House boosts spending on human services, elder affairs

Boston Statehouse
Boston State House

Boston State House

BOSTON (SHNS) – Now through two categories of amendments, the House of Representatives has added more than $19.2 million in new spending to its $47.6 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2022.

Shortly after noon, the House took up its second consolidated amendment of the week, this one dealing with proposals related to health and human services and elder affairs. It dispensed with 70 amendments and carried a price tag of $8.3 million. Late Monday night, representatives unanimously adopted an amendment package to add more than $10.9 million in spending for education, local aid, social services and veterans programs.

Rep. Tom Stanley, the House chairman of the Committee on Elder Affairs, said the consolidated amendment “increases the elder affairs budget by over $25 million.” No other representatives spoke on the amendment and it was adopted unanimously around 12:30 p.m.

“No group in the commonwealth has endured more loss and hardship over the past year than our elder citizens and the people who care for them. The pandemic has taught us hard lessons about what is and who are essential to securing a better, healthier future for our elder residents. As we look to the fiscal year ’22 budget, we must recognize that there are important steps to take and programs to fund in order to accomplish these objectives. Seniors need increased mental health support to help bring them through these unprecedented times of stress, insecurity and loss. We must make workforce investments that recognize … service workers as the essential elements they are in senior health delivery.”

The consolidated amendment also provides $235,000 for Health Care For All to pay the additional costs associated with operating its free statewide consumer assistance helpline during the COVID-19 pandemic; $50,000 for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to increase access to health and human services on Martha’s Vineyard; $90,000 to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham for behavioral health services; and $550,000 for the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health to maintain its Network of Care “as the singular place where all mental health, substance use, and related social services programs and organizations are curated into a state-wide online, searchable tool.”

The amendment would also require that the Department of Public Health establish a “Parkinson’s disease registry” which would be charged with collecting “information necessary to determine the incidence and prevalence of Parkinson’s disease in the commonwealth.” An advisory group would be appointed 90 days after adoption of the final budget, if the House provision survives conference negotiations with the Senate.

Before recessing just after 12:30 p.m. with no specified time of return, the House also rejected an amendment from Minority Leader Brad Jones that would have established a commission to study the effects of the 2020 law that expanded mail-in and early voting during the pandemic.

Ahead of Tuesday’s budget session, Moody’s Investor Services assigned Aa1 ratings and a stable outlook to about $600 million in state bonds. The credit rating agency said its outlook for Massachusetts “reflects our expectation that the commonwealth will continue its trend of strong financial management as it continues to navigate through the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Though the firm did not specifically mention the fiscal year 2022 budget the House is considering this week, it alluded to a possible conflict with House leadership’s plan to pull and spend $1.875 billion — $275 million more than what Gov. Charlie Baker proposed using — from the state’s Stabilization Fund.

“Significant reserve drawdown authorization is not expected to be needed given that revenue collections have outperformed projections year to date, and considering the substantial federal aid coming to the commonwealth,” Moody’s said.

House Speaker Ron Mariano has said the House plans to deal with the roughly $8 billion in direct federal aid to Massachusetts separate from the fiscal 2022 budget and House budget managers have said they are not yet ready to revise the revenue assumptions for the current budget year or fiscal 2022 despite collections trending well above expectations.

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