Special to the Independent
Last week, the legislature approved a $56.2 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24), including many of DiDomenico’s legislative priorities and millions of dollars for his district. This budget provides historic levels of investment in education, housing, regional transportation, health care, workforce development, and more, as part of a broad strategy to grow our state’s economy and make Massachusetts more affordable, inclusive, and competitive.
“I am proud of this transformative budget that reflects our state’s values by prioritizing children and working-class families,” said Senator DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “I was able to secure funding for programs I have championed for years, including permanent funding for universal school meals so every K-12 student will get free breakfast and lunch, an increase in cash benefits for families in deep poverty, an expansion of the children’s clothing allowance so every kid has access to quality clothes, and historic investments in education funding to name a few. I want to thank Senate President Karen E. Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, the Ways and Means staff, and all my colleagues for a budget that will keep Massachusetts economically competitive and welcoming for people across all backgrounds and incomes”
“This budget represents a major step forward for our Commonwealth, particularly in making higher education more affordable and more accessible to everyone,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Tuition equity, free community college for nursing students and students 25 and older, and laying the groundwork for free universal community college starting next fall—all part of the Senate’s Student Opportunity Plan—are crucial to securing our long-term competitiveness, providing residents with concrete ways to create the futures they dream of, and continuing our state’s commitment to education at every level. Included in that commitment is a historic $1.5 billion in early education and care, as well as making universal free school meals permanent and school construction funds more accessible. As we seek to improve access to quality health care, our investment in nurses—combined with a policy provision to allow more professional nurses to train the next generation—will help ease the burden on our workforce, while we update protocols for stroke and protect preventive health services that are currently covered by the Affordable Care Act. These are just a few of the many important provisions included in the final Fiscal Year 2024 budget, all designed to keep Massachusetts moving forward as we continue to go back to better after COVID. I am so very grateful to all of my Senate colleagues, with whom so many of the great initiatives included in the final budget initiated, as well as to Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, Vice Chair Cindy Friedman, and Assistant Vice Chair Jo Comerford, Senate Ways and Means staff, Speaker Mariano, the conferees and everyone who worked so hard to get this impressive budget over the finish line.”
Senator DiDomenico worked with his colleagues to help secure funding and language for many programs and initiatives in the FY24 budget including:
• Universal School Meals: $171.5 million to provide free universal school meals to all students throughout the Commonwealth making Massachusetts the seventh state in the country to make the program permanent. Over 80,000 additional children will be eating school meals as a result of this program compared to 2019 before free meals were offered statewide.
• Food assistance: $36 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program after securing $1 million additional funding through the amendment process.
Supporting families in poverty
• Children’s clothing allowance: providing $450 per child for eligible families (an increase of $50 per child) to buy clothes for the upcoming school year.
• Cash benefit increase for those in deep poverty: the budget includes a 10 percent increase to Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) benefit levels compared to June 2023.
• $6.59 billion in Chapter 70 funding, an increase of $604 million over FY 2023, as well as doubling minimum Chapter 70 aid from $30 to $60 per pupil.
• Early Education & Care: $1.5 billion investment in early education and care—the largest-ever annual appropriation for early education and care in Massachusetts history.
• $475 million for the Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) grants; FY24 is the first fiscal year in which the annual state budget includes a full year of funding for C3 grants, signaling a historic commitment to maintain this crucial lifeline for our early education and care sector.
• Early Intervention services: $42.9 million for Early Intervention (EI) services, ensuring supports remain accessible and available to infants and young toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities.
• Eviction protection: makes permanent a pandemic-era eviction protection for renters with pending applications for emergency rental assistance under RAFT or any other program administered by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC), a municipality, or a nonprofit entity. Under the program, a judge cannot execute an eviction before an emergency rental assistance application has been approved or denied.
• No Cost Calls: the FY24 budget removes barriers to communication services for persons who are incarcerated and their loved ones. Under this provision, the Department of Correction (DOC) and sheriffs must provide phone calls at no cost to persons receiving and initiating phone calls, without a cap on the number of minutes or calls.