Senator Lewis Applauds State Grant for Local Head Start Provider

Senator Jason Lewis and other local state legislators hailed the recent announcement that the Department of Early Education and Care awarded a $2.5 million Head Start State Supplemental Grant to the Head Start and Early Head Start programs run by Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD). The ABCD Head Start and Early Head Start programs serve children and families from Boston, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and Winchester.

“I’m very pleased to see our state providing this significant level of support to our local Head Start and Early Head Start programs,” said Senator Jason Lewis, who serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education which has jurisdiction over early education and care programs. “The high quality early education programs run by ABCD are critical to the early development and well-being of many vulnerable children and low-income families in our communities.”

“We know the social and economic challenges Head Start families face, but more importantly, we know their children’s potential,” said ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew. “The pandemic severely impacted these folks, and we are grateful to the EEC, Senator Lewis, and all those who understand the value of the comprehensive education, health, and family support services that Head Start and Early Head Start provide and secured this critical funding.”

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from low-income families. Head Start programs support children’s growth in a positive learning environment through a variety of services, and are available at no cost to children ages birth to 5 from low-income families. Families and children experiencing homelessness, children in the foster care system, and children with disabilities and other special needs are also eligible.

Stoneham and Wakefield Legislators Applaud $225,000 State Grant for Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield

Stoneham and Wakefield state legislators Senator Jason Lewis, Representative Michael Day, Representative Kate-Lipper Garabedian and Representative Donald Wong hailed a recent announcement from Massachusetts Commissioner of Early Education and Care Samantha Aigner-Treworgy that the Department of Early Education & Care awarded a FY 2021 Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) Capital Fund grant to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield in the amount of $225,000.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield will use the state grant funding to help pay for a number of COVID-related facility upgrades.

“This state grant funding will help ensure that the Boys and Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield will remain a safe, healthy and accessible setting for the young people served by the club, the hardworking staff, and the dedicated volunteers,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I am pleased that the Commonwealth continues to provide support for our essential local child care providers like the Boys and Girls Clubs.”

“I am pleased that the Boys and Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield will receive a much-deserved $225,000 Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) Capital Fund grant,” said Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been in touch and met virtually with the Club to discuss the important work on which it has led to support children and their families in our community. The capital upgrades made possible with the state grant will enable the Club to make renovations that will enhance the services and programming it offers.”

“This is very welcome news, as the Boys and Girls Clubs provide out-of-school programs and services that allow families to thrive,” said Representative Michael Day. “This investment underscores the importance and value of these programs and ‘the Club’ to our community.”

“We never closed during the pandemic.  Our staff worked tirelessly to support local families and help caregivers get back to work.  For some children this meant being with us for over 40+ hours a week, including meals, snacks, and virtual schooling.  Outside our walls we delivered groceries, 3D printed personal protective equipment, and provided virtual programming for those children who could not come to our Clubs.  All of these programs depend on a facility that can manage the additional stress of this additional use.  This investment by the state made that possible,” said Anthony Guardia, Chief Development Officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield. “It’s an investment that reflects our special relationship with our local legislators.  The legislators and their staff were in constant communication with us on how best we can meet this ongoing challenge.  We knew we could depend on Sen. Lewis, Rep. Day, Rep. Lipper-Garabedian, and Rep. Wong to support us and our kids.  They’ve been advocates, friends, and partners.”

The priorities and goals of the FY 2021 Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) Capital Fund are to provide center-based early education and out-of-school time care facilities with resources to make renovations that enhance health and safety, for costs that were incurred during the period between March 22, 2020 and September 30, 2021.

Sen. Lewis & Middlesex Fells Legislative Caucus Secure State Funding for Fells Improvements

Senator Jason Lewis, Representative Paul Donato, and members of the state legislature’s Middlesex Fells Caucus successfully advocated for a $75,000 earmark for the Friends of the Fells as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 state budget. This funding will support conservation efforts that protect and enhance the habitats of the Middlesex Fells Reservation.

Senator Lewis and Representative Donato serve as the co-chairs of the Middlesex Fells Legislative Caucus, which was formed earlier this year. The other members of the caucus include: Senators Brendan Crighton and Pat Jehlen, and Representatives Christine Barber, Michael Day, Sean Garballey, Kate Lipper-Garabedian, and Steven Ultrino. The goal of the caucus is to advocate for funding and policies that promote conservation and provide sustainable recreational opportunities for all to enjoy the Middlesex Fells. The caucus will be working closely with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) which manages the Fells, as well as the Friends of the Fells and other stakeholder groups.

