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Thursday, June 6 Legislative and Public Health Updates

Dear friends,


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


I am excited to share with you that Senator DiDomenico and I will be hosting the second hearing of the Poverty Commission in the Sullivan Chamber at Cambridge City Hall from 3pm-6pm. As a reminder, we were tasked by the Senate President and Speaker of the House, respectively, to co-chair the Commission based on our history of leadership on anti-poverty legislation in the State House. The Commission is charged with creating a set of recommendations that would significantly reduce poverty in the Commonwealth over the next 10 years. The Commission is composed of over 30 individuals representing state agencies, anti-poverty nonprofits, and academic institutions who will work with us to come up with the recommendations. You can stream the hearing here or watch it on Channel 22.


Table of Contents

  • Legislative Updates

  • Public Health Updates

  • A Glimpse at the Past Week

  • Cambridge Updates

  • Services and Resources

 

Legislative Updates


House Passes An Act relative to the Affordable Homes Act (H.4707)


I am so proud of the House’s leadership in addressing this unprecedented housing crisis, and I am grateful to Speaker Ron Mariano, House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and Housing Committee Chair Jim Arciero for their hard work on this bill. 


On Wednesday, the House passed a $6.5 billion bond bill — the largest housing investment in state history. An Act relative to the Affordable Homes Act (H.4707) includes bond authorizations, tax credits, and over 20 policy initiatives that promote housing production, facilitate the development of affordable housing, and preserve public housing in Massachusetts. Some of the major provisions include:

  • $2 billion to support the repair, rehabilitation, and modernization of over 43,000 public housing units across Massachusetts, with 25 percent of the funds dedicated to preserving housing for those with incomes below 30 percent of area median income (AMI). This includes $150 million to decarbonize the public housing stock and $15 million for accessibility upgrades.

  • $1 billion to allow for the potential to expand the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s water system to account for additional water needs due to housing production.

  • $800 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which provides resources to create or preserve affordable housing for households earning less than 100 percent of AMI.

  • Codifies the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) and expands the statewide cap on donations from $12 million to $15 million.

  • Permits accessory dwelling units equal to or less than 900 square feet to be built by-right on a property in single-family zoning districts in all Massachusetts communities.

  • $150 million to establish a new program to help municipalities convert commercial properties into multi-unit residential or mixed-use properties.

  • $200 million to support Local Housing Authorities (LHAs) who partner with developers to add mixed-income developments on LHA land, leveraging funds to maintain and preserve public housing while increasing the overall housing supply.

  • $275 million to consolidate the existing Transit Oriented Housing Program and the Climate Resilient Housing Program and create a new, innovative program to accelerate and unlock new housing. 25 percent of the funds must be used to fund projects that preserve housing for those with incomes below 60 percent of AMI.

  • $175 million for municipal infrastructure projects to encourage denser housing development.


There are two provisions that I am particularly excited about and strongly advocated for the inclusion of: 


Expanding the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) — which is designed to help people with disabilities live independently — to allow for vouchers to either be in the form of mobile vouchers or project-based vouchers. 

  • Currently, AHVP only offers mobile vouchers. While they are inherently more flexible than project-based vouchers, renters utilizing the AHVP program have had difficulties finding and securing adequate housing with their mobile vouchers.

  • Project-based vouchers would ensure that there are buildings explicitly devoted to housing AHVP participants, helping to avoid voucher-based discrimination and providing housing stability. 


I filed a bill alongside my colleague Representative Rob Consalvo, An Act to create affordable homes for persons with disabilities (H.1305), that would update the AHVP program. This provision is directly from that bill.


Appropriating $50 million to establish a new Healthy Homes Program that would provide grants and loans for programs to improve our aging housing stock to make them more habitable.

  • As Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, I know how unhealthy living environments can impact one’s health. The presence of lead, poor indoor air quality, and other substandard housing conditions lead to developmental delays in children, respiratory disease, accidents and injuries, and the spread of infectious disease, among other serious, preventable health consequences.

  • This new Healthy Homes Program will provide grants and loans to address health hazards and habitability concerns like asbestos, mold, pests, and lead. This program also emphasizes health equity and the need to address issues that have a disproportionate impact on households of color. 50 percent of all funds will be administered in Gateway Cities across the Commonwealth.


There are many more highlights in this bill, and my staff would be happy to talk to you about them.


