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Friday, June 28th Public Health and Legislative Updates

Dear friends,


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


Table of Contents

  • Legislative Updates

  • Public Health Updates

  • A Glimpse at the Past Week

  • Recent Press

  • Cambridge Updates

  • Services and Resources

 

Legislative Updates 

House Passes FY24 Supplementary Budget 

On Wednesday, the House passed a $540 million supplemental budget for FY24. It prioritizes funding for a range of much-needed services for some of the most vulnerable populations in Massachusetts. Among the major provisions of the supp are: 

  • $29 million for income-eligible childcare, which will help low-income families and caregivers pay for childcare and out-of-school programs 

  • $175 million for the Medical Assistance Trust Fund, which provides supplemental Medicaid payments to safety net hospitals 

  • $5.1 million for the Healthy Incentives Program, which reimburses EBT cardholders when they use SNAP to purchase fresh produce from local vendors 

  • $2.1 million for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Services 


I am particularly proud of the inclusion of $20 million for the VOCA Bridge, on which I have been the House lead, working with the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) and local organizations like Transition House and the YWCA that support victims and survivors. For the last two years, I have been the point person to help secure three allocations of $20 million.  


The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) directs the federal government to appropriate money to organizations that provide programming to survivors of crime. In 2021, Congress failed to appropriate $60 million to restore funds necessary for VOCA programming in Massachusetts that had been depleted over time. 


I am so proud that the House has stepped up once again and secured the final $20 million needed to bridge the funding gap created by the federal government. These funds are critical to the operations of MOVA, which distributes them to statewide organizations providing culturally and linguistically competent services and programming. I am thankful to Chair Michlewitz and Speaker Mariano for once again demonstrating the House’s commitment to victims and survivors of crime in the Commonwealth.


House Passes An Act relative to municipal tax lien procedures and protections for property owners in the Commonwealth (H.4624) 

The House also passed legislation to align statute with a 2023 Supreme Court decision. The bill would ban home equity theft by forbidding municipalities and companies from taking the entire equity of a home in the event of a tax lien foreclosure. Homeowners would be allowed to reclaim any remaining equity after all fees and taxes were repaid to a municipality following a tax foreclosure. This legislation also increases notifications and other consumer protections for property owners throughout the foreclosure process and codifies their rights. 

 

Public Health Updates

Governor Maura Healey Signs Executive Order to Protect Emergency Abortion Care in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey issued an executive order on Monday, June 24, to protect access to emergency abortion care in the state. The order, which came on the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, protects the right to an emergency abortion in Massachusetts regardless of economic status under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). The order also provides legal protection from out-of-state actions to Massachusetts clinicians who provide reproductive or gender-affirming care, as well as patients who receive it. The order also requires insurance to cover emergency abortion care. In response to Governor Healey’s executive order, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued new guidance requiring hospitals and providers to comply. The executive order comes as the United States Supreme Court prepares to release its decision on the case Moyle v. US, which will determine if Idaho physicians are required to provide emergency abortions to preserve a mother’s health under EMTALA, despite an Idaho law banning such abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk. Learn more about abortion resources in the Commonwealth here.


New COVID-19 Variants Fueling the Summer Wave 

Thirty-nine states, including Massachusetts, are seeing an uptick in cases of COVID-19, marking the start of this summer’s COVID wave. As in the past, experts anticipated another summer wave of COVID cases and associated emergency room admissions due to increased travel and people congregating indoors to beat the heat. Although experts predicted a spike in COVID cases this summer, the wave is beginning a month sooner this summer than it has previously. Three variants are largely attributed to the current spike in COVID cases: KP.2, KP.3, and LB.1. These variants are all descendants of the JN.1, the variant responsible for driving cases this past winter. The FDA has advised drugmakers to begin developing updated COVID vaccines to target the KP.2 strain, which comprises 33.1% of all current cases in the U.S. Please continue to monitor your health and seek testing and treatment if you begin to feel symptoms associated with COVID-19. Avoid close indoor gatherings when possible and continue to wear masks when needed. Learn more about how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 here.


U.S. Surgeon General Declares Gun Violence a Public Health Emergency

The U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released an official advisory declaring gun violence in the United States as a public health emergency. Over the past decade, rates of firearm injuries in the United States have substantially increased, becoming the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle crashes, cancer, drug overdoses, and poisoning for the first time. In 2021, deaths caused by guns hit a three-decade high, driven by more homicides and suicides involving firearms. In the advisory, Dr. Murthy calls for the use of a public health lens to reduce gun violence, including increasing research into firearm-related injuries and training clinicians to discuss firearm safety. This advisory marks a shift in gun violence rhetoric from a primarily political phenomenon to one of public health. 


