I am writing to you today with public health, Cambridge, legislative updates.
Table of Contents
- Public Health Updates
- Cambridge Updates
- Legislative Updates
- A Glimpse at the Past Week
- Mental Health Services and Resources
Public Health Updates
The Biden Administration announced funding for more free COVID-19 tests. They can be ordered at COVIDTests.gov.
Last week, I sent out a COVID-19 Refresher to remind you of current guidance and protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus. You can read it on my website here.
DPH Launches New Viral Respiratory Illness Dashboards
Yesterday, the Department of Public Health (DPH) launched several new weekly dashboards that track viral respiratory illness trends across the Commonwealth exploring in-depth data focusing on COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The new dashboards consist of overall respiratory disease indicators, a respiratory illness dashboard, COVID-19 cases and deaths, an influenza dashboard, and a wastewater dashboard. The viral respiratory illness dashboards will streamline the updated flu dashboard, now including deaths from flu and will be updated year-round and COVID-19 updates that include information about trends in reported cases and deaths associated with COVID-19. The new dashboards will use a surveillance period of July through June. An additional dashboard that will include more granular data on vaccination, such as demographics, against COVID-19, flu, and RSV is under development and will be available later this year. Find more at www.mass.gov/dph.
New BPHC Data Reveals Persistent Racial Inequities in Maternal Health
The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) released its latest report detailing the latest trends for birth outcomes and infant deaths within the city of Boston on Thursday. The report found several concerning racial inequities in maternal health outcomes which includes troubling data concluding that Black Boston residents experience the highest rates of infant mortality, preterm births, and low birth rate. In 2021, the infant mortality rate for Black infants in Boston (9.7 deaths per 1,000 live births) was more than twice the citywide average and more than three times that of White infants. According to BPHC’s report, disparities were also prevalent in neighborhoods with larger Black populations, like Hyde Park, where approximately 49% of residents are Black and its residents experienced the highest rate of infant mortality (7.8 deaths per 1,000 live births) in comparison to its neighboring city, Roslindale, where only 25% residents are Black and had the lowest infant mortality rate in the city at 2.4 deaths per 1,000 births. BPHC will use these findings to work with providers, researchers, and stakeholders to develop policies and enhance programming to improve the overall health and maternal experience of Boston residents.
AG Campbell Announces New Reproductive Justice Unit
Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell announced the formation of a new reproductive justice unit within her office during a news conference on Monday. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the newly established unit takes an intersectional approach to ensure access to maternal, abortion, and gender-affirming care and seeks to address racial disparities in maternal healthcare in an effort to protect reproductive rights.
Flu and COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic
The Cambridge Public Health Department and Cambridge Health Alliance will be hosting flu and COVID-19 vaccine clinics throughout October, offering residents — both children and adults — the opportunity to access vaccines. On Saturday, October 21, the clinic will be held at King Open School (860 Cambridge Street) from 10am to 4:30pm. More information can be found here.
Public Health Helpline Supports Residents with COVID-19
The Cambridge Public Health Department manages a hotline to provide residents with COVID-19 additional support. 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. Learn more about this service here.
City Offering Free At-Home COVID Tests
The Cambridge Public Health Department, in partnership with the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), 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. The at-home COVID test expiration date can be checked here.
Governor Healey Signed the Tax Package Into Law
On Wednesday, Governor Healey signed the tax reform package that the House and Senate have worked on for nearly two years. As I shared in last week’s newsletter, I am grateful to have worked with House leadership to establish a new Child and Dependent Tax Credit (CDTC) and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — two credits that I have been legislatively making progress over the last decade — in the package. I am excited to see the benefits that the CDTC, EITC increase, and other provisions in the package will convey to low- and moderate-income families in the Commonwealth.
Also included are raises in the rental tax deduction, which allows for a deduction for taxes paid to landlords, from $3,000 to $4,000, and for the Housing Development and Incentive Program. This initiative provides subsidies for affordable housing construction and will increase the cap on credits provided to developers by $10 million in 2024, and by $30 million in 2025 and beyond.
House Votes Passes the Frances Perkins Workplace Equity Act
I am proud to share that the House voted on Wednesday to pass the Frances Perkins Workplace Equity Act, a pay transparency and wage equity bill named after Massachusetts native Frances Perkins, the first woman in American history to serve as a cabinet secretary when she served as Secretary of Labor for President Franklin Roosevelt. The bill requires employers with 25 or more employees to disclose a salary range when posting a position and protects an employee’s right to ask for salary ranges in the workplace.
House Unveils Revised Gun Safety Bill
On Thursday, Speaker Ron Mariano and Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Michael Day, announced their plans to pass a gun safety bill by the end of the month. The bill in question, An Act Modernizing Firearm Laws (HD.4607), is a revised version of the bill released last summer, HD.4200. HD.4607 similarly seeks to update Massachusetts statute in line with the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision and addresses the rampant issue of ghost guns and the issue of carrying guns in public spaces, among other things. You can read more about the bill here.
