Friday, August 4 Public Health & Legislative Updates

Dear friends,


I am writing to you today with Cambridge and public health updates. 


This will be the last weekly newsletter until September. Of course, if something urgent happens, I will keep you informed. I hope that you and your families have a safe and enjoyable summer. 


Table of Contents

  • Public Health Updates
  • Cambridge Updates
  • Legislative Updates
  • Thank You to Our Interns
  • Recent Press
  • Mental Health Services and Resources

Public Health Updates

MA Sees First Upticks in COVID Hospitalizations Since January

Hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 in MA began a downward trend in January, but have risen 30% since hitting a low point on July 13. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a similar increase, with COVID hospitalizations rising 11% between June 24 and July 22. The number of these hospitalizations are still far below those seen during the Omicron surge back in 2021-2022, where the number of COVID rose above 3,000 COVID hospitalizations in the state. Many experts highlight the importance of these increases relative to the number of cases right now.


Toxic Bacterial Blooms Found in Mass. Ponds
“Blooms” of cyanobacteria, cited by public health officials as being harmful to humans and pets, were detected in eleven Massachusetts ponds and one lake this week. While this bacteria is found naturally in all types of water, blooms signal an unbalanced growth that usually happens when they feed off nutrients from fertilizer and human and animal waste runoff. These blooms can release “cyanotoxins” that - when touched, ingested or inhaled - can cause stomach aches and other illnesses. While typically peaking between August and October, the early cyanobacteria blooms can be credited to record high temperatures due to climate change. Check out the Department of Public Health’s water quality database at


Tick Bites Surge in Northeast

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online tick tracker shows that, in the Northeast, visits to the Emergency Department for tick bites are up more than 30% from last year. To reduce chances of being bitten by a tick, the CDC recommends using EPA-registered insect repellents such as DEET and checking body parts and clothing for ticks after being exposed to potentially tick-infested areas, including the backyard. If you are bitten, removing it as soon as possible is key to preventing disease. For more resources, visit the CDC’s online, interactive tool that allows users to track and visualize tick-borne disease data in the United States:

Cambridge Updates

Picnic in the Park with Lamplighter and Food For Free

Celebrate the amazing work that Food For Free does in Cambridge on August 10th from 5pm - 8pm at a picnic hosted by Lamplighter Brewing at their Cambridge Crossing taproom (110 N First St.). It is free for all and open to dogs, and is a great way to spend time outside at a local brewery and honor the work of a Cambridge nonprofit! Food For Free expands access to healthy food across the community, and I was excited to work with them to secure a $100,000 earmark in the FY24 state budget (see more below!).


Sumner Tunnel Closure

The Sumner Tunnel is closed for restoration from July 5th through August 31st. Cambridge residents will experience travel disruption to Boston Logan Airport. The MBTA is adding additional routes to the SL1, the silver line route that connects South Station to the airport. Please plan for traveling to the airport, as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation encourages people to build in extra travel time.


Public Health Helpline Supports Residents with COVID-19

To speak with someone, call the confidential COVID-19 Hotline for the public health departments of Cambridge, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop at 617-933-0797. The Cambridge Public Health Department manages the hotline. Learn more at


City Offering Free At-Home COVID Tests

The Cambridge Public Health Department, in partnership with the Cambridge Health Alliance, is providing free COVID-19 rapid antigen at-home test kits. They can be picked up Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM in the CHA lobby at 119 Windsor Street. Cambridge businesses or organizations that would like free rapid tests to provide to customers can call the COVID-19 hotline at 617-933-0797 to request them.

Legislative Updates

Legislature Approves FY24 State Budget

On Monday, the Legislature approved a state budget for fiscal year 2024 (FY24) and sent it to Governor Healey’s desk. This budget includes critical investments in health care and workforce development as well as funding for new initiatives designed to increase educational opportunities, better support working families, and provide a safer and more reliable public transportation system. I am grateful to Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz, and members of the conference committee for negotiating a budget that uplifts individuals & families across the Commonwealth. The budget includes investments that many of my constituents let me know were priorities for them, such as permanent universal school meals, historic levels of investment in early education and care, and access to in-state tuition at Massachusetts public colleges or universities for students without a documented immigration status. 


