~ Submitted by Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) and Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford)
On Friday, July 9, 2021, Representative Ken Gordon (D – Bedford), Senator Mike Barrett (D – Lexington), and their colleagues in the Massachusetts State Legislature unanimously passed a $48.07 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22). This budget maintains fiscal responsibility and does not cut services. It makes targeted investments to address emerging needs, safeguard the health and wellness of vulnerable populations, and ensure that residents will benefit equitably as the state recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on the strong tax revenue performance in Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), the FY22 budget increases revenue assumptions by $4.2 billion over the December consensus revenue projection. The new tax revenue projection is $34.35 billion. The FY22 budget does not make a withdrawal and instead transfers funds into the Stabilization Fund, projecting an estimated balance of approximately $5.8 billion for this crucial ‘rainy day’ fund at the end of the fiscal year.
“This budget represents a balanced approach that makes critical investments to support the local and statewide economic recovery,” said Rep. Ken Gordon. “But I am especially proud that the budget includes timely funding for our schools through the Student Opportunity Act and increases to local aid. This funding will help educators support students as they recover from lost learning time and cope with the trauma of this past year and a half.”
“Tucked inside this budget is an essential climate provision: funding for extra staff for four key energy agencies,” said State Senator Mike Barrett, who authored the Next Generation Roadmap Act that recently became law. “These new staff are needed to help carry the extra load to implement the statute.”
The Bedford delegation helped secure many local and statewide priorities, including:
- $517,000 to Bedford for education of military families living at Hanscom AFB
- $25,000 to Bedford for repairs to the Elm Brook footbridge
Other budget allocations for Bedford include Chapter 70 funds in the amount of $5,674,637, and Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) totaling $1,261,616.
The Legislature provides substantial funds in the FY22 budget to invest in the Commonwealth’s long-term obligations. Prioritizing funding for education, the new Student Opportunity Act Investment fund was funded at $350 million to be utilized in the coming years for the implementation of the state’s landmark Student Opportunity Act (SOA), and maintaining the Legislature’s commitment to implement the SOA by FY27. The budget proposal fully funds the first year of the SOA consistent with the $5.503 billion local aid agreement reached in March, amounting to an increase of $220 million over FY21.
Despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic, this increased level of investment represents a 1/6th implementation of SOA rates and ensures that school districts across the Commonwealth have adequate and equitable resources to provide high-quality educational opportunities for all students. The FY22 budget also includes a $40 million reserve consistent with the March local aid agreement to provide additional aid to districts experiencing increases in student enrollment compared to October 2020. Additionally, a supplemental payment of $250 million was transferred to the Pension Liability Fund to reduce the Commonwealth’s pension liability.
The budget invests in higher education, allocating $571 million for the University of Massachusetts system, $315 million for community colleges, and $291 million for state universities. The budget includes $130 million in scholarship funding and funds the community colleges SUCCESS Fund at $10.5 million and the STEM Starter Academy at $4.75 million.
The budget also makes large investments in labor and economic development, such as the creation of a trust fund dedicated to job training for the offshore wind industry to be administered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. This budget makes an initial deposit into this fund of $13 million to establish and grow technical training programs in our public higher education system and vocational-technical institutions. The fund will also prioritize grants and scholarships to adult learning providers, labor organizations, and public educational institutions to provide workers with greater access to these trainings.
Other education investments include:
- $388.4 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, reimbursing school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75% reimbursement rate
- $154.6 million for reimbursing school districts at 75% for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools
- $82.2 million for regional school transportation
- $50 million for Adult Basic Education
- $27.9 million for the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) program
- $6 million for Social-Emotional Learning Grants to help K-12 schools bolster social-emotional learning supports for students, including $1 million for a new pilot program to provide mental health screenings for K-12 students
- $4 million for Rural School Aid
This budget supports working families by addressing the increasing costs of caregiving by converting the existing tax deductions for young children, elderly or disabled dependents, and business-related dependent care expenses into refundable tax credits. These tax credits will benefit low-income families who have little or no personal income tax liability and cannot claim the full value of the existing deductions. The conversion to a refundable tax credit would provide an additional $16 million to over 85,000 families each year. Coupled with the expanded Child Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care tax credits under the federal American Rescue Plan Act, these credits will help lift families out of poverty and support low-income working parents and caregivers across the Commonwealth.
The FY22 budget builds on the success of last year’s efforts to tackle ‘deep poverty’ with a 20 percent increase to Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) benefits over December 2020 levels, ensuring families receive the economic supports they need to live, work and provide stability for their children. Further, the final budget repeals the asset limit for Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Traditionally, asset limits on assistance programs further expose those who are already financially vulnerable to greater economic hardship. While families are recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, it is vital to make assistance programs accessible and effective, and removing the asset limit allows families to save for education, job training, reliable transportation, home expenses, and other emergency needs.