Senator Lewis and the Middlesex Fells Caucus were also successful in creating a new Middlesex Fells Reservation Trust Fund. This Fund will be able to accept both public funding and private donations that advance recreational, educational and conservation efforts, and support infrastructure improvements for the Middlesex Fells Reservation.

“The Middlesex Fells Reservation is a wonderful resource available to our communities, which even more people have discovered during the pandemic,” said Senator Jason Lewis, co-chair of the Middlesex Fells Legislative Caucus. “I’m thrilled that we were able to secure this funding in the state budget to support the vital work that the Friends of the Fells does to promote conservation, recreation, and education for all in the Middlesex Fells.”

“As co-chair of the Fells Caucus, I take great pleasure in the securing of important funding for Friends of the Fells as well as the Middlesex Fells Trust Fund,” said Representative Paul Donato. “It is our duty to protect the beautiful nature that is all around us in the Commonwealth. Nobody knows that better than the Friends of the Middlesex Fells as they tackle important conservation initiatives such as reducing rogue trails, managing invasive weeds, and so much more. It is my honor to support them, and it is all of our responsibilities to protect the nature that surrounds us here in Massachusetts.”

“The Middlesex Fells is one of the Commonwealth’s favorite nature spaces, and has proven to be essential natural infrastructure during the pandemic, providing a safe space to get outside, get active, and access the mental health benefits nature provides,” said Friends of the Fells Executive Director Chris Redfern. “This funding allocation to the Friends of the Middlesex Fells’ Sustainable Fells Campaign will strengthen our ability to care for the nature of the Fells and make sure it is a safe and welcoming space for everyone.”

The FY22 state budget is now on Governor Baker’s desk awaiting his action.

Senate Passes Animal Welfare Improvements for Egg-Laying Hens Proposed by Sen. Lewis

Legislation supported by animal rights and farm advocates would update 2016 ballot referendum to reflect national industry standards

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate passed legislation on Thursday to create a more secure egg supply chain and raise Massachusetts’ farm animal welfare standards to align with other states. The bill would upgrade Massachusetts’ egg production law to create predictability and certainty by mirroring the national United Egg Producers cage-free guidelines, which have been adopted by leading retailers, producers, and other states.

In 2016, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed what at the time was the strongest law for farm animals in U.S. history, An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals, known as Question 3. Since then, leading retailers, producers, and other states mandated even stronger standards in the shift to cage-free conditions for hens. The legislation passed in the Senate, An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards, updates existing state law to meet this new standard. This bill has the support of the animal welfare groups that supported the 2016 ballot question, as well as the support of the leading egg producers in the Commonwealth.

“In 2016, the advocacy of animal welfare groups across the Commonwealth and overwhelming support from voters passed Ballot Question 3 to ensure that the factory farming industry provides more humane standards for pigs, calves and egg-laying hens, representing a historic victory for animal welfare,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the lead sponsor of the Senate bill. “Since then, the standard around the country for egg-laying hens has evolved, and Massachusetts is now an outlier, which could threaten our supply of eggs. Fortunately, the egg producers and animal welfare groups have come together to agree on this legislation, ensuring safe and humane conditions for egg-laying hens and affordable eggs for Massachusetts consumers.”

“We’re grateful to the Senate for passing the upgrade to the Commonwealth’s farm animal protection law today, and to Senator Lewis for his strong leadership on this bill,” said Laura Hagen, Massachusetts State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. “The mandate of critical environmental enrichments for chickens, including areas for them to dust bathe, perch, scratch, and lay eggs in nest boxes will improve the lives of millions of these birds.”

“We commend the Massachusetts Senate for their vote and Senator Lewis for his leadership on this issue. This is a victory for consumers, common sense and good animal husbandry,” said William Bell, General Manager of the New England Brown Egg Council. “We also thank the Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture and especially the Committee Chairs for giving this bill the necessary priority.”

An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards would raise Massachusetts’ standards to align with the laws of other states more closely.

Upgrading the standards of the 2016 farm animal law would help streamline regulatory and enforcement processes to mirror similar laws in other states. Specifically, these amendments would bring the Massachusetts standard in line with other states by:

  • Incorporating industry standards and animal welfare upgrades passed in other states. This upgrade enacts the standard used by leading food companies and other states and provides detailed cage-free standards, including enrichments that provide hens the ability to engage in vital natural behaviors such as perching, scratching, dust bathing, and laying eggs in a nest.
  • Ensuring the sales provision covers various types of eggs. As passed in 2016, the law applied to shell eggs, but not egg products. This legislation would also cover egg products, mirroring legislation passed in other states.

The bill would also enhance market and regulatory certainty by:

  • Updating authority for promulgating rules and regulations to include both the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). As passed in 2016, the law assigns to the Attorney General exclusive authority to promulgate rules and regulations as well as to enforce the law. This legislation would update the regulatory authority so that it’s shared between the AGO and MDAR. (Enforcement authority would remain exclusively with the AGO.) Many states with similar laws include their state department of agriculture in the regulatory process.

An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards is endorsed by New England Brown Egg Council, The Country Hen (the major egg producer in the Commonwealth), United Egg Producers, and the Massachusetts Food Association, which notes that the language in this legislation offers a “readily available solution” to ensure retail-endorsed cage-free standards. The bill also has the support of numerous animal protection organizations, including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Animal Equality, Animal Outlook, The Humane League, Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Program, Mercy for Animals, Compassion in World Farming, and World Animal Protection—all groups that have been working to increase welfare for farm animals, and egg-laying hens, for decades.

The bill now goes to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Led by Sen. Lewis, Fair Share Amendment Advances to the Ballot

Members of the Massachusetts House and Senate on Wednesday held a Constitutional Convention where they overwhelmingly supported the Fair Share Amendment with a vote of 159-41, sending it to the November 2022 statewide ballot for voters to have the final say.

The Fair Share Amendment would assess an additional income tax of four percentage points on annual taxable household income above $1 million. The revenue generated — estimated by the Department of Revenue to be as much as $2.2 billion annually — would fund repair and maintenance projects for roads, bridges and public transportation; preK-12 public schools; and public colleges and universities in Massachusetts.

“The Fair Share Amendment once again received strong support from legislators and, in public polling, typically receives support from more than 70% of voters in Massachusetts,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the lead Senate sponsor of the proposal. “The reason it is so popular is that most people recognize that our wealthiest residents can afford to pay a bit more in taxes to fund investments in public education and transportation infrastructure that will grow our economy, expand opportunity, and make our Commonwealth more just and equitable for all.”

Should voters approve the ballot measure, the $1 million income level would be increased annually to reflect increases in the cost of living. This would ensure that, over time, the additional four percent tax would continue to apply only to the highest earning taxpayers in the Commonwealth. The tax would take effect on January 1, 2023.

The legislature must approve a constitutional amendment in two consecutive joint sessions before the question appears on the ballot for voter approval. The Fair Share Amendment was approved for a first time on June 12, 2019, in a 147-48 vote. This week’s June 9, 2021 vote of 159-41 ensures the proposal will now appear on the November 2022 statewide ballot.

Column: The Fair Share Amendment Will Make the Commonwealth Stronger and More Equitable

As published by CommonWealth Magazine on June 8, 2021. 

The Fair Share Amendment — which would assess an additional tax of four percentage points on annual taxable income above $1 million and invest the proceeds in transportation and public education — has been discussed and debated for many years. It has been voted on three times in previous Constitutional Conventions convened by the Legislature, and has received strong support every time. In public polling, this proposal typically receives support from more than 70 percent of voters in Massachusetts.

The reason why the Fair Share Amendment is so popular is that most people recognize that our wealthiest residents can afford to pay a bit more in taxes to help fund investments that expand opportunity and make our Commonwealth more just and equitable for all.

From World War II through the late 1970s, economic growth and prosperity in our state and nation was broadly shared. Since 1979, however, average income for the top 1% has grown at an annual rate that is ten times greater than the growth of average income for the bottom 90%. In other words, a hugely disproportionate share of all new income and wealth over the past four decades has gone to those who are already very rich.

This is not because working people aren’t working hard enough. In fact, they are working longer hours, and often multiple jobs. Worker productivity has increased an astounding 65% since 1979. And yet, working families are struggling to get by every day, living paycheck to paycheck.

