Representative Benson’s Fall 2018 Office Update

Around the District

Infrastructure Improvements

There has been a lot of activity around infrastructure projects in the district recently, with the construction season coming to an end, and funds being disbursed from grant programs. This summer, Shirley celebrated the opening of the new Main Street Bridge with a ribbon cutting. I was happy to assist the town in securing MassWorks funding for the project, which will ensure that the bridge over the Catacoonamaug Brook is safe for drivers and pedestrians alike.

MassDOT brokeground in Lunenburg in September on the Summer Street Revitalization Project to reconstruct a 1.6 mile stretch of Summer Street and North Street. The redesigned length of road will include a bicycle lane, sidewalks, and new pavement. This is one of the first projects I started advocating for as a newly elected legislator in 2009, and while it took nearly a decade to secure the funding, I’m glad construction is finally beginning.

Within a few days of hearing concerns about the condition of the platform at the Ayer Commuter Rail stop, Senator Jamie Eldridge and I were on the ground with town officials to take a look for ourselves on October 22. We reached out to MassDOT,and within days, we were able to get them to clean up the platform area,install a fence, and repaint the entrance.

I had a conference call with Shirley officials, the MBTA, and Senator Eldridge about the feasibility of paving the parking spaces at the Shirley Commuter Rail stop.Improving parking at both the Shirley and Ayer stations is important to increase ridership and convenience for commuters. Also in Shirley, I toured the War Memorial Building with trustees Scott Bulger and Norma Albert. The War Memorial Building houses American Legion Post 183, and is a popular gathering spot for veterans in the area. However, the building is more than 80 years old, and not handicapped-accessible. We discussed possible sources of funding to add ramps and an elevator, and make other repairs to the building.

This fall, it was announced that Acton was awarded a $75,000 grant from the MassDOT Community Transit Grant Program to fund dispatch services for the shuttle for seniors and residents with disabilities in Acton, Boxborough, Littleton, and Maynard. The transportation options offered in Acton by CrossTown Connect have become a model for transportation management associations across the state, and I’m proud to be part of the local delegation that advocated for this funding.

Events in Acton

On August 10, I was in Acton for a ribbon-cutting for the Acton and Maynard section of the Assabet River Rail Trail (ARRT). Construction of the AART began nearly 15 years ago in Marlborough, and it has been amazing to watch its expansion northward. Thanks to the determination of local advocates and the AART organization, Acton families and commuters will now be able to enjoy the 12-mile-long trail.

Later in the summer, I attended a meeting of the Acton Manufacturing Workforce with town officials, educators from local technical schools, and employers. We discussed ways to make careers in manufacturing more appealing to young people so employers can find workers to fill positions at their companies.

At the League of Women Voters – Acton Area candidates forum.

Even though I didn’t have an opponent on the ballot, I participated in the Acton Area League of Women Voters’ candidates forum, because I think it’s important to always be accountable to my constituents. I answered several voter-submitted questions about public records reform, the need for more women in public office, and education funding. It was great to be able to provide direct answers to voters’ questions and talk about my legislative priorities and record of accomplishments.

I also sponsored and stopped by the October 7 Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market to chat with constituents, attended the ribbon cutting for the new VNA Care location, and toured the Associated Environmental Systems office to learn more about their business. On October 12, I celebrated the installation of Rabbi Mike Rothbaum as the leader of Congregation Beth Elohim at a ceremony at the synagogue.

On October 15, I spoke at a forum in Acton on the legislative process and how to be an effective advocate. The event, organized by Chinese-American constituents, was similar to one I participated in in June. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss best practices for ensuring that your voice is heard with your legislators on Beacon Hill.

Constituent Spotlight

When Senator Eldridge and I attended the October 17 Community Supper in Acton, we recognized Joan Appleton for her decades of service to the community. Since 1985, Joan has volunteered at the supper as a manager, server, and cook. In her years there, she helped train hundreds of volunteers and served tens of thousands of meals.

As a member of the Manufacturing Caucus, every year, I nominate a manufacturing business to be the district’s “Manufacturer of the Year”. For 2018, I nominated Burkart & Phelan, Inc., a company that has been manufacturing instruments in Massachusetts for decades. I was glad company founder and Harvard constituent Lillian Burkart was able to come to the State House to accept the award and a citation from the House of Representatives.

Lillian Burkart with the Co-Chairs of the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.

Women In Government Conference

In October, I attended the Women In Government annual meeting and health care summit in Washington, DC. I’ve been a member of this nonpartisan organization for years,and I joined their Board of Directors in 2017. At the health care summit, I moderated two panels, including one on public policy solutions for addressing the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.


At the State House

After School Program Funding Report
At the event announcing the release of the final report of the ASOST Coordinating Council.

The Afterschool and Out-of-School Time (ASOST) Coordinating Council released its final report on October 23. Years of research and study found that prolonged underfunding has left too many Massachusetts children without access to the afterschool and summer learning programs that would help them reach their fullest potential. The Council recommended establishing new funding sources to increase investment in programs and staff, including tapping into tax revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis. As the House Co-Chair of the Council since it was established in2009, I’m proud of our work, and I hope it will serve as a foundation for supporting afterschool programming going forward.

Supplemental Budget Supports Schools, Infrastructure

A FY19 supplemental budget was signed into law in October. After depositing $240 million in the Stabilization Fund, pushing it past $2 billion, the $540 million spending bill shores up underfunded accounts from last year, and invests $42 million in grant programs for school security and youth counseling. It also invests $50 million in local roads and bridges, and sets aside $10 million for the recovery efforts from the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley.


Looking Ahead

I’m thankful and humbled to have been re-elected to another term in the House of Representatives by my constituents. My staff and I are diligently preparing for the 191st Legislative Session. I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running as I continue to advocate for the district and pursue thoughtful, data-driven policy solutions that will help make Massachusetts a better place to live and work.

Please reach out to my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2140 for help with a constituent matter, or to let me know what your legislative and budget priorities are for 2019.

Sincerely,


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.”