2021 Budget: DiDomenico Announces Strong Fiscal Year

Sen. Sal DiDomenico recently joined with his colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature in passing a Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget to invest in programs and services across the Commonwealth. Funded at $46.2 billion, the budget aims to address the sweeping effects of the global pandemic and makes targeted investments in Senator DiDomenico’s top priorities, including housing, food security, early education, children and families, and public health.

“Despite these unprecedented times, I am confident that the Fiscal Year 2021 budget we put forth is a strong and compassionate one; one that meets many of our most pressing needs, centers our most vulnerable populations, and moves our entire Commonwealth towards an equitable recovery,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. It makes critical investments in sectors most severely impacted by COVID-19 and focuses on many of the areas that have been my greatest concern throughout the course of this pandemic, including food security, housing supports, childcare, and public health. I know that in the Senate, each Senator had a voice in crafting our budget, and I am truly grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for ensuring that many of our community’s most urgent needs were included in this final FY21 budget.”

Continuing the Legislature’s support of targeted investments in education, this budget provides $5.283 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, an increase of $107.6 million over Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20). The education budget allocations include:

• $53 million in COVID-related student supports;

• $345.2 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;

• $117 million for Charter School Reimbursement; and

• $82 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.

Due to the pandemic, access to safe and affordable housing for many families across the Commonwealth has taken on new urgency. This budget makes targeted investments into rental and housing assistance to support families, tenants and property owners during this time of crisis:

· $180 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;

· $80 million for public housing subsidies;

· $56 million for homeless individual shelters;

· $13 million for homeless student transportation;

· $12.5 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), which provides rental assistance to people with disabilities;

· $11 million for Department of Mental Health Rental Subsidy Program; and

· $8 million for unaccompanied homeless youth.

Throughout the pandemic, Senator DiDomenico has worked on legislation to provide additional protections for renters and struggling homeowners to help stave off an eviction crisis. This budget includes many of reforms that Senator DiDomenico advocated for, including a new requirement ensuring tenants facing eviction better understand their rights.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the many housing challenges our Commonwealth and our district have long experienced, but now we face an eviction crisis we have never before seen,” said DiDomenico. “I’m pleased this budget includes investments in key housing security programs, but I am especially encouraged by the language regarding “Notice to Quit” incorporated into the budget, which would require landlords to provide a form with information related to the eviction process and resources for tenants. I have been advocating for this Notice to Quit policy since the start of the pandemic to ensure that renters know their rights if and when facing eviction, and I am very pleased it has been included in our budget.”

Food insecurity has become one of the most prevalent consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting children, adults and seniors alike. To that end, the conference report 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; and

• $1.2 million for Project Bread to support the Child Nutrition Outreach Program and the Food Source Hotline.

The budget also includes Senator DiDomenico’s amendment requiring the Baker Administration to move forward with the creation of a SNAP Common Application program to connect eligible MassHealth/Medicare recipients with federal nutritional benefits. This amendment was modeled off of legislation the Senator sponsors to close the “SNAP Gap” in Massachusetts.

 The budget builds on the Legislature’s commitment to ensuring all children have access to high-quality early education and care (EEC) during this pandemic. As a longtime champion of early education in the Commonwealth, Senator DiDomenico spoke during the Senate chamber’s debate about the major investments the budget makes in the childcare industry, and the long-term impact these investments will have for both providers and families. The budget includes $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. In addition, the budget invests in those who work with children by increasing rates for early education providers by $20 million and provides $40 million for a new reserve to cover parent fees for families receiving subsidized childcare for the remainder of FY21. The budget also includes the following EEC investments and initiatives:

• $15 million for Head Start grants;

• $10 million for EEC Workforce Higher Education Opportunities;

• $2.5 million in early childhood mental health grants;

• $11 million for child care resource and referral agencies; and

• Establishes the Early Education and care Economic review commission to review childcare funding and make recommendations on policy changes to expand access.  

 Highlighting the urgent need to strengthen public health infrastructure at the local, state and regional level to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the budget includes targeted investments aimed at redoubling our efforts and pushing forward with a proactive public health response to defeat this virus and its many consequences. The budget includes:

 • $10 million for grants to support local boards of health to combat COVID-19;

• $1 million for a COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan program, focused on equitable vaccine distribution;

• $50M for domestic violence prevention services; and

· $169M for Bureau of Substance Addiction Services to provide assistance to those who are battling substance addiction.

Additional programs and services prioritized by Senator DiDomenico include:

 • $46 million for Adult Basic Education Services;

• $20 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth;

• $29M for civil legal aid;

• $35.4M for early intervention services, and Senator DiDomenico’s amendment providing $4.1M to mitigate fluctuations in services and costs caused by COVID-19 pandemic;

• $6.5M for pediatric palliative care;

• $350/child for the TAFDC clothing allowance;

• $510K for Safe and Supportive Schools;

• $1.8M for Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the Alliance of YMCAs;

• $250K for Operation A.B.L.E., employment training services for workers over the age of 45; and

•       $250K for housing relief to the cities of Everett and Chelsea.

This legislation is now before Governor Baker for his signature.

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