As you may know, I led the effort to pass the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) or “red flag bill” in 2018, and have been a leader on gun safety measures in the House. I appreciate that the Speaker and House leadership are moving swiftly to pass a bill that addresses the devastating toll gun violence has on communities in the Commonwealth. I am so appreciative of Chairman Day’s leadership and for the opportunity to have worked with him to include several provisions from bills I filed this session. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues in the House to pass a comprehensive gun safety reform package.
State House hearings on the thousands of bills filed this session are back in full swing, and one of the bills I filed was heard this week.
- An Act to restore collective bargaining for teachers and other school employees (H.2498) seeks to restore the collective bargaining power for unions in districts under state receivership, of which there are currently three: Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge. Under the current law, teachers and other school employees in districts under state receivership lose the ability to negotiate contracts.
- An Act concerning furnishing transcripts of notes and fees (H.1453) would increase the rates paid to certified court transcribers — a fee structure set under statute that has remained unchanged since 1988 — to create parity between labor and cost, among other aims.
- An Act requiring the relocation of the Cambridge District Court (H.1459) would require the court administrator of the Executive Office of the Trial Court to relocate the Cambridge District Court, also known as the Third District Court of Eastern Middlesex, from Medford to Cambridge by December 31st, 2024,
- An Act relative to gender identity on Massachusetts identification (H.3017), a bill I filed with my colleague Chair Mindy Domb, would require all state-issued forms, documents, and ID cards to have an option “X” for gender or sex designation. The bill would allow individuals to change the gender indicated on their birth certificate. It would require the Attorney General’s office to file a report that includes information on all forms and documents and options for indicating sex and gender.
- An Act enhancing the safety of high-rise buildings (H.2310) would require buildings currently exempt from installing sprinklers (where construction commenced before 1975) to install sprinklers. It would require that one-third of the gross square footage of the building or structure be equipped with automatic sprinklers by March 2026; two-thirds of the gross square footage of the building or structure shall be equipped with automatic sprinklers by March 2029, and the entire gross square footage of the building or structure shall be equipped with automatic sprinklers by March 2033.
- An Act to restrict the use of polystyrene (H.3627) would restrict the use of polystyrene containers and wares by particular food and retail businesses. By August 1, 2024, food and retail establishments will be prohibited from selling or distributing food service in polystyrene containers.
A Glimpse at the Past Week
I was honored to attend the historic inauguration celebrations for Harvard University’s new president, Claudine Gay, last weekend.
On Saturday, the City of Cambridge, in partnership with Suffrage100MA, unveiled a historic marker for Maria L. Baldwin. Many of you may recognize the name from Cambridge’s Baldwin School. Still, I encourage you to learn more about a fantastic leader in the civil rights and suffrage movements who displayed unimaginable bravery to pave the way for future female political leaders like me. Read more here: https://suffrage100ma.org/featured/maria-baldwin-suffrage-marker-ceremony/
I was excited to join residents, HRI, and various elected leaders and folks who contributed to the construction of the Rivermark Apartments for a ribbon cutting on Wednesday. As the Mayor stated in her remarks, the Rivermark Apartments are a beautiful gateway for folks entering Cambridge from I-90 and Storrow Drive. Congratulations to the residents who call this home and persevered through the years of renovations.
I was excited to speak on Thursday at the Rally for Midwives on the State House Steps. I spoke about midwives' critical role in maternal health care, why their importance cannot be understated in the current maternal health crisis, and the need for improved maternal health. If you have been reading these emails, you know I continue to work with House leadership, members of the Public Health Committee I chair, and the Governor to work towards urgently improving maternal health outcomes. I have filed several bills to address maternal health while supporting legislation filed by colleagues. We can and must improve and expand birthing options, including birth centers, supporting and expanding access to midwives, doulas, and reimbursement for lactation services.
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: decker4rep.com/2021/mental-health-services-and-resources.
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 partner. You can find more information at 10to10helpline.org or by calling 877-898-3411.
Overdose Prevention Helpline
On September 26, the Healey-Driscoll Administration announced a partnership with Boston Medical Center and RIZE Massachusetts to fund and expand the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline. With this $350,000 investment, Massachusetts becomes the first state in the nation to fund an overdose prevention helpline – an easily accessible and life-saving overdose detection resource for people who use drugs. This is the latest step in the administration’s efforts to reduce overdose deaths in Massachusetts, which reached a record high in 2022. The Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline uses a spotting model to prevent fatal overdoses. Trained helpline operators stay on the line while people use, alerting authorities if the caller becomes unresponsive. Previously a volunteer effort, this investment will enable the helpline to hire paid staff, resulting in stronger statewide coverage and shorter wait times. The funding will also support promotional efforts to increase awareness of the helpline’s services among individuals at risk of overdose. For more information, visit massoverdosehelpline.org.
As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.