I am writing to you today with Cambridge and public health updates.
I want to start by saying thank you to Kathleen Hornby who has served as my Chief of Staff for the last three years. Today is her last official day in my office. As you may know, Kathleen’s work in the State House serving Cantibridgians actually began when she served as my predecessor — the Honorable Alice Wolf’s — Chief of Staff. I am thankful for the experience and insight that Kathleen has brought to my office and for her countless contributions throughout her many years in public service. I know that Kathleen will continue to be an incredible advocate for many of the issues she has worked alongside me to help support, and I am excited to follow her next chapter.
Table of Contents
- Public Health Updates
- Cambridge Updates
- Legislative Updates
- Maternal Health Update
- Recent Press
- A Glimpse at the Past Week
- Mental Health Services and Resources
Public Health Updates
New COVID Booster Receives FDA Approval
A new booster shot for COVID-19 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month. The latest version of the COVID booster is a monovalent vaccine designed to target the XBB.1.5 strain of the Omicron variant, offering more protection against the strain lineage and circulating related subvariants. Most insurance companies are expected to provide coverage of COVID-19 boosters. Amid rising cases and hospitalizations nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also recommended COVID-19 vaccination updates for everyone aged 6 months and older to protect against serious illness. The CDC’s Bridge Access Program, will provide free COVID-19 vaccines until December 2024 to ensure uninsured adults can continue free access to these vaccines. Read more information about recommendations for the 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccines here. Visit Vaccines.gov to identify pharmacies with available doses and those participating in the Bridge Access Program.
Biden Administration Funds More Free COVID Tests
The Biden administration has announced a $600 million funding initiative to produce new at-home COVID-19 tests. It is relaunching a website for Americans to order up to four free tests per household in anticipation of a potential increase in COVID cases during the fall and winter months. As of September 25, people can place orders at COVIDTests.gov.
CDC Recommends New Preventive RSV Shot for Infants
On August 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved a new passive immunization to protect infants from severe respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV - the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S. The CDC Advisory Committee unanimously recommended the new antibody shot for wide use among infants and some high-risk children against respiratory infection. The Sanofi and AstraZeneca injection, marketed as Beyfortus, will be added to the CDC’s childhood immunization schedule and is also recommended for a second dose to help infants aged 8 to 19 months who meet underlying health issues through the second RSV season. Studies showed the new drug reduces the risk of RSV infection by between 70% and 75% among infants and children aged two and younger. Beyfortus is expected to be ready in the fall before the RSV season.
Preparing for the Upcoming Flu Season
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published its recommendations on the annual flu shot ahead of the flu season. The CDC recommends routine annual influenza vaccination for all persons aged ≥ 6 months who do not have contraindications. According to the CDC, September and October are the best times to get vaccinated. This year, the main change in the flu vaccine recommendations is related to people with egg allergies, which previously recommended additional safety measures for its administration for people with severe egg allergies. The CDC report states that regardless of the severity of previous reaction to egg, an egg allergy alone does not require additional safety measures for influenza vaccination beyond those recommended for any vaccine recipient. Read more about the CDC’s recommendations here.
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.
Cambridge Selected as National ARPA-H Investor Catalyst Hub
The Biden Administration announced on Wednesday that Cambridge was selected as the ARPA-H investor catalyst hub. The ARPA-H press release states, “the Investor Catalyst hub will focus on speeding the transition of innovative ideas into practical, accessible solutions that deliver for Americans by engaging with researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors.” I am proud that the federal government recognized the impressive track record of academic breakthroughs, technological innovations, and health equity successes that have originated in Cambridge. I look forward to the development of the ARPA-H hub in the district. For more information, read the ARPA-H press release 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. At-home COVID test expiration date can be checked here.
The Legislature Passes a Tax Package
A tax reform package, the current iteration of which leaders in the House and Senate have been negotiating for the last two months, passed the House and Senate this week. It is now on the Governor’s desk, and she must act on it — by signing it into law or sending it back to the Legislature with amendments — by October 8th. The House and the Senate have been working on a tax package for nearly two years since then-Governor Baker filed his own version of a tax package in January of 2022. That process was paused in the fall of 2022, when an unprecedented surplus tax collection triggered Chapter 62F for the first time since 1987, and mandated a $2.9 million rebate to taxpayers. For context on what happened last fall, read news coverage here.
With the Commonwealth in a more stable financial position, and the need to reform the tax code to support low- and moderate-income families even more urgent, the Legislature began working on a tax reform package again at the beginning of this session. I am grateful to have worked with House leadership to have a new Child and Dependent Tax Credit (CDTC) and an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — two credits that I have been working towards with consistent incremental success for the last decade — included in the legislation we just voted on. I have worked to update you on my ongoing commitment to establish a CDTC and to increase the EITC over the years, and am excited to share with you today what specifically was included:
- Child and Dependent Tax Credit: Currently, the tax credits for children and dependents (adults with disabilities, seniors) are separate, and the dependent tax credit is capped at two dependents per filer. This new Child and Dependent Tax Credit will lift the cap — filers can receive the credit for as many children or dependents as they claim, which will significantly benefit large families — and increase the value of the credit up to $440 per child and dependent in the FY25 tax season. This expanded credit will benefit more than 565,000 families.