** Due to a family medical emergency, I was unable to be present to vote on Wednesday. I have submitted a letter to the Clerk’s Office stating how I would have voted had I been in attendance. 

 

Public Health Updates

DPH announces Beach Closures Due to Unsafe Bacteria Levels

This week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) closed Eighteen beaches across the Commonwealth after detecting elevated bacteria levels in the waters. DPH advises the public to avoid swimming in the water at affected beaches at this time due to the increased risk of bacterial illness. Exposure to these bacteria can lead to rashes and respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sore throat, and fever. People with weakened immune systems, children, and older adults are more vulnerable to developing severe illness after exposure to these bacteria. For a comprehensive list of current and future beach closures, please visit mass.gov/info-details/interactive-beach-water-quality-dashboard.


The United States Orders 4.8 Million Additional Doses of Bird Flu Vaccine

In response to a growing outbreak of H5N1, also known as bird flu, among dairy cattle and increasing cases among humans, United States officials ordered the manufacture of approximately 4.8 million doses of bird flu vaccines to bolster its preparedness for a potential H5N1 pandemic. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority under the Department of Health and Human Services has contracted with CSL Seqirus, one of the largest vaccine providers globally, to manufacture these vaccines under the National Pre-Pandemic Influenza Vaccine Stockpile program. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to maintain that the risk of bird flu for the general public remains low, and they have urged the dairy industry to take precautions to protect dairy workers from the virus. 


Promising Trial Results for Male Contraceptive Gel

Researchers reported favorable results in a phase 2b trial of a male birth control gel funded by the NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 222 men between the ages of 18 and 50 participated in the study, which required that participants apply about a teaspoon of the hand sanitizer-like gel to each of their shoulder blades once a day. The gel contains testosterone and Nestrone, the synthetic hormone that reduces sperm production and boasts a faster amount of time to suppress sperm than researchers initially expected. Securing funding or financial investments in male contraceptives also proves to be a challenge. There have been many early-stage attempts at formulating male birth control drugs for decades, but few have secured the financial capital necessary to move on to advanced human trials. While the suppression stage of the trial is complete, researchers will continue to assess the effectiveness, reversibility, and safety of the contraceptive gel in ongoing trials.


New Blood Test Capable of Diagnosing Cancer Recurrence Before Traditional Scans

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) based in London recently developed a highly accurate new blood test capable of predicting breast cancer recurrence long before traditional scans can. On average, the test identified cancer 15 months before symptoms or scans, with the earliest detection occurring 41 months before diagnosis. While these results are promising, the ICR’s new liquid biopsy is still in its early stages of development. Researchers hope that, with continued work, the test will allow patients to initiate treatment earlier, prevent cancer from metastasizing, and potentially improve cancer survival rates. 


Medetomidine-Laced Fentanyl Spreading through U.S., Driving Overdoses 

Public health advisories have been issued in Philadelphia and Illinois in response to increasing reports of Medetomidine contamination in recreational drug supplies. Medetomidine is a sedative that is several times more potent than xylazine and has been widely reported in fentanyl samples. Neither medetomidine nor xylazine responds to naloxone, a life-saving medication administered to reverse opioid overdose, and there is currently no way for users to know if their drugs are laced with either substance. Medetomidine has been linked to recent overdose surges in cities beginning in late April and accelerating into May. Researchers at the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education have been following the circulation of medetomidine across the United States and warn that the drug is spreading rapidly, with other large-scale overdose events being reported in Toronto. If you or a loved one are concerned about potential opioid overdose, information on obtaining naloxone in Massachusetts is available here.


