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Senate Passes FY15 Budget; Funds Key Programs for Children, Families, Communities

State Sen. Karen Spilka. Courtesy
State Sen. Karen Spilka. Courtesy

On May 22, the Senate passed a $36.3 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2015, state Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) announced. 

The budget includes funding for core state services, local aid for cities and towns and investments in the critical areas of mental health services, housing and homelessness programs, early education and care, veterans services and public transportation improvements. The budget also takes steps to address challenges that children and families face across the state, including increased funding for substance abuse treatment, recovery and prevention and funding for child welfare services.

“The budget we passed tonight makes important investments in programs that are vital to our children, families and communities,” said Senator Spilka. “We are protecting and serving our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable while encouraging continued economic growth across MetroWest and the state. We’re funding the basic services that keep our cities and towns running and also investing in innovative new programs. 

Senator Spilka successfully advocated for several amendments to strengthen the budget and support important initiatives serving children, families and communities in MetroWest and state-wide. 

“I’m particularly proud to have led the way on several initiatives to help children and adults struggling with mental health, behavioral and substance abuse issues to access the services and treatment they need to recover and thrive in our communities, instead of being unnecessarily diverted to the criminal justice system,” Senator Spilka said.

Senator Spilka was the lead sponsor of many amendments, including:

  • $8 million for a salary reserve for human services workers, necessary for a modest salary increase for direct care workers earning under $40,000, who work tirelessly on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents and are a critical component of the state’s human services safety net. 

  • $2 million and language to ensure the necessary funding for the full implementation of a network of Family Resource Centers providing services to children struggling with behavioral, mental health and substance abuse issues. The Family Resource Centers are part of a years’ long effort to create a new Families and Children Engaged in Services (FACES) system to better serve troubled youth and their families. Children and families receive services in their home communities instead of the court system. This change also allows the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to work with local police to provide emergency assistance to runaways and at-risk children late at night and on weekends.
  • Creation of a pre-arrest jail diversion program within the Department of Mental Health, to provide opportunities to divert individuals with mental illness or substance use disorders out of the criminal justice system and into community based mental health treatment programs.
  • Prohibiting civil commitments at MCI Bridgewater and MCI Framingham. This amendment ends the current practice of civilly committing those struggling with substance abuse to correctional institutions. These people do not belong in the correctional system. Instead, they need real treatment and rehabilitation services. 

  • $100,000 for a pilot program at the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority for aCommercial Driver’s License training program. This training and placement program addresses the growing need for a proficient and technically competent public transportation workforce in MetroWest and state-wide. The pilot program will also actively recruit veterans, people with disabilities, economically disadvantaged individuals and minorities.
Senator Spilka was also pleased to co-sponsor amendments and advocate for many other programs, services and new initiatives in the budget, including:
  • Creation of a Foundation Budget Review Commission to examine the programs and services funded in the education foundation budget, ensuring they are effective in meeting the state's goals for educating all students and providing high-quality educational opportunities that best prepare children for success in higher education, the workforce and life. 
  • $10 million from the FY2014 end-of-year surplus to fund the Community Preservation Trust Fund state match for CPA communities, supporting local open space, historic preservation and outdoor recreation projects.
  • Creation of a commission on zero emission vehicles, including electric and fuel cell vehicles, with the goal of expanding access and removing barriers to the use of these more environmentally friendly vehicles.
  • Increasing legal aid funding to $14 million to cover costs of legal representation for poor and disadvantaged individuals in Massachusetts, supporting high quality legal services and justice.
  • Updating the Bottle Bill deposit laws to include bottled water and non-carbonated drinks in an effort to better encourage recycling and prevent litter.
  • Social media privacy protections that prohibit employers from requesting the social media passwords of their employees or job applicants.
  • Increasing Medicaid payments to nursing home facilities and providing funding to help support seniors living at home in their own communities. 
  • Increased funding for Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, Regional Tourism Councils and Massachusetts Cultural Councils 
  • Additional funding for the Department of Children and Families to hire more social workers and reduce caseloads for each individual social worker.

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