MLRI and Greater Boston Legal Services lead the Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids

Approximately 8,900 children living in poverty in the Commonwealth are denied welfare benefits from the state simply because they were born after their family began receiving benefits. This is an effect of the Massachusetts’ “Cap on Kids” policy, which the Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids – led by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Greater Boston Legal Services – are working to see changed.

The Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids is raising awareness about the need to Lift the Cap on Kids, supporting legislation, currently pending in the Massachusetts State Legislature. Bills in the House (H.85) and Senate (S.34) have 83 cosponsors, led by State Senator Sal DiDomenico and State Representative Marjorie Decker.

The campaign has hosted a number of events to raise awareness about the policy’s harmful effects. On October 26th, the Campaign held a “Caps and Mittens” event at the State House, where they collected hundreds of donated winter caps and mittens for children and families in need. Besides not getting a welfare benefit of $100 a month, children who are excluded by the Cap on Kids also do not receive the $300 per year clothing allowance that is paid for other children in the family when receiving welfare benefits. With winter approaching, the need for winter coats, hats, and gloves is an additional cost that is often out of reach for low-income families. All donated items were given to Cradles to Crayons and the Home for Little Wanderers to be distributed to children and families in need.

On Monday, October 30, State Representative Carlos Gonzalez, a co-sponsor of the Bill to Lift the Cap on Kids, joined with other bill co-sponsors Representative Jose Tosado and Representative Bud Williams to host a Speak Out! Event in Springfield against the Cap on Kids.  Campaign members and representatives from local organizations participated in the event. Leaders worked with families affected by the Cap on Kids to open up dialogue about the harmful effects on children.

Earlier this year, in May, the Campaign hosted “Diaper Day” at the State House, which raised awareness of the Cap on Kid’s harmful effects, and also resulted in the donation of over 9,000 diapers to be dispersed among low-income families. For many families living under the cap, diapers can be a difficult expense as well.

The Campaign’s efforts are critical. Massachusetts is one of only 17 states that still has a Cap on Kids. Massachusetts welfare benefits generally go up by about $100 a month as family size increases. Currently, the basic grant for a family of two with no income is $478 a month, and for a family of three, it is $578 a month. However, if a family of three has a child excluded by the Cap on Kids, they receive only $478 a month— a cut of 17 percent.

There is no evidence that welfare recipients have additional children to get a small increase in their families’ grants.  Lifting the Cap on Kids would mean an additional $100 per month for families currently “under the family cap,” and it could make a difference in helping them pay for basic necessities, including diapers, winter clothes, and supplies..

The statewide coalition working to Lift the Cap on Kids has the support of over 100 agencies and organizations in Massachusetts. With the support of these organizations and citizens of the Commonwealth, the Campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids can change the lives of thousands of children and families.

 

Bridge Renamed to Honor Memory of the Arredondo Brothers

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On Thursday September 28th the Jamaica Way Bridge in Jamaica Plain was renamed the Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo & Brian Arredondo Memorial Bridge to honor the memory of the brothers. Alex Arredondo was killed on duty in Iraq in 2004 and his brother Brian was lost to suicide in 2011.

Governor Charlie Baker, State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, parents Carlos Arredondo and Victoria Foley, step-mother Mélida Arredondo, family, friends and several state officials were on hand to celebrate the dedication of the bridge.

“We are honored to dedicate this bridge to the memory of Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo in recognition of his service to this nation and to his younger brother Brian, who displayed courage and bravery in the face of mental health challenges following his brother’s death,” said Governor Baker.  “This bridge will stand as an important reminder of the sacrifices made by our nation’s veterans and the families who support them in service.”

The bridge is the first in Massachusetts to be named in honor of someone lost to suicide. Carlos Arredondo, President and Co-founder of the Arredondo Family Foundation said, “This is a great honor. The memory of both of our sons continues to inspire us in the work we do today. We are especially grateful that through this bridge dedication, Massachusetts is acknowledging the sacrifice of our soldiers, veterans and their families, and recognizing the fact that suicide is occurring as well among military family members.” The Arredondo Family Foundation was established to provide help to veterans and their families dealing with suicide, grief and depression.

On April 15, 2013, Carlos and Mélida Arredondo were thrust into the global spotlight when Carlos helped to save the life of Jeff Bauman in the immediate moments after the Boston Marathon tragedy.  But their story – and the work they are doing to support the families of the fallen and military veterans – began many years before the Marathon bombing.

The Arredondo Family Foundation was established by Carlos and Mélida Arredondo in 2015.  The mission of the Arredondo Family Foundation is to empower military families in the prevention of military related suicides and to provide support through education, financial relief and support services.  On October 22nd, a number of individuals will run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC on behalf of the Arredondo Family Foundation.

Building the Foundations for the Massachusetts Cannabis Industry

Creating a multibillion dollar industry from scratch that is at the intersection of drug policy, medicine, real estate development, technology, agriculture and the Trump Administration is sure to get attention in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) not only has to handle hot political topics, they have a broad range of issues to address, in a short time frame, and in a cultural environment that is always ready to bring scrutiny.

Over the next several months and for years after the CCC will set the framework for the local market of an industry that is growing, innovating and spreading across the country. The CCC will learn from other states and countries that have lifted the cannabis prohibition but will inevitably create a market unique to Massachusetts. With the cannabis industry’s introduction to scale in the state we will see retailers, cultivators, manufacturers and ancillary companies become significant employers, neighbors in our cities and towns and a part of our cultural and economic landscape.

The CCC commissioners have a multitude of decisions in front of them to make that will shape how cannabis businesses function, how consumers interact with these companies and how they will integrate in their communities. As established cannabis businesses introduce operations in the state or local entrepreneurs move to build successful brands in Massachusetts, beginning a relationship and providing input to the CCC and other officials will be critical. In this formative stage, the CCC will establish criteria for those seeking licenses and what the application process will look like. They will also set regulations and make policy decisions on a wide range of topics such as:

  • Cultivation, seed to sale tracking, craft cultivation
  • Manufacturing Edibles, Extraction
  • Product testing and lab standards
  • Transportation/Distribution/Delivery
  • Packaging/Labeling
  • Potency/Serving size
  • Advertising rules and restrictions
  • Social Consumption
  • Integration of Medical Marijuana
  • Social Justice issues

The CCC has a full plate and is receiving input from a wide variety of sources. As a political entity, commissioners are looking for information they can trust and partners they know can deliver in what will be a highly competitive and closely watched process.

Over the last month, the CCC members have met several times, set initial operational goals and taken steps to put interview and hire for the important role of an executive director responsible for building the new regulatory agency. Commissioners have agreed to divide and research administrative and policy topics to inform the body. The CCC website has upcoming meeting dates and commissioners will be holding listening sessions across the state to solicit input from a broad geographic audience over the next month. The CCC is not yet fully funded but will evolve into a robust regulatory body in order to meet its oversight obligations. Additionally, the 25 member CCC advisory board, comprised of a cross section of industry representatives and other related stakeholders meets today to begin their role as a resource to the CCC and a voice for interested parties.

The real estate development obstacles that cannabis businesses face are, perhaps, the most troublesome challenges for the nascent industry. Real estate in Massachusetts is expensive, stock suitable for this use is limited, and our zoning laws and municipal processes will pose complicated political obstacles, especially at the local level. As with the establishment of medical marijuana in Massachusetts, effectively communicating the planned development, partnering with the community and building relationships with local and state officials will be the only way to open an ideally situated cannabis business in Massachusetts. The expansion of the cannabis industry in the state will bring revenue, economic development in rapid fashion, the CCC and municipal officials need to hear from stakeholders during this formative time to make sure their decisions reflect the intent of the statute and the best interests of the Commonwealth.

Preview of the Legislature’s Fall Session

By: Lindsay Toghill, Vice President

Massachusetts lawmakers have begun a busy fall session. Their packed agenda contains a lengthy to-do list they will address in the coming months. Below is a preview of items that could catch the Legislature’s attention this fall:

 

  • The State Budget – FY17 finished below revenue projections, though leaders are still trying to assess the consequences. When the Legislature broke for the summer, they still had not dealt with the Governor’s vetoes on the FY18 budget. Though they can tackle these at any time this fall, they’re closely watching the monthly tax collections to see if overrides are sustainable. At the current time, collections are below benchmark so overrides may continue to wait for the foreseeable future.