As this inequality has grown over the past few decades, Massachusetts hasn’t made the investments in public services that are necessary to make our economy work for everyone. Our public schools and colleges lack the resources they need to prepare students for the 21st century economy. We’ve let our roads, bridges, and public transportation infrastructure crumble because we haven’t invested in maintaining and upgrading them. As a result, for many young people, the American Dream seems ever more elusive, if not downright impossible.

While there are many factors that have contributed to such high levels of inequality, our state tax policy is one of these factors. Moreover, unlike the forces of globalization or rapid technological change or federal fiscal policy, state tax policy is within our direct control. Incredibly, lower- and middle-income taxpayers in Massachusetts pay a greater percentage of their annual income in state and local taxes than the highest-income taxpayers do. This is deeply unfair.

The Fair Share Amendment would raise substantial new revenue to support public investments that are critical to our pandemic recovery and building a more just economy, and do it by making our tax system more equitable. It will provide funds to:

  • Continue implementing the Student Opportunity Act to ensure adequate and equitable funding for all K-12 public schools
  • Make high-quality public higher education more accessible and affordable for lower-income students and students of color
  • Expand access to high-quality, affordable pre-K education for working families
  • Improve our transportation system and infrastructure, including roads, bridges, sidewalks, multi-use trails, and public transit

Critics of the Fair Share Amendment claim that millionaires will flee Massachusetts, especially now that remote work has become more popular. Yes, some wealthy people may retire to Florida or Arizona, where it doesn’t snow; but that happens already. The overwhelming evidence from detailed studies of state tax policy strongly suggests that the vast majority of high-income households will not leave the state simply because of a slightly higher marginal tax rate. After all, one of the advantages of making more than a million dollars a year is that you can afford to live where you want, and there are many other good reasons to stay in Massachusetts.

In fact, investments in a stronger education system and improved transportation infrastructure will strengthen our economy, expand opportunity, and make Massachusetts an even more desirable place to live, work, raise a family, and build a business. With a 9% top marginal tax rate, Massachusetts would be in line with many other high-income states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and Oregon. Even many red states have top marginal income tax rates well above our current 5% rate.

We hope that our colleagues in the legislature will join us in voting one final time in favor of the Fair Share Amendment, sending it to the November 2022 ballot where the voters of Massachusetts will have the final say.

Senator Jason Lewis & Representative Jim O’Day

The Fair Share Amendment was approved in a June 9, 2021 joint session of the Legislature by a margin of 159-41.

Senate Passes FY22 State Budget with Support of Sen. Lewis

Includes increased investments to support an equitable recovery and safeguard the health of our residents

The Massachusetts State Senate on May 28 unanimously passed a $47.7 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22), which starts on July 1, after three days of robust deliberations and debateApproved with unanimous bipartisan support, the budget maintains fiscal responsibility and recommends targeted investments to address emerging needs, safeguard the health and wellness of the most vulnerable populations and ensure residents will benefit equitably as the state recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This budget represents an essential step forward as our Commonwealth looks ahead to recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding a strong and equitable economy for Massachusetts families, businesses and communities,” 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 proud that this budget invests substantially in Massachusetts K-12 public schools and in early education and child care, which form a key pillar of economic opportunity for millions of working parents and families across the state.”

As a cornerstone of the Commonwealth’s equitable recovery, the Senate’s budget protects access to educational opportunity and charts a path forward for students, families, educators, and institutions. The budget maintains the Senate’s commitment to implementing the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) by FY 2027. The Senate proposal fully funds the first year of the SOA consistent with the $5.503 billion local aid agreement reached in March with the House Committee on Ways and Means, amounting to an increase of $220 million over FY21.

Despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic, this increased level of investment represents a 1/6th implementation of SOA rates and ensures that school districts across the Commonwealth have adequate and equitable resources to provide high quality educational opportunities for all students. The Senate’s budget also includes $387.9 million for the Special Education (SPED) Circuit Breaker, reimbursing school districts for the cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75 per cent reimbursement rate. In addition, recognizing that school districts across the state have experienced fluctuations in student enrollment related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate’s budget creates a $40 million reserve consistent with the March local aid agreement to provide additional aid to districts experiencing increases in student enrollment compared to October 2020.

