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Friday, April 26 Legislative and Public Health Updates

Table of Contents


  • Legislative Updates

  • Public Health Updates

  • Cambridge Updates

  • A Glimpse at the Past Week

  • Services and Resources

 

Legislative Updates


FY25 Budget

This week, the House of Representatives debated the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) Budget, and considered the 1,495 amendments that Representatives had filed. Earlier this evening, we finalized the House budget, adding in roughly $100 million of earmarks for local nonprofits and municipal projects, line item increases for state programs and agencies, and new policies that were added as outside sections. There are many exciting components of this budget, including a record investment in the MBTA, sustained strong investments in early education, fully funded universal school meals, and a pilot program providing legal representation for low-income families in eviction proceedings. I am also proud to have worked to secure a 10% increase to Temporary Aid for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) cash assistance grants, reinstating the increases achieved in the FY24 Budget that the Governor eliminated with her 9C cuts.


I want to THANK all of you who reached out to me and my staff over the last three weeks to advocate for your budget priorities. I co-sponsored many of the important amendments that you flagged for me, and my staff and I are working to let you know what I signed onto and if they were adopted into the budget. It is a privilege and an honor to represent such an engaged constituency and city.


Many of the amendments I filed were adopted into the FY25 budget.

  • Language to ensure that Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) can access federal funding. I was proud to have filed an amendment to ensure Cambridge Health Alliance’s eligibility for increased safety net funding through the alternative hospital assessment package established by the Governor’s FY25 budget. As a safety net hospital, the CHA is facing financial struggles, just like many hospitals in MA. As I have throughout my career, I continue to support the CHA and secure funding for this incredible institution that serves the Cambridge community and beyond. This amendment secured language that would make CHA eligible to receive federal funding through Medicaid managed care approval, an additional $43 million a year for the next three years. 

  • $150,000 for the Cambridge Community Center to support the Center’s continued capital improvements and their behavioral health programming. This is $50,000 more than last year.

  • $110,000 for Food For Free to support their school markets program, a program that mitigates food insecurity in Cambridge and Somerville by hosting monthly markets at 11 schools where school families and community members can pick up healthy and nutritious foods. Over 1,000 households participate each month. This is $10,000 more than last year.

  • Language to secure hazardous material (HazMat) grant funding for the Cambridge Fire Department to purchase a new HazMat truck.

  • $600,000 for the Alliance of YWCAs, which shall be distributed equally among member organizations (including the Cambridge YWCA!). YWs provide essential programming to young women, girls, and the queer community that promote wellness, anti-racism, and community.

  • $200,000 for the School-Based Behavioral Health Technical Assistance Center which is a statewide program providing technical assistance to school districts and partnering with community providers to build and sustain district capacity to meet students' social, emotional, and behavioral health needs.

  • Language establishing a task force that will provide the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) with tools to center environmental justice principles in all aspects of their work around the Charles River — from planning to recreation to conservation. This amendment brings together a sampling of organizations and individuals from environmental justice populations for a short term task force that allows DCR to bring in an environmental justice organization with DEI experience to think through how to proactively engage communities of color and low-income communities who are not always invited to participate in Charles River-related conversations. DCR has acknowledged that they have historically struggled as an agency to reach out to communities of color and low-income communities for input. This task force will be co-chaired by DCR Commissioner Brian Arrigo and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Undersecretary María Belén Power. Undersecretary Power brings extensive grassroots experience from GreenRoots, a community-based organization dedicated to improving and enhancing the urban environment and public health in Chelsea. While this task force is not meant to be a policy-making body, it is meant to provide recommendations for DCR on how to improve community engagement for communities that are often overlooked and left out of environmental conservation and planning conversations regarding the Charles River. 


I want to thank Speaker Ron Mariano and House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz and their respective staffs for leading the way in crafting a budget that both meets the needs of the Commonwealth and our communities while recognizing the fiscal challenges we find ourselves in. The budget now goes to the Senate for consideration.


