FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: State Rep. Natalie Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org
May 13, 2018
House Passes Balanced Budget with Focus on Local Aid, Helping People
Prioritizes initiatives to strengthen the economy, support vulnerable residents
BOSTON – Representative Natalie Higgins joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass its FY19 budget which makes investments in programs and services across the Commonwealth. Funded at $41.064 billion, the House budget maintains funding for key programs amidst a fragile revenue picture and uncertainty in Washington. It includes no new broad-based taxes and projects an $88 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund.
“This is a fiscally-sound budget that addresses key House priorities and sets the standard for supporting those facing adversity,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I am particularly proud of the work we have done on early education and care, and I believe that our efforts will have a lasting impact on the lives of countless families. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Chairman Sánchez for his hard work and my colleagues who provided invaluable insight.”
“This budget is all about people and meeting them where they’re at in the lives,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Jamaica Plain). “We uphold our commitments to healthcare, housing, and so many crucial programs that will seek to improve the lives of people across Massachusetts. I’m grateful for the leadership of Speaker DeLeo and my colleagues in the House for their hard work on behalf of their communities. Together, we have passed a budget for the Commonwealth that supports the most vulnerable amongst us, and ensures our economy grows for the benefit of all residents.”
“I am proud of the investments in our communities we have made in this budget,” said Representative Higgins. “Through this budget, I was able to secure additional funding for two important programs in Leominster -- the Leominster Substance Abuse Task Force & Outreach Program and the Domestic Violence Liaison in the Leominster Police Department.”
Recognizing the state’s important relationship with municipalities, the budget increases Unrestricted General Government Aid and local education funding by $220 million over FY18 and $54 million over the Governor’s budget proposal. It provides an unprecedented $4.9 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, including an increase of $39 million from FY18 to address increasing teacher and faculty healthcare costs, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. Additional education and local aid allocations include:
· $300 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;
· $90 million for Charter School Reimbursement;
· $63.5 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.
The House budget continues its commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of children and families by lifting the cap on children receiving benefits for low income families, supporting early childhood metal health and behavioral health efforts, and ensuring children have access to high-quality early education and care (EEC). The budget invests in those who work with our children by increasing rates for early education providers. The House budget also includes $8.5 million to establish an EEC workforce development initiative to coordinate professional development and higher education opportunities in conjunction with Massachusetts’ community colleges. Highlights include:
· Lifting the “cap on kids” that currently prevents families from receiving TAFDC benefits for certain children.
· $2.5 million for continued support for early childhood mental health consultation services.
· $20 million to support high-quality EEC programs though provider rate increase.
Access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing provides the foundation from which families and individuals can lead successful lives. To this end, the House has made investments in permanent housing solutions and efforts to eliminate homelessness. Since 2013, shelter caseload has decreased dramatically, and the number of families living in hotels and motels has decreased to nearly zero. This year, the House continues these efforts by:
· Providing $100 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP);
· Funding the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program at $17 million;
· Allocating $32 million for the HomeBASE program;
· Creating a new $5 million rapid rehousing program for homeless individuals.
The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that continues to take lives at an alarming rate. Recent data show that previous investments have made an impact: the number of opioid-related deaths decreased in 2017. However, hospitals, police departments, and EMTs report an ever-rising number of overdoses, underscoring the need to invest in treatment and recovery. To help those in need, the House budget includes:
· $139 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services which will help create five new recovery centers across Massachusetts;
· $5 million for diversion programs to direct people into community-based treatment programs;
· $4.9 million for step-down recovery services;
· $1 million for the purchase of Narcan for first responders and an expansion of the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund to allow non-profit organizations that contract with the Department of Public Health to access Narcan at a significant discount.
Recognizing that education and economic development are intrinsically paired, the budget enhances the House’s focus on bolstering opportunities for residents of all skillsets through programs including:
· $12.8 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth;
· $2 million for technical assistance grants for small business;
· $2 million for Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership, a program that continues to show results in closing the skills gap;
· $104 million for the Commonwealth’s higher education scholarship and financial aid line item;
· $4.75 million to support STEM programming in community colleges through the STEM Starter Academy, which has shown incredible early success by connecting students with employment opportunities.