The Senate’s budget confronts the frontline health care impacts of the pandemic to navigate the challenges posed by COVID-19. It also sustains support for the state’s safety net by funding MassHealth at a total of $18.98 billion, thereby providing over 2 million of the Commonwealth’s children, seniors, and low-income residents access to comprehensive health care coverage. Understanding that the pandemic has strained the health care safety net, the Senate’s budget also invests over $1 billion to support vital mental and behavioral health initiatives while ensuring children and families continue to receive supports across the continuum of services provided.

The Senate’s FY 2022 budget employs a sensible approach to maintain long-term fiscal health by including up to $1.55 billion from the Stabilization Fund. It draws $50M less from reserves than the budget proposed by the Administration, ensuring that the Commonwealth maintains healthy reserves for years beyond the pandemic. Additionally, the Senate’s budget relies on $575 million from enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (eFMAP) reimbursements and $15 million in FEMA reimbursements to take advantage of changes at the federal level to maximize revenue opportunities. It also excludes the use of federal American Rescue Plan funds: the Senate will work collaboratively in the coming months to develop a responsive and thoughtful plan to support the needs of the Commonwealth.

During this week’s debate, the Senate adopted two amendments that highlight its targeted focus on finding opportunities to enhance revenue and be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars. When Massachusetts first regulated ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft, the legislation included a novel $0.20 fee per ride to mitigate the impacts on congestion.  Since that time, jurisdictions across the country have adopted fee structures to more appropriately capture the impact that ride share companies have on the roadways, and better incentivize consumer behavior. To that end, the Senate budget increases the current $0.20 fee to $1.20 for solo rides and adds an additional $0.20 fee to rides that begin in end in the MBTA core, among other changes. All increased revenue from the rides will go back to the transportation system to invest in public transit and other mobility improvements.

The Senate also adopted a budget amendment to implement several recommendations of the newly created Tax Expenditure Review Commission.  The commission thoroughly reviewed spending through the tax expenditure budget and highlighted several expenditures that no longer serve their desired purpose.  The Senate heeded the advice of the commission and eliminated several such expenditures, slated to save taxpayers several million dollars beginning in tax year 2022.

Additional education investments include:

  • $5.503 billion for Chapter 70 education funding
  • $387.9 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker
  • $149.1 million to reimburse public school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools
  • $78.6 million to reimburse school districts for regional school transportation costs, after adding $1 million during debate
  • $571.2 million for the University of Massachusetts, $321.7 million for the fifteen community colleges, and $298.1 million for the nine state universities
  • $40 million reserve to provide additional aid to districts experiencing increases in student enrollment compared to October 2020
  • $27.9 million for METCO grants to cities, towns and regional school districts, after adding $1.3 million during debate
  • $15 million for grants to the Head Start program to maintain access to early education services for low-income families
  • $10 million for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative to expand access to pre-kindergarten and preschool opportunities in underserved areas
  • $9 million for a reserve to cover parent fees for families receiving subsidized childcare through the end of calendar year 2021
  • $6 million for Dual Enrollment and $5 million for Early College Programs, more than doubling our commitment to these programs that provide high school students with better opportunities for post-graduate success
  • $5 million for Social Emotional Learning Grants to help K-12 schools bolster social emotional learning supports for students, and $1 million for a new pilot program to provide mental health screenings for K-12 students
  • $4 million for rural school assistance, after adding $1 million during debate
  • $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
  • $600,000, added during debate, for innovation pathway programs to create partnerships with employers to provide students with experience in specific high-demand industries, such as information technology, engineering, healthcare, life sciences and advanced manufacturing

Additional health investments include:

