Rep. Ultrino Joins House Colleagues to Pass FY18 Budget

Includes targeted investments in early education, addiction treatment, homelessness, and local aid.                                     

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives this week to pass a $40.4 billion FY18 budget. The spending bill protects vulnerable residents through investments in early education and care (EEC), substance addiction initiatives, homelessness programs, and funding to help individuals with developmental disabilities.

The budget includes several of Representative Ultrino’s priorities, including funding for additional peer-to-peer addiction recovery centers, for elder homelessness prevention and support, and for cities and towns which receive record-high levels of funding for public schools and local government.

This budget takes comprehensive action to promote sustained economic health in Massachusetts as we face uncertainty on the national level. For the fourth year in a row, the House budget reduces Massachusetts’ reliance on one-time revenue. It includes a $100 million deposit to the stabilization fund which will result in projected balance of more than $1.4 billion and help preserve the state’s AA+ bond rating, the highest in the Commonwealth’s history.

“This budget extends the House’s legacy of balancing fiscal responsibility with investments in inventive programs, a strategy that has resulted in Massachusetts becoming a national leader,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I am particularly proud of the work we have done on early education and care, and I believe that our efforts will have a lasting impact on the lives of countless families. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Chairman Dempsey and the members of the House Ways & Means Committee for their hard work and foresight.”

“This budget invests in programs that support working-class families in Malden and throughout the state,” said Representative Steve Ultrino. “From improving access to high-quality pre-k to helping seniors stay in their homes, this budget makes targeted investments for vulnerable groups in our community.”

Representative Ultrino secured new funding for a successful elder homelessness program and expanded the program – currently focused only on seniors who are already on the streets – to include prevention services designed to prevent at-risk seniors from becoming homeless in the first place. The additional funding will help provide casework services to Malden seniors and other at-risk and homeless seniors in the Mystic Valley.

Also in the FY18 budget is funding for two new addiction recovery centers through the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS). BSAS provides grant funding to several recovery centers throughout Massachusetts, but none in the Mystic Valley. The Malden legislative delegation, including Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Donato, Brodeur and Ultrino, were vocal advocates for increased funding, and community organization Malden Overcoming Addiction held a State House briefing earlier this year in support of the funding.

Since FY12, the Legislature has increased funding for substance addiction services to unprecedented levels and passed two landmark bills to help address this public health epidemic. This year’s budget makes notable investments related to behavioral health and addiction, including almost $132 million for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS). The budget also proposes changing the name of BSAS to the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services in recognition that addiction is a health issue and should be treated as such.

The FY18 budget makes unprecedented investments to improve Massachusetts’ early education and care system, with a focus on supporting the EEC workforce and providing access to high-quality learning opportunities to ensure children are better prepared for academic success. In response to the findings of Speaker DeLeo’s EEC Business Advisory Group, the budget provides $20 million for the early educator rate reserve and $4 million for quality programming and workforce training. The House also builds on its notable commitment to behavioral health by doubling funding for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation grant to help early detection and prevention efforts.

Recognizing that municipalities have unique and diverse needs, the House continues to fund local aid at historic levels. This budget increases Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) by $40 million and local education aid (Chapter 70) by $106 million. The increase to Chapter 70 guarantees that every school district will receive a minimum of $30 per pupil in FY18. The budget also begins to implement the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations by making adjustments to more accurately reflect employee health benefits through a $31 million investment. It also adds $4 million to the special education circuit breaker and increases our investment in regional school transportation by $1 million.

In 2014, under the House’s leadership, Massachusetts passed a nationally-heralded gun safety law which includes the Safe and Supportive Schools initiative. This budget bolsters continued efforts by directing the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission to establish an infrastructure to help schools leverage and coordinate community based health, youth development and social services resources that enable students to achieve well-being and academic success.

In addition to local education investments, the House funds numerous programs to support college students and provides increased finding for higher education campuses across the state including increases from FY17 of: $5.1 million for the University of Massachusetts; $2.5 million for State Universities; $2.7 million for Community Colleges.

The House, under the leadership of Chairman Dempsey who has put an emphasis on providing increased access to permanent housing options, has proven effective at combatting homelessness in Massachusetts. For example, the caseload for hotels and motels is expected to zero out by the end of this fiscal year and projections indicate that caseloads for emergency assistance will return to pre-recession levels. The House’s spending plan invests $18 million in new funding for homelessness including $100 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program; $15 million for residential assistance for families in transition; and $6.5 million for the Department of Mental Health rental assistance.

The budget includes an increase of $4.75 million to the Department of Mental Health (DMH) to fund several cross-agency initiatives including $2 million in new money for the expansion of the Crisis Intervention Training Team. In addition to behavioral health and substance addiction initiatives, the FY18 budget features numerous provisions to protect residents facing adversity including $1 million in additional funding for rental subsidies that will support 87 new DMH clients. The House’s budget rejects the Administration’s proposal to change the calculation for supplemental security income, resulting in a $12.6 million increase over the Administration’s FY18 budget to support individuals receiving these benefits. The budget also changes language to allow survivors of domestic violence to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit in a safe manner and provides an increase of $34.2 million for the Department of Children and Families which will allow for 547 new hires to address caseloads.

In anticipation of a criminal justice reform bill later in the session, the budget includes $3.5 million to fund recommendations made by the Council on State Government.

The budget also creates a tax credit for businesses that hire veterans. Eligible businesses would receive $2,000 per year for the first two years of a veteran’s employment. This provision enhances the Commonwealth’s reputation as a national leader in providing benefits to military personnel, veterans and their families. 

The budget will now go to the Senate for its consideration.