Friday, January 26 Legislative and Public Health Updates

Dear friends,

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

Table of Contents

  • Legislative Updates
  • Cambridge Updates
  • Public Health Updates 
  • A Glimpse at the Past Week
  • Mental Health Services and Resources

Legislative Updates

Governor’s Budget

On Wednesday, Governor Healey released her FY25 budget, which, as I explained in the previous newsletter, is commonly referred to as House 2 (H.2). This begins the legislative budget process. The House will review its budget priorities based on last year's budget and informed by this year's revenue and emerging priorities. Once the House debates and passes our budget in April, the Senate then begins the budget with a similar process. The House and the Senate then work to reconcile their budget differences before enacting it and sending it back to the Governor. The Governor will then review what changes she may wish to make through budget vetoes and can send it back to the Legislature for further review. 

Once the Governor signs the budget, that typically provides a blueprint for how the State will appropriate its revenue. The Governor in response to lower-than-expected tax revenue felt the need to use 9C cuts. As I shared in my earlier emails, this means that some appropriations that were debated and voted on, enacted, and signed by the Governor were targeted for cuts. The bulk of the cuts were directed at local earmarks that typically provide funding to many local non-profits. The Governor creatively decided to not completely eliminate the money for many of the earmarks and slashed the appropriations by 50%. This is still devastating for local non-profits that have already made staffing and program commitments but will now lose half their funding mid-year. I know this is challenging for any Governor to navigate.    

I do worry about who is fighting and advocating for our neighbors living in deep poverty. While there might have been a rationale that decided since the increase was delayed to families, technically no money was taken from them. Sadly, this means that money families eagerly awaited with hope was taken from them. Keep in mind the increases we secured with the support of our Legislative colleagues and House and Senate leaders recognized these families had not received an increase in 21 and 33 years. 

The Temporary Aid for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) increases that Senator Sal DiDomenico and I led on last year were completely eliminated by the Governor. While the Boston Herald commented that this line item had increased by 30% over the last three years, as we secured a 10% increase each year, they failed to recognize that prior to our advocacy and securing the first increase in 2021, TAFDC hadn’t been increased since 2000 and EAEDC hadn’t been increased since 1988. 

I will continue to work to encourage the Governor to reverse the 9C cuts impacting the elderly, children, and people with disabilities who are living in deep poverty. In the meantime, I will continue to work with my House colleagues and leadership in our affirmation that our most economically vulnerable residents of our State deserve more support, not less. 

Update on bills I filed

Due to the impending Joint Rule 10 deadline, State House hearings on the thousands of bills filed this session are in their final days. Two of the bills I filed were heard this week. 

  • An Act to strengthen family and community connection with incarcerated people (H.4234) would forbid correctional institutions from unreasonably limiting visitation of incarcerated people or pressure an incarcerated person to limit visitation. Unreasonable limits include banning someone who previously visited without incident, excluding someone based on formerly incarcerated status, and prohibiting incarcerated people from holding their children. 
  • An Act to improve transparency and accountability in correctional facilities (H.2394) would forbid correctional facilities from limiting the right of incarcerated people to meet and speak with the news media. Correctional facilities would also be mandated to provide confidential calls between the news media and incarcerated people. 

Cambridge Updates

Cambridge Public Health Helpline Supports Residents with COVID-19

To speak with someone, call the confidential COVID-19 Hotline at 617-933-0797. Learn more here.

 

City Offering Free At-Home COVID Tests in Partnership with the Cambridge Health Alliance

The tests 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.


Public Health Updates

Eight School Districts to Receive Funding to Address Mental Health Impacts of Gun Violence

On Tuesday, the Healey-Driscoll Administration announced it has selected eight schools or school districts across the Commonwealth to receive funding to support programs to address the effects of gun violence. The grants aim to support the expansion of mental health services and the implementation of strategies to prioritize mental health, well-being, and resilience in the wake of gun violence and related trauma. The eight school districts and schools chosen to receive three-year grants ranging from $35,000 to $100,000 a year are: Fitchburg Public Schools, Veritas Preparatory Charter, Springfield Public Schools, Fall River Public Schools, Medway Public Schools, Ayer Shirley Regional School District, Haverhill Public Schools, and Northshore Education Consortium. 