 

  • Masshealth Reforms – Governor Baker sent the Legislature some suggested reforms to the Masshealth system to go along with the increased surcharge on employers to help pay for significant increases in cost. The Legislature rejected those reforms, choosing to instead pass the surcharge on employers before the summer break. However, because cost containment is necessary to help reduce pressure on the state budget, the Legislature will likely tackle this in the next few months.

 

  • Criminal Justice Reform – Legislative leaders are interested in some reforms that would drastically affect the criminal justice system. On the table for discussion – thought not a done deal – mandatory minimums on bail reform.

 

  • Short Term Rentals – The Senate earlier this year advanced a measure that would tax short-term rentals as lodging establishments. The House is presently looking at another version of this bill, with some expected actions this fall. The issue will gain interest if the state revenues continue to stagnate.

 

  • Initiative Petitions – This week, the Attorney General certified twenty-one initiative petitions as constitutionally compliant, setting up the process for ballot questions for the fall of 2018. Proponents are required to gather thousands of signatures for each initiative petition before the end of November. While the Legislature is not required to take action until early 2018, there will be considerable wrangling and media attention about some proposed ballot questions.

 

  • Marijuana Sales Implementation – The recent creation of the Cannabis Control Commission will officially start the process of developing regulations and a structure for the implementation of retail sales of marijuana in mid-2018. The Legislature will be closely watching this process for its effects on state revenues and their own local communities.

 

  • Opioid Crisis – An ongoing issue, the opioid crisis will require some cooperation from the Executive branch in conjunction with the Legislature. All parties will be watching this issue closely to see if the recent decline in overdose deaths is a temporary or permanent trend.

 

*Cover photo from Boston metro

Five things to know about the Cannabis business in Massachusetts today

  1. The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) is a new regulatory body established to oversee the marijuana industry in Massachusetts. The CCC is a new independent entity created by Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017, comprised of a five member board of commissioners. Appointments to the Commission were made by the Governor, Treasurer, Attorney General, and two other appointments were made by a majority vote of the previously mentioned constitutional officers.

The newly appointed Commissioners are:

  • Chairman Steve Hoffman (Treasurer Goldberg)
  • Former Senator Jennifer Flanagan (Governor Baker)
  • Britte McBride (Attorney General Healey)
  • Shaleen Title
  • Kay Doyle
  1. In the coming weeks and months the CCC will be responsible for hiring staff, setting policy and issuing regulations on a wide range of important issues for the adult use industry, including establishing a process for entities interested in pursuing cultivation, products manufacturing and retail licenses.
  1. The “head start” provision for teams that had previously submitted an application for a Registered Marijuana Dispensary, part of the original ballot question, was eliminated by the Legislature.
  1. To operate successfully in Massachusetts, businesses will also need to do important work at the municipal level. While many municipalities previously approved moratoriums for adult use facilities, the new law stipulates that cities and towns that had approved the ballot question with a majority vote must hold a city or town wide referendum to approve such a ban, while cities or towns that did not approve the ballot question with a majority vote may do so through town or city elected officials like a Board of Selectmen or a City Council. Working with residents, local and state elected officials, planning and zoning offices will be crucial in moving any project forward.
  1. The CCC will have to move quickly to meet its statutory deadlines. Under the law, applications must be received by the CCC on April 1, 2018, and licenses will not be issued until June 1, 2018 at the earliest. In comments this week, Chairman Hoffman indicated that the goal is to have business ready to open July 1, 2018. The CCC is expected to meet for the first time next week.

By: Chris Niles, Vice President

Proposed Changes to Recreational Marijuana Law Moves from Committee

The Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy ‎reported a bill out of committee on Wednesday that makes substantial changes to the recreational marijuana law passed by referendum last year and establishes a new regulatory structure for marijuana in the Commonwealth.

