House budget package increases women’s commission funding, upholds MassHealth coverage

State Representative Christine P. Barber of Somerville and Medford joined her House colleagues in voting last week to pass a $41.1 billion fiscal year 2019 budget package that includes critical investments in important programs and services across the Commonwealth.

After hearing from local constituents about concerns crossing Mystic Ave in Somerville to access public transportation, as well as difficulties accessing local businesses on Mystic Ave in Medford, Barber successfully secured a total of $50,000 for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to improve pedestrian safety on the state road for different projects in each city.

Representative Barber also worked to secure an increase in funding for the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women (MCSW), which works to support the expanding network of regional women’s commissions, evaluate the status of women in the Commonwealth, and recommend solutions that increase opportunities and equality. After pushing legislation, signed into law by Governor Baker in March, to create three new commissions in Middlesex, Eastern Mass, and Plymouth, Barber successfully advocated to increase funding for MCSW in FY2019 to $170,000.

“The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women does incredibly important work for women across the Commonwealth and has gained new energy in the last year. I am excited to hear about MCSW’s partnership with Treasurer Goldberg to offer statewide salary negotiation workshops for women in the workforce, and I am pleased my amendment to increase the Commission’s funding was included in the final House budget,” Rep. Barber said.

The House budget is noteworthy for its resounding rejection of Governor Baker’s proposed cuts to MassHealth coverage. The cuts would have pushed over 100,000 families and individuals off of MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, and into less comprehensive care that would be unaffordable for many families. The House’s refusal to make harmful changes to MassHealth in the FY19 budget is the second time the legislative body has stood against Governor Baker’s proposal. The rejection is representative of Massachusetts’ long-standing support for low income families working their way out of poverty, and of the Commonwealth’s leadership on universal health care coverage.

“I am very thankful to the House for taking a strong stand against cuts to MassHealth, and for the legislature’s commitment to maintaining and improving upon the strong health coverage it has led the nation on for so many years,” said Representative Barber. “MassHealth is an incredibly important program for so many families and individuals in Massachusetts, and we can’t afford to cut this program.”

The FY2019 House budget package also includes strong investments in affordable housing programs that are critical to helping individuals and families across Massachusetts face rising rents and housing crises. The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), the Commonwealth’s largest state-funded rental assistance program, and Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), which provides eligible households with emergency funds to prevent homelessness or obtain new housing, were both increased over FY18 levels, to $100,000,000 and $17,000,000 respectively. The House package also includes $20,000,000 to support high-quality early education and care programs by increasing salaries for early educators, a $2,750,000 increase in funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which offers legal aid services to some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable populations, and a $500,000 increase over FY18 levels to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which supports local arts councils and artists in the community through its grant program.

The Senate will now take up its debate of the FY2019 budget in May, after which both legislative bodies will meet in conference committee to work out differences between the two fiscal packages.

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