 

New Study Shows Gene Therapy Restored Hearing for Children with Genetic Deafness

A recent study published in The Lancet shows restored hearing in children with genetic deafness through an experimental form of gene therapy. The clinical trial, co-led by investigators from Mass Eye and Ear, took place at Eye & ENT Hospital of Fudan University in China. It involved six children who had a form of genetic deafness caused by mutations of the OTOF gene, failing to produce the protein necessary for the transmission of sound signals from the ear to the brain, otoferlin. Researchers modified an inactive virus carrying a functioning version of the OTOF gene into the inner ear. After several weeks, the study's results showed that five of the six children, between the ages 1 and 7, began to be able to hear, and speech perception improved among those who had hearing recovery. The next steps for researchers include expanding the study to enroll more patients for a larger clinical trial and other forms of genetic deafness.

 

JN.1 Remains the Most Prevalent COVID-19 Variant 

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to track the rise in prevalence of JN.1, a subvariant of Omicron first detected in late August, it remains the most widely circulating variant of COVID-19 in the nation and globally. CDC data shows that as of January 19, JN.1 accounts for approximately 83% to 88% of all COVID-19 variants, an increase from the estimated prevalence of 55% to 68% two weeks ago. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that JN.1 causes more severe disease than other variants. Currently available COVID-19 vaccines are expected to increase protection against the variant. 

 

Significant Increase in Some of the Most Common Cancers

Last week, the American Cancer Society released a report highlighting a concerning milestone. In 2024, they project there will be over 2 million new cancer cases in the United States, which is equivalent to nearly 5,500 cancer diagnoses daily. The sharp rise in cases is attributed to increased incidence of melanoma, breast, prostate, endometrial, pancreatic, and kidney cancer. Age, population growth, and obesity are also contributing to the rise in cancer cases expected this year. Over half of the cancers the report identifies as becoming more commonly diagnosed can be detected early or even entirely prevented through regular screening tests. Although the incidence of some cancers is increasing, the risk of dying from cancer has been steadily declining for the last 30 years. Learn more about cancer screening guidelines here.


A Glimpse at the Past Week 

On Tuesday, I toured the New England College of Optometry (NECO). We heard from Dr. Gary Chu, Dr. Amy Moy, and NECO students about NECO's efforts to advance eye care for all children in the Commonwealth. Their training model is based on a partnership with community health centers, allowing all optometry students the opportunity to learn their profession while serving those who may not otherwise receive proper eye care. Vision is a crucial part of students' ability to learn in school, and NECO is leading the fight to ensure that all kids can learn and develop appropriately. 

On Thursday, I attended the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC) and Mass. Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid kickoff. Attorney General Andrea Campbell spoke to attorneys and law students about the importance of civil legal aid and its impact on low-income people in Massachusetts. Prior to my start on the Cambridge City Council, I served as executive director of EJC and helped launch the very first Walk to the Hall.  Our campaign launched what has become an annual event in partnership with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association and secured the first major increase in civil legal in the Massachusetts budget. I was honored to be recognized during the program. Justice delayed is justice denied.  

 

MLAC supports 16 civil legal aid organizations, where legal aid attorneys every day assist residents with issues like housing preservation, domestic violence, unemployment claims, access to education, access to health care, and veterans’ benefits. In FY23, MLAC-funded organizations handled more than 42,800 cases benefiting more than 95,000 people in 95% of Massachusetts cities and towns. 


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: https://www.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

The Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline is a virtual spotting/overdose detection service for people who use drugs. Learn more at: https://www.massoverdosehelpline.org, or access it by calling 800-972-0590.

As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.

 

Sincerely,  

Marjorie

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