Other children and family investments include:
- $30.5 million for Emergency Food Assistance to ensure that citizens in need can navigate the historic levels of food insecurity caused by COVID-19
- $7.5 million for grants to our Community Foundations to support communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic
- $5 million for the Secure Jobs Connect program, providing job placement resources and assistance for homeless individuals
- $4.2 million for the Office of the Child Advocate, including $1M for the establishment and operation of a state center on child wellness and trauma
- $2.5 million for Children Advocacy Centers
To help families get back to work, the FY22 conference report includes $820 million for the early education sector, including $20 million to increase rates for early education providers, $15 million for Massachusetts Head Start programs, $10 million for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative to expand public preschool, and $9 million to cover the cost of fees for parents receiving subsidized early education in calendar year 2021.
The FY22 budget provides resources to help with housing stability, including $150 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program to expand access to affordable housing, $85 million for grants to local housing authorities, $22M for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program and $8 million for Housing Consumer Education Centers to help administer nearly $1 billion in federal housing relief.
The budget makes the state’s film tax credit permanent and requires an increase in the percentage of production expenses or principal photography days in the Commonwealth from 50 percent to 75 percent. The film tax credit was set to expire in January 2023. The budget also includes a disability employment tax credit for employers that hire employees with a disability.
To ensure long-term fiscal responsibility, FY22 budget repeals three ineffective tax expenditures as recommended by the Tax Expenditure Review Commission (TERC), namely the exemption of income from the sale of certain patents, the medical device tax credit, and the harbor maintenance tax credit, effective January 1, 2022. The TERC found that these tax expenditures are either obsolete, fail to provide a meaningful incentive or fail to justify their cost to the Commonwealth. The TERC was created as part of a Senate budget initiative in Fiscal Year 2019.
The Legislature’s FY22 budget confronts the frontline health care impacts of the pandemic to navigate the challenges posed by COVID-19. It also sustains support for the state’s safety net by funding MassHealth at a total of $18.98 billion, thereby providing over 2 million of the Commonwealth’s children, seniors, and low-income residents access to comprehensive health care coverage. It also invests $15 million to support local and regional boards of health as they continue to work on the front lines against the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Understanding that the pandemic has been a stressor on mental and behavioral health, the FY22 budget invests $175.6 million for substance use disorder and intervention services provided by the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services. It also invests $12.5 million to support a student tele-behavioral health pilot, public awareness campaigns, loan forgiveness for mental health clinicians, and initiatives to mitigate emergency department boardings for individuals in need of behavioral health support, as well as $10 million for Programs of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) grants to provide intensive, community-based behavioral health services for adolescents.
Other health care and public health investments include:
- $98.4 million for children’s mental health services, including $3.9M for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatric Access Program (MCPAP) and MCPAP for Moms to address mental health needs of pregnant and postpartum women
- $25 million for Family Resource Centers (FRCs) to grow and improve the mental health resources and programming available to families
- $56.1 million for domestic violence prevention services
- $40.8 million for early intervention services, to ensure supports are accessible and available to infants and young toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities, including funds to support health equity initiatives
To support economic development, the FY22 budget increases access to high quality and reliable broadband—which is crucial for businesses, students and families—by moving the duties of the Wireless and Broadband Development Division to the Department of Telecommunications, which is working to facilitate access to broadband, and has the institutional ability and knowledge to address broadband access issues. The budget also includes a $17 million transfer to the Workforce Competitiveness Trust fund, $15.4 million for Career Technical Institutes, and $9.5 million for one-stop career centers to support economic recovery.
Other investments in economic and workforce development include:
- $15 million for the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant Program
- $6 million for Regional Economic Development Organizations to support economic growth in all regions of the state
- $2.5 million for the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund, including $1.5 million for new regional security operation centers, which will partner with community colleges and state universities to provide cybersecurity workforce training to students and cybersecurity services to municipalities, non-profits, and small businesses
To protect residents of the Commonwealth, the FY22 budget codifies and expands the existing Governor’s task force on hate crimes to advise on issues relating to hate crimes, ways to prevent hate crimes and how best to support victims of hate crimes. The conference report makes the task force permanent and expands its membership to include members of the Legislature and an appointee from the Attorney General. The conference report also contains a provision that supports immigrants who are victims of criminal activity or human trafficking.
The budget also authorizes funds from the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund to be used for monitoring and detection of threat activity in order to investigate or mitigate cybersecurity incidents. In order to proactively combat threats and attacks, the budget provides funding for a public-private partnership with the goal of engaging educational institutions to jointly expand the training, employment and business development in cyber fields in Massachusetts through a combination of regionalized instruction and business outreach, state-wide shared resources, and real-life simulations for cyber training and business development.
Having been passed by the House and Senate, the legislation now goes to Governor Baker for his signature.