Friday, April 30, 2021

Massachusetts Senate Advances Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Bond Bill

On Thursday, April 29, 2021, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill authorizing $400 million in bonds for the design and construction of a new facility for the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. It also authorizes the issuance of $200 million in general obligation bonds to increase geographic equity and accessibility related to the continuum of long-term care services for Massachusetts veterans across the state, with an emphasis on those areas not primarily served by the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.

“The funding in this bill will ensure that we begin to rethink how we deliver care to veterans of every generation across Massachusetts,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Ensuring that our veterans are connected to their communities is an important factor in ensuring that their physical and mental health is taken care of, and so I am proud of the steps we have taken to ensure geographic equity and accessibility, especially for our women and LGBTQ veterans, as well as veterans of color. Our quick action in passing this legislation will help ensure we maximize federal funds in this important endeavor.”

“To meet the needs of the ever changing veteran population, the bill adopted today is a reflection of the strong advocacy of the members of this Senate to begin providing the long-term care services desperately needed for all veterans across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means. "I want to thank Senate President Spilka for her leadership along with Senators Rush, Velis, Feeney and others for their contributions to improve the bill to address regional equity and increase accessibility to services for our veterans who are not served by the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.”

In passing the $400 million bond authorization for a new soldiers’ home in Holyoke, Massachusetts is eligible to receive up to 65 per cent in federal reimbursement through the Veterans Affairs State Home Construction Grant Program. The existing soldiers’ home in Holyoke was built in 1952 with many triple and quadruple-bed rooms. The bill passed by the Senate will advance the construction of a modern facility with a “small house” concept to meet the needs of future generations of veterans. 

The Senate adopted an amendment on the floor to ensure that construction of the project utilizes a diverse workforce and provides for well-paying, middle class jobs. The amendment inserts Project Labor Agreement language that mandates a pre-bid, pre-hire labor agreement for the construction of the new facility in Holyoke, which will ensure that the workforce is local, diverse, inclusive, well-trained, safe and skilled.

Historically, such agreements on large taxpayer funded projects result in the completion of construction on-time and on or under budget. Additionally, this amendment mandates bold action to establish, recruit, and assist women, minority, and veteran owned businesses who may participate in the design and construction of the facility. The bill establishes the Access, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee to help set and monitor progress of diversity and inclusion goals and recommend solutions and programs to meet them, throughout the design and construction of the facility.

“The new Holyoke Soldier's Home should be a safe, comfortable and welcoming facility worthy of its residents and their service to this country,” stated Senator Paul Feeney (D-Foxborough), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. “Our veterans deserve the very best in care and treatment. The passage of this bond authorization will ensure that their needs are met for generations to come. I am proud that the Senate added additional language during our debate that strengthens the bill to reflect our Commonwealth’s collective values. It is critical that significant taxpayer funded projects of this scope be completed on-time and on-budget with a diverse, local, safe, well-trained and highly skilled workforce. Additionally, we should be working diligently to assist women, minority, and veteran owned businesses in creating jobs and opportunities now and in the future. The bill we passed today accomplishes these goals by authorizing funding for a modern facility for our Commonwealth's veterans while expanding opportunities for many local working-class people in the construction trades."

“Massachusetts has always been a leader for veteran services, and this bill reflects the Senate’s deep commitment to those who have served our nation,” stated Senator John Velis (D-Westfield), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “While our veteran population and their medical needs are changing, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home’s mission remains the same: to provide care with honor and dignity. This bond bill will ensure that the next generation of residents at the Home receive the care with honor and dignity that they have earned in service to our country.”

As part of the Senate’s commitment to increase geographic equity and accessibility for all veterans, the bill requires the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), in consultation with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Department of Veterans

Affairs (DVA), to hold hearings across the state to better understand the regional long-term care needs of veterans throughout the Commonwealth. Based on these hearings, communities will be better positioned to advocate for the $200 million authorized in new capital spending for long-term care services for veterans across the continuum of care, including potentially new “small home” satellite veterans’ homes, or new or expanded capital supports for community or home-based care.

One of many amendments adopted on the floor also requires the Department of Veteran's Services to consider the needs of veterans in designing facilities to ensure new facilities meet the needs of a changing veteran population, while another requires plans for new long-term care facilities to prioritize equitable access, regardless of race, religion, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

The bill must now be reconciled with the version recently passed by the House of Representatives.

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