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Senator Spilka Votes for Emergency Supplemental Budget

November 3, 2011

Yesterday, the Senate voted to pass a $52 million emergency supplemental budget to address time sensitive spending concerns including shelter assistance funding, storm costs and bed hold language.  The spending plan provides fiscal relief to some of the Commonwealth’s neediest residents and protection to key programs.

In an amendment filed by the Senate, the bill also changes the date of the 2012 state primary election to September 6 to avoid a conflict with Rosh Hashanah. The date change additionally ensures that service men and women overseas are able to have their ballots counted and that the state is in compliance with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act to provide greater protections for service members, their families and other overseas citizens.  It requires states to transmit validly-requested absentee ballots to voters no later than 45 days before a federal election.

“This bill addresses some very time sensitive issues,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “With this prompt action taken by the Legislature, we will avoid unwanted, dramatic consequences both for necessary fuel assistance and shelter. It also ensures that our servicemen and women will have their ballots counted in next year’s primary election.”

“We are still facing very difficult economic times,” said Senator Stephen M. Brewer, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.  “We have seen some positive signs in the past few months, with the upgrade of our credit rating to the highest in the history of this state and the upgrade of our consensus tax revenue figure. That being said, we need to continue to make precise decisions in regard to spending.  This plan provides relief to some of our most susceptible citizens and that is important.”

“Even as we continue to see great development and growth across the Commonwealth, many residents and communities are still facing tough economic times,” said Senator Karen Spilka. “This bill ensures that we protect our most vulnerable residents, including children, the elderly, veterans, and persons with disabilities, as our economy continues to recover.

The spending plan includes language that ensures that the state’s existing 10 day bed hold policy is maintained.  The language was included in response to the Governor’s veto of the nursing home policy in the Fiscal Year 2011 supplemental budget signed into law last week.  The language ensures that MassHealth will continue the program that allows nursing home residents to return to their own bed after short leaves for medical or non-medical reasons. The program covers a maximum of 10 days for each medical leave and a maximum of 10 days per 12 months for non-medical leaves.  The language fulfills the Senate’s promise to restore this program and continues its commitment to seniors in need.

In the wake of a rare October snow storm, yet another devastating natural disaster to wreak havoc on Massachusetts, the supplemental budget includes $10 million to cover the state costs of Hurricane Irene.  Funding will cover state agency costs associated with the storm.  Both Public Safety and Environmental agencies have been hit with a costly blow as a result of the August hurricane.

The supplemental budget passed today also includes $10 million in advanced funding for the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  LIHEAP is a federal program to help low income families and individuals pay for heating bills.  Delays on the federal level have prevented the program, which is administered at the state level by the Department of Housing and Economic Development, to be implemented by November 1st as it has been in the past.  This funding will allow the program to get underway and distribute funds to families and individuals who may soon be faced with having their heat turned off.  The state would then be reimbursed once the federal funds arrive.

The bill also includes $308,000 for the Department of Veterans Services and $800,000 for disability access to the State House.

The bill allocates $38.2 million to cover deficiencies left as a result of high demands in the state’s family shelter system as well as the new HomeBASE housing assistance program, which offers an alternative to shelter and is time-limited.  The assistance is designed to provide a housing solution to families who are at serious risk of homelessness rather than going into a family shelter or motel.  The HomeBASE plan was implemented as a cost saving initiative to reduce reliance on shelters and motels by offering an alternative housing plan.  The funding will prevent short term program shutdowns and significant eligibility changes while the Legislature and the Administration work together to develop a sustainable path forward for the state’s system of temporary, transitional housing.

Last week, the Governor signed into law another supplemental budget to close out Fiscal Year 2011.  That plan directed $350 million to the state’s “rainy day” fund bumping the balance up to $1.4 billion, the 3rd largest among all states.  At the close of FY11 more than $700 million was deposited into the State’s Stabilization Fund.  Fiscal restraint has helped the Commonwealth through this difficult economic time.  Although the economic trends are becoming more positive, the Senate continues to exercise caution and smart spending as Massachusetts moves towards recovery from the Great Recession.

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