Rep. Benson and Sen. Eldridge Announce $795k Grant for Shirley

BOSTON – State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) announced that the Town of Shirley has been awarded a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in the amount of $795,953 from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Economic Development. The grant will be used by the Town to fund the rehabilitation of 18 housing units, and to support Shirley’s home heating fuel assistance program for low-and-moderate-income households.

“Over the past few years, Shirley has made excellent use of CDBG funds, rehabilitating dozens of homes and sustaining their winter fuel assistance program,” said Representative Benson. “The CDBG program is a vital resource for the towns in my district. If Congress follows through on President Trump’s plan to completely eliminate the CDBG, it would be devastating for Massachusetts.”

“I want to thank the Baker-Polito administration for awarding Shirley these critical CDBG funds, which will help residents access essential services, including improved housing and heating assistance,” said Senator Eldridge. “If President Trump eradicates CDBG funding, many low-income and working-class families that rely on this assistance will suffer. It is crucial that Congress acts to preserve the CDBG in years to come.”

The CDBG is a federally funded program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Economic Development that awards grants to communities to fund improvements to housing, infrastructure, accessibility, and community buildings, among other programs.

President Trump’s proposed budget completely eliminates the CDBG, which is also used to fund many local Meals on Wheels initiatives, affordable housing, and other anti-poverty programs.

Legislature Passes Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

BOSTON – Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which guarantees reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant workers. The legislation makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against, refuse to employ, or terminate an individual due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy.

“This legislation makes certain that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workforce,” said Representative Benson. “I was proud to vote for this bill to protect pregnant women and new mothers in Massachusetts.”

Reasonable accommodations may include time off to recover from childbirth; more frequent breaks; modifying equipment or seating; obtaining temporary transfer, job restructuring, or lighter duty; and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, among others.

The law prohibits employers from taking the following actions against an employee who is pregnant or has a condition related to the employee’s pregnancy:

  • Taking adverse action against an employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation;
  • Denying an employment opportunity to an employee based on the need of the employer to make a reasonable accommodation;
  • Requiring an employee to accept an accommodation if the accommodation is unnecessary to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job;
  • Requiring an employee to take a leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation may be provided without undue hardship to the employer; and
  • Refusing to hire a person who is pregnant because of the pregnancy or because of a condition related to the person’s pregnancy if that person can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The bill directs companies to engage in a collaborative process with employees and prospective employees to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. In specific instances, employers may require documentation pertaining to the need of accommodation from appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional.

The bill was signed into law by the Governor on July 27, and has an effective date of April 1, 2018.

Rep. Benson to Chair Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) has been named the House Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

“It is an honor to have been named by Speaker DeLeo to serve as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight,” said Representative Benson. “I am looking forward to working with Senator Timilty to lead the Committee as we examine legislation and collect testimony on bills related to state regulations and government administration.”

The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight considers matters regarding public contracts, public construction, state regulations, state agencies, lobbyist reporting laws, and open meeting laws. There are currently 278 bills before the Committee.

Representative Benson previously served as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, and the acting House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Finance. She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.

Representative Benson’s Office Update: June 2017

Around the District

Speaking at a forum on carbon pricing

I started off the month meeting with the Shirley Board of Selectmen, where Senator Jamie Eldridge and I provided an update about the FY2018 budget and our legislative priorities. Later in the month, I hosted a briefing in Shirley about my carbon pricing legislation, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Create Jobs (H.1726). While it has been common practice in other countries for decades, carbon pricing is a relatively new concept in the United States, so it is important to me that I give my constituents the opportunity to ask me about the bill and debate the topic. I’m encouraged that so many people came out to learn about the legislation. The slides from the presentation are available at this link if you’re interested in learning more about carbon pricing.

At the State House

Meeting with members of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce

I enjoyed meeting with members of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce during their annual lobby day on June 6. We discussed the FY2018 budget, challenges faced by small businesses, and the Chamber’s legislative priorities. A few weeks later, Melissa Fetterhoff, the President and CEO of the Chamber, was honored as an Unsung Heroine by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women at the Statehouse. I’ve known Melissa for almost 10 years, and I’ve seen firsthand the great work she does. I was proud to nominate her for the Unsung Heroine award, and I know that she’ll continue to be an excellent advocate for the small businesses of my district.

On June 19, Harvard and Acton were awarded Green Communities Grants to fund energy efficiency improvements in their town and school buildings. Eric Broadbent was on hand to accept Harvard’s grant, which was presented by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton.

Legislative & Committee Update

Attorney General Maura Healey testifying in support of H.627

There was a burst of activity last month around several of the bills I filed this session. On June 6, a bill I filed with Senator Eileen Donoghue and Attorney General Maura Healey had a hearing, and the Attorney General provided testimony. An Act Establishing a Student Tuition Recovery Fund (H.627) would create a fund to provide financial relief to students who have been defrauded by for-profit schools that suddenly close, discontinue programs, or violate state law. That same day my bill, An Act Relative to Diabetes Prevention (H.1128) had a hearing where patient advocates and health care professionals testified in favor of the bill.

On June 20, both my carbon pricing bill (H.1726) and my single-payer health care bill (An Act to Ensure Effective Health Care Cost Control – H.596), had hearings. I testified in favor of both bills, as did many of my colleagues in the House and Senate. The hearing for my carbon pricing legislation was attended by more than 300 people, and I was proud to have the support of some of my constituents who traveled from the district to deliver favorable testimony. Similarly, my single-payer health care bill received support from many of my colleagues, as well as patient advocate groups. This bill would require the state to compare our totally health care spending with our projected health care spending if the state were to implement a single-payer system; if after several years the “single payer benchmark” outperformed our actual health care spending, the state would be responsible for developing a single payer implementation plan and submitting it to the legislature. I am looking forward to seeing the bills continue through the legislative process.

Offering testimony in favor my single-payer health care legislation

Toward the end of the month, I attended the National Legislative Summit of Women In Government, where I met with women legislators from other states to discuss issues such as the opioid epidemic, human trafficking, and economic growth. It is useful to be able to collaborate with legislators from other states so that we can compare legislation, discuss best practices, and work on solving problems in a bipartisan manner.

The House met last month to pass two pieces of legislation, one being An Act for Language Opportunity for Our Kids. This legislation will enable districts to implement alternative English language learner (ELL) programs that are tailored to better meet the specific needs of their ELL population. Also passed was the House’s adult use of marijuana bill, which was sent to conference committee along with the Senate’s marijuana bill. The conference committee is made up of 6 lawmakers (3 Representatives and 3 Senators), and they are currently working to reconcile the differences in the House and Senate bills.

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure held 2 hearings last month, where we heard and collected testimony on nearly 50 bills.

Looking Ahead

In July, the Legislature will pass a final FY2018 budget. A temporary budget was passed in June to allow the Conference Committee more time to reach an agreement. I will also be attending several events in the district, and overseeing another hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure.

I can be reached at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or (617) 722-2014 if you have any questions or comments.

Sincerely,