Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy Spring! I hope you're enjoying the nicer weather and many events that come to our communities at this time of year.
There are many State House updates on the budget and legislation:
The House held a short budget debate in late April. While we do not have enough revenue to fulfill our state needs, we made some important investments. These include funding for programs in Somerville and Medford such as Teen Empowerment, Mass In Motion and Farm to School, and Boys and Girls Clubs, which all support programming for kids. In addition, we increased funds for MRVP (Mass Rental Voucher Program) and RAFT (Rental Assistance for Families in Transition) which are both critical in addressing homelessness and affordable housing. We also made small increases to adult basic education and English language classes, family planning services, and legal aid.
Three amendments I filed were adopted: one to fund Housing Families' youth program, which provides supports for homeless kids; one to fund the continued clean up and improvement of MacDonald Park on the Mystic River in Medford; and language creating a new Commission to recommend ways to improve early childhood vision screening.
Though it is still early in the 190th Legislative Session, we have passed a few significant bills. The Labor and Workforce Development Committee, of which I am a member, deliberated over the Pregnant Workers' Fairness bill, which provides basic employment protections and accommodations for pregnant and nursing women. Our Committee heard from women testifying about working conditions that required them to lift heavy objects, stand for hours without a break, and limited their bathroom breaks during pregnancy. This bill is one of the priorities of the Women's Caucus, and the House passed it in early May.
On a very different note, you have probably noticed construction season has begun in our cities. The House and Senate enacted funding to improve roads, called Chapter 90 funds, to each community according to a formula. Somerville received $1.16 million to improve roads, and Medford $944,000.
Finally, many bills that I support and have cosponsored have hearings in the next few weeks. Some information is below, and feel free to reach out to my office about any other issues that are being debated.
In this newsletter, I try to provide a mix of state updates and community meetings and events. Please let me know any feedback, and feel free to share with a friend!
PRESS CONFERENCE FOR COMPREHENSIVE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
A few weeks ago, I joined other legislators, including the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and the House Progressive Caucus in a press conference to call for comprehensive criminal justice reform.
The press conference followed the release of a report by the Council of State Governments (CSG), an independent research center, which provided a roadmap for criminal justice reforms and investments in Massachusetts. We held the press conference to strongly urge reforms at every stage of the justice system, including pre-trail and bail reforms, sentencing reform, better mental health services, and a greater investment in data collection.
I spoke as the Co-Chair of the Caucus of Women Legislators’ Task Force on Justice-Involved Women, and said, “Our Task Force focuses on issues particular to incarcerated women, specifically the need for improved mental health and substance abuse treatment and gender-specific programming in incarceration facilities. We must work together to address these issues, which permeate at every level of the justice system, to make positive changes to the criminal justice system.”
Spotlight: Finding the right health care provider
People seeking health care in Massachusetts are often unable to find accurate, reliable information from their insurance plan because of outdated, unclear provider directories. I am proud to sponsor H.2947, An Act to increase consumer transparency about provider networks. This bill will help people find the right health provider through better access to accurate information from their health plan. In talking with my constituents, I hear stories about how difficult it can be for a family to find the right health provider, particularly behavioral health for children. This bill is a step forward in making that easier.
A recent Boston Globe story illustrated this issue through challenges families face finding behavioral health services for their children. The problem, often called "ghost networks," refers to a health plan with a list of providers, but people who call them find that they have moved, died, closed their practice, are not accepting new patients, or do not speak the language needed by the patient. These inaccuracies mean that families spend hours calling providers, and may not find the right one for them or their child. As I’ve filed this bill, I find it’s an issue that nearly everyone has experienced.
H.2947 requires insurance plans to ensure the accuracy of the information in their provider directories through regular updates, proactive communication with providers, and improved access to provider directories. A recent Letter to the Editor in the Globe highlightedthe need for this bill. Please let me know if you have a story about challenges finding the right health provider, or if you would like to work with me on this bill!
News from the Women's Caucus
This session, I am proud to be the House Vice Chair of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. In addition to our work on the Pregnant Worker's Fairness Act, we're focusing in on a number of priorities:
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, the Caucus supported two priority bills, which a number of us testified on together: An Act to address sexual assault on college campuses (H.632) and An Act creating a sexual assault climate survey for Mass colleges and universities (H.2998). We were excited to be joined by a number of college organizations from around the state. Both bills assist our higher education institutions, who educate over 500,000 students across Massachusetts, in providing resources and education on sexual assault.
I was thrilled to be a part of a panel for Women's History Month where I was able to speak with a number of mentors. We talked about great reasons why women should run!
Finally, a hearing is coming up for one of my bills, H.1110, An Act establishing regional commissions on the status of women and girls, on May 30. While some cities and towns have their own women's commissions, many do not, and Middlesex County is one of the largest regions without a women's commission. This bill would provide an opportunity for local women to join a commission with a clear focus on policies to improve lives of women and girls in our area.
