Showing posts with label MA Senate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MA Senate. Show all posts

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Legislature Passes Genocide Education Bill

Legislature Passes Genocide Education Bill

LEGISLATURE PASSES GENOCIDE EDUCATION BILL

Establishes the Genocide Education Trust Fund to educate students on the history of genocide

The Massachusetts Legislature on Wednesday passed An Act concerning genocide education to provide education to middle and high school students on the history of genocide and to promote the teaching of human rights issues.

"While past crimes against humanity cannot be undone, we must learn from them," stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). "After a rise in anti-Semitic incidences in our state and a noticeable decline in young people's understanding of the specifics or the seriousness of the Holocaust, it was clear something must be done. As a Jewish woman and daughter of a World War II veteran who liberated the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure we educate our children on the many instances of genocide throughout history so that it is never repeated. I am grateful to Senator Rodrigues and his staff for their hard work on this legislation, to my Senate colleagues for their continued support, and to Speaker Mariano and our partners in the House for advancing this important legislation."

"As a former teacher, I recognize and value the importance of teaching about acts of genocide in an effort to stem bigotry and intolerance. This Genocide Education bill puts Massachusetts on a path to do exactly that," said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). "By requiring that all middle and high schools teach about the history of genocide, and how hatred and prejudice can lead to violence, we're taking a necessary step in the pursuit of increased education about the atrocities of the past, and how to avoid them in the future. I would like to thank chairs Michlewitz, Peisch and Roy for all of their work with the advocates to produce an impactful bill that will ensure meaningful change."

"With today's passage, the Legislature has taken decisive action to make sure young people are meaningfully educated about the history of genocide and stand ready to oppose its root causes, now and forever," said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "Thank you to Senate President Spilka for her leadership and strong support, Senator Lewis for his commitment to this matter, my respective Senate colleagues, and our partners in the House for boldly standing with us to say that we will never forget the lessons of the past and will stand against the forces of division and ignorance. I would also like to thank my constituent, Dr. Ron Weisberger, the ADL, JCRC, MASC, MASS and the dedicated advocates for their support and tremendous efforts. Thanks to their collaboration with the legislature, Massachusetts will use the power of education to oppose hate in our communities, broaden public awareness, and shape our collective future."

The bill requires middle schools and high schools in the Commonwealth to include instruction on the history of genocide. This most recent iteration of the legislation comes as incidences of hate and anti-Semitism are on the rise across the country, with several incidents reported in Massachusetts over the past year.

In 2020, a widely reported survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which gauged Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z populations, found that 63 percent of survey respondents in the United States did not know six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The survey also found that nearly half were unfamiliar with Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz. Massachusetts does not currently require Holocaust education or other genocides as part of classroom curriculum.

"It is shocking how many young people today have never heard of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Holocaust, or other heinous genocides perpetrated in the past," said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. "This important legislation will ensure that more students understand the history of genocide so that it never happens again. I'm grateful to Senator Michael Rodrigues for championing this legislation and to all of the educators and advocates who have worked to see this bill passed."

"While racial, ethnic, national, and religious violence has existed throughout the past and continues in the present, recent events suggest our collective knowledge of some of history's worst atrocities is waning. It is our responsibility to take steps to ensure we do not forget the past so that we can continue to build a better future, while still respecting the ability of individual school districts to shape the curricula of their students," said Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. "I'd like to thank Speaker Mariano, Chairman Michlewitz, and Chairman Roy for their leadership on this critical piece of legislation."

"With this law, we can arm our students with the knowledge they will need to recognize the warning signs and feel empowered to prevent genocides in the future," Representative Jeffrey Roy (D-Franklin), lead sponsor of the House bill and House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. "Making genocide education a mandatory topic for teaching in our schools is a reaffirmation of the commitment of free peoples from all nations to never again permit the occurrence of another genocide, and to deter indifference to crimes against humanity and human suffering wherever they occur."