Some of the key changes proposed in the new bill are:

  • The creation of a 5 member Cannabis Control Commission, ‎responsible for oversight of both the recreational and medical marijuana programs (medical marijuana is currently under the purview of the Department of Public Health). The ballot question created a new office under the Office of the State Treasurer.
  • A 28% tax on recreational sales, up from a 12% tax provided for in the existing law (medical marijuana continues to not be taxed).
  • A different mechanism for local control, cities and towns will no longer have a local referendum on banning recreational marijuana facilities, those decisions could instead be made by local elected and appointed officials.

The House is expected to take up the committee legislation shortly. State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, responsible for regulating the recreational program under the current law voiced particular concerns with the commission structure.

Members of the Senate and the Senate Chair of the Marijuana Committee, Senator Patricia Jehlen, have indicated that they are not in favor of the legislation as reported out of committee. Legislative leadership hopes to get a bill to Governor Baker by the end of the month.

A copy of the committee legislation can be found here: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H3751

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s 2017 State-of-the-State

highres_120403_oneill_jamiedunbar-0269By: Jamie Dunbar

Having worked for two former Republican Governors in Massachusetts, I was struck by the Governor Baker’s closing remarks.  His words are a reminder of the class, collegiality and confidence we have been fortunate to witness in our great state.  At a time where our national elected leaders and political party apparatus are as divisive as they have ever been, Governor Charlie Baker made it clear that will not be the case here in Massachusetts.  Governor Baker addressed the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with his plans, commitments and strategies for the coming year.  He highlighted several accomplishments such as relocating GE’s headquarters to Boston and the efforts underway on issues ranging from economic development, combating the opioid epidemic and improving transportation infrastructure.  After extoling strides made to lower unemployment, provide predictable energy costs and improve services for children and families, the Governor spoke candidly on his vision for governing in the current political environment.  His theme was one of respect, inclusiveness and bi-partisan cooperation.  Governor Baker, a Republican in a deep blue state, has experienced high approval ratings and favorability since taking office.  He is lauded for working well with the Commonwealth’s super majority Democratic legislature and for finding areas of common ground.  While acknowledging he may not agree with legislators on every issue, the debate will be driven by respect, courtesy and compromise.  This is how the Commonwealth will be governed in his Administration.  These are not always the easiest waters to navigate, but with leaders committed to progress and civility, citizens will be better served.

Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council Launches MA STEM@WORK Initiative

On Monday, November 21st, the Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council launched the MA STEM@WORK initiative, which is working to connect Massachusetts businesses with high school students to provide them with paid internships in jobs related to science, engineering, technology and math (STEM).  The event featured Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Vertex President and CEO Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, Ann Klee, president of the GE Foundation, and a Vertex student intern and invited Massachusetts companies to hire high school students in STEM-related fields.

The MA STEM@WORK initiative is helping the STEM Advisory Council – co-chaired by Representative Kennedy, Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and Dr. Jeffrey Leiden – meet its goal of increasing work-based learning experiences for young people.  The Council is working with the Massachusetts School to Career Connecting Activities system to identify and develop STEM internship opportunities, with the goal of placing more high school students in STEM internships by Spring and Summer 2017.

As Representative Kennedy, Lieutenant Governor Polito, and Dr. Leiden wrote in an op ed for the Boston Globe:

Massachusetts has more open positions in these fields than employees to fill them, a void that threatens our economic drivers. Industry analysts and CEOs repeatedly identify this gap as the single greatest challenge facing the Commonwealth’s STEM economy.

Massachusetts isn’t alone. Across the country, states with strong technology, biotech, medical, and engineering economies struggle to provide employers with educated, work-ready employees. And STEM readiness has global implications: There is an international race to create a highly skilled workforce capable of driving an increasingly innovation-centered world… And that is why we’re making a simple but powerful ask of Massachusetts businesses: Hire at least one high school student for a STEM internship.

The initiative and its goals were also featured in the Boston Business Journal and State House News Service. Additionally, on Monday, December 19th, Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser toured FiveStar Companies, a company in New Bedford that manufactures medical instruments. Secretary Peyser announced that Five Star Companies and four other New Bedford area businesses – Southcoast Health System, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, and HTP Inc. – recently joined the program and will begin offering high school internships in the summer.  You can read more about the SouthCoast-area participants at the New Bedford Standard Times.

