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.”

MassDOT Breaks Ground on Summer Street Reconstruction Project in Lunenburg

Representative Benson and others at the groundbreaking ceremony on September 12, 2018.

LUNENBURG – State Representative Jennifer Benson on Wednesday joined Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver, other members of the Massachusetts Legislature, and local municipal officials at a ground breaking event to celebrate the start of an $8.2 million roadway construction project in Lunenburg.

With this project, MassDOT will be reconstructing a 1.6 mile section of Summer Street and North Street in Lunenburg, Leominster, and Fitchburg, and adding new features including 5-foot bicycle lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the roadway.

“The Summer Street reconstruction project is one of the first issues I started working on as a newly elected Representative in 2009,” said Representative Benson of Lunenburg. “After almost 10 years of advocacy, it’s amazing to think that the residents and businesses along Summer Street will soon be able to enjoy safer, more streamlined roads and sidewalks.”

“MassDOT is proud to be carrying out this roadway construction project that will offer new multi-modal benefits such as bicycle lanes and sidewalks and help promote safe travel for all users,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “We thank the members of the public and local leaders who have provided support and feedback throughout the design process and we look forward to the completion of this project.”

The scope of work for this project will include full depth reconstruction, paving, installing drainage structures, granite curbing, guardrail, pavement marking, signage, and carrying out landscaping work. The full project is currently expected to be completed in 2020.

“This project is helping to improve a key corridor that is used to reach destinations throughout these local communities,” said Highway Administrator Gulliver. “We thank the MassDOT staff members who have planned this project so that it will provide benefits for all modes of transportation while ensuring reliability and accessibility throughout this area.”

Rep. Benson Reflects on Productive 190th Legislative Session

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the Legislature to mark the end of formal sessions for the year and highlight the accomplishments of a productive 2017-2018 session.

Over the past two years, the Legislature passed major bills to reform the criminal justice system, strengthen gun safety, address the opioid crisis, protect women’s rights, aid economic development, increase veterans benefits, establish new consumer data protections, and improve energy and environmental policy.

“I’m proud of what the Legislature was able to accomplish in the 190th Legislative Session,” said Representative Benson. “We tackled some major issues, and ensured that Massachusetts remains a leader in civil rights, consumer protection, health care access, and energy policy.”

The Budget

Continuing a practice of strong fiscal management, the House of Representatives passed two balanced state budgets with substantial investments in early education, aid for low-income families, housing, and programs to prevent and treat opioid addiction. The FY2018 and FY2019 budgets included no new major taxes, and increased the state’s Stabilization Fund to $2 billion.

This year, Representative Benson led the successful effort in the House to secure more funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, which has been increased 8.7 percent over FY18 to an all-time high of $319.3 million. The program reimburses school districts for the costs of educating students with severe special needs.

Representative Benson also successfully secured funding for several district priorities in the FY19 budget, including:

  • $150 thousand for advanced manufacturing and technology training programs at Mount Wachusett Community College;
  • $25 thousand for the Lunenburg Eagle House Senior Community Center; and
  • $75 thousand for the Acton-Maynard Senior Van Service and the South Acton Commuter Rail Shuttle.

Gun Safety

With a series of tragic mass shootings across the country, the Legislature took action twice this session to pass policies to promote gun safety. A new law will prevent individuals who pose a risk of harm to themselves or others from possessing a firearm, as well as provide crisis intervention, mental health, and substance abuse and counseling services. In addition, the Legislature banned the sale, purchase, or ownership of “bump stock” devices, which increase a weapon’s rate of fire.

Opioid Crisis

The Legislature addressed the opioid crisis with sweeping initiatives to prevent and treat substance use disorders. The legislation expands access to non-opioid treatment options for pain management and establishes grants to benefit substance exposed newborn children. It also improves the quality of patient care at treatment facilities, expands access to Narcan, and provides more training for law enforcement to respond to behavioral health crises.

Criminal Justice Reform

This year, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the most comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation in a generation to establish a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, and enhancing public safety. As part of the reforms, the legislation also raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from age seven to twelve and decriminalizes first offense misdemeanors.

Women’s Rights

With an uncertain future for federal action on reproductive rights, Representative Benson took action to protect the rights of women across the Commonwealth by voting for legislation to make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to repeal outdated laws directed at limiting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health.

Minimum Wage & Family Leave

In support of workers, the Legislature passed a bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over five years and create a framework for paid family and medical leave. The bill, which was the result of a compromise between labor and business groups, also phases out time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, and establishes a permanent sales tax holiday. The Legislature supported economic development across the Commonwealth with a bond bill that invests in public infrastructure, boosts manufacturing jobs, supports technological innovation, and expands career technical training programs.

Consumer Protection

In the wake of the Equifax data breach in 2017, Representative Benson worked closely with Attorney General Maura Healey and advocates on legislation to protect consumers in Massachusetts. The House and Senate passed Representative Benson’s bill, which provides added protections and resources for consumers in the event of a data breach. Under the bill, credit freezes must be provided to consumers free of charge, and in the event of a data breach, consumers will be provided with up to 42 months of free credit monitoring. Governor Baker returned the bill with several amendments, which the Legislature is in the process of reviewing. The Legislature must take action on these amendments before the bill can be signed into law.

Automatic Voter Registration

To support civic engagement, Representative Benson voted for, and the Governor signed into law, a bill establishing automatic voter registration in Massachusetts. The Secretary of State will adopt regulations governing the automatic voter registration system, including data security protocols and integration with online portals, by January 1, 2020. Under the new law, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MassHealth will transmit residence and citizenship information to the municipality where the person lives. The municipality will then send a notice to the individual informing them that they have been registered to vote and offering the opportunity to choose a party affiliation or decline to register. If the individual does not respond within 21 days, their name will automatically be added to the voter rolls. Additionally, the House and Senate passed a bill requiring schools to incorporate civics education into their curriculum. The Governor returned the bill to the Legislature with some minor changes.

The Environment

Massachusetts is a national leader in environmental and energy policy, and the actions taken by the Legislature this year bolster that position. Representative Benson’s energy efficiency legislation (H.1724) was included in an energy bill signed into law by the Governor in August. Representative Benson’s language updates the Green Communities Act to make more efficiency options available to homeowners. Additionally, the bill sets a new, ambitious energy storage target for electricity distributors, and authorizes the procurement of an additional 1,600Mwh of wind energy. Importantly, it also eliminates the “demand charge” forced on solar customers by some utility companies. An environmental bond bill signed into law will dedicate $2.4 billion to climate change resiliency and adaptation projects, and enhance environmental and natural resource protections.

Protecting Our Youth

As part of an ongoing effort to protect the health of our youth, only those aged 21 or older may purchase tobacco products in Massachusetts as a result of the Legislature’s action on this issue.

Veterans

The Legislature also honored Massachusetts veterans by passing the BRAVE Act to increase assistance for indigent veterans’ funeral and burial expenses, increase paid leave for service members to 40 days, and designate April 5 as Gold Star Wives Day.

Carbon Pricing

Representative Benson’s carbon pricing bill, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Create Jobs received substantial support from her colleagues, but was ultimately sent to study by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. She has pledged to renew her efforts next year and refile the bill.

Looking Ahead

The House and Senate will continue to meet in informal sessions through December. Formal sessions will resume in January 2019 when the members are sworn in for the 191st General Court of Massachusetts.