Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It seems that I was just sworn in to office, but somehow it’s already spring and our work is well underway. The Legislature has begun the budget season – in which we spend months debating and deciding how to best spend the Commonwealth’s annual budget of approximately $38 billion. A quick refresher on the budget process: the Governor presented his version of the budget in March. Then the House Ways and Means committee released a budget on April 15, after which House members had 48 hours to file amendments to make any changes or add in funding. This past week, House members debated the budget and 1,096 amendments that were filed. Now, the budget will head to the Senate to undergo the same process. Finally, it will go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions, and then we will vote on final passage. This whole process takes a few months, often through July.
Developing the state’s budget is one of the most important responsibilities we have in the Legislature. How we decide to spend taxpayer funds speaks to our values for the Commonwealth. Overall, I am happy with the choices made in the House budget. One of my major priorities, investment in housing subsidies through the MRVP (Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program), received a significant increase in funding, which will create over 700 additional vouchers to help at-risk families throughout the Commonwealth stay out of shelters and be able to afford housing. I also supported amendments to improve upon other areas of the budget, several of which were successful. These include increased funds for legal aid, safe play spaces for homeless children, domestic violence and sexual assault services, HIV/AIDS prevention, and funds for Teen Empowerment.
I sponsored two amendments to the budget. One was to fund the design of projects in the Mystic River Master Plan, a document that the Department of Conservation and Recreation created to improve the river and areas surrounding it. Through the leadership of the Somerville and Medford delegation, this funding was included in last year's budget, but was unfortunately was cut due to budget limitations during the year. This year, I am happy to report that the House approved $35,000 to devote to the Mystic River Master Plan.
My second amendment would have made more people eligible for a program to help move families into housing and reduce shelter use, known as HomeBASE. Currently, families in domestic violence and substance abuse shelters have few resources available to them, and do not qualify for HomeBASE. My amendment would have opened access to HomeBASE for families in these shelters. While this amendment was not ultimately adopted, it is an issue I believe is critical. Finding effective ways to help move families from shelters into housing is something I will continue to work toward.
Finally, I appreciated hearing from so many constituents who voiced their priorities during the budget process. Please continue to let me know which areas you care most about by email at Christine.Barber@mahouse.gov.
In the Community - Screening of The Anonymous People; Housing Families breakfast; ArtsMatter!
In April, Christine hosted Somerville Overcoming Addiction and Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR) in a screening of the film “The Anonymous People” about reducing the stigma of addiction and recovery. Over 50 people, including students from local recovery high schools, participated in the event.
Christine speaking at the Housing Families breakfast in March, where many families shared their stories of being homeless and finding permanent housing through the services provided by Housing Families.
Advocates from Somerville visited the State House on ArtsMatter! day in March. Thanks for your work supporting local artists! Christine is a strong supporter of the budget amendment increase funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council up to $15 million. These funds are distributed to local areas to support the work of Somerville and Medford’s cultural councils.
Have a concern or just want to say hi? Come to Office Hours!
Upcoming office hours:
*Saturday, May 9, 3PM-4:30PM at Angelina's Pizza, 230 Holland Street, Somerville WITH ALDERMAN KATJANA BALLANTYNE!
*Tuesday, May 19, 6PM-8PM, South Medford Fire Station Community Room, Zero Medford Street, Medford
*Friday, June 5, 10AM-12, Danish Pastry House, 330 Boston Ave, Medford
Contact me any time.
My office contact is Christine.Barber@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2430, or reach me at home at (617) 410-6025.
Or stop by my State House office in Room 236 and meet my aide, Claire.
Community Events, Meetings and News
In this section, I share events in and around our communities. Feel free to send me events to cover.
* Teen Empowerment 2015 Youth Peace Conference, Saturday, May 9 at 12:30PM, Somerville High School
* Somerville Homeless Coalition Save Our Homes Walk, Sunday May 17 at 2PM, Somerville High School
* West Medford Open Studios, May 16 - 17, all over West Medford
* Landlords needed: Housing Families is seeking landlords interested in joining the Section 8 program to help families with vouchers find safe and appropriate housing. More information here.
In the news: