Representative Benson’s November & December 2018 Office Update

Around The District

Veterans Day

This year, to honor the men and women of the armed forces, I participated in Veterans Day events in Boxborough and Harvard. In Boxborough, I spoke at the dedication of Carl S. Swanson Square, named for a World War I veteran from the town. At the Harvard Veterans Day ceremony, Senator Jamie Eldridge and I read the names of the 64 World War I veterans from Harvard. This Veterans Day was the centennial anniversary of Armistice Day, which ended World War I, so it was especially meaningful to be invited to participate in these event honoring veterans from the War.

Nashoba Valley Job Fair

The annual Nashoba Valley Job Fair was held on November 13, and I stopped by to speak with attendees. My office has helped organize the event since 2012. Although the unemployment rate has been cut in half since then, the event is still well-attended every year, and helps connect job seekers to employers across a variety of industries in the private and public sectors.

Change Comes to Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

As was widely reported in 2017, girls are now allowed to join the upper ranks of Scouting and become Eagle Scouts for the first time in the more than 100-year history of BSA. In November, I met with a group of Webelos from Fitchburg’s Pack 41. It was great to help them complete their “Building a Better World” adventure by talking with them about leadership and being a woman in government. These girls will be among the first female Scouts in the country when they earn their Arrow of Light awards this year.

I also attended two Eagle Scout Courts of Honor. In Boxborough, after 12 years in Scouting, Christopher Dove became an Eagle Scout. In Harvard, Ethan Shipman, Ethan Graham, and Dylan Molnar, and Yohhan Kumarasinghe earned their Eagle Scouts ranks.

Community Conversation in Acton

In Acton, I attended a discussion hosted by Acton-Boxborough United Way and AB Cares on mental health and suicide prevention. We heard from experts on mental health and social work, including the Chair of Counseling and Psychological Services for Acton-Boxborough Regional High School. A few weeks later, an article in the Boston Globe profiled the community through the lens of the recent suicides by young people in the two towns. This is a difficult issue to address and discuss, and I support the school district’s and the community’s collaborative efforts to expand and improve mental health and counseling services for young people in the towns.

ROAR Meeting

I had a productive meeting with leaders from the Lunenburg-based organization Resources for Opioid Awareness and Recovery (ROAR). We discussed state funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and how ROAR could grow to achieve their goals of raising awareness and providing support and resources to addicts and their families.

Holiday Events

In December, I attended the tree lighting and holiday stroll in downtown Ayer. The downtown area is undergoing an exciting revitalization, and it was great to celebrate the holidays with constituents and town officials, surrounded by the festive decorations. I also attended the Acton Area League of Women Voters’ annual Chat and Cheer. I enjoyed talking to new and longtime members, and discussing the accomplishments of the 190th Legislative Session.

Constituent Spotlight
Barbara Wheeler of Boxborough

Barbara Wheeler of Boxborough has been a poll volunteer since the 1980s, having moved to the town in 1978. Barbara’s four children grew up in town, and she says it was a joy for her to see them grow up and vote. The Acton-Boxborough Beacon profiled Barbara in November to spotlight her more than 30 years of service as a volunteer.

At the State House

Carbon Pricing

I was invited to speak on a panel at Tufts University in December, hosted by the youth group Our Climate, about my carbon pricing legislation. I was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, but I recorded an interview with Tufts student Patrick Yuzheng that was shown at the event. I’m so glad that young people are interested in carbon pricing, as their generation will be most affected by climate change.