Chapter 90 Funding Bill and EA Shelter Supplemental Budget Enacted

While we were in formal sessions debating the budget, the House also voted to enact two bills, An Act financing improvements to municipal roads and bridges and An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2024 to provide for supplementing certain existing appropriations and for certain other activities and projects.


Here is a quick overview of what was included in the conference reports that both Chambers passed this week:

An Act financing improvements to municipal roads and bridges (Chapter 90 funding bill)

This bill contains $375 million in bond authorization.

  • $200 million will be shared by every city and town for maintenance and construction of roads and bridges.

  • $150 million will be allocated equally to six programs targeting specific transportation infrastructure, including the Municipal Pavement Program (funding to improve municipally owned routes), Municipal Small Bridge Program (funding to rehabilitate and replace small bridges), and Complete Streets Funding Program (funding to ensure streets provide safe and accessible options for all travel modes).

  • $25 million for the rural roads program.


An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2024 to provide for supplementing certain existing appropriations and for certain other activities and projects (EA Shelter supplemental budget)

  • $251 million for Fiscal Year 2024 costs, including $10 million for approved workforce training programs, $10 million for a tax credit for companies that provide job training for Emergency Assistance (EA) participants, $3 million for family welcome centers, $1 million for supplemental staffing at emergency housing assistance program shelters, and $7 million for resettlement agencies and shelter providers to assist families with rehousing, work authorization, and English language learning.

  • $175 million for potential Fiscal Year 2025 costs.

  • Requires the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) to create a rehousing plan and provide case management for all individuals in shelters to help them successfully exit the program, and requires recertification every 60 days for families to remain eligible. Beginning June 1, 2024, the total length of stay would be limited to nine months, at the end of which families would be eligible for up to two 90-day extensions.

  • Extensions would be based on circumstances that include employment or participation in a workforce training program, veteran status, imminent placement in housing, avoiding educational interruptions for children in public school, pregnancy or having recently given birth, diagnosed disability or medical condition, a single parent caring for a disabled child or family member, a single parent without adequate childcare, and risk of harm due to domestic violence.

  • Creates a commission to study the future of the shelter program.


I am proud that most of the elements of the House’s version of this supplemental version made it into the conference report. I also know that for as long as Congress continues to fail to support state governments as they navigate the current migrant crisis, inevitably, we as a Legislature will continue to need to revisit solutions and appropriations for the emergency shelter system. I appreciate the leadership of Speaker Mariano and Chair Michlewitz in supporting the families in the emergency assistance shelter and their ongoing commitment — as noted in yesterday’s Boston Globe — to ensuring the sustainability of the state’s right-to-shelter law, which many of our housing-insecure families count on.

 

Public Health Updates


USDA Announces Updates to School Nutrition Standards to Include Less Sugar

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced new school meal standards aimed at improving child nutrition and promoting children's health through school meals, following stakeholder input and based on recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new nutrition standards will bring about several changes in school meals, including updates to include less sugar for the first time. While this rulemaking is effective July 1, 2024, the changes will be phased in gradually. Small changes to limit added sugars in school meals would be implemented by fall of the 2025-2026 school year, starting with high sugar foods such as cereal, yogurt and flavored milk. The full implementation of these changes will occur by fall of 2027, limiting added sugars in school meals to no more than 10% of the total calories per week for breakfasts and lunches, in addition to sugar limits on specific products. The new rule also requires schools to reduce sodium content in meals by the fall of 2027 by 10% in school breakfasts and 15% in school lunches


Initial Results from the FDA Show About A Fifth of Milk Samples Test Positive for Bird Flu 

Initial results from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) nationally representative commercial milk sampling study discovered traces of bird flu virus in milk samples on Tuesday, according to an updated statement from the agency. Bird flu is a viral disease that affects domestic and wild birds, causing decreased lactation, low appetite, and other symptoms in affected cattle. This announcement comes nearly a month after the pathogen has been found in about 33 dairy herds in at least eight states. Approximately 1 in 5 retail milk samples nationwide tested positive for viral fragments of bird flu. However, the pasteurization process, or heat treatment, is expected to eliminate pathogens to a level that does not pose a risk to consumer health, according to the agency. To date, there has only been one confirmed human case from a person who had exposure to infected cows that has been linked with this outbreak in dairy cattle in Texas that were presumed to be infected with the virus. The CDC believes the general public's current risk is low. 


