In Updates from Jo, Newsletters, The People's Blog

Greetings from your State House,

April showers will bring a flurry of legislation, bond bills, and a $48 billion budget all before the end of July.

This newsletter is packed.

Here’s what my team and I have been focused on since I last wrote to you:

Save the date!

Mark your calendars for a May 11 (remote) Town Hall for our district – beginning at 5 p.m.

I’ll share our work during this session and what lies ahead. I’ll also take your questions and feedback. Registration information coming soon.

State grant funding information sessions for western MA municipalities

Our team is partnering with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and legislative colleagues to host a virtual workshop series for municipalities with the goal of deepening our collective understanding of grant funding opportunities available from the state and maximizing the amount of state money flowing to western Massachusetts. 

The first workshop will be held on Tuesday, April 12 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will focus on Community One Stop for Growth (presentations by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, Department of Housing and Community Development, and MassDevelopment). Last year over one million dollars came to our district through successful Community One Stop grant applications.

Stay tuned for workshop announcements for April 26, May 10 and 24, and June 7. All municipal officials and committee members are welcome to register. You can sign up here for all five sessions. All workshops will be recorded. 

Senate wins

The Senate passed legislation to improve the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth’s veterans homes.

I voted YES on the Senate’s bill to strengthen protections for Commonwealth Soldiers’ Homes. Working with regional colleagues in honor of constituents who served our country and died from COVID-19, their loved ones, and all who are organizing now so that we learn the brutal lessons of this tragedy, I offered an Amendment to the bill that was adopted to strengthen health care protections. I speak to the Amendment and my commitment here

The Senate passed a $1.65 billion supplemental budget – which has been reconciled with the House’s version and is on the Governor’s desk to be signed. Here’s more on the Senate version.

Reading the final version of the supplemental budget yesterday was bittersweet. I’m pleased that the bill includes $700 million for COVID-19 testing, vaccination and treatment – spending which will be reimbursed by the federal government and which will help us fight the BA.2 variant. It also includes $100 million for winter road repairs and the road-mileage based formula for disbursing this funding should advantage western Massachusetts towns. Other highlights include $20 million for low-income home energy assistance and extending expanded outdoor dining and to-go cocktails to April 2023, which many restaurants and local officials requested. 

Why bittersweet then? I threw down during Senate debate for a $20 million amendment to maintain services for survivors of sexual assault and abuse in light of cuts to federal VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) funding, which is the only funding source available for services for all victims of crime. My amendment was co-sponsored by over half the Senate and passed unanimously, but the funding was dropped from the final supplemental budget that is now on the Governor’s desk. I have been assured this funding will be included in the FY23 budget but I still ache. Thirty five victim supporting organizations in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district rely on this funding, including our Children’s Advocacy Centers. I won’t stop fighting until these organizations have all the funding they need.

One other amendment that I filed was retained in the final version of the supplemental budget, it ratified collective bargaining agreements for groups of employees at UMass Amherst. With the Governor’s signature those employees will receive the benefits agreed to in their new contracts.

NASW keynote address

I was deeply honored to be asked to give the keynote address for the National Association of Social Workers’ Massachusetts Legislative Education and Advocacy Day.

I very rarely – almost never – speak personally about my own story. About what propelled me into social work in the first place.

But I began my talk by offering a bit of a window into how I came to choose social work as a vocation and how it led me to the State Senate. You can view and listen here.

Advocacy highlights

Called on MassHealth to eliminate the cliff effect – I was honored to work with Representative Natalie Higgins and MassNAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys) to wrangle 93 of our colleagues on a letter asking MassHealth to eliminate the “cliff effect” and so-called spend-down provisions to help elders and people living with disabilities remain in their homes and get the care they need and deserve. You can read the letter here.

Continued advocacy for Net Zero building construction – Thanks to great advocacy from our district, I was able to file and pass (inside the bigger climate bill) a provision for net zero building construction. Now, one year later, the Department of Energy Resources is soliciting input on their draft of this net zero energy building code. While it’s exciting to see the fruits of one of the first bills I filed, I write in this blog that it’s not enough to pass a good piece of policy, we then have to see it through.

Kicked off a lobby day for the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) – HIP lets SNAP members get more value when they buy local fruits and vegetables from farm vendors. The Legislature has leaned into HIP mightily with $47 million in funding since the program’s inception, and with this lobby day we began the campaign to increase HIP funding in fiscal year 2023. We now have a solid infrastructure and a stated commitment to equity – work hastened because of the high stakes of the pandemic. HIP benefits folks who are food insecure. Farmers benefit from the financial investment. And everyone wins by strengthening the *local* economy. Our ask for this budget is $20 million. Let’s go get it.

Opposed testing site closures in Hampshire and Franklin Counties – The Administration announced the closures of two ‘Stop the Spread’ sites (one at UMass Amherst and one at Greenfield Community College). I joined a delegation letter in opposition to the closures led by Representative Mindy Domb. You can read the letter here. Rep. Domb and I then pushed back again to a response that did not resonate with us, sending a second letter led by Rep. Domb. You can read the second letter here. I believe the state is making a mistake when it comes to surveillance testing. The BA.2 variant is real and spreading quickly. Like Omicron in its early days, we do not yet know enough about this latest variant and must remain vigilant.

Resisted the closure of the VA Medical Center in Leeds – I released the following statement and am in good contact with federal, state, and local partners who are also quite concerned about the recommended closure of the Leeds VA Medical Center: 

“I was outraged to learn of the recommended closure of the VA Medical Center in Leeds. The Leeds VA is a critical health care provider for veterans in the western Massachusetts region. We’re at the beginning of this process and my constituents can count on me to reject a blatant disregard for their health care needs. I join my federal and state colleagues in holding strong against this closure.”

Met with House colleagues and advocates to strategize about the Equitable Approaches to Public Safety (EAPS) grant fund – EAPS prioritizes state support for social-work-first crisis response. Amherst has been awarded one of five grants statewide. Northampton is also deeply engaged in this work. The Governor’s budget zero’d out this funding so it will be the job of the Legislature to see it through in the fiscal year 2023 budget.

Honored Keith Fairey

Thanks to the fabulous Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative CaucusExcellence on the Hill annual event, I was able to honor Keith Fairey, President and Chief Executive Officer of Way Finders.

In his role as president and CEO, Keith is leading the western Massachusetts region in a bold initiative to identify the region’s profound affordable housing gap. He’s also leading the strategic work to close the gap by engaging all the stakeholders in an unprecedented collaboration. I remain proud to nominate him for this well-deserved award and to offer him my strongest possible support.

Celebrated the life and work of Paula Green

Representative Natalie Blais and I closed a legislative session in honor of Paula Green, an internationally renowned peacebuilder from Leverett, who passed from this life on February 21.

Paula’s death is mourned and her life celebrated by people around the world. You can listen to our tribute to Paula here.

More remote office hours

District Director Elena Cohen and I have so appreciated your engagement at our previous remote office hours this winter. We have a new block of appointments open on April 29. We welcome you to sign up here to meet with us

Out and about

I’m delighted and proud to support the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ fiscal year 2023 legislative agenda. Massachusetts libraries #GetItDone when it comes to equity and access for all – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have long said that Legislators work best when we are engaged “in the head” with the facts and figures necessary to understand an issue and “in the heart” with stories and personal accounts.

That’s just what happened last week thanks to Laura Frogameni and Barbara Black who pulled together caregivers, educators, and providers for a conversation about what the state can and should do for early education and care.

A statewide special commission just returned a blueprint for the funding and policy changes necessary and the folks on the call made sure we had the western Mass perspective as well as their personal stories to bring these recommendations to life. The report is here for your reading – it’s a blueprint for the way forward that I’ll be following – bolstered by incredible constituents and local leaders.

I started last Sunday bright and early with an incredible breakfast at North Hadley Sugar Shack with Congressman Jim McGovern, Representative Dan Carey, the great folks of Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, and more. Thank you to Congressman McGovern for leading his annual sugaring tour!

Find a sugar shack near you:

I was delighted to see so many friends and colleagues at the UMass Women into Leadership and Public Service Dinner. THANKS to Jennifer Shiao for this great photo.

I was thrilled to join the 2022 MIRA Immigrants’ Day at the State House, Celebrating Immigrant Wins! What an incredible line up during the main program and extremely moving and necessary testimony during the western Mass breakout session.

This week, Rachel and Elena from my team attended the legislative luncheon hosted by the MA Association of Regional Transit Authorities. RTAs serve 267 cities and towns and 55% of Massachusetts residents. I’m tremendously grateful for the innovation and tenacity of our region’s RTAs: Franklin County Regional Transit Authority, Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, and Montachusett Regional Transit Authority and I look forward to fighting for full funding of RTAs in this year’s budget. 

Earlier this week, I headed to Erving for a tour of Erving Paper Mills, a 100+ year old paper-making company. The mill employs 125+ folks from our region, working in four different unions. The workers produce 160,000 tons of paper daily that is turned into bibs for dentist offices, tissue, napkins, and more – all from recycled paper. Over the years, the mill has invested in cleaner and cleaner processes, and I believe the state should be doing more to incentivize this work.

Earlier today, I joined fellow members of the LGBTQ caucus on the State House steps in We Are A State of Love: A Gathering of Visible Solidarity With LGBTQ Youth. In the wake of recent state-sponsored discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, it is essential that we stand in solidarity with transgender and non-binary youth here in Massachusetts and across the country. I was proud to speak in support today

Sending our love to you,

Jo, Rachel, Elena, Brian, Cameron, and Jared

P.S. Grateful for the hard work of our team’s Spring 2022 interns.

Interns’ stellar work strengthens and helps power our efforts for constituents of the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district.

They are on the job conducting legislative research, drafting letters, creating content for social media, and helping to log constituent inquiries.

This semester, we have four stellar interns from Mount Holyoke College. Please meet:

  • Shahbano Rao, a Senior studying Politics and Sociology. Shahbano looks forward to learning more about educational policy and criminal justice reform.
  • Hening Sun, a Junior studying Psychology and Sociology. Hening is excited to learn about criminal justice reform and policies surrounding education and immigration.
  • Louise Olivier, a Junior studying International Relations and East Asian studies. Louise hopes to learn more about Criminal Justice reform, affordable housing policy, and public health.
  • Stella Garcia, a recent graduate with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. Stella looks forward to learning more about policies surrounding affordable higher education, housing, criminal justice reform, immigration, and more.

P.P.S. New to this newsletter?

Here’s a quick primer geared toward people new to our office and team. Because of redistricting – and should the voters agree – I will have the honor of representing Athol, Ashburnham, Petersham, and Winchendon in the coming session. I’ll do my best to follow the stellar work of Senator Anne Gobi who has been a mentor for me in the Senate and I’ll get to work even more closely with Representative Susannah Whipps who has considerable expertise about the region and these new communities. 

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