Legislative Update

Bills passed by the Legislature in November and December 2018 and signed into law:

  • H.4051: An Act Relative to Counterfeit Airbag Prohibition – Sponsored by Rep. Benson – This bill increases the penalties for selling counterfeit airbags, which can fail to deploy correctly, injuring or killing drivers.
  • H.4086: An Act Relative to Consumer Protection from Security BreachesSponsored by Rep. Benson – This bill gives consumers more control over their credit data and provides free credit monitoring services after a data breach.
  • H.4947: An Act Relative to the Board of Assessors in the Town of Harvard – Sponsored by Rep. Benson and Sen. Eldridge This home rule petition will allow Harvard to restructure their Board of Assessors.
  • H.4888: An Act Protecting Locked Out Employees – This bill extends unemployment benefits for locked out has workers workers, currently in a months-long labor dispute with National Grid.
  • H.5005: An Act Further Providing for the Safety of the Commonwealth’s Natural Gas Infrastructure – This bill establishes new oversight and regulations on natural gas work in Massachusetts recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, in reaction to the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley in 2018.

Looking Ahead

The 191st Legislative Session began on January 2, and I was sworn in to a sixth term as the State Representative for the 37th Middlesex District. I am grateful to continue to be able to serve the District, and I will continue to do my best as your legislator.

Throughout January, I will continue drafting and editing the legislation I plan to file this session. I will once again be filing a carbon pricing bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and my step therapy bill to allow patients and their doctors to overrule insurance companies when they mandate trying cheaper medications before the prescribed treatments.

As bills are filed throughout the next few weeks, please contact my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2140 to let me know which legislation you support and would like me to cosponsor. You can visit MALegislature.gov to search by keyword or sponsor, and to follow the legislation being filed.

Sincerely

Rep. Benson’s Consumer Credit Protection Bill Signed Into Law

BOSTON – The Governor today signed into law Representative Jennifer Benson’s (D-Lunenburg) consumer protection legislation providing added security and resources for consumers in the event of a data breach.

Under this legislation, credit freezes must be provided free of charge. In the event of a data breach, consumers will be provided with 18 months of free credit monitoring. If the data breach occurs at a credit rating agency, such as the breach at Equifax reported in 2017, 42 months of free credit monitoring will be provided.

“I filed legislation to make it easier for victims of identity theft to freeze their credit reports,” said Representative Benson. “In the wake of the Equifax breach last year, I worked with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen the bill with further protections. Consumers in Massachusetts will now be empowered to take control of their credit data, and they’ll have more support to help them recover more quickly if their data is hacked or leaked.”

The bill was first enacted by the Legislature in July of last year. The Governor returned the bill with a recommended technical change, which was implemented in a new version the Legislature sent back to the Governor on New Year’s Eve.

The legislation also updates the framework for the implementation of a credit freeze and gives consumers more control over their data by:

  • Requiring financial institutions to get the consent of a consumer before accessing or using a consumer’s credit report;
  • Requiring clear and accurate disclosure to consumers of basic information about credit freezes, and the new services available to them under this law;
  • Mandating that when a consumer requests a freeze, national credit reporting agencies must inform consumers of other reporting agencies that may have files on the consumer.

Burkart-Phelan Inc. of Shirley Recognized at State House with Manufacturing Award

BOSTON – Burkart-Phelan Inc. of Shirley, Massachusetts was recognized as the 37th Middlesex District’s Manufacturer of the Year at a State House ceremony on Tuesday, October 30. The company was nominated by State Representative Jennifer Benson, who represents the Town of Shirley in the House of Representatives. The Massachusetts Legislative Manufacturing Caucus hosted its third annual Manufacturing Awards Ceremony to recognize nearly 100 manufacturers that showcase the Commonwealth’s innovative manufacturing industry. Burkart-Phelan’s award was presented to company co-founder Lillian Burkart, a Harvard resident, along with a citation honoring the company for their commitment manufacturing their products in Massachusetts. Burkart-Phelan was founded in 1983 by husband and wife team Lillian Burkart and James Phelan. They manufacture flutes and piccolos of world-renowned quality at their workshop at Phoenix Park in Shirley, MA
“I was happy to nominate Burkart-Phelan forthis well-deserved award”, said Representative Benson. “It was great to be able to recognize Lillian and Jim for making their instruments in Massachusetts and employing Massachusetts workers.”
Formed in August 2014, the Manufacturing Caucus includes more than 60 legislators from around the Commonwealth, including Representative Benson. The Caucus aims to increase Massachusetts’ competitiveness in manufacturing by providing legislative support. As the sixth largest employment sector in Massachusetts, manufacturing output in the state is at its highest level in history and accounts for more than 11 percent of the state’s economy. Roughly 250,000 employees work in the manufacturing sector in Massachusetts, comprising 7.8% of the total workforce in the state.