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The current EITC will increase from 30% reimbursement of the federal credit to 40%.This increase will support working individuals and families, benefitting nearly 400,000 taxpayers with incomes under $60,000. In 2015, I filed a bill that would raise the EITC from 15% to 50%. The following year, I secured an increase in the EITC from 15% to 23%. I was excited we were making progress and persevered to continue working towards our 50% tax credit goal. We also ensured that anyone who left a marriage due to domestic violence would be allowed to file their taxes separately while remaining legally married, which was not an option at the time. I am proud to share that in 2017 I was able to secure language in the budget that made Massachusetts the first state — and we are still the only state — to allow married individuals who left their abuser to file separately and benefit from the tax credit.
I am also happy to see we are increasing rental deductions, the senior circuit breaker tax credit, and the low-income housing tax credit. Two policy changes will ensure more equity in tax reimbursement if and when the Chapter 62F collection threshold is hit again and eliminate loopholes that would decrease revenue from the Fair Share Amendment.
- Chapter 62F: This policy change will require payments from Chapter 62F to be paid out equally amongst taxpayers instead of by tax contribution — whereby the wealthier tax credits get more money back from the state.
- Joint Filing Requirements: This policy change will require married taxpayers who file a joint return with the federal government to file a joint state return. This will close a loophole that some couples exploited in the past tax season and will ensure that the total amount of revenue resulting from the 4% tax surcharge for folks earning over $1 million that was voted into statute with the Fair Share Amendment will go to education and transportation in the Commonwealth.
Read a full summary of the tax package from Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka here.
House Votes to Override Governor Healey’s FY24 Budget Vetoes
I am also proud to share that the House voted on Wednesday to override many of the Governor’s vetoes to the FY24 Budget. In August, the Governor vetoed $200 million worth of appropriations from the balanced and progressive budget crafted under the leadership of Speaker Ron Mariano and Chair of the Committee on Ways & Means Aaron Michlewitz. Over the past month, I have heard from constituents and advocates calling for overrides of many of the Governor’s vetoes, and I am proud to have voted to do just that.
Among the vetos that the House voted to override are: $35 million in funding for the early education rate reserve, $1 million for Head Start programs, $880,000 for the Massachusetts Service Alliance, $400,000 for the Hey Sam suicide prevention program, $1 million for prostate cancer research, and more.
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 relative to reforming the competency to stand trial process (H.1460) would require the Department of Mental Health (DMH) to establish a system of geographically-dispersed community-based programs to conduct determinations of competency to stand trial and criminal responsibility, which would expand the geographic range of facilities DMH contracts with for determinations of competency. The bill would also require DMH to establish a forensic navigators program to help guide, support, and advocate for persons involved in the criminal court system and who have been ordered to undergo observation and evaluation for competency to stand trial or criminal responsibility. Finally, H.1460 would establish a special commission to review and develop recommendations and best practices for evaluations of competency to stand trial and criminal responsibility.
Maternal Health Updates
If you read last week’s newsletter, you know that I continue to work with my colleagues and advocates to ensure that we as a state are addressing the challenges faced and the unacceptable statistics of maternal health outcomes for birthing people, particularly families of color. In case you missed it, here is the report published by the Special Commission on Racial Inequities in Maternal Health that I co-chaired last year, which contains statistics and policy recommendations to address the maternal health crisis. Last week’s closing of the UMass Memorial Health maternity ward in Leominster is the 11th since 2010. As shared in last week’s newsletter, I called on Governor Healey and Secretary Walsh to lead a task force to address the crisis. Secretary Walsh and I continue to communicate on the issue and plan to meet soon to discuss the Governor’s proposed statewide review. I appreciate the opportunity to partner with Secretary Walsh to address this statewide maternal health crisis.
Leominster maternity unit closes: Will Mass. do anything in response?
By Henry Schwan, Worcester Telegram and Gazette
Decker said that while lawmakers are having many discussions about how to address the rash of service closures in Massachusetts, the power question, as it pertains to the state health department, is one for Gov. Maura Healey and the governors who preceded her.
Since the state health department falls under control of the executive branch, any move to change its powers should be initiated by the governor’s office.
“(The Legislature) hasn’t been asked (by the governor’s office)....” said Decker…
“This is an opportunity for the governor to lean in," she said. "The executive branch has the power to bring together hospitals, insurance companies, providers and the patient community. To have conversations about what power for the DPH means. These are complex questions, and the answers are not simple.”
Read the full article here.
A Glimpse at the Past Week
Check out our legislative team going through our agenda for next week.
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.
As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.