MassHealth is the single largest investment that the Commonwealth makes in its most vulnerable residents. In addition to MassHealth funding, which provides health insurance for almost 2 million residents, the budget ensures funding for crucial health and human services including:
· Increases funding for the Department of Mental Health by $97 million over FY18;
· $989 million to continue reforms that protect children at the Department of Children and Families;
· Increases the Councils on Aging formula grant from $10 to $12 per individual, per year;
· $100,000 to establish the Office of Health Equity, which will look at factors like housing and culture to coordinate efforts and eliminate health disparities;
· $4.2 million for veterans outreach centers.
The House budget includes funding for public safety and the judiciary, including investments to implement the recently-signed criminal justice reform law:
· $3 million for a new community-based re-entry program;
· $2.5 million to expand the specialty court to increase access to specialized services for defendants with substance use disorder, mental health, and trauma;
· $20.75 million for civil legal aid to provide representation for low-income individuals;
· $7 million for Shannon Grants, a competitive grant program to individual municipalities to address heightened levels of gang violence.
In light of recent news at the Massachusetts State Police, the House budget recommends a three-tiered approach to address the future of the State Police. The proposed updates will monitor the agency, help develop best practices, and prevent issues from occurring in the future.
Lastly, the House budget makes important investments in environmental programs. These funding levels will help ensure that state parks, environmental protections programs, and the state’s Office of Climate Change and Adaptation have the funds necessary to hire inspectors, permit writers, park rangers and scientists.
The budget now goes to the Senate.
Representing Leominster -- Episode 12 -- Ward 3 School Committee Member Isabelle Alera & Register of Deeds Kathleen Reynolds Daigneault
Representing Leominster -- Episode 11 -- Ward 4 School Committee Member Nona Ojala & State Representative Harold Naughton
For Immediate Release
February 16, 2018
Contact: Natalie Higgins, email@example.com, 978-227-5278
House Passes Legislation to Enhance Consumer Protection Following Data Breaches
Legislation removes fees for security freezes and increases access to credit reports
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie Higgins joined her colleagues in the House to pass legislation providing added protections and resources for consumers in the event of a data security breach that impacts a credit agency or other business.
Under this legislation, credit freezes, lifts or removals must be provided to consumers without a charge. Credit agencies or businesses must provide one year of free credit monitoring after any breach.
“This legislation includes many powerful consumer protection tools that also modernize the way we do business,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “I thank Chairman Chan for his exhaustive study into this complex problem and Chairwoman Benson for her ongoing commitment.”
“I am proud to see the House of Representatives vote today to protect Massachusetts residents from data breaches and modernize our current laws,” said Representative Tackey Chan (D-Quincy), House Chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “Particularly following numerous high profile breaches over the last year, this legislation is urgently needed to ensure that consumers have more control over their credit protections. This is an issue that impacts every individual, organization and business in the Commonwealth, and I am grateful for the valuable input from so many stakeholders, committee members, and colleagues throughout this process to ensure that we produced the best possible policy for our residents.”
“As an advocate for consumer protection, I filed legislation to make it easier for consumers to freeze their credit reports so that victims of identity theft and fraud could more quickly regain control of their credit,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “In the wake of the Equifax hack last year, I worked with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen the bill with additional language offering further protections. I’m proud of my colleagues in the House for coming together to pass this important legislation to protect and empower Massachusetts consumers.”
The legislation updates the framework for the implementation of a freeze and related communication including:
For the first time in Massachusetts, this legislation establishes specific guidelines for parents and guardians to freeze accounts of children under the age of 16 and incapacitated individuals.
The legislation also updates notification guidelines for breached entities and third party affiliates.
Additionally, the Attorney General must provide information online to consumers regarding the breach.
This bill also updates current law to require companies and organizations to obtain consent before running a credit report.
The case for paid family leave and a boost in minimum wage -- 25 years after federal leave law passed, it's time for Massachusetts to step up
Rep. Higgins co-authored this op-ed about paid family medical leave and a living wage with Representatives Provost & Rushing. Thank you to CommonWealth Magazine for publishing: https://commonwealthmagazine.org/politics/case-paid-family-leave-boost-minimum-wage/
25 YEARS AGO, on February 5, 1993, President Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows certain workers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to deal with a serious health condition, have a baby, bond with a newborn or adopted child, or take care of a seriously ill relative.
The FMLA was a major stride forward for the rights of workers and their families, but after a quarter century the program’s major gaps are clear. The FMLA does not cover about 40 percent of the workforce, including workers at smaller companies and those who have recently changed jobs. And many workers who are eligible FMLA can’t afford to take unpaid time off from work in an emergency. They’re often left to choose between taking care of a child they love or keeping the job that puts food on the table.
A few years before the FMLA was passed, another aspect of Massachusetts labor laws was at a low point. The state’s $3.75 minimum wage in 1991 was only worth $6.90 in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars, the lowest real value in modern state history. Since then, we’ve made progress, most recently in 2014, but today’s minimum wage is still not enough for a full-time worker to get by on. Many workers earning the minimum wage work two or three jobs and still can’t afford the cost of groceries, housing, heating, and other basic needs.
Today, 25 years after the FMLA was signed, a grassroots coalition of community organizations, faith groups, and labor unions is advancing a pair of policies that would help fix these problems and strengthen our Commonwealth’s economy. This fall, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition collected over 274,000 signatures from registered voters across the state to place two questions on the November 2018 ballot: paid family and medical leave and an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.
Over the next five months, the Legislature has the opportunity to pass these policies ourselves and avoid the need for an expensive ballot campaign. As members of the House Progressive Caucus, we will be fighting for strong paid leave and minimum wage legislation that covers all workers, and that doesn’t hurt any single group or leave vulnerable families behind.
When it comes to paid family and medical leave, the example of the FMLA shows how important it is that a paid leave program cover all workers. Family and medical emergencies can happen to people who work for small companies, those who just started new jobs, and independent contractors. This legislation should make sure they are covered.
Opponents of the minimum wage increase are already calling for a sub-minimum wage for teen workers, but this legislation shouldn’t discriminate against youth who are saving for college or helping their family make ends meet. Teens are only about 10 percent of workers that would be affected by a minimum wage increase to $15 by 2022, but teen workers in low-income families account for an average of 17.7 percent of their family income. Teen workers are often important wage-earners for their families, and we shouldn’t cut their pay.
A sub-minimum wage would also hurt our college completion rates. In Massachusetts, college students at public institutions already work about 28 hours per week, on average. When students work too much, it can hurt their GPAs and lead to dropouts. Ensuring that teen workers can earn and save money for college will help let college students focus on their studies.
In 2016, teen unemployment in Massachusetts and overall unemployment rates fell to their lowest rates in the past 18 years – despite minimum wage increases during this same period. At the same time, income inequality in Massachusetts is at record levels, and the gap between the very rich and the rest of us keeps growing.
It’s clear that the big problem in our economy isn’t that low-wage workers are being paid too much, or that benefits for working people are too generous. It’s that too many people are working every hour they can but still can’t get ahead, and that for too many working people, a family emergency can quickly turn into a financial disaster.
This spring, let’s change that by passing paid family and medical leave and a $15 minimum wage for all workers in Massachusetts.
Natalie Higgins is a Democratic state representative from Leominster; Byron Rushing is a Democratic state representative from Boston; Denise Provost is a Democratic state representative from Somerville.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: State Representative Natalie Higgins, Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov
January 26, 2018
House Takes Action to Finance the Production and Preservation of Affordable Housing
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie HIggins joined her colleagues in the House to pass a $1.7 billion housing bond bill to support low and moderate income housing throughout the Commonwealth. The legislation recapitalizes funding for a variety of programs and extends several housing and economic development tax credits.
“With the passage of this bond bill, we renew our commitment to affordable housing,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I thank Chairs Sánchez, Honan and Cabral and my colleagues in the House for backing a bill that supports many proven programs. I’m particularly proud of the provisions that support housing for those with disabilities and improve facilities used for early education.”