Heatwave Drives Spike in Heat-Related Emergency Room Visits

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a sharp increase in heat-related emergency room visits in New England between Tuesday, June 18, and Thursday, June 20. These increases came after Boston Mayor Michelle Wu declared a heat emergency for these dates, citing the criteria of temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit for two days or more. Between June 17 and June 18, emergency room visits increased from 57 to 791 visits per 100,000 residents in Massachusetts, with similar increases observed in regions experiencing elevated heat over the past week. This spike in health emergencies occurred amidst efforts to protect residents against heat-related health complications. Learn more about how to prevent heat-related illnesses here.


CDC Warns of Increased Risk of Dengue Fever in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Health Alert Network Health Advisory this week alerting members of the public, public health authorities, and health care providers of an increased risk of dengue fever in the United States. Over the past five months, more than 9.7 million dengue cases have been reported across North and South America— double the number of cases identified in 2023. This figure also represents the highest number of dengue cases ever reported in a single calendar year. Experts recommend avoiding mosquito bites by using repellents and protective clothing and eliminating breeding sites at home by dumping standing water to prevent contracting dengue.


CDC Strengthens RSV Vaccine Recommendation for Nation’s Oldest Adults

On Wednesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a stronger endorsement for RSV vaccinations for people 75 years and older, but narrowed its recommendation for people between 60 and 74 years. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common cause of cold-like symptoms; the virus can be especially dangerous for infants and the elderly. However, vaccine advisers did not recommend that all older Americans receive the vaccine due to concerns of possible side effects and duration of protection. However, this updated recommendation is a response to concerns by physicians who claim that the previous recommendations confused patients, proved challenging to explain, and was likely one of the reasons that less than 25% of older Americans have gotten the vaccine.


 

A Glimpse at the Past Week



On Thursday, I had the honor of addressing the Cambridge Community Center’s (CCC) Summer Solstice Celebration. It was great to celebrate 95 years of the Center and the services it provides, including a food pantry, culturally competent mental health services, and afterschool programs. My family appreciated many of these resources as a child. The CCC was founded 95 years ago when the YMCA excluded Black and Brown members of the community from participating in its programming.


One of the many strengths of the CCC is that many of the services they provide are offered by members of the community. The Center has been designated as a Resilience Hub by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network — the first in New England. I continue to be grateful to be a partner in the work and mission of the CCC. If you would like to donate to the work that the CCC is doing, you can do so here


I am proud to have secured funding for the CCC in the last 6 budgets, and I am so grateful for the love, community-building, friendship, and leadership they have fostered in Cambridge for nearly a century. 



It was great to attend the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) Art of Healing Gala last Thursday and to see Michael Curry honored for his incredible work. As the CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and co-chair of the Health Equity Task Force created by the Legislature during the early days of the pandemic, Michael has demonstrated his commitment to addressing health inequities and disparities in Massachusetts. I am immensely grateful for all that he has done for the Commonwealth, and his award is well deserved! In addition, I continue to be grateful to our safety net hospitals and their providers working to ensure everyone has access to quality healthcare. 



Thank you to the Healey-Driscoll Administration for your strong leadership on protecting reproductive healthcare. I’m so grateful for an Attorney General who continues to be a fierce protector of reproductive rights and access to health care. I’m so thankful to be part of the House that has and continues to lead on protecting access to reproductive healthcare in all of its forms. On Monday, the second anniversary of the Dobbs decision, I joined State House colleagues, Governor Healey, AG Campbell, and reproductive justice advocates to announce protections that will ensure access to an abortion for anyone who needs one, for any reason, in Massachusetts. 


Amid the pending abortion ban cases before the Supreme Court, Governor Healey issued an executive order to protect access to emergency abortion care, affirming the Commonwealth's shield law protecting providers and out-of-state patients who receive abortions here. Under the executive order, hospitals that violate the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) — the federal law that requires emergency departments to provide appropriate medical treatment to any patient who needs it— could see their licenses revoked or not renewed. Licensed healthcare providers and physicians are obligated to treat emergency medical conditions, including pregnant patients whose lives are at risk. 


I am proud that the Commonwealth, under the leadership of the Legislature and the Governor, has been proactive in strengthening an already legally codified right amid the looming threat of revocation by the Supreme Court. Access to abortion is an integral component of maternal healthcare. This executive order builds on access to care provided by the maternal health omnibus bill that the House passed last week — a critical piece of legislation I had the privilege of authoring in my capacity as the House Chair of the Public Health Committee.