Council Led by Rep. Benson Finds Afterschool Programs Woefully Underfunded, Calls for New Investments

BOSTON – The Legislature’s Afterschool and Out-of-School Time (ASOST) Coordinating Council has found that years of underfunding have left too many Massachusetts children without access to the afterschool and summer learning programs that would help them reach their fullest potential. In a comprehensive report, Recommendations of the Afterschool and Out-Of-School Time Coordinating Council : A Report on the Importance of Afterschool and Summer Learning, the Council recommends finding new funding streams to increase investment in quality programs and staff – including tapping revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis – and creating tax incentives for businesses that invest in these programs.

“The research is clear. Children who attend afterschool programs do better in school, have fewer behavioral issues, higher graduation rates and are better equipped for college and career,” said Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), House Co-Chair of the Council. “Yet for every child in an afterschool program, two more are waiting to get in. As a Commonwealth, we must start viewing afterschool programs not as ‘extras’ but as an essential component of our full education agenda.”

Rep. Benson at the briefing outlining the recommendations of the ASOST Council.

In addition to funding, the Council draws upon the latest research to offer recommendations to tackle issues most afterschool and summer learning programs face today. Included among these: leveraging local partnerships to develop and share best practices and data among stakeholders,
strengthening and better aligning state oversight and policy development, and creating an Afterschool Caucus in the Legislature as well as a new position in the Executive Office of Education to coordinate the myriad programs.

While Massachusetts consistently leads the country in supporting the well-being and educational success of its children, the report finds most students lack afterschool opportunities even though many would enroll if such opportunities were available. According to an Afterschool Alliance survey, 196,562 students are enrolled in afterschool programs but an additional 213,966 are unsupervised during afterschool hours. In total, 362,312 students (44 percent of all students in the Commonwealth) — would sign up for an afterschool program if they had the option.

“Young people already spend nearly 80 percent of their time out of school and our report demonstrates actions that we can take today to help level the playing field for so many children who are currently left behind, not for lack of ability, but for lack of income and opportunity,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), Senate co-chair of the ASOST Council. “The evidence
shows that ‘afterschool works.’ It helps children learn while helping families balance work and home today, which in turn helps employers tap into a well-educated, well-rounded competent workforce tomorrow.”

In a nationwide poll conducted in September for the Afterschool Alliance, nearly 9 in 10 respondents across all party lines say that afterschool programs are important for their communities. The poll also showed that, two-thirds of adults say they want federal, state and local leaders to provide funding for afterschool and summer learning programs.

The Council Report addresses this need articulated by a majority of Americans by recommending that the following steps be taken to achieve success for our next generation:

  • Increase Investment to Support Access to High-Quality Programs: Targeted investments in afterschool and out-of-school time programs will yield positive effects that last a lifetime. For starters, the Commonwealth should address the state’s growing wait list as well as program gaps in rural areas. To create a new funding stream, we could leverage existing federal dollars while garnering some of the anticipated new tax revenue from the sale f recreational cannabis.
  • Invest in the Workforce: Afterschool and summer programs struggle to provide their staff adequate pay, but quality programs cannot exist without qualified teachers. Our report offers a number of recommendations to maintain a high-quality workforce, including boosting teacher salaries through an increase in the reimbursement rate for state-funded afterschool programs. We should also invest in scholarship and loan forgiveness programs as well as statewide professional development for staff.
  • Leverage Local Partnerships Among Cities, Schools and Afterschool: Our recommended strategies are aimed at how to best support communities in creating an environment that embraces the positive impact afterschool programs have on children. To accomplish this, the state must galvanize public-private partnerships and create new tax incentive for businesses that invest in programs. Through these strategies, partnerships could develop best practices in increasing quality and access to programs while creating mechanisms for data sharing among stakeholders that improve children’s outcomes.
  • Strengthen and Align State Oversight and Policy Development: Since coordination among state agency initiatives is often a challenge, we recommend the Commonwealth create a statewide data and information technology system for afterschool and summer learning and align professional development standards across departments. Additionally, our report suggests the creation of an Afterschool Caucus in the Legislature as well as a new position in the Executive Office of Education to coordinate informal learning.