Spotlight: Bring Child Support Home
Last week, I also testified before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities in support of a bill I filed to ensure child support paid to families receiving Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) goes directly to benefit the child, rather than the state.
Our state's public child support program requires applicants for cash assistance to assign their child support rights to the state and federal government. This continues even after a family leaves public assistance, in which case child support assessed through tax refunds continues to go to the state and federal government rather than to the family, until it’s paid in full.
H.1952, An act to bring child support home, requires the state to ‘pass through’ child support payments to families receiving TAFDC grants and those who formerly received assistance, allowing families to collect $50-$150 more in assistance per month. This means the federal government waives its share of child support collection, and is a cost-effective way to increase income for poor families in Massachusetts.
This increase may not seem significant to many, but $50 to $150 more per month for a struggling family can make a huge difference, and can often be just enough to make ends meet. This bill will not only help lift families out of poverty, but it also will improve the connection between non-custodial parents and their children as they provide direct financial support.
State House Updates
After the House's budget debate in mid-April, committee hearings are starting to ramp up. I've been busy meeting with constituents about different bills, testifying at hearings, and learning about new bills to support.
I met with constituents during the MSPCA's Animal Lobby Day. We talked about bills to protect animals and increase penalties for poaching, and more bills that are before my committee, Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
I was excited to join my colleague Sen. Julian Cyr in reading I Am Jazz at the State House, a children's book about a transgender girl. On May 18th, legislators, advocates and citizens across the country hosted events to read I Am Jazz to celebrate diversity and support transgender students.
I have recently signed on as a co-sponsor ofAn Act to promote healthy soils, HD3966. This bill, filed by Rep. Paul Schmid, promotes agricultural best practices that return carbon to soils, and would help soils to better absorb carbon dioxide.
The Safe Communities Act has been scheduled for a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on Friday, June 9th at 10AM. All are welcome at this public hearing to testify on H.3269 and S.1305.
In the News:
Rep. Barber passes budget amendment During the House budget debate, Medford and Somerville State Representative Christine P. Barber successfully secured an amendment in the House budget establishing a special commission to study and report on childhood vision and eye health.
Letter: Kids shouldn’t have to navigate maze to get mental health care Legislation filed by Representative Christine Barber, of Somerville, and Senator Jennifer Flanagan, of Leominster, is being heard next week. The bill would make provider directories more accurate, accessible, and reliable by requiring insurers to make weekly updates and proactively communicate with their providers to ensure that directories correctly reflect information about the services a provider delivers, languages providers speak, and whether the provider is accepting new patients.
Big Pharma hides costs with bait and switch State Rep. Christine Barber of Somerville, a former health care policy advisor who as a legislative aide helped write the state’s 2006 universal health care law, says the discounts by manufacturers are just a placebo to mask the problems of inflated drug prices. “Discounts and coupons are not a way of actually addressing the rising costs of prescription drug prices,” she says. “Coupons are a way to increase sales for higher cost drugs, not a way that is actually getting at the cost of prescriptions.”
Rep. Barber testifies in support of more child support for families Medford State Rep. Christine P. Barber testified before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities this week to testify in support of legislation she filed to ensure child support more directly benefits children than the state.
Somerville, Ward 4 Resi-Stat Meeting
Thursday, June 1st, 6:30 - 8PM
Arther D. Healey School
An opportunity for residents of Winter Hill and Ten Hills to hear about neighborhood updates from the City.
Just One Run 5K
Sunday, June 4th, 9:30AM
Blessing of the Bay Boathouse
Join the Ryan Harrington Foundation at their 2nd annual 5K in memory of Joseph Roche. Sign up to run, or volunteer.
Sunday, June 4th, 1-4PM
Andrews Middle School
Come celebrate Medford's businesses, organizations, and neighborhoods! Featuring live music and activities.
Taste of Somerville
Wednesday, June 14th
Nathan Tufts Park
An outdoor festival celebrating Somerville's unique (and delicious) dining scene.
Circle the Square
Thursday, June 15th
A festival street-fair with live performances, activities, and local artists, hosted by Medford's Coalition for Arts, Culture and a Healthy Economy (CACHE).
Upcoming Office Hours
Saturday, May 27th Danish Pastry House
Saturday, June 10th
with W7 Alderman Katjana Ballantyne, Sen. Pat Jehlen & W7 School Committee member Carrie Normand
As a reminder, anyone is welcome to come by office hours without an appointment!
Or contact me any time:
Call the office: 617-722-2210
Reach me at home: 617-410-6025
Or stop by my office:
Come by Room 473F (we've moved to a new office!) to meet my aide, Claire, or email her to make an appointment with me.