This bill would establish a Genocide Education Trust Fund to promote and educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide. Funds in this trust would be used for the instruction of middle and high school students on the history of genocide and ensure the development of curricular materials, as well as to provide professional development training to assist educators in the teaching of genocide.

The legislation requires each school district to annually file a description of their lesson plan and programs related to genocide education with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The bill also establishes a competitive grant program that schools, and districts can apply to for additional programming support.

An Act concerning genocide education now moves to the governor's desk.

Friday, November 12, 2021

CommonWealth Magazine: "Senate passes ARPA spending bill"

 

AFTER WADING THROUGH ours of debate and considering hundreds of amendments, the Senate late Wednesday night unanimously approved a $3.82 billion package to steer special federal relief funds and surplus state budget revenues into virtually every corner of the state.

All three Senate Republicans, who unsuccessfully sought to double the amount of unemployment relief for businesses and implement a two-week state sales tax holiday in the bill, joined Democrats to vote 38-0 in favor of the massive spending proposal (S 2564) that carves up about half of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act relief funding.

Now the arguably harder part — negotiating a final bill between the two branches after the House and Senate versions diverged on many specifics — begins. The one caveat is that there are billions more dollars still in reserve, which could make reaching agreement easier.

Continue reading the article online

MA Senate press releases

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Senate Prioritizes Veterans’ Services in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding

Senate Prioritizes Veterans' Services in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding

Financial support for veterans' services expanded during Senate debate

 The Massachusetts State Senate on Wednesday (11/10/2021) passed a $3.82 billion blueprint to invest funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to meet the urgent needs of the Commonwealth's ongoing recovery. The bill includes increased investments for veteran services and supports that target housing security, transportation, and mental and behavioral health care, among other areas.

"For too many veterans, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented physical, mental and financial challenges," said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). "Reaffirming our commitment to veterans is an important piece of this legislation's broader goal of ensuring an equitable COVID-19 recovery and reimagining our future. I am truly grateful to the many veterans who have given so much for the security of our nation, including Senators Velis, Rush, and Cronin, and I am proud to live in a state where so many of us have worked to build the best veterans' services in the nation, including with these investments. I'd like to thank Senator Rodrigues for his leadership of the ARPA process, as well as Senators Velis, Rush, and Moore for their contributions to this legislation and their steadfast commitment to serving veterans in our Commonwealth." 

"As we continue to build our post-pandemic future, we must recognize our veterans who made sure that future was possible," said State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "I am proud that our Senate ARPA spending plan includes measures to strengthen housing security, transportation services, and food distribution for veterans, while also ensuring proper recognition for Massachusetts service men and women who died in the line of duty. Thank you to Senate President Spilka for her leadership and Senators Moore, Rush, and Velis for their diligent work to support our cherished veterans."

Many of the provisions strengthening veterans' services were passed as amendments on An Act relative to immediate COVID-19 recovery needs (S. 2564). The Senate's ARPA plan would invest $150 million in supportive housing, including $75 million for the chronically homeless population. Priority for permanent supportive housing would be given to veterans, along with individuals and families who are chronically homeless, experiencing behavioral health or substance misuse needs, survivors of domestic violence, involved in the foster care system, or seniors. An amendment proposed by Senator Rush and adopted directs $20 million be invested in supportive housing for veterans located across the state in areas not primarily served by either the Chelsea or Holyoke Soldiers' Homes.

"Veterans who have served this nation and have been willing to give their life for our freedom deserve a place to call home," said Senator Michael F. Rush (D-Boston), Senate Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. "Thank you to the Senate President and Ways and Means Chair for their leadership to ensure all our Veterans have that home."

Senator Velis, Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, contributed two additional amendments relevant to veterans. The first of these allocates $500,000 to newly created transportation services for participants in the Massachusetts Veterans' Treatment Courts in order to reduce regional inequities and provide services to veterans across the state. The second explicitly ensures that the Massachusetts Medal of Liberty can be awarded to service men and women who have died as a result of training accidents while in the line of duty. 

"As we approach Veterans Day, we are reminded of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Veterans throughout our communities and the importance of recognizing those who have served our nation," said Senator John C. Velis (D-Westfield), Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. "Extending the Medal of Liberty to those who died as a result of a training accident will ensure that we are properly honoring the sacrifices that those service members and their families have endured. Additionally, the critical funding allocated to our Commonwealth's Veteran Treatment Courts will resolve the transportation barriers that keep Veterans from participating in this valuable program and getting the help they need. I am grateful to the Senate President and the Chairman of Ways and Means for their leadership and commitment to ensuring that Massachusetts is the premiere state for our Veterans and their families. These important amendments are a continued step in that direction."

An amendment offered by Senator Michael O. Moore extends $1 million of state financial support to the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, Inc. for 'empowerment centers' which distribute food services to veterans in need in Worcester County.

"The brave men and women who have served in our armed forces are true heroes, and we should be doing everything in our power to make their transition back to civilian life as easy as possible," said Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury). "Through their programs, events and other resources the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation has become a leader when it comes to providing services for our veterans. Because of this I am both grateful and proud that we were able to allocate funding for them so that they can continue to provide exceptional service for our service members." 

With both the House and Senate having passed their own versions of ARPA spending plans, the two bills must now be reconciled before heading to the Governor's desk.

MA Senate Passes American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Spending Bill

             Senate Passes American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Spending Bill

Investments focus on those hardest hits by COVID-19 and supporting the ongoing economic recovery

Today (11/10/2021), the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed a $3.82 billion bill that directs federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to assist the Commonwealth's ongoing recovery, with a particular focus on making equitable investments and ensuring that communities disproportionately impact by the COVID-19 pandemic are prioritized. Using this framework, the bill delivers targeted, transformational supports to critical sectors such as health care, mental and behavioral health, housing security, environment, and workforce development.

"The Massachusetts State Senate has acted decisively to support our state's recovery and ensure we do not go back to normal but 'back to better'," said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). "The Senate's proposal provides a path towards an equitable recovery that benefits residents, businesses, and communities through transformational investments in public health, housing, and climate change. I once again thank President Biden and the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation for their work to pass the American Rescue Plan Act at the federal level.  I am also grateful to my colleagues in the Senate, the members and staff of the Committee on Ways and Means, and the many members of the public who provided input to help us chart our future."

"Over the course of today's long and productive debate, the Senate demonstrated its commitment to using the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the American Rescue Plan Act funds represent to fuel an equitable recovery and support the communities most impacted by the pandemic," said State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "Under the continued leadership of Senate President Spilka, the Senate has risen to the challenge of making meaningful investments in mental health, public health, workforce development, affordable housing, and so much more, ensuring those hit the hardest by COVID-19—families, essential workers and small businesses—are being helped the most. Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate, whose advocacy and dedication helped to shape the overall direction of this bill to ensure our residents will benefit equitably as we continue to chart a path forward to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic." 

"The Senate has produced an important bill to respond to the powerful impacts that COVID-10 has had in every community and sector of our Commonwealth. Our American Rescue Plan Act bill directs federal and state surplus dollars towards our highest priorities including; public health and wellness, economic and environmental protection and stewardship, infrastructure improvements, supports for the services people and businesses need to recover and prosper," said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R - Gloucester). "The release of these funds won't cure all our ills, but it will fuel our state's recovery from a devastating pandemic, and build strength and resilience for the future."

Investments included in the bill are as follows:

Mental and Behavioral Health, Public Health and Health Care

The Senate's ARPA spending plan helps families, vulnerable populations, and historically underserved communities by investing more than $1 billion to support the state's healthcare system and confront the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate's bill invests $400 million in mental and behavioral health supports, including over $122 million to expand loan repayment programs for behavioral health professionals, including substance use disorder professionals. This investment is expected to help recruit and retain nearly 2,000 mental health professionals across the continuum of care.  During debate, $5 million was added by amendment to support grants to higher education institutions to address student behavioral and mental health needs.