The Council’s report demonstrates that afterschool programs inspire students to learn, keep kids safe, and give working parents peace of mind.

“The recommendations made in this report will help solidify Massachusetts’ status as a national leader in education, both in and out of school,” said Ardith Wieworka, CEO of the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership. “Let’s rise to meet this challenge head-on for all of our children, regardless of their ethnic, racial, or income status and provide the equal opportunity for all that we aspire to achieve.”

From Left to Right: Representative Benson, Sarah Link of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Ardith Wieworka of the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, and Senator Brendan Crighton.

The ASOST Coordinating Council consists of legislators, representatives from state agencies, out-of-school providers, private foundations and other stakeholders who meet quarterly to ensure that a diversity of perspectives are represented as the Commonwealth looks for ways to better coordinate resources so that all students have access to high-quality programs that support them socially, emotionally and academically.

The work of the Council is supported by The Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership (MAP). MAP is dedicated to expanding afterschool and out-of-school time opportunities for school-age children, youth, families and communities, and works to improve the lives of young people through statewide policy development, local grassroots networks, education, advocacy, and strategic public-private partnerships.

Acton Receives $75,000 State Grant for Shuttle Services

BOSTON – The Town of Acton has been awarded $75,000 from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) through the agency’s Community Transit Grant Program to increase access to shuttle services for seniors and residents with disabilities in Acton, Boxborough, Littleton, and Maynard.

“Thanks to the leadership and proficiency of CrossTown Connect, seniors and disabled residents in the Acton area will continue to have access to an efficient, reliable shuttle program,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “The transportation programs offered in Acton have become a model for other transportation management associations across the state, and I was proud to work with Senator Eldridge, Representative Atkins, and Representative Hogan to advocate for funding to continue and expand these programs.”

According to town officials, the grant supports the transportation dispatch services that the Towns of Acton, Boxborough, Littleton & Maynard utilize to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of meeting the transportation needs of seniors and people with disabilities in those communities. The communities are bound together by Inter-Municipal Agreements within the CrossTown Connect Transportation Management Association. This is the fifth year that Acton has received a grant for dispatch services and these grants have supported a 30% increase in ridership and an expansion of the service area served.

“Increasing access to shuttle services will allow seniors and people with disabilities in the Acton area to get to appointments, participate in daily activities, and live independently,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “I was happy to work with Representatives Benson, Hogan, and Atkins, and Acton officials to advocate for this funding. We will continue to work together to improve access to reliable transportation services in our communities.”

“The CrossTown Connect and its dispatch service highlight what we can accomplish when communities work together with state officials out of a shared commitment to boosting equity and fairness in public transportation,” said Representative Kate Hogan (D-Stow). “Facilitating critical first and last mile connections, it is a vital driver of regional economic growth and mobility.”

“This grant is wonderful!,” said Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord). “Increasing transportation and accessibility in our community is crucial for public health and safety. Thank you to CrossTown Connect for your hard work and leadership in securing this grant.”

“CrossTown Connect is extremely grateful and thankful to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for their continued support of this successful innovative transportation program,” said Doug Halley, Transportation Coordinator at CrossTown Connect. “Our thankfulness extends to our local legislative partners, Senator Eldridge, Representative Benson, Representative Hogan, and Representative Atkins who have supported this project from its birth 5 years ago.”