Report Reveals One-third of Americans Regularly Breath Unhealthy Air

The State of the Air report by the American Lung Association reveals concerning trends regarding air quality in the United States. Despite significant efforts to improve air quality over the years, over one-third of Americans, which is almost 130 million people, routinely breathe in unhealthy air.  Breathing polluted air can result in poor health outcomes, including asthma, lung cancer, premature birth, and low birth weight. The number of people exposed to unclean air has increased in recent years, partly due to the exacerbating effects of climate change. Rising temperatures contribute to increased ozone formation and dust in the air, but the most significant challenge stems from wildfire smoke, particularly affecting Western states like California and Colorado. While the eastern U.S. has seen improvements in air quality, the West experienced record-high levels of dangerous air quality days last year. 


Drug Shortages Reach Record High

Drug shortages have surged to a new high this year. According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the University of Utah Drug Information Service, 323 drugs are running low, exceeding the previous record of 320 drug shortages set in 2014. Shortages affect both basic and life-saving medications, including oxytocin, chemotherapy drugs, and medications to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The popular diabetes and weight loss drug Semaglutide, also known as Wegovy and Ozempic, is among those facing shortages according to the Food and Drug Administration. The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are investigating potential causes of shortages, including whether drug wholesalers and purchasing companies are contributing to the problem. 


 

Cambridge Updates

Road Closures in Harvard Square on Sunday

The Bionic 5K road race will begin at 9am on Sunday, April 28th in Harvard Square. You can expect traffic impacts between 8am and 11am along the race route, including Church Street, Brattle Street, Lakeview Avenue, Worthington Street, and Lexington Avenue. You can learn more in the city’s advisory here.

 

A Glimpse at the Past Week


On Thursday, I spoke during the House Debate on the FY25 Budget about Consolidated Amendment D in my capacity as House Chair of Public Health. Consolidated Amendment D is a large amendment containing hundreds of amendments pertaining to public health, mental health, and disability services. 


Here is an excerpt of my floor speech. For those of you who are interested in watching the whole thing, we will send it out soon. 


“The public health priorities included in this budget will ensure the health and well-being of residents across the Commonwealth. It continues to be an honor to serve as the Public Health Chair. At the core of public health is the commitment to ensure that we are taking care of each other and that all of our communities are equipped with the tools, safeguards, and preventative resources to ensure our collective health and well-being. Public health speaks especially to our commitment to the communities that are often marginalized and under-resourced in stark contrast to communities with more economic resources. It means recognizing that low-income and communities of color suffer greater, which results in shocking statistics like that on average, a resident in Roxbury will live to age 69 and a resident less than 2 miles away in Back Bay will live to 92 — a 23-year difference in life. Two stops on the Orange Line will erase a quarter century of your life. It means recognizing that in Massachusetts, a Black birthing person will die at 2 times the rate of a non-Hispanic white person. A robust commitment to public health recognizes that these statistics, which represent the loss of life, and income are not inevitable — they are the result of racial disparities and barriers to care experienced by low-wage and low-income families. A robust public health system demands intentional efforts to confront and dismantle systemic barriers that adversely affect health, including racism, sexism, poverty, ableism, and homophobia.”


I am grateful to Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz, and my colleagues for their leadership and work on this budget, which makes targeted investments toward public health to ensure the well-being of residents across the Commonwealth. Next month, the Senate will consider its FY25 budget.


