Rep. Benson Votes to Pass Balanced House Budget with Investments in Education and Housing, and Funding for District Priorities

BOSTON – On Thursday, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing its Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) state budget. Funded at $42.7 billion, the House budget makes major investments in K-12 education and health care, while allocating funding for district-specific priorities in the several areas, including economic development, transportation, and education.

“I was proud to support the House FY20 budget, which reflects our values as a Commonwealth,” said Representative Benson. “With the nearly 5 percent increase in Chapter 70 funding over last year, and the full funding of the Special Education Circuit Breaker, the House has continued its commitment to supporting our public education system.”

“This fiscally responsible budget balances the needs of communities, families, and individuals across the Commonwealth with smart investments that boost local aid, support our health care system, strengthen education, and protect the environment,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I am proud of the work we have done to further our ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis and invest in high-quality early education and care. I believe these investments will have a lasting positive effect on the lives of Massachusetts residents for years to come. I want to thank Chair Michlewitz for his diligence and hard work, and my colleagues in the House who were instrumental to this process.”

“This budget meets the Commonwealth’s needs and builds off of past commitments to ensure that our economy remains strong for all of our residents,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “We make targeted investments into key elements including education, housing, the environment and women’s health.”

Several of Representative Benson’s amendments for district-specific projects and programs are included in the FY20 House budget, including:

  • $100,000 for the Lunenburg Fire Department to purchase new safety equipment;
  • $165,000 for the removal and replacement of fuel storage tanks in Lunenburg;
  • $100,000 for the renovation of a building in Acton to serve as a community center; and
  • $150,000 for the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program at the Devens campus at Mount Wachusett Community College.

Additionally, amendments for district-specific items co-sponsored by the Representative are included:

  • Prison Mitigation Funding to benefit cities and towns hosting state Department of Corrections facilities (Shirley);
  • $100,000 for elderly and commuter shuttles linking to the MBTA in Acton and Maynard; and
  • $27,000 for water quality monitoring for the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers (Acton).

The House continues its commitment to cities and towns increasing Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) by nearly $30 million and providing $5.1 billion in Chapter 70 education funding as part of a $236 million increase for investments in schools over FY19. It also addresses the need for integrated student health and wellness supports, providing $2 million to establish the Supporting Health Alliances Reinforcing Education (SHARE) grant program to connect students to community mental health resources. Additional education allocations include:

  • $329 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;
  • $113 million for Charter School Reimbursement;
  • $73.8 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement; and
  • $4.7 million for After-School and Out-of-School Time grants.

MassHealth is the single largest investment that the Commonwealth makes in its most economically vulnerable residents. This program provides health insurance for the homeless, the recovering, mothers with children, and the working poor. In addition to funding this vital program, the budget also increases funding for crucial health and human services agencies and providers including:

  • $109.8 million to continue reforms at the Department of Children and Families;
  • $35 million for supplemental rates for nursing homes across the Commonwealth; and
  • $17.9 million for local Councils on Aging to help senior citizens.

The FY20 House budget includes an amendment with new policy language that would give the Executive Office of Health & Human Services (EOHHS) and the Health Policy Commission (HPC) more tools to lower drug costs in the MassHealth program. The amendment authorizes EOHHS to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers for supplemental rebates to lower overall prescription drug spending within the MassHealth program. EOHHS may also hold a public hearing on the supplemental rebate in the event that the manufacturer and EOHHS cannot come to terms on a supplemental rebate for any drug projected to exceed the per-year cost thresholds.

This process would allow members of the public to weigh in by providing testimony. If EOHHS and the manufacturer still cannot reach an agreement, EOHHS has the option to refer the matter to the HPC for a thorough investigation into the pricing of the drug. The HPC would then be able to make a determination regarding whether the price of the drug is unreasonable or excessive.

If the HPC determines a manufacturer has priced a drug unreasonably or excessively, and the manufacturer again declines to agree to terms for a supplemental rebate amount, EOHHS may subject the drug to actions such as requiring prior authorization, promotion of generic alternatives, and prescription quantity limits. If at any point a drug manufacturer fails to provide the HPC with requested information, they can be fined up to $500,000.

The budget continues the Legislature’s commitment to address the opioid epidemic – a public health crisis that has touched every corner of the Commonwealth. The House budget gives all EMS and ambulance companies access to discounted naloxone, making it more available for use in the field. In addition, the budget includes:

  • $143.9 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, which will help create five new recovery centers across Massachusetts; and
  • $49.4 million for the Substance Use Disorder Trust Fund.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the budget will increase the Commonwealth’s contribution to the Community Preservation Act, which will ensure that over $36 million more will be distributed for projects across the Commonwealth, and help raise the state’s match up to 30 percent for investments in open space, affordable housing and historic preservation.

The budget will now go to the Senate, with a final FY20 budget expected to be passed before July 31.