Final state budget deal includes Eldridge amendments combatting housing and food insecurity, boosting environment protection, and investing in district projects

Eldridge’s local earmarks will help veterans, combat food insecurity, increase transportation options, and improve recreational facilities for people with disabilities

Boston (MA) – The Massachusetts State Senate and House reached an agreement on the FY20 budget this weekend that includes amendments secured by State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) during the Senate’s budget debate to address poverty reduction, housing and food insecurity, increase funding for environmental protection enforcement, and make targeted investments in the Middlesex and Worcester District. Eldridge’s local earmarks will make the War Memorial Building in the town of Shirley ADA compliant, help build disability-accessible facilities at Miracle Field in the town of Acton, help the town of Ayer increase parking at the Ayer commuter rail station, and help the Westborough food pantry buy air conditioners for their aging facility.

“The state budget gives every elected official the opportunity to address systemic inequities, and to invest in projects that will have a direct, meaningful impact in the communities we serve,” Eldridge said. “The amendments I file are informed by my constituents, town officials, and advocates from across the state. Over the past few years, the most pressing issues have been battling food and housing insecurity, and increasing public transportation options across the district. I was happy to work with my colleagues to secure critical funding that will help the most vulnerable constituents in our district, and want to thank Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, and Senate President Karen Spilka for their work on this budget.”

Eldridge successfully worked to secure the following investments during the Senate’s budget debate in May, and has since worked to ensure that they were included in the final state budget for FY20:

  • $150,000 for facility improvements at Miracle Field in the town of Acton. The town of Acton is one of two communities (Springfield) in the state to offer a Miracle Field, a completely accessible baseball diamond with dugouts and bleachers. Miracle Field welcomes disabled athletes and their families from more than 80 surrounding communities. Athletes ranging in age from 5 years old to young adults play at this specialized ballpark. All athletes regardless of limitations are invited to play ball. Construction of the Miracle Field in Acton was completed in 2012, and immediately became a fixture in the regional sports community. Developing the Miracle Field in Acton was a highly successful cooperative effort between the Miracle League of Massachusetts, the town of Acton, private citizens, and area businesses. Miracle Field has become an enormous regional asset, only limited by the lack of appropriate restroom facilities necessary for athletes with disabilities. The second phase of the Miracle Field project, is to build a snack bar and a family restroom designed specifically to accommodate athletes with special needs.
  • $250,000 to the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) for further improvements to the Depot Square portion of the Ayer rail trail commuter parking project. This funding will go towards completing the last section of an important transportation infrastructure project in the Town of Ayer – Rail Trail/Commuter Parking Project. The project consists of 3 phases: a new parking deck, which has recently begun; improvements to the Main Street crossing; and improvements to Depot Square. The improvements made to Depot Square in downtown Ayer will enhance the commuter experience for all those boarding in Ayer, which has the second highest ridership on the entire Fitchburg line. The $5 million dollar project makes much needed infrastructure improvements in the town of Ayer, which also benefit surrounding communities.  The completion of this project will further enhance Ayer’s ability to continue transit-oriented development in the downtown.
  • $50,000 for the design and engineering of an elevator in the War Memorial building in the town of Shirley to bring it in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The War Memorial Building is home to Shirley’s War Memorial Trustees and the local American Legion post and is used for meetings and community events.
  • $50,000 for the purchase and installation of commercial grade air conditioning units at the Forbes Community building in the town of Westborough. This municipal building houses the Westborough Food Pantry which provides food to over 130 Westborough families and helps to feed an average of 900 people a month. The building also hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and has been used for Boy Scout meetings and events for more than 50 years.
  • $1.4 million in additional funding for childcare resource and referral agencies to operate a hotline that helps parents navigate the child-care voucher program. United Way of Tri-County in Framingham, one of the agencies managing the Mass 211 hotline, has experienced an influx of calls and needs additional resources.
  • $250,000 for a competitive Financial Literacy grant program where school districts can make proposals to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on how they plan to implement appropriate financial literacy concepts into classroom curriculum. The amendment also encourages cooperation among, DESE, non-profit organizations, and local districts.
  • $300,000 to help the Massachusetts Partnerships for Youth (MPY), an organization dedicated to prevention and intervention in matters of mental health and safety for youth, increase staffing levels. MPY members include more than 125 public school districts, charter schools, collaboratives, private schools, and other entities in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Worcester Counties.
  • An additional $50,000 for the mental health, emotional support, and suicide prevention Call-2-Talk program. The program is operated through Mass 211 and provides life-saving, critical services. Highly-trained volunteers help callers move from a place of crisis to a calmer emotional state, and this added funding will allow the help center to meet growing call volumes.
  • An additional $800,000 to a Division of Banks program to provide credit and foreclosure prevention counseling grants to homeowners. Increased funding for the program will support other effective foreclosure prevention tools. An example of a community based foreclosure counseling and advocacy program that was successful is Community Based HomeCorps (CBHC), which was designed by CHAPA and the Attorney General to empower communities to advocate on behalf of homeowners in danger of foreclosure. Over the course of a year, CBHC directly reviewed 1,000 cases from homeowners facing foreclosure, with only 2.6% of those cases resulting in a foreclosure. According to the Urban Institute, foreclosure counseling programs are more likely to cure a serious delinquency or foreclosure, help homeowners stay current, and avoid foreclosure altogether.
  • $15,000 for the MetroWest Arts, Music and Food Truck Festival.  Also known as MetroFest, this annual event is a celebration of food, music, performing arts and small businesses from the region.
  • Increase funding for the Residential Assistance For Families in Transition (RAFT) program to bring it to $21 million, up from 20.5$ million in FY19. RAFT is a statewide program that provides low-income families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with one-time housing assistance of up to $4,000 per 12-month period. The program’s flexibility makes it a critical tool for preventing homelessness: funds can be used for multiple purposes, including rental stipends, utility bills, rent and utility arrears, security deposits, and moving cost assistance. RAFT is also extremely cost-effective in helping Massachusetts families avoid homelessness. In FY 2018, the Commonwealth spent an average of $3,130 per family on the RAFT program to ensure continued housing for households. By contrast, the state spent an average of $46,450 for each household that entered the state’s family shelter program.
  • Increase funding for Department of Environmental Protection to bring it to $32 million, up from $29 million in FY19. This will ensure that they are better equipped to implement the Commonwealth’s environmental laws, and protect our air, water, land, and health from environmental threats. In recent years, budget cuts and staff reductions have made it increasingly difficult for the department to perform its required tasks. Without proper funding, the agency is extremely limited in its ability to issue permits in a timely fashion, provide technical assistance, and enforce state laws that protect public health and our environment, such as overseeing the cleanup of contaminated sites and fighting climate change. Greater funding for DEP would also support a thriving tourism industry with over 130,000 jobs. One of the top 10 activities by tourists to Massachusetts was visiting state and national parks.

The final budget also included the following Eldridge funding priorities:

  • $41 million for the Adult Basic Education program, an increase of almost $7 million from FY19. Adult Basic Education courses teach basic skills of reading, writing, and math to adult learners, preparing them to take the GED and transition into a job, college or university, or training program. This is necessary to boost strategies for linking basic skills to employability in the current workforce. Increased funding will help reduce the number of adults (18,000+) currently on the wait list.
  • $116 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), an increase of almost $14 million from FY19. MRVP was created in 1993 to assist low-income Massachusetts residents with housing needs.
  • $72 million for local Public Housing Authorities, an increase of almost $5 million from FY19.
  • $8 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), an increase of $1.8 million from FY19.
  • $24 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), an increase of $2.5 million from FY19. MLAC provides low-income people with critical non-criminal legal problems with access to legal information, advice and representation.
  • $1 million for a domestic violence and sexual assault prevention program focused on promoting healthy relationships and addressing teen dating violence.

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