On Wednesday, I attended The Mass. Opioid Epidemic: The Changing Front Lines, a discussion with law enforcement and advocates working to address the ongoing opioid use crisis. IBEW 103 business agent Jay Frasier spoke about his journey as someone in recovery for 26 years. Jay is an invaluable resource to union members with substance abuse disorders, offering help and counseling to them at all hours, anonymously and without judgment. Many of the building trades in Massachusetts have used Jay’s work as a model for what support for their members with substance use disorders should look like. It was also great to hear from my colleague Representative Chris Worrell. 


I am proud to be a lead sponsor of the overdose prevention centers bill — which was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery and now is in the House Committee on Ways & Means — as we continue to work it through the Legislature.



It was great to attend the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance (MOVA) Victim Rights Award Ceremony. I was proud to help nominate Ronit Barkhai of Transition House, and it was great to see her honored for her innovative leadership in addressing domestic violence through intervention and awareness. As you may know, Transition House is a Cambridge nonprofit dedicated to services for survivors of domestic violence and community-based prevention initiatives. Congratulations to Ronit, the entire Transition House team, and all of the awardees for the much-deserved recognition of their advocacy for victims and survivors. It was also inspiring to hear from survivors who have become advocates. 


In 2020, I was honored as MOVA’s Legislator of the Year for my work advancing victims’ and survivors’ rights. With the support of House leadership, we successfully expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit to allow survivors of domestic abuse to file separately from their abusers and, for the past 3 sessions, I have filed legislation to provide much-needed updates to the 40-year-old Victims Bill of Rights. I am also proud to have worked with House leadership and advocates to restore $40 million of the $60 million that Congress failed to allocate for Victims of Crimes Act (VOCA) programming. This funding, known as the VOCA Bridge, is essential to supporting services like those MOVA and Transition House provide, and I am optimistic that we will appropriate the remaining $20 million this year.



Also on Tuesday, I, alongside Matt O’Neil from Stop Handgun Violence and the former Honorable Speaker Bob DeLeo, addressed Executive Fellows of the Civic Action Project (CAP) Collaborative. The Executive Fellows program brings together leaders from the public and private sectors to learn from and shadow one another. We discussed efforts in the Legislature to implement gun safety measures, which Speaker DeLeo championed after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2013, and the collaborative efforts between advocates, business groups, and legislators necessary to advance them. 


I also spoke about my work with Speaker DeLeo on the 2014 gun safety omnibus package that the House passed, Chapter 284 of the Acts of 2014, as well as my work on a bill I filed to create a red flag law that passed in 2018. Red flag laws are proven to reduce gun violence by enabling loved ones or law enforcement to petition a court for an emergency risk protection order that temporarily prevents someone in crisis from accessing guns. Passing a red flag law in Chapter 123 of the Acts of 2018 was an important complement to the omnibus passed in 2014 and a testament to the House’s leadership and commitment to creating a safer Commonwealth.


I am grateful that Speaker Ron Mariano and Chair Michael Day continue to lead in this vision, crafting a new gun safety omnibus in this legislative session that among other things, strengthens our red flag law, regulates ghost guns, and prohibits firearms in designated spaces. As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, four of my bills are reflected in this omnibus, and I look forward to voting for a package that comes out of the Conference Committee outlined in this newsletter.

On Wednesday, I attended Denim Day with my State House colleagues. Denim Day is a day of awareness of sexual violence and solidarity with survivors and, I am thankful for the Massachusetts Women’s Caucus for their annual efforts to recognize organizations throughout the Commonwealth that provide important programs and resources for victims and survivors. 

 

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.


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.


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 massoverdosehelpline.org or access it by calling 800-972-0590. 


De Novo Center for Justice and Healing

De Novo is a Cambridge-based nonprofit that provides free civil legal assistance and affordable psychological counseling to people with low incomes. You can learn more about their services at denovo.org.

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

 

Sincerely,  

Marjorie


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