Representative James O’Day, Along with his Colleagues, Successfully Finalizes Fiscal Year 2014 Budget

(BOSTON) – State Representative James O’Day joined his colleagues in the Legislature to enact a $34.06 billion state budget for fiscal year 2014 (FY14). He played a vital role in securing funding for important services for a diverse group of his constituency. The spending plan makes important investments to rebuild the Commonwealth’s essential services and programs, including local aid, education, housing, public safety, and health and human services, and supports the ongoing recovery of the local economy.

The budget reflects the priorities of the Commonwealth and the needs of cities, towns and residents, while also maintaining the highest level of fiscal responsibility and accountability, leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.46 billion.

 “Through this budget, the Legislature recognizes the economic challenges facing the Commonwealth and its residents,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill). “Our goal is a renewed focus on governmental oversight and accountability to eliminate fraud and delays and to ensure that those who need the Commonwealth’s assistance receive it. We pair this focus with an emphasis on higher education as a means to provide our residents with a competitive edge that will continue to support the state’s economic recovery.”

 “As a state with an AA+ bond rating, we were able enact a strong spending plan that makes proactive and responsible investments to help prepare our students for the jobs of the future, such as our STEM Starter Academy and our funding of the University of Massachusetts,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This budget demonstrates our commitment to education and job creation while protecting those most in need of help.”

The budget represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker.  For the first time since FY10 UGGA funding will increase to $920 million, an increase of more than $21 million, due largely in part to gaming licensing revenues.

This year’s spending bill underscores Massachusetts’ ongoing commitment to strengthening its educational systems through both new and updated provisions. The budget increases key areas of local education funding including $4.31 billion for Chapter 70, full funding for educating high-needs special education students and $51.5 million for Regional School Transportation. The budget also allocates a $15 million investment in early education that will take approximately 2,000 children off the waitlist for income-eligible child care.

 The budget also takes decisive action to increase funding for the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, including $478.9 million for UMass to prevent tuition and fee increases in the upcoming school year. It creates a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Starter Academy program to be implemented through the Department of Higher Education. This program will benefit a targeted population of students at one or more of the Commonwealth’s Community Colleges who have expressed a high level of interest in STEM majors and careers. Representative O’Day is proud to announce that an additional $5 million was allocated to both Worcester State University and Quinsigamond Community College.

The budget provides numerous health and human services provisions including $38.3 million to increase rates paid to Disproportionate Share Hospitals to assist struggling hospitals with modernization assistance and funding payment reform. It also provides crucial funding for mental health services through an increase of $8.4 million and increasing substance abuse services by $6.7 million. This funding will maintain at least 626 inpatient mental health beds, including 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital and for child, adolescent and emergency mental health services.

 As chairman of the Elder Affairs committee, Representative O’Day successfully advocated for support for seniors in the Commonwealth. The spending bill allocates $187.2 million to elder home care services, an increase of an additional $6.2 million was secured to help end the 1,500 person waiting lists for home care in the Enhanced Community Options Program. This program helps to keep frail elders in their homes by providing assistance with daily living activities. Representative O’Day was also able to successfully advocate for an increase in funding for housing programs by $18.2 million to ensure safe and sustainable housing options. The majority of this increase will allow for more than 1,000 new housing vouchers. An additional $1.28 million was secured for the Councils on Aging, who provide local aid and support to senior centers to 349 cities and towns. Representative O’Day also secured funding for the Nursing Home Pay for Performance Program, geared at encouraging nursing homes to improve care by engaging the direct care workforce.

Representative O’Day worked to ensure that elders in nursing homes and rest homes will continue to retain $72.80 per month for their personal needs. The personal needs allowance is a modest amount reserved from an elder’s income to pay for items not covered by MassHealth, such as dental services, phone calls, newspapers and toiletries. Representative O’Day successfully advocated for yearly notification to seniors on MassHealth about their options for enrolling in voluntary programs including Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) plans, Senior Care Options (SCO) plans, and other elected benefits to supplement or replace their MassHealth benefits.

I have always been a staunch advocate for protecting the most vulnerable and at risk members of the Commonwealth and I am happy that the FY14 budget makes investments in our Commonwealth, across the spectrum. The budget balances investments in our youth who will be the workforce and leaders of tomorrow, while also looking out for the working families through its focus on education and economic development” said Representative James O’Day.

Representative O’Day has also played a vital role in securing $150,000.00 to fund the efforts of the Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth.  The commission was convened in December of 2012 and charged with looking into the problem of youth ages 14-24 not in the company of a parent or guardian who are homeless.  Representative O’Day is happy to announce that the $150K will go towards the ongoing work of the commission, including determining best practices to serve this specific population and executing a unified count of the unaccompanied homeless youth population in Massachusetts. 

Representative O’Day also played a pivotal role in increasing funding for the Department of Transitional Assistance Caseworkers, who serve on the front line of fighting poverty in the Commonwealth by connecting the most vulnerable people and families in the Commonwealth with vital services.  Additional funding will reduce the caseloads for these workers, ensuring more accessible and quality services for people and families in transition.  

Representative O’Day was successful in advocating for a small increase in funding for Worcester’s Talking Book Library at the Worcester Public Library, which provides those with disabilities equitable access to reading materials with thousands of Braille books and other adaptive technologies for reading and learning.  Representative O’Day also played a part in securing $25,000 for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Greenhill Park in Worcester.

The budget now goes to the Governor for his approval.