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.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/summit-eldercare-marks-10-years-in-leominster/
Fallon Health recently celebrated a milestone: The 10th anniversary of its Summit ElderCare PACE Center at 55 Cinema Blvd. in Leominster.
Summit ElderCare is a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). Its goal is to help older adults to remain living safely and independently in their homes for as long as possible. It does this by using a team-based approach to provide medical care, home assistance and social support while partnering with the participant’s family and caregivers.
Summit ElderCare recognized its 10th anniversary with approximately 60 employees, participants, caregivers, vendors, legislators and community partners with a festive breakfast reception. Fallon Health President and CEO Richard Burke and Mel Hutchins, site director of the Leominster Summit ElderCare, thanked everyone for making Leominster the success that it is today.
• State Rep. Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster) presented a citation from the State House to Burke and Summit ElderCare.
• Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, who has been supportive of Fallon and Summit ElderCare since the beginning, attended.
• Burke and Hutchins recognized several participants who have been at Leominster for all 10 years by presenting each of them with bouquets of roses. Burke also acknowledged and thanked their caregivers for the important role they play in the care.
Fallon is New England’s largest provider of PACE — and the nation’s fifth largest PACE program.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/end-of-year-reflections-and-lessons-learned/
I was warned that my first session in the House of Representatives would speed on by, but somehow I thought my years working in and around the building would help slow down the pace. Boy, was I wrong! This first year passed in a flash, and I am so thankful for my monthly column in the Leominster Champion to give me a moment to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges and share my experience with you all.
My first priority was establishing as many points of contact in Leominster that I could. That started with opening my district office in the Gallagher Building (24 Church St., Room 29), and setting up my weekly office hours. As promised, I hold twice weekly office hours outside of the normal 9-5 workday. Monday evenings from 5:30-7 I can be found in Room 204 at the Leominster Public Library. Our Friday morning hours from 7-8 are in Leominster High School’s Media Center. I also host three special “Senior Hours” a month at the Leominster Senior Center with the Golden Agers, Sunset Towers and LaPierre East. I also want to give a special shout out to the teams at theLeominster Champion, Leominster Access Television (Comcast 99/Verizon 33), and WPKZ Radio 105.3FM for my monthly segments.
Then, this summer, we went back to meeting you at your doors, to spread the word about a series of Community Conversations we organized around some highly-requested topics: Education, the Economy, the Environment and Health Care. Thank you to everyone who attended in person and watched online. If you’re interested in checking them out, they are still available on my Facebook page and website, RepNatalieHiggins.com. This spring, we are working on organizing two more conversations on issues you’ve requested: Veterans and Transportation.
And, of course, there is all of the work at the State House with my legislation, committee work, and the state budget. I originally filed eight bills, all focused on increased access and affordability for public higher education and protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. And if that wasn’t enough to keep track of, I have filed five more bills at the request of Leominster residents and co-sponsored more than 350 additional pieces of legislation.
But the real “bread and butter” of any state rep’s office is constituent services. This is why I decided to run for state representative — to help Leominster residents better navigate state systems and advocate for solutions to the problems they face. I know many of you have gotten a chance to meet my legislative aide, Taylor Landry, who’s also a Leominster native. Between Taylor and I, we’ve worked on more than 100 constituent cases already this year, from housing and homelessness to health care access, unemployment to the RMV, and so many more in between. Please call my office if you think we could help. While we cannot assist with every issue, we usually can connect you with the right resources. You can reach my office at (978) 227-5278 and Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov.
I look forward to getting to know you all better in 2018. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Representing Leominster -- Episode 8 -- Guests City Councilor Gail Feckley and State Representative Jon Zlotnik
Here's a short excerpt:
BOSTON -- As allegations of misogyny and sexual harassment swirl both inside and outside of the Massachusetts Statehouse, female lawmakers from the Lowell and Fitchburg areas said leaders on Beacon Hill should take tough and swift action against harassers on a zero-tolerance basis.
Though none of the representatives and senators interviewed by the Sentinel & Enterprise said they have personally been victims of sexual harassment during their time in the Statehouse, they said they take issues of sexism in the workplace seriously.
Dialogue surrounding a culture of misogyny on Beacon Hill began when The Boston Globe published a column last month highlighting the stories of a dozen anonymous women who said they were victims of sexual misconduct in and around the Statehouse.
State Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer said she was "very disturbed" to hear the stories of misconduct.
"The Statehouse should be a place that people can feel safe coming to work, and when that's compromised at all, it's not good for the Legislature, it's not good for the state," said Gobi, whose district includes Ashburnham, Ashby, Spencer and Winchendon.
State Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster, a former rape crisis counselor, said this kind of atmosphere is present "in every social situation where we have any kinds of hierarchy" -- and the Statehouse is no exception.
Read the rest of the article at: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31490474/womans-voice-needs-be-heard#ixzz55Waa9QBC
Here's a short excerpt:
GARDNER -- The North Central region's legislative delegation donated $300 to Mount Wachusett Community College's on-campus food pantry Tuesday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
"We were talking about the issue of hunger and it was Rep. (Natalie) Higgins out of Leominster who suggested this was something we could do together," said state Rep. Jon Zlotnik. "This entire delegation is tied to the Mount either here or at the Devens campus so it seemed like a natural fit."
The Food for Thought Campus Pantry serves MWCC students. The pantry will be giving out 80 holiday meals this Thanksgiving in a partnership with MWCC's Student Government Association. These 80 meals are made up of 1,200 donated items amounting to 955 pounds of food.
Read the rest of the article at: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31478703/lawmakers-pitch-mwcc-food-pantry#ixzz55Wb5HMMg