The FY24 budget also includes a number of initiatives that I led on and advocated for. They fall into four primary buckets: Tackling Poverty, Behavioral Health, Health Care Access, and Maternal Health.

Tackling Poverty

  • A 10% increase to cash assistance benefits for families and elderly or disabled individuals living in poverty 
    • I am proud to have led with Senator Sal DiDomenico on another 10% increase for the fourth year in a row.
    • While these increases don’t move people out of poverty or Deep Poverty, they do give families additional resources that help them put food on the table, buy diapers, and buy shoes that fit their children. Every increase we make is a policy choice to help alleviate the suffering of families who live in poverty, and I will continue to work towards and advocate for increases that will lift our families out of Deep Poverty. 
  • $1 million for the Massachusetts Alliance of YWCAs
    • The Alliance of YWCAs is essential in addressing inequity in our state. YWCAs provide programming that promotes wellness, primarily to those who identify as women and girls and/or LGBTQIA. The organizations serve many low-income individuals and communities and played a critical role in maintaining programming while schools and after-schools were closed. 
  • $200,000 for the Cradles to Crayons clothing insecurity relief and essentials distribution service
    • I have been working for four years to secure funding for Cradles to Crayons in the state budget. While I was successful in securing ARPA funds last year, this is the first time I have been able to get an earmark in the state budget.
    • Cradles to Crayons fills often-overlooked needs for children and families living in poverty across Massachusetts. It is the only Massachusetts organization that mitigates clothing insecurity and diaper need on a large scale. 
  • $100,000 for Food for Free
    • These funds will help to address food insecurity in Cambridge and other local communities

Behavioral Health

  • $100,000 for the Cambridge Community Center for continued capital improvements and to expand their community behavioral health program 
    • The Cambridge Community Center provides enrichment services, after-school care, a food and supply pantry, and other programs for traditionally underserved communities and neighborhoods. 
    • It has been recognized as a Resilience Hub, a national designation for community-serving facilities augmented to support residents, coordinate communication, distribute resources, and reduce carbon pollution while enhancing quality of life, and it is a leader within the Resilience Hub Community of Practice.
  • $19 million for the state’s Adult Emergency Room Diversion Initiative
    • The Initiative has demonstrated the ability to move people quickly out of the emergency department and into therapeutic and community-based treatment, as well as to prevent people from ending up in the ER in the first place. This is a cost-effective, proven program that keeps people in the community, connected to family and other supports. 
  • $1.275 million for the BIRch Project to continue collaborating with the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health on a school-based behavioral health technical assistance center
    • This is an ongoing investment in developing a statewide program that will provide technical assistance to school districts and partner with community providers to build and sustain district capacity to meet students' social, emotional, and behavioral health needs.

Health Care Access 

  • $1 million for the Cambridge Health Alliance dental center
    • The CHA dental center serves patients from across CHA’s primary service area, including Chelsea, Everett, Malden, and Revere. It provides an important bridge to care for many primary care providers and their patients who delay or are unable to seek dental care due to cost, access, language, or other barriers. 
    • These funds would allow a major renovation and expansion in order to address plumbing, ventilation, and other needs at dental facilities as well as to replace dental equipment with the goal of doubling capacity. 

Maternal Health

  • $1 million for the Cambridge Health Alliance birth center and $1 million for Department of Public Health grants for freestanding birth centers
    • The Cambridge Health Alliance had to close its freestanding Birth Center due to the pandemic. The goal is to reopen the Birth Center, but a comprehensive assessment launched by CHA with the help of a nationally-recognized outside consulting firm determined that after almost three years closed, the Birth Center needs $1 million in crucial infrastructure renovations and operational updates before reopening. 
    • As cited in the Racial Inequities in Maternal Health Commission report, freestanding birth centers have been shown to improve experiences and outcomes, save delivery and other associated costs, and advance racial equity for birthing families. 
  • Language to expand and empower the Massachusetts Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee along with $350,000 for its operations and hiring
    • This language grants the Massachusetts Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee (MMRC) greater authority to obtain data. It also expands the MMRC’s role to conduct a thorough and complete review of every pregnancy-associated death in Massachusetts and instances of severe maternal morbidity in Massachusetts; determine whether the death was preventable; and make recommendations for changes in law, policy, and practice that will prevent maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity.

