Rep. Benson Joins Colleagues in Passing FY18 Budget

BOSTON – Representative Jennifer Benson voted with her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives this week to pass a $40.4 billion FY18 budget which represents a commitment to fiscal responsibility and local aid. The spending bill protects vulnerable residents through investments in early education and care, substance addiction initiatives, and funding to help individuals with developmental disabilities.

As we face uncertainty at the federal level, this budget takes comprehensive action to promote sustained fiscal health in Massachusetts. For the fourth consecutive year, the House budget reduces the state’s reliance on one-time revenue. It includes a $100 million deposit to the stabilization fund, which will result in a projected balance of more than $1.4 billion and help preserve the state’s AA+ bond rating.

The House continues to fund local aid at historically high levels, with this budget increasing Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) by $40 million and local education aid (Chapter 70) by $106.4 million. The increase to Chapter 70 guarantees that every school district will receive a minimum increase of $30 per pupil in FY18. The budget also adds $4 million to the special education circuit breaker and increases investment in regional school transportation by $1 million over the current FY17 level.

Representative Benson’s amendment to reinstate the regional bonus aid line item for regional school districts was adopted and allocates $56,920. Regional bonus aid provides additional funding to newly established or expanded regional school districts to help offset the costs associated with regionalization. In FY18, this funding will benefit the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, which formed in 2013.

“Throughout the budget process, I fought for increased funding for local aid accounts, and the final FY18 House budget reflects that,” said Representative Benson. “We were able to work together to craft a responsible balanced budget, while still maintaining our commitments to education and economic development.”

Additionally, Representative Benson’s amendment to increase funding for the Afterschool and Out-of-School Time Q-Grant program for K-12 students was included in the budget, as was her amendment to fund micro-lending programs for local community development organizations such as the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation.

Since FY12, the Legislature has increased funding for substance addiction services to unprecedented levels and passed two landmark bills to help address this public health epidemic. This year’s budget makes notable investments related to behavioral health and addiction, including almost $132 million for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. Additional provisions include $1 million for new substance addiction beds, and a $5 million increase for the Department of Corrections’ Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center.

After healthcare spending and local aid, the budget for developmental services receives the largest increase in the House’s spending bill. Given the growing and changing need for developmental services this budget funds an $87 million increase, bringing spending to more than $1.9 billion for these critical programs.

The budget will now go to the Senate for its consideration

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: March 2017

Around the District

I spent a lot of time in the District last month, meeting with constituents and attending legislative breakfasts. Early in the month, I went to the Johnny Appleseed Tourism breakfast to for an update about the tourism industry in north central Massachusetts. There are many encouraging signs of growth, but continued investment is needed at the state level to keep the momentum going. I attended the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS) legislative breakfast as well, where I discussed my support for regional school districts and my efforts to increase special education “circuit breaker” funding for public schools.

I also stopped by the Nashoba Valley Job Fair to chat with employers and job seekers. The Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce has put on the event every year since 2013, with Representative Sheila Harrington and I acting as sponsors. Later in the month, I participated in the Boxborough Grange’s 131st anniversary meeting, where Senator Jamie Eldridge and I presented George Boyden, Jr with citations honoring him for receiving the 2017 Community Citizen Award. It was wonderful to celebrate Boxborough’s agricultural past, present, and future.

With Senator Eldridge, honoring George Boyden, Jr of Boxborough.

On March 16, I met with a group of Lunenburg Girl Scouts at my District office, where I talked about state government and being a woman in politics. I’m so happy to see more scouting troops studying government and encouraging their scouts to be civic-minded.

I also volunteered with Meals On Wheels, where I helped deliver food to the elderly in Acton and Boxborough. Along my route, I talked with many of them about what Meals On Wheels means to them, including Frances, who is in her nineties, lives on her own, and can’t cook anymore. She depends on Meals On Wheels to deliver a hot meal to her every day. I also met Stuart, who uses a walker to get around, making food preparation nearly impossible. He also depends on the Meals On Wheels program.

With a Meals On Wheels client in Acton.

Unfortunately, the program is being threatened by federal budget cuts, as President Trump’s proposed budget completely eliminates the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides much of the funding for Meals On Wheels. I believe that as our population ages, we should be protecting and expanding programs like Meals On Wheels, not eliminating them.

At the State House

March is always a busy month at the State House, as constituents and advocacy groups begin reaching out to discuss their legislative and budget priorities.

I had a lot of fun meeting with Girl Scouts from Harvard, who were visiting the State House as part of a program to earn their government participation badge. I also spoke to members of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, who were at the State House for their Community Leadership Institute program.

Talking with Girl Scouts from Harvard on the House floor.

At a forum on climate change hosted by Representative Frank Smizik, I discussed my carbon pricing bill, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Create Jobs. The legislation would establish a fee and rebate system on carbon to incentivize a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

Budget Update

On May 22, the House and Senate passed a supplemental spending bill that includes additional
funding for sheriffs departments, the Department of Children and Families, and elder home care.
The House also passed a bill providing $200 million in funding for local road repair and
improvements to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Committee Update

The committee on which I serve as Chair, the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection &
Professional Licensure, has been assigned more than 200 bills so far. We have started putting
together the calendar for hearings to examine each and every bill, and I’m looking forward to our first hearing in May.

Looking Ahead

In April, the House of Representatives will release their budget, and begin the process of drafting
amendments. I will continue to fight for my constituents’ priorities, including Chapter 70 education
funding, special education funding, and local aid. I encourage constituents to reach out to me at
Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, or (617) 722-2014, to let me know what their budget priorities
are.

Sincerely,