  • $507.5 million for Adult Support Services, including assisted outpatient programming and comprehensive care coordination among health care providers
  • $175.3 million for a complete range of substance use disorder treatment and intervention services
  • $97.1 million for children’s mental health services
  • $50.3 million for domestic violence prevention services
  • $39 million for early intervention services, to ensure supports are accessible and available to infants and young toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities, including funds to support health equity initiatives, after adding $1 million during debate
  • $23 million for Family Resource Centers to improve and expand access to resources and programming for families
  • $13 million for grants to support local boards of health, including funds to build upon the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) Program, after adding $3 million during debate
  • $12.3M for the Shannon Grants gang violence prevention and intervention program, after adding $1 million during debate
  • $10.5M for the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI), after adding $500,000 during debate
  • $10 million to recapitalize the Behavioral Health, Access, Outreach and Support Trust Fund to support targeted behavioral health initiatives, including $5 million for loan forgiveness for mental health clinicians, $3 million of which is for child and adolescent psychiatrists, $1 million for public awareness campaigns, $3.5 million for student access to telebehavioral health services in schools, and $500,000 to enhance the mental health workforce pipeline
  • $10 million for new grants to create Programs of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) in each of the six executive office of health and human services regions of the Commonwealth to provide intensive community-based wraparound services to children and adolescents with serious mental and behavioral health needs
  • $5.6 million for smoking prevention and cessation programs, after adding $1 million during debate
  • $3.9 million for the Office of the Child Advocate, including $1 million for the establishment and operation of a state center on child wellness and trauma
  • $2.5 million for Children Advocacy Centers to improve the critical supports available to children that have been neglected or sexually abused
  • $2 million for veterans’ mental and behavioral health supports through Mass General’s Home Base Program.
  • $600K for the women veterans’ outreach program, after adding $500K on the floor to expand the program

Added $500,000, during debate, for a contraceptive access public awareness campaign to promote awareness of a 2017 law which gives an individual access to 12-month prescription of co-pay free birth control. In addition to these health care investments and in response to oversight hearings held by the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness, the Senate adopted an amendment requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the office of health equity and the department of public health, to establish a set of quantitative goals and benchmarks to define and achieve equitable vaccine administration in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

As the Senate works to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient, it remains committed to an equitable recovery, expanding opportunity, and building a more inclusive Commonwealth. To that end, the Senate’s budget takes a number of critical steps to support workers and lift up working families with economic opportunities.

Opportunity investments include:

  • $50 million for adult basic education services to improve access to skills necessary to join the workforce
  • $30 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program
  • $23 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth
  • $18 million in Healthy Incentives Programs to ensure vulnerable households have continued access to food options during the pandemic
  • $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
  • $8.5 million for Career Technical Institutes to increase our skilled worker population and provide residents access to career technical training opportunities.
  • $6 million for Regional Economic Development Organizations to support economic growth in every region
  • $5 million for Community Foundations to provide emergency economic relief to historically underserved populations
  • $4 million for the Secure Jobs Connect program, providing job placement resources and assistance for homeless individuals
  • $2.5 million for the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund, including $1.5 million for new regional security operation centers which will partner with community colleges and state universities to provide cybersecurity workforce training to students and cybersecurity services to municipalities, non-profits, and small businesses
  • $2 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership
  • $1.5 million for nonprofit security grant program, after adding $500,000 during debate
  • $1 million for employment programs for young adults with disabilities

In addition to investments that support an equitable recovery and opportunity for all, the Senate’s budget addresses the increasing costs of caregiving for low-income families by converting existing tax deductions for children under 12, dependent adults and business-related dependent care expenses into refundable tax credits. Coupled with the expanded Child Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care tax credits under the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the Senate’s child tax credit will help to lift 85,000 families out of poverty and support low-income working parents.

Additionally, the Senate’s budget builds on the success of last year’s efforts to tackle ‘deep poverty’ with a 20 per cent increase to Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) benefits over December 2020 levels, ensuring families receive the economic supports they need to live, work and provide stability for their children.

Over a year into the pandemic, the role that access to affordable housing has played in our economic recovery is clear. Recognizing this, the Senate’s budget invests $572 million in housing and homelessness services. In addition to the more than $800 million in federal resources made available to support housing stability efforts, the Senate’s investment will help to keep families in their homes and support tenants and property owners during this uniquely challenging time.

Housing investments include:

  • $195.9 million for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters, including funds to create an independent ombudsman’s office to act as a mediator and advocate for households applying to or residing in family shelters
  • $150 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), including $20 million in unspent funds carried forward from FY 2021, and recommended changes to the program to cap the share of a household’s income paid towards rent at 30 per cent
  • $85 million for assistance to local housing authorities
  • $16.3 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), in addition to $350 million in federal emergency rental assistance, and including changes to the RAFT program, adopted through the amendment process, to extend the maximum amount of rental assistance of $10,000 until December 31, 2021, and then maintain the maximum amount of rental assistance at $7,000 through the end of FY 2022, which support households in need during this recovery and helps us avoid sudden changes in benefit levels
  • $56.4 million for assistance for homeless individuals
  • $14.2 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) providing rental assistance to people with disabilities, including $5.5 million in unspent funds carried forward from FY 2021, and $2.5 million for grants to improve or create accessible affordable housing units
  • $8 million for the Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs).
  • $8 million for assistance for unaccompanied homeless youth
  • $3.9 million for the Home and Healthy for Good re-housing and supportive services program, including $250,000 for homeless LGBTQQ youth

The Senate’s budget reflects the Senate’s unwavering support for cities and towns and provides a significant amount of local and regional aid to ensure communities can continue to provide essential services to the public while addressing local impacts caused by the pandemic. This includes $1.168 billion in funding for Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), consistent with the March local aid agreement, to support local level investments and provide predictability for municipalities. In addition to traditional sources of local aid, the Committee’s budget increases payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land to $35 million. PILOT funding is a vital source of supplemental local aid for cities and towns working to protect and improve access to essential services and programs during recovery from the pandemic.

Local investments include:

  • $94 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to support regional public transportation system as a public good necessary to helping commuters, students, seniors and people with disabilities and supporting economic mobility
  • $36 million for libraries, including $13.5 million for regional library local aid, $13 million for municipal libraries
  • $20 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives
  • $2 million in additional grants for local tourism around the state

Differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in April are expected to be reconciled through a Conference Committee.

Sen. Lewis Receives 2021 Distinguished Service Award from Mass. Association of School Superintendents

On May 27, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.) bestowed its 2021 Distinguished Service Award to Senator Jason Lewis. This award is given annually to one person who has made significant contributions to public education in Massachusetts. Senator Lewis represents the residents of the Fifth Middlesex District in the Massachusetts Senate, which includes the cities and towns of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and parts of Winchester. He currently serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education.

“As the leaders of our local public school districts, superintendents have a unique and critical role to play in fostering excellent and equitable educational experiences for all students and families,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I am very grateful for the recognition of this distinguished group of educators and administrators and I look forward to our continued work alongside classroom teachers, school administrators, parents and families, community organizations, and most of all, students, to make sure that Massachusetts public education continues to serve as a national model of excellence.”

Senator Lewis has long championed educational equity and led the effort to pass the Student Opportunity Act in 2019, landmark legislation to ensure that every child in Massachusetts has equal access to a high-quality public education.

“The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents acknowledges one person every year to receive the M.A.S.S. Distinguished Service Award. We are pleased and proud to present the 2021 Distinguished Service Award to Senator Jason Lewis,” said Dr. Tom Scott, Executive Director of M.A.S.S. “Senator Lewis has been an advocate for high quality public education for all students. He has demonstrated to school superintendents throughout the Commonwealth, through his words and actions, an example of advocacy that supports our mutual interest to provide the very best opportunities for our children.”

As Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, Senator Lewis has prioritized policy areas such as equitable school funding, access to high-quality and affordable early education and care, and educator workforce development and diversity.

“Senator Lewis has allowed the educational leaders in the Commonwealth an opportunity to share their collective voice,” said M.A.S.S. President Dr. Robert Baldwin, who also serves as the Superintendent of the Fairhaven Public Schools. “On many occasions he has had us in the room as part of the decision-making process. Most impressive, he has followed through by producing results for the greater good on behalf of our students.”

Dr. Baldwin presented the Distinguished Service Award to Senator Lewis during the organization’s Virtual Spring Meeting. Baldwin cited the senator’s efforts to ensure strong fiscal support of public schools and education policy supports Massachusetts public school students, staff, and districts. Baldwin also acknowledged Lewis’s role in hearing the concerns and responding to the needs of public school stakeholders throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis.

State Legislature Takes Further Action To Address Pandemic Impacts

On May 20, the Massachusetts State Legislature gave final approval to a bill to guarantee COVID-19 emergency paid leave to workers, as well as help businesses avoid drastic unemployment insurance rate increases.

