discuss issues that are affecting the school or larger community. She supported students when they spoke to the School Committee to address racist incidents, and she has delivered professional development presentations about trauma-informed classrooms. One year, she created the League of Distinguished Gentleman to promote participants’ engagement and growth in their community and school.

In addition to her excellence in the classroom, Ms. Hedrington also helps bring the community into the school. During Black History Month, she prioritized involving students’ families in the celebration, and she encourages her students to engage with the community beyond the school walls, whether by gathering donated pencils for a school in Tanzania or by fundraising for a child in Ghana who needed eye surgery.

“Ms. Hedrington is a wonderful advocate for her students, whether the subject is math or life,” said Education Secretary James Peyser. “It is a pleasure to recognize her contributions to Malden and its students with this honor.”

“Beyond math, Ms. Hedrington’s work includes empowering students and improving her school,” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley. “I am pleased to present this honor to someone who brings so much joy to her work.”

“Each day, Ms. Hedrington seizes the opportunity that all educators have to profoundly impact the lives of their students both in and outside the classroom,” said Representative Steven Ultrino, Ed.D. “As an educator, I understand how much hard work goes into the exemplary education that Ms. Hedrington provides for our students here in Malden, and I’m proud to see her recognized for this work that so often goes unseen.”

“As a former seventh-grade teacher myself and the mom of a second grader, I know the kind of difference an amazing teacher can have in her students’ lives,” said Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian. “I extend my sincerest congratulations to Ms. Hedrington on receiving the state’s highest award for educators in recognition of her incredible impact on the students of Malden and beyond.”

“Massachusetts is lucky to have teachers like Ms. Hedrington in our schools,” said Representative Paul J. Donato. “I am happy she chose to teach in Malden, and I know that she and her students will continue to accomplish remarkable things.”

The selection process for the 2021 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year began in fall 2019 with a call for nominations from administrators, teachers, students, parents and others. An initial review of each nominated teacher’s written application led to the selection of 12 semifinalists, who then submitted additional supporting material. Four finalists were selected and interviewed by a panel that included past Massachusetts Teachers of the Year. That panel then recommended one finalist to Commissioner Riley.

In lieu of an in-person celebration, this year, DESE plans to release a brief video featuring Ms. Hedrington, the finalists, semifinalists, the Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, finalists and winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, and the state’s most recent Milken Award winner.

“Ms. Hedrington is an asset to both Malden Public Schools and to the community,” said Malden Mayor Gary Christenson. “I’m grateful for all she has done for Malden students, and I’m thrilled to see her recognized in this way.”

“Ms. Hedrington is an outstanding educator who is a true leader of students and staff in Malden,” said Malden Superintendent John Oteri. “She leads from the classroom and gives her students a greater voice in school and in the community.”

“I once had the pleasure of teaching in the room beside Ms. Hedrington’s, and I learned quickly how good she was at making the classroom welcoming for all students,” said Ferryway School Principal Abdel Sepúlveda. “She teaches math, but this award recognizes her ability to go beyond that and inspire students for life.”

About Jennifer Hedrington

Jennifer Hedrington holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Atlantic Union College and a juris doctorate from the Massachusetts School of Law.

She measures her students’ achievement in how they apply their education outside the classroom. “Lasting education is one that changes you to then want to change the world,” she wrote in her application.

Ms. Hedrington, a native and resident of Lancaster, has taught in Malden and Revere, as well as in Houston, Texas and Baltimore, Md.

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Information on Housing Rights and Assistance for Massachusetts Residents

Have you received a notice to quit? Or are you worried about eviction? A notice to quit is the beginning of a legal process in which your landlord may seek the approval of the housing court to evict you. You have legal rights, options, and resources that you can access that may help you keep your housing. Please find below resources you may find helpful:

RAFT & other rental assistance 

  • This is the Mass.gov resource page for renters and homeowners 
  • Use this site by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to access local housing resources, including local housing authorities, regional housing agencies, and emergency shelter providers, by municipality. Select your community using the drop down at the top.
  • RAFT: The Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program is a homelessness prevention program funded by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). RAFT provides short-term financial assistance to low-income families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The program is administered through the Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs), which each cover one of nine regions of MA. You can only apply to the HCEC that covers the area where you will be living and using the RAFT benefit. You can find eligibility requirements and start applying here.
    • The HCEC for the 5th Middlesex District (Melrose, Malden, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, Winchester) is Metro Housing Boston. Their contact information is as follows: 
      • (617) 425-6700 – For Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance
      • (617) 859-0400 – Metro Housing Boston Main Number
      • (800) 272-0990 – MA only
      • Fax: (617) 532-7559
      • Email: resourceline@metrohousingboston.org
  • The Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) has more information and resources for help paying your rent or mortgage, finding shelter, childcare, legal aid, or other necessities. 
  • Housing Families is a charity in Malden that supports families through all stages of housing insecurity and homelessness, offering emergency shelter, affordable housing, pro bono legal services, case management, access to direct financial assistance, stabilization, after-school tutoring and counseling (for kids and adults), enrichment and summer opportunities for kids,  advocacy, and community trainings all under one roof! You can find more information and request services here

State Housing Court

Federal Eviction Moratorium (through 12/31/2020)

The Federal moratorium extends through the end of the year, but its protection is not automatic. Tenants must actively seek relief by filing a declaration with their landlord; you can find a sample declaration here.

To be eligible, you must meet the following criteria: 

  • You have used your “best efforts” to obtain government rental assistance; 
  • You do not expect to earn more than $99,000 in 2020 (or $198,000 if you are married and filed a joint tax return), or you did not need to report income to the federal government in 2019, or you received an Economic Impact Payment this year; 
  • You have been experiencing a “substantial” loss of household income because of a layoff or reduced work hours, or you have “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses (defined as an unreimbursed medical expense that exceeds 7.5% of your adjusted gross income for the year); 
  • You have been making your best effort to make partial rent payments as close to the full amount due as possible; and 
  • Being evicted would cause you to become homeless or you would have to move in with a friend or family member (live “doubled up”). 

An overview and FAQ on the moratorium (also available in Español) from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, complete with a sample declaration on the last page. You can also find this sample declaration translated into:

If you have further questions or need assistance, please contact Senator Lewis at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or (617) 722-1206. 

Last updated: 10/20/2020