On Tuesday, I had the privilege of co-hosting and speaking at the second Long COVID and Health Equity in the Commonwealth briefing with Representative Mindy Domb, my Public Health Committee co-Chair Julian Cyr, the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, and health equity advocates. 


As we enter summer and yet another summer COVID wave, please remember that COVID is not over. If you feel sick, try to take a COVID test and stay home until your symptoms resolve. If you must go out, find a high-quality mask, like a KN-95, if possible, at all times to lower the chances of spreading the virus and protect your community. 


You can find a free COVID test site near you here or you can pick up an at-home test at the Cambridge Public Health Department at 119 Windsor Street.



On Tuesday, I attended the Impacts of PFAS Contamination Briefing hosted by my Public Health Committee co-Chair Julian Cyr and Representative Kate Hogan. I am proud of the work that my staff and I spent over the last year strengthening An Act to protect Massachusetts public health from PFAS. As you might imagine, this is an important opportunity to reduce and eliminate forever chemicals that are known toxins. It was also a very complicated bill to manage — we spent a year prioritizing staff time to strengthen this bill so that we could give it a favorable recommendation out of Committee

PFAS are a harmful class of chemicals that do not break down in the environment and are linked to adverse health outcomes. This omnibus bill mitigates current and future PFAS contamination by establishing the PFAS Remediation Trust Fund, prohibiting PFAS in food packaging, consumer products, and firefighter personal protective equipment, limiting the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS, establishing data collection of occupational exposure to PFAS, including firefighters exposure to PFAS, and restricting PFAS in wastewater discharges.


I also met with members of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM). Firefighters are routinely exposed to PFAS in firefighting foam and protective equipment, in which they experience disproportionately high rates of cancer.



On Wednesday, I stopped by Governor Healey’s Climate Technology Celebration recognizing the 28 Massachusetts climate tech companies named to TIME Magazine’s Top GreenTech Companies 2024 list, including three in Cambridge — Invaio, Malta, and Quaise Energy. It was also great to see the Secretary of Economic Development, one of the Commonwealth’s biggest champions for a strong economy and innovation. 



I spoke at the Massachusetts Building Trades PLA Rally on Wednesday. I talked about the importance of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which are essential to ensuring competitive wages, setting expectations for project timelines, and guaranteeing that our highly skilled and trained workers receive their prevailing wage. As someone who grew up in poverty and in affordable housing in Cambridge, I understand all too well that the surest way to lift people out of poverty is to pay them a decent wage.


I am thankful to Chair Michlewitz and Speaker Mariano for their support of workers' rights across the Commonwealth. I am also grateful to the workers who spend long hours in heat building our communities.

 

Recent Press

Allison Kuznitz, State House News Service

Public Health Committee co-chair Rep. Marjorie Decker said Thursday’s focus on the maternal health crisis marked the “full circle of life” in the House, noting the branch has already tackled major legislation this session dealing with elder care and long-term care, health care reform meant to stabilize hospitals and install new cost control measures, and the opioid epidemic.


Decker reflected on her own journey to becoming a mother, saying nothing was predictable or completely in her control as she relied on the support of her health care providers, including midwives, a doula, an OBGYN, as well as “advances in medicine and technology.”


“At a time when access to reproductive health care is under assault, where some states, along with the Supreme Court, are creating barriers or eliminating access to reproductive health care, Massachusetts continues to strengthen our resolve to protect and expand access to reproductive care,” Decker said. “Today, we will focus on the care and services for families in Massachusetts who choose to create or expand their families.”

 

Cambridge Updates

Red Line Closure

From June 29-30, the Red Line will be closed all day from Alewife to Harvard Square. From June 28 at 8:45pm to June 30, the Kendall/MIT Outbound Station will be closed. Free shuttle buses will replace the Red Line, and the 77 Bus will be free.


City Dance Party

On Friday, June 28 from 6-10pm, the City of Cambridge will host its 24th annual Dance Party. This free event will take place in front of Cambridge City Hall (795 Massachusetts Avenue), extending to Prospect Street for the second year running.

 

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.


SafeSpot Overdose Prevention Helpline

SafeSpot is a virtual spotting/overdose detection service for people who use drugs. Learn more at safe-spot.me 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.


MassLegalHelp.org is a resource to help Massachusetts residents learn about their legal rights. The website does not offer legal advice or answer individual questions but has a page about options for finding a lawyer. It does provide resources for those facing legal issues, such as a landlord refusing to make repairs, appealing the denial of SNAP benefits, and questions about getting a CORI sealed.

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

 

Sincerely,  

Marjorie




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