“No worker in the Commonwealth should have to choose between earning a paycheck and protecting their own health or the health of a loved one,” said Senator Jason Lewis, who first proposed a version of this bill in the spring of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. “I’m very grateful to Senate President Spilka, my House and Senate colleagues, the Raise Up Mass coalition, and business leaders for working together to create this important COVID-19 emergency paid leave program that will be especially helpful to low-income essential workers and will help hasten the end of the pandemic.”

Massachusetts workers would be eligible for emergency paid leave should they be diagnosed with COVID-19, required to isolate, or need to care for a family member due to the virus. Building on efforts to increase vaccination rates in Massachusetts, employees would also be able to take emergency paid leave in order to receive a COVID vaccine, or if they have common vaccine side effects in the immediate days following the vaccine. This will ensure Massachusetts workers do not have to choose between a paycheck or access to the vaccine.  Employees taking COVID emergency leave would maintain all benefits to which they are entitled, such as health insurance, vacation leave, and sick leave.

Workers are eligible for up to five days of paid leave, at their regular rate of pay, capped at $850 per week—the same maximum weekly benefit provided for in the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law. Employers covered by federal legislation providing for paid leave will have the cost of providing such leave paid for through a federal tax credit. For all other employers, the bill creates a $75 million COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Fund to reimburse eligible employers for providing their employees with emergency paid sick leave. The state requirement for paid leave would extend until September 30, 2021 or until the fund is exhausted.

“In order for us to fully recover from the pandemic, all Massachusetts workers need access to emergency paid sick time if they are sick with COVID-19, quarantined, or need to care for a sick family member,” said Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts Steering Committee. “Many essential frontline workers need paid sick time so they can recover from the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. We appreciate the legislature’s clear statement this week that all workers, including municipal employees, deserve access to emergency paid sick time.”

The legislation also answers calls to address unanticipated unemployment insurance (UI) rate spikes caused by increases to the solvency assessment. In cases where businesses are currently set to see dramatic increases in UI rates due to the pandemic, this bill would spread those costs over a 20-year period, effectively reducing rates in the near term and giving businesses additional relief as the pace of business in Massachusetts picks back up. This change builds on previous legislation passed this year by the Legislature to freeze the rate schedule for employers.

“This bill will provide much-needed relief to Massachusetts employers who were blindsided by a massive increase in COVID-related unemployment insurance solvency assessments,” said Brooke Thomson, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM). “The 3,300 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts applaud the legislature for stabilizing the unemployment insurance system and helping companies to invest in their own economic recovery and hire more people. Likewise, AIM has been involved in conversations with the legislature for months around the COVID leave language; and we support efforts to allow sick workers to stay home and those seeking to get vaccinated time to do so, while making employers whole as well.”

The bill now returns to the Governor’s desk.

Senator Lewis Leading New Commission on Early Education and Childcare in Massachusetts

State Senator Jason Lewis will be serving as the Senate Chair of a newly formed Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. This special commission was established in legislation passed late last year. The House Chair of the commission is State Representative Alice Peisch. Senator Lewis and Representative Peisch also serve as the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Education.

The Commission is tasked with investigating accessibility, affordability, and other concerns surrounding early education and childcare in the Commonwealth, and making recommendations to the state legislature for policy and funding solutions. The scope of the commission’s work includes care for young children, birth to age 5, as well as out-of-school time care for children up to age 12 (and older for those with disabilities).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges in early education and childcare that existed even before the pandemic: too many working families struggle to afford the high costs; too many providers are barely able to survive; the early educator workforce is undervalued and underpaid; and our early education and care system is not meeting the needs of our employers and economy,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and Co-Chair of the Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. “With a growing consensus among the public, the business community and policymakers that high-quality, affordable, accessible early education and childcare are indispensable, this commission has a unique opportunity to lay out a roadmap for bold, transformative policy action.”

The commission includes representation from legislators as well as leaders from a cross-section of the Commonwealth, including the Secretary of Education, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, Commissioner of Early Education & Care, Commissioner of Elementary & Secondary Education, Open Center for Children, YMCA, Eastern Bank, Dell Technologies, Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, Massachusetts Head Start Association, Massachusetts Business Roundtable, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, Strategies for Children, Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children, The Community Group, SEIU 509, and BayCoast Bank.

The commission will be holding public meetings and seeking input from all stakeholders in the early education and childcare sector, and is expected to present its findings and recommendations by the end of this year.