House Engrosses Representative Benson’s HIV and Hepatitis Fund Bill

BOSTON – On Monday, the House of Representative passed to be engrossed H.3960, An Act renaming the Massachusetts AIDS Fund to be called the State Public Health HIV and Hepatitis Fund, a bill Representative Jennifer Benson sponsored and advocated for this legislative session.  This bill would rename the current AIDS Fund to ensure that the Department of Public Health (DPH) can continue to use the funds on AIDS prevention and reduction efforts, but also on illness and death related to infection with HIV or viral hepatitis.

“This is the first session I filed this bill, and I worked hard with my colleagues to get it through the House,” said Representative Benson. “As of 2013, Hepatitis C was one of the highest volume reportable diseases in Massachusetts.”

If signed into law this session, this bill would allow for DPH to use all voluntary tax contributions, grants, donations, and federal reimbursements, made to the fund, to be used for clinical and public health research, program evaluation, prevention and testing, and treatment services. The money would be allowed to be used for outreach efforts to inform groups within the public who are at high risk of infection with HIV or viral hepatitis.

While the bill would rename the fund to include HIV and viral hepatitis, the language ensures that the funds complement, and not replace, current AIDS-related initiatives, and would require the DPH Commissioner to consult with the AIDS advisory board to develop a list of priorities and protocols for the fund.

“The key to reducing the death rate for people reported with HIV/AIDS is ensuring that those already diagnosed remain engaged in care and targeting those at high risk,” said Representative Benson. “DPH is already doing a commendable job combatting this disease; the renaming of the fund will simply allow for the Department to enhance those services and expand research.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for engrossment.

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: October 2016

Around the District

Celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of Carlson Orchards with Sen. Eldridge and the Carlson Family

Celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of Carlson Orchards with Sen. Eldridge and the Carlson Family

Early in the month, Senator Jamie Eldridge and I visited Carlson Orchards in Harvard to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of their family business. We met with Frank Carlson and his brothers who still manage the farm founded by their parents in 1936. I presented them with a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives recognizing the Carlson family as a cornerstone of the Town of Harvard for 80 years. While I was there, I picked up some fresh apples and homemade apple crisp!

On October 12, I attended a presentation at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School about the Chapter 70 formula used to determine funding for public schools. I’m glad the school district is learning about the details of the Chapter 70 formula and the variables involved in determining school funding.

My staff attended the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting of their Public Policy Committee, where the Chamber discussed their legislative priorities and the four ballot questions that will be decided by voters. A few days later, I went to the Chamber’s “Lager with Legislators” event held at Gervais Ford in Ayer. I chatted with Chamber members about their legislative concerns and current events. It was great to be able to speak with so many small business owners in my district about the challenges they face and how they view the Commonwealth’s changing economy.

At the installation ceremony for the Shirley postmaster

At the installation ceremony for the Shirley postmaster

In Shirley, I was honored to attend the installation ceremony for the town’s new Postmaster, Sylvain Labelle. I talked about how both of my parents were employed by the United States Postal Service at one point in their lives, and the respect I have for postal employees and the work they do. I also presented Sylvain with a citation from the House of Representatives honoring him for his achievement.

On October 22, I attended the dedication of the new Lunenburg Middle High School. Planning for the new school began 13 years ago in 2003 when I was a member of the School Committee, so it was a wonderfully fulfilling moment to see the opening and dedication of the beautiful new building.

Voting early at Lunenburg Town Hall

Voting early at Lunenburg Town Hall

Later in the month, I went to Lunenburg Town Hall to vote early. For the first time, Massachusetts voters could vote early, and I was proud to support the legislation that made this possible.

On October 25, I spoke at the first in a series of forums organized by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce called Tools for Change. Along with Fitchburg Ward Councilor Michael Kushmerek, community organizer Joana Dos Santos of United Neighbors of Fitchburg, and Charles St. Amand of the Sentinel & Enterprise newspaper, I discussed how technology is changing politics and how to reach those who feel apathetic about or left out of the political process. I hope those who attended the forum found the discussion illuminating, and discovered new ways to engage their constituencies.

At the State House

My staff attended a briefing by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), where they were briefed on the changes being made to the commuter rail schedules. For more information on the altered schedules, which will go into effect on November 21, you visit mbta.com and click the “Fall Commuter Rail Schedules” banner.

At an event at the State House on October 31, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash announced that the Town of Shirley had been awarded a MassWorks grant to fund repairs to the Main Street Bridge. Selectmen Kendra Dumont and Robert Prescott, along with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, accepted the grant from Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. I am thrilled that Shirley was given this grant after trying for three consecutive MassWorks cycles to secure the funding. I was happy to write a letter of support for their application, and I know these funds will be put to good use repairing the bridge.

Looking Ahead

In November, I’m looking forward to a number of events in the district, including the Veterans Day program at Ayer Shirley Regional High School, and the Mt. Calvary Community Supper in Acton.

November 17 is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, and I encourage anyone who smokes and is considering quitting to use the event as a jumping-off point to begin the process. By quitting – even for 1 day – smokers can take an important step toward improving their health.

I hope everyone has a warm and pleasant Thanksgiving. Look for my next update in early December!

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson

Town of Shirley Awarded MassWorks Grant for Repairs to Main Street Bridge

BOSTON – At an event at the State House on Monday, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash announced that the Town of Shirley has been awarded a MassWorks grant.

The event, which focused on rural and small-town MassWorks grantees, was also attended by Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. Representing the Town of Shirley were Selectmen Kendra Dumont and Robert Prescott, and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin.

The grant of $725,000, is for the repair of the Main Street Bridge in Shirley. The bridge is heavily trafficked due to its location in the center of town, and crossing it is necessary to access town buildings (including the town Fire Department and Post Office) as well as the MBTA commuter rail station. The bridge, which has been in dire need of repair for many years, is the only route in the area that allows traffic to cross the Catacunemaug Brook, which divides the town center.

“I am thrilled that Shirley was awarded this grant,” said State Representative Jennifer Benson. “I was happy to write a letter of support for their application, and I know these funds will be put to good use repairing the bridge’s structure, sidewalks, retaining walls, and drainage system.”

The Main Street Bridge is listed on the State Register of Historic Places. Substantial repairs have not been made for over 100 years. With these funds, the town will be able to make the necessary repairs to ensure that the bridge is safe for both drivers and pedestrians.

“I’m very pleased that Shirley received this important grant,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge. “I was happy to send a letter of support to the state’s Housing and Economic Development agency on their behalf, and look forward to seeing the infrastructure improvements in our community.”

“It was an honor to be at the State House today to receive this grant from Secretary Ash,” said Kendra Dumont, Chair of the Shirley Board of Selectmen. “Our Town Administrator, Patrice Garvin, as well as our DPW Foreman Paul Farrar, and his assistant Pam Callahan, deserve a lot of credit for putting together the application and advocating for these funds over the years.”

The funds awarded to the Town of Shirley were appropriated as part of the economic development bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor in August.

Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Selectman Robert Prescott, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Chair of the Board of Selectman Kendra Dumont, & Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito

Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Selectman Robert Prescott, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Chair of the Board of Selectman Kendra Dumont, & Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito