This week was February Vacation Week, and because so many folks take this week for vacation and the Legislature was not in formal session, we had a smaller planned schedule than usual. However, we still met a lot of inspiring folks doing amazing work in Leominster and the Commonwealth!
We kicked off our week meeting with the Worcester County Food Bank and Ginny’s Helping Hands to discuss WCFB’s priorities, including legislation to roll out a Common App to help Close the SNAP Gap. I was shocked to learn that more than 5,000 Leominster residents who qualify for SNAP benefits are not currently enrolled. Learning that many of the residents in the SNAP Gap are elderly residents, I am glad we will be starting our monthly Elder Coffee Hours in March.
We also met with the Kevin Reed, the Director of the Montachusett Opportunity Council. While MOC is based in Fitchburg, they provide vital services all throughout North Central Massachusetts, including WIC and Elder Nutrition, HeadStart, and Housing Assistance. I also met with Auditor Suzanne Bump and her staff to learn more about the important role their office plays in auditing the performance of all state agencies. Then we stopped by an event honoring the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima in Memorial Hall and met with a group of young women through the Big Sister Association in the House Chamber for a Q&A about my path to the State House.
The week wrapped up with our Friday Morning Office Hours at the North End Diner, followed by a tour of two Veterans Housing Programs in Leominster with Veterans Homestead. I am glad to know that Leominster has two great resources in the Armistice and Hero Homesteads. And we wrapped up the week with Congressman Jim McGovern and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas’s DREAMERS Forum to better inform immigrants in our community about their rights.
I have a busy week coming up with the Love and Kindness Standout with Leominster students, accompanying our intern Chris as he presents at the State of Education Briefing in the State House, speaking at the sixth Annual Public HIgher Education Advocacy Day in the Great Hall, visit all four elementary schools in Leominster for Community Reading Day, attend the UMass Women in Leadership Workshop Dinner, and the Growing Places Conference.
For Immediate Release Contact: Natalie Higgins, 978-602-3772
February 17, 2017 Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov
State Representative Natalie Higgins Assigned to Four Committees
Leominster: State Representative Natalie Higgins, serving the 4th Worcester District, announced that she has been assigned to four Committees for the 2017-18 Legislative Session:
“I am honored to be on such a diverse group of committees, tackling such important issues in our community, particularly with my previous work in sexual violence prevention and public higher education advocacy and my parents’ small business,” said State Representative Natalie Higgins. “I am so looking forward to getting to work with my colleagues as soon as the new batch of bills are referred to these Committees.”
I have received some messages about the bill that passed into law this week regarding compensation. First I want to clear up any misinformation that might be out there about the vote and what it does/doesn't do. I did not expect that my first vote would be related to compensation, but I hope this post addresses some of your concerns and shows why I ultimately believed that this legislation was fair.
First and foremost -- I did not vote for an increase to my compensation. I voted for a bill (H.58 -- the full text can be found here -- https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H58) that adjusted leadership stipends, the compensation of Constitutional officers (e.g., Governor and Treasurer), and judges. That bill, however, did not adjust my base pay. That is up to the Governor, every two years, according to the cost of living index (a process passed by through a referendum of the voters). As a freshman State Rep, I will not be receiving a leadership stipend. What did change for me is the removal of the per diem (travel stipend to Boston) and those funds were shifted into the funding for constituent services and district offices, a change that I welcomed.
The legislation was based on a 2014 bipartisan commission report, which recommended much higher increases, due to inflation. You can read it here: https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/mgs/Final_Report_Special_Advisory_Commission-NOV30.pdf
To go into the details a bit further, the legislation removes the per diem (for travel to Boston) which lacks transparency, can be falsified, and is hard to budget around. I think it had good intentions (equalizing the pay across the state, but wasn't the best system). What I like even better is the money from that has been shifted into the district office accounts.
Leadership stipends had not been adjusted in 20-30 years (depending on the role) largely due to the fact no one in the Legislature wants to vote on compensation. Also the Speaker, Senate President, and Constitutional officers will no longer be able to have outside employment to supplement their income, and this clears up concerns about future conflicts of interest related to their outside work.
And we shouldn't have to take this up again because the stipends are now indexed to inflation -- similar to our base pay which we (as legislators) can't change, only the Governor.
Also this is completely funded within the current budget line item and won't affect any other program, which would have been a deal breaker for me. The majority of the costs that have been cited are related to the judiciary stipends, which will be phased in over three fiscal years in four step increases. Prior to this legislation, judges salaries in Massachusetts were ranked 45th in the nation.
I was extremely disappointed to find out my first vote as State Representative would be regarding compensation. However, I have learned that whether the vote happened this session, last session, or next session, it would have to be one of the first votes taken, before Committee Chairs are assigned, to avoid any ethical issues with members voting for their own increases. Again, as a Freshman, I will not receive a leadership stipend.
Please let me know if you have any more questions. I would be happy to talk to you on the phone (978-602-3772) or during my evening office hours, Mondays at the Library 5:30-7:00PM, or Fridays from 7:00-8:00AM rotating throughout the city.