I also was able to secure language requiring the Chief Medical Examiner to review & approve autopsy report findings & any changes to autopsy reports for children under the age of 2

I have been working on this for almost six years, since a former Cambridge family who tragically lost their child brought the issue to my attention. This family has bravely advocated with me for a policy change that would address the pain that the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office put them through. Learn more at

Thank You to Our Interns

Thank you to the amazing team of interns who joined Team Decker this summer. I am grateful for their contributions to our work and for the energy they brought to our office. Every Wednesday I held an interns’ lunch in Room 130 where we ate pizza, shared thoughts and experiences, and laughed. We had a full house of legislative/district and Public Health Committee interns. Here is a little more information about each of them. 


Legislative/District Interns

Eden Elfathy is a Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program intern who graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in the spring and will be attending UMass Boston in the fall as a political science major. Eden enjoyed being able to gain hands-on experience with the Massachusetts legislative system and was able to hone in on her policy interests related to the criminal justice system and public housing over the summer.

Lily Grodzins is a rising senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. Lily enjoys working for Representative Decker because she shares her passion for affordable housing and emergency assistance for families, as well as moving toward a more climate-friendly Commonwealth.

Greg Cooper, a Cambridge native, is a rising sophomore at Harvard College and plans to double concentrate in government & economics. Greg enjoys engaging in meaningful conversations with various members of the State House at Florina, a popular pizza spot on Beacon Hill!

Eleanor (Elle) Rosier was raised in Cambridge and is going into her senior year at Buckingham Browne and Nichols School. Elle has loved attending hearings and lobby days, exploring bills and constituent issues, and learning about all aspects of state government.

Sundari Von Wentzel was raised in Cambridge and is a rising junior at Choate Rosemary Hall. She loved seeing the Legislature in action this summer through legislative briefings, hearings, constituent services, lobby days, and the Intern Speaker Series. While she has always had an interest in immigration and gun safety, working at the State House piqued her interest in transportation and substance use prevention.


Public Health Committee Interns

Nicholas Penders is at the George Washington University, majoring in public health, minoring in Spanish and psychology, and a recently accepted member of GW’s accelerated BS/MPH in Health Policy at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, with a focus on addiction and treatment, reproductive health education, and health equity. He greatly appreciated the chance to work with the Chair and the Committee this summer, providing a fabulous perspective on the development of public health policy in the Commonwealth.

Julia Geskey is a second-year MPH student at Boston University, focusing her degree on Health Policy and Law. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington with her BA in 2020, where she studied Political Science and Business Administration. She chose to spend this summer interning with the Joint Committee on Public Health because she wanted to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the change-making process. She hopes to use the experience gained working within the Legislature to more meaningfully contribute to the development of equitable health policy. 

Anthony Milisci is from Lowell and is a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts Lowell studying Public Health and Political Science. He has an interest in health policy, advocacy, and the intersection of public health and politics. Anthony was excited about the opportunity to take a deep dive into the legislative process and get hands-on experience working with health policy.

Recent Press

Affordable housing can look like this: Frost Terrace Apartments opens in Cambridge

By Tréa Lavery, MassLive

State Rep. Marjorie Decker praised Hope and Korb for creating housing that anyone, regardless of income level, would want to live in.

“I’m so thankful to live in a community that understands that you deserve to live in a really beautiful place, a place that’s accessible to public transportation, a place that’s accessible to grocery shopping ... and that recognizes the dignity of everyone in our community, including people who need to live in subsidized housing,” Decker said.

She pointed out that as of last year, 22,000 people were on the wait list for public housing in Cambridge.

The complex received more than 900 applications during its initial leasing cycle and has been fully occupied since 2021.

Mental Health Services and Resources

If you or a loved one are struggling, please know you are not alone. There are some great resources here:


Intimate Partner Abuse Prevention Helpline

This initiative is designed to prevent intimate partner violence by fostering accountability and change in people who harm or may harm their intimate partner. You can find more information at or by calling 877-898-3411.


As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at




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