“Successful housing finance is a patchwork of state programs, grants, and partnerships,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means. “Our bill ensures that the state is able to hold up its end of the deal. But beyond the numbers and spreadsheets, these programs help ensure people can have a place to call home.”
“This bond bill will authorize $1.7 billion dollars over the next five years for the production and preservation of affordable housing, smart growth development, and much needed public housing capital improvements,” said Representative Kevin Honan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing. “These are critical investments at a time where our dependence on federal funding is uncertain. Housing is the cornerstone of our society and our economy and the provisions of this bill are the tried and true affordable housing tools that are at our disposal.
“Housing prices are climbing and affordable housing options are dwindling throughout the Commonwealth. We must make timely investments and address the issue head-on, especially for our most vulnerable population,” said Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. “This legislation is a smart step that will ensure the sustainability of our state’s affordable housing stock.”
This legislation prioritizes numerous programs that support vulnerable residents including:
The bill also gives DHCD the option to purchase certain housing units designed for community-based DMH housing at appraised value, to preserve affordable housing, within 120 days of the authorization of affordable restrictions.
This bill continues the House’s 2013 landmark creation of the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund, furthering its commitment to high quality early education and care programming. This $45 million reauthorization provides facility improvement grants for early education and out of school time programs serving low income children.
The legislation authorizes $400 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This program provides flexible funding to create and preserve affordable housing, ranging from transitional homes for homeless to homeownership programs. It also authorizes $600 million for Public Housing Renovation to help modernize and rehabilitate public housing including updates like the abatement of lead.
Other programs include:
The bill features numerous tax credits designed to incentivize building, development and investment for a range of projects. Credits include:
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/remembering-dr-kings-legacy-50-years-later/
In his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I have been reflecting a great deal on the work and legacy of Dr. King, with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. I was not alive during his lifetime, but his passion and his commitment to social justice is universal and inspired many of my mentors. His work, his writings, and above all, his calls to action, continue to move us today.
I am writing this column in the midst of a federal government shutdown when politics seems to get more polarized every week, and just about everyone seems to be frustrated by government. Growing up in a working-class family, that never really felt the government was accessible to them or worked for them, motivated me to get involved in politics and public service.
I joke with our Congressman, Jim McGovern, nearly every time that I’ve seen him this past year, over not being envious of his job. I am lucky because in Massachusetts state politics almost every issue we work on, every bill we pass, is done with bipartisan support.
Yet, we are not immune to these polarizing attacks from the outside. For the second time in my first year in elected office, a dark money group has sent misleading and often just plain false mailers across the city. But I welcome these opportunities to have those hard conversations and talk about real problems and real solutions.
In Dr. King’s 1963 Strength to Love sermons, he said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I hope that in these tough times we can all gather together and have these difficult conversations. I hope to have more community forums like the ones I hosted this summer, and I would love to hear your ideas on how to create more community spaces to share experiences, concerns, and solutions at the state, local, and federal level.
We should be proud of the example Massachusetts sets for the rest of the nation. We advance thinking laws, to protect and move our communities forward. I am looking forward to the rest of the 2017-2018 Legislative Session where we’ll be taking up issues around health care access and affordability, the opioid crisis, and protecting working families, just to name a few.
Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s column. If you have any questions or need to get in touch with me and my office, email me at Natalie. Higgins@mahouse.gov or call (978) 227-5278. Also please drop into my open office hours Monday at the Leominster Public Library from 5:30-7 p.m. and Friday at the Leominster High School from 7-8 a.m.
Originally published in http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/mcgovern-kennedy-visit-two-schools-in-leominster/
Congressmen Jim McGovern and Joe Kennedy III recently joined state Rep. Natalie Higgins in addressing the senior class at Leominster High School about their work in their respective legislative bodies, the importance of public service, and how students can make a difference in their communities.
McGovern and Kennedy then toured Sky View Middle School and spoke on the Leominster Public Schools getting a 21st Century Grant for fiscal 2018-20 of $375,000 (with $125,000 received each year) for Sky View to run an after-school program and a five-week summer program. Students are provided with snacks, homework help, activities targeted towards minimizing academic achievement gaps, and transportation home at no cost to families. Around 40 students in Grades 6-8 participate.