Combined Sewer Overflows Increase Risk of Hospital Visits near Merrimack River

A Boston University School of Public Health study has found that people living in communities along the Merrimack River have an increased risk of developing acute gastrointestinal illnesses in the days after large combined sewer overflows (CSOs). CSOs occur during heavy rain, releasing untreated wastewater into waterways. Many communities in Massachusetts, including Boston, Cambridge, Lynn, and Haverhill, have utilized combined sewer systems since the systems were installed in the mid-1800s. Normally, CSOs don’t occur; the system is built to allow stormwater runoff and sewage to flow through a single pipe to a treatment facility. However, when moderate or heavy rainstorms occur, the systems can be inundated with excess flows. Combined systems are designed to empty overflow into waterways, rather than allowing sewage to back up into homes. As climate change increases the number of storms that cause CSOs, the risk of illness caused by sewage-related pathogens increases. The research suggests that large CSOs increase the risk of emergency room visits by 22% and very large CSOs increase the same risk by 62%. The Merrimack River is a source of drinking water in Massachusetts and, while there is a risk of gastrointestinal illness in communities that drink water sourced from the Merrimack, this risk is not higher. Exposure to sewage-related illnesses can also occur through other methods, like engaging in recreational activities in or near the river. Public health officials recommend waiting at least 48 hours after a CSO to swim, boat, or allow pets into affected water. State law requires cities and towns to notify residents of an overflow within two hours, but members of the public can track sewage overflows into Massachusetts waterways in real-time here.

 

A Glimpse at the Past Week



That package is now in a Conference Committee, and negotiators in the House and Senate are hashing out the differences between the two respective bills in an effort to come to a compromise. I am proud to have worked with Chair Day to incorporate four of the nine gun safety-related bills I filed this session into the omnibus, including legislation that regulates ghost guns, updates and expands our red flag law, prohibits the carrying of guns in specific public spaces, and enhances data collection.


I was happy to be joined by Superintendent Pauline Wells, Deputy Superintendent Steven Magalhaes, Deputy Superintendent Peter Vellucci, Deputy Superintendent Michael Medeiros and Kessen Green from the Cambridge Police Department; Dr. Nancy Rihan-Porter from the Cambridge Public Health Department; and Reverend Chris Hope from the Pentecostal Tabernacle and the Loop Lab to talk about the City’s efforts to curb gun violence and the Gift Cards for Guns program.



Members of my team had the pleasure of attending the Benjamin Banneker Charter School’s STEAMS Expo on Tuesday! With the guidance of their excellent tour guide, a 6th grader named Myles, they explored a variety of creative student presentations about the importance of water. From models of houseboats to replicas of rainforests and coral reefs, the creativity and knowledge of these K-6 graders were on full display. There were fantastic lessons about the animals in the Mariana Trench, the impact of pollution on the ocean, safe water filtration, and much more. Thank you to the children, educators, and staff at Benjamin Banneker for the invitation to such a wonderful exhibition! 


I was happy to join a community breakfast hosted by Lori Lander to discuss gun safety, both as it pertains to public health and our city. I spoke about the incredible dedication of Speaker Ron Mariano, House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and House Judiciary Chair Michael Day in addressing gun safety. Massachusetts had among the lowest rates of gun homicides in the country last year, at 247. That is still 247 too many, and I am proud to have worked with my colleagues in the House to pass a comprehensive gun reform package last fall.

 

Cambridge Updates


Pride Brunch

The 35th Annual Cambridge Pride Brunch, hosted by Mayor Simmons, is this Saturday, June 8, at City Hall. The event will feature brunch, activities for families and children, and recognition of Cambridge individuals and organizations who have uplifted the LGBTQ community. No registration is required and all are welcome! 


Gifts Cards for Guns

The 9th annual citywide Gift Cards for Guns initiative will be taking place on Saturday, June 8, from 10am-12pm at Reservoir Church (170 Rindge Avenue) and Pentecostal Tabernacle (77 Columbia Street). 


This public health and public safety event will provide residents with an opportunity to anonymously and safely dispose of their unwanted firearms and, in turn, reduce the risk of suicide, and potential for wrongdoing in a home or on our city streets. 

The Reservoir Church in North Cambridge and the Pentecostal Tabernacle will provide safe, convenient locations for participants to drop off unwanted guns with no questions asked and no ID required. Residents planning to turn in firearms should attempt to notify Cambridge Police in advance by calling (617) 349-6009. The firearms should be unloaded with the safety engaged in a bag, box, or case. The unloaded firearms can be left inside the trunk of your vehicle upon arrival and someone will come to assist you. For those who cannot attend the event, gift cards will be provided if pickups are scheduled during the month of June. Residents should call (617) 349-6009 to make an appointment.


DCR Traffic Advisory — Memorial Drive Closure Extended on Sunday June 9th

On Sunday, June 9, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will extend the closure of Memorial Drive from Gerry's Landing Road to Western Avenue to open Riverbend Park in the City of Cambridge from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to accommodate the 45th Boston Dragon Boat Festival.

 

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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