In The People's Blog, Updates from Jo

I delivered these remarks during the Senate FY21 budget debate:

I ask for unanimous consent to make a brief statement.

Please let me take a moment to extend my deep thanks to the Senate President and Chair of Ways and Means and their intrepid teams for constructing a fiscal year 21 budget that’s full of heart. Full of compassion for those struggling during this pandemic and economic crisis. Full of promise.

There are many areas in this budget that are deserving of praise. I’d like to speak for a moment on this budget’s groundbreaking work around public health. Work that will save lives.

There’s a Joni Mitchell song with a great lyric: “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

While I’ll spare my colleagues my singing, I’ll just add: That lyric sums up public health. At its best, public health is invisible. Working for our collective well-being, for equity, and for racial justice at every turn, without our even realizing it.

Public health includes things that some of us take for granted, like clean air, clean water, clean restaurant kitchens, safe and affordable housing and transportation, nutritious food, as well as injury prevention, vaccines, and ensuring the control, effective prevention, and surveillance of diseases.

The COVID pandemic changed us all. I don’t think any of us take public health for granted now. Public Health is now rightly at the forefront of many of our policy and budget discussions. Who did we turn to to enforce the COVID-19 protocols? Who did we turn to to make the COVID-19 protocols? Public health officials are helping to procure PPE, forging new lines of necessary information sharing, will help distribute an eventual vaccine, and that’s in addition to all of their normal responsibilities – which haven’t gone away.

With over 10,000 Massachusetts residents already dead from COVID-19, and a seven-day average of over 2,000 new cases per day, key investments in public health are needed now more than ever.

COVID has demanded that we understand public health’s connection to every single choice we make around health care, climate, housing, transportation, education, financial relief, and more.

And COVID illuminated the painful chasm of inequities in these areas with disproportionately higher rates of infection and death in communities of color and poor communities tied to a lack of equitable access to health care and significant transportation, housing, and environmentally-related challenges.

The Senate budget demonstrates that we will not look away.

The Senate budget makes record investments in the places that matter to strengthen our public health and to give local public health officials the tools they need, deserve, and have been demanding. To refocus our priorities on what matters most: Ensuring all residents of the Commonwealth have the ability to lead healthy lives — during this pandemic and in the days ahead.

To name just a few of these investments:

  • $730 million for the Department of Public Health, an increase of more than $40.7 million from last year. My thanks to Secretary Marylou Sudders, Commissioner Bharel and their teams.
  • $17 million for the State Lab and Disease Unit, an increase of $2 million over last year.
  • $13.7 million for Family Health Services, $6.4 million more than last year, which will protect and support essential sexual and reproductive health prevention, counseling, education and clinical services no matter what the federal government does.
  • $45.2 million for domestic violence, which represents a $7.1 million increase over last year, and which will ensure victims of domestic violence and sexual assault can access the help they need despite the pandemic.
  • As was mentioned earlier by the Senator from Suffolk, we fund $2.5 million for matching grants to support local public safety reform, looking towards models other than policing-only responses, such as jail diversion programs, de-escalation training, and evidence-informed mental health and substance use crisis response.
  • With encouraging news on COVID vaccine efficacy in the past few days, the budget includes funding for a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan with a focus on ensuring equity in the eventual delivery of a vaccine. The language in this provision directs DPH to prioritize “those communities disproportionately impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus” with a “geographically and socioeconomically-equitable distribution” of the vaccine. We will be looking at this issue further during our budget debate with my thanks to my colleagues from Needham, Jamaica Plain, and Arlington.

Finally, this budget invests in local public health. Let me first tip my hat to my constituents, the Massachusetts Public Health Association, and colleagues from Arlington, the Cape and Islands, and Winchester for their long commitment to public health.

And let me pause for a moment and recognize the tireless, painstaking public service led day after day after day by local public health officials who, since the beginning of this crisis, have sacrificed nights, weekends, holidays, family commitments, and their own health for all of us.

They’ve gone above and beyond to keep us safe. We must listen deeply to what they are telling us — begging us — to do.

The Senate budget adds $10 million in additional spending for local public health officials on the front lines. and $1.7 million for the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) Program which works with local public health boards to promote better training, more collaboration between communities, and expanded services.

Public health is a core function of government, integral to everything we do in the name of health equity. We must continue to build on the important gains in this budget. The health of our Commonwealth quite literally depends on our ability to go the distance.

I again commend the Chair of Ways and Means and the Senate President, and all who contributed to the bill we have before us today, for making public health one of the Senate’s top priorities.

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