To learn more about the MA STEM@WORK program or to participate, please contact Blair Brown, staff director at the STEM Advisory Council, at Blair.Brown@state.ma.us.

Marking National Homeless Memorial Day: A Message from Karen LaFrazia

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Karen LaFrazia
President & CEO
St. Francis House

Tonight, as we eagerly mark the winter solstice as the turning point to longer days filled with sunshine, many in our community will be grappling with the longest night of the year. On this December 21, we mark National Homeless Memorial Day in recognition of all who passed away while homeless.

The invisibility and isolation that come with experiencing homelessness are exacerbated by the darkness of night, which so many suffer through.

For so many individuals experiencing homelessness, homelessness itself can be a death knell – uncertainty when your next meal will be, brutal weather conditions, and higher risk of assault. These factors all combine to exacerbate one’s health and lifespan, decreasing a chronically homeless individual’s life expectancy from the average U.S. life expectancy of 80 to their 60s.

Fortunately, St. Francis House is here as the largest day shelter in Massachusetts – but we are more than shelter. When dawn breaks, we are a welcoming place of refuge for those who need it, as well as a provider of supportive services to help our guests find their way out of homelessness.

For more than 30 years we have intervened in the lives of thousands of men and women who suffer and created a legacy within the city of compassion and social justice. When you think about it, this concept of legacy, it is a powerful life tool and a catalyst for social change.

Every faith tradition tells us what our legacy should be. Matthew 25 instructs:  “For I was hungry and you gave me food…” Judaism’s concept of tikkun olam calls on us to repair the world and zakat, or charity, is the Third Pillar of Islam.

Each day at St. Francis House we bear witness to the creation of legacies that scar and legacies that uplift. While we bear witness, it is our guests who bear the burden of a world that at times can be indifferent to their suffering or worse, blame them for their plight.

So, what of the legacy of St. Francis House? Our mission calls upon us to be a place of refuge and to create pathways to stability. And we are doing this, 365 days a year. You only need to stand in our lobby at the break of dawn to see the need. Some arrive carrying the blanket they slept under the night before, others come looking for a coat or a pair of shoes, all are hungry and are seeking a permanent place to call home.

Injustices such as these make me sad and angry but that only fuels my conviction to provide our guests relief from their suffering and create solutions that bring opportunities. And I thank God that I am not alone.

Our staff are men and women who know that the greatest poverty in the world today is experienced by those who feel unloved, unwanted and uncared for. Every day of the year, in contrast to the injustices of the world, we create a place that welcomes everyone, regardless of the circumstances that brought them to our door. In this way, we provide hope and the transformative power of what is possible when one is intentional and deliberate.

On this day, as we acknowledge all the lost lives we also need to recognize the importance of our own legacies and think deeply in the coming year about what our own will be. I challenge you to consider what steps you will make to support those who struggle in homelessness and poverty.  I invite you to join with St. Francis House and fellow organizations who are working together to see the dawn of a new day, a day when homelessness is ended and we live in a world where everyone has a place to call home.

Karen LaFrazia
President & CEO
St. Francis House

AICUM, Governor Baker and State Senator Donoghue Celebrate New College Savings Incentive

At its 12th Annual Dinner, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts (AICUM) celebrated the Commonwealth’s new 529 College Savings Plan incentive for families which was passed by the Legislature this past summer. AICUM represents 58 private, non-profit colleges and universities throughout Massachusetts.

Governor Charlie Baker received AICUM’s “Committed to Access” Award for advancing a 529 tax deduction as part of his Economic Development bill and State Senator Eileen Donoghue, the legislative sponsor of the 529 provision, delivered keynote remarks. The 529 College Savings provision of the Economic Development Bill was signed into law by Governor Baker in August. A video testimonial on the story of the 529 legislation can be seen on YouTube, here.

The new 529 College Savings provision offers Massachusetts families a new tax incentive for contributions to a prepaid tuition or college savings program established by the state. Single filers will be able to deduct up to $1,000 while married people filing jointly can deduct up to $2,000.