The Senate's plan also revolutionizes the state's local and regional public health infrastructure and makes a historic investment of $250.9 million to ensure the Commonwealth can protect the public health of residents, workers, and businesses for years to come. This funding includes $118.4 million for public health infrastructure and data sharing upgrades, and $95 million for direct grants to local boards of health to be prepared to respond to future public health threats. To complement this landmark investment, the Senate adopted an amendment that encourages greater collaboration between regional public health systems on workforce standards and policies, while sustaining the Public Health Excellence program established under the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) program. Other health care investments include: 

  • $300 million for the Home and Community-Based Services Federal Investment Fund to address workforce needs for those caring for vulnerable populations, 
  • $200 million for acute hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,
  • $60 million for food security infrastructure with complementary amendments investing $17 million for the Greater Boston Food Bank for regional food security network improvements across the Commonwealth, $5 million for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, $2 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program to provide loans, grants and technical assistance in a regionally equitable manner to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, $1.92 million for Project Bread to better connect eligible unenrolled residents with federal nutrition programs statewide and $1 million for the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, Inc. for the operation of empowerment centers and to support the distribution of food to veterans in need,
  • $55 million to support a robust and diverse home health care and human service workforce through recruitment, retention, and loan forgiveness programming,
  • $50 million for nursing facilities, including $25 million for capital support, to increase the quality of patient care and $25 million for workforce initiatives,
  • $25 million for a grant program for community violence prevention and re-entry organizations, focused on communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,
  • $5 million added by an amendment for Health Care For All to conduct a community-based MassHealth redetermination and vaccination outreach, education, and access campaign targeted in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,
  • $5 million added by an amendment for the Disabled Persons Protection Commission to study and review the interrelationship between service-providing agencies for individuals with disabilities within the Commonwealth and to design and implement a system for an interconnected network that will provide a continuum of care for those individuals,
  • $2 million added by an amendment for unreimbursed COVID-19 costs for Early Intervention providers, and
  • $500,000, added through amendment, to establish transportation services for participants in the Massachusetts Veterans' Treatment Courts.

Economic Recovery and Workforce Development

The Senate's ARPA spending plan invests $1.7 billion to robustly support an equitable economic recovery for all by supporting workers, businesses and communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill dedicates $500 million towards premium pay bonuses for essential workers, up to $2,000 per worker, providing much needed relief to the workforce who served on the front lines during the pandemic.  

The bill also provides nearly $200 million in tax relief for small-business owners who otherwise would be required to pay personal income taxes on state or federal relief money. During debate, the Senate adopted an amendment to codify into statute an existing safe harbor provision related to the calculation of the advanced sales tax payment law. This time sensitive issue is meant to ease compliance and provide many businesses peace of mind, given that the current rule was set to expire on December 31, 2021.  

Other economic recovery and workforce development investments include: 

  • $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, providing necessary relief to small business,
  • $100 million for vocational school infrastructure and capacity building needs,
  • $75 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to support organizations working with people displaced from jobs during the pandemic, historically underserved populations, and individuals reentering their communities from the corrections system,
  • $75 million for equitable and affordable broadband access and infrastructure improvements to close the digital divide,
  • $75 million for Mass Cultural Council grants to support the cultural sector, 
  • $50 million for direct grants to minority-owned small businesses,
  • $30 million for regional high-demand workforce training at community colleges, 
  • $25 million for the expansion of Career Technical Institutes,
  • $24.5 for workforce development and capital assistance grants to the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs, as well $4.5 million added through an amendment for the YWCAs,
  • $15 million to enhance and diversify the cybersecurity sector with partnerships between public higher education institutions and private businesses, 
  • $12 million for the resettlement of Afghani evacuees and $8M added on the floor for Haitian evacuees,
  • $10 million added by amendment for regional tourism councils, and
  • $14 million for agricultural economy supports.

Housing

The spending plan acknowledges the critical role that housing plays in economic recovery. Over a year and a half into the pandemic, access to stable and affordable housing remains at the forefront of the state's strategy to ensure economic security for those who call the Commonwealth home. Reflecting the Senate's long-standing commitment, the ARPA spending bill allocates $600 million for investments in affordable, accessible housing, as well as supportive housing. 

Housing investments include: 

  • $150 million for supportive housing, including $75 million for the chronically homeless population, and $20 million, added by amendment, to increase geographic equity and accessibility related to the continuum of long-term care services for veterans not primarily served by the Soldiers' Homes in Chelsea or Holyoke,
  • $150 million for public housing authorities to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure, 
  • $125 million for the Commonwealth Builders Program to support housing production and promote homeownership among residents of disproportionately impacted communities,
  • $125 million for affordable rental housing production and preservation for the workforce and low- and moderate-income individuals,  
  • $50 million for homeownership assistance tools, including down payment assistance, and mortgage interest subsidy supports.

Climate Preparedness

The Senate bill prioritizes building a more resilient Commonwealth and ensuring a healthier environment for all. To that end, the bill invests $450 million to combat climate change through mitigation initiatives, strengthen environmental infrastructure, fix aging water infrastructure, and modernize marine port infrastructure to support the state's emerging offshore wind industry. 

Environment and climate investments include: 

  • $175 million for water and sewer infrastructure investments through the Clean Water Trust,  
  • $125 million for environmental infrastructure grants, including the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, 
  • $100 million for marine port infrastructure investments focused on the promotion of offshore wind development, 
  • $25 million for Greening the Gateway Cities program to support tree planting, after adding $5 million through an amendment,
  • $15 million for parks and recreational assets, 
  • $10 million for clean energy retrofitting in affordable housing units, 
  • $7.5 million, added by amendment, for community colleges to help train underserved populations for green jobs, and
  • $5 million for the advancement of geothermal technologies. 

Transparency and Oversight

To support communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and prioritize historically underserved or marginalized populations, the Senate's bill establishes an equity and accountability review panel for federal funds to track in near real-time the amount and percentage of ARPA funds spent in these communities and awarded to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises. The bill also takes steps to ensure minority-owned and women-owned business have fair participation on procurements issued under the act. 

With both the House and Senate having passed their own versions of ARPA spending plans, the two bills must now be reconciled before heading to the Governor's desk.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Mass Senate Unveils Mental Health ABC Act 2.0: Addressing Barriers to Care

 

Senate Unveils Mental Health ABC Act 2.0: Addressing Barriers to Care

Bill works in tandem with landmark investments in mental and behavioral health
to transform mental health care delivery

Today (11/09/2021), the Massachusetts Senate unveiled its Mental Health ABC Act 2.0: Addressing Barriers to Care (ABC) (S2572), comprehensive legislation to continue the process of reforming the way mental health care is delivered in Massachusetts, with the goal of ensuring that people get the mental health care they need when they need it. This legislation comes at a time when the Massachusetts State Senate is making landmark investments in mental and behavioral health, including $400 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to transform the behavioral health sector, with $122 million dedicated to recruiting and retaining nearly 2,000 behavioral professionals.

The Mental Health ABC Act 2.0 is driven by the recognition that mental health is as important as physical health for every resident of the Commonwealth and should be treated as such. The bill proposes a wide variety of reforms to ensure equitable access to mental health care and remove barriers to care by supporting the behavioral health workforce.

"This important bill will put policies place to ensure that people get the mental health care they need, when they need it and provide a national model for how we can create an integrated and comprehensive health care system that treats mental health the same as physical health," stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). "Out of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is reason for hope, because we are no longer talking about the need for quality mental and behavioral health care in whispers, shamed by stigma. As we all face the emotional difficulties and social isolation of the pandemic, people across our Commonwealth are talking about their struggles with mental health, and the call for quality mental health care is now a roar. I'd like to thank Senators Cyr, Friedman and Rodrigues for their hard work and collaboration on this bill, and the many advocates, individuals and families who have fought for changes to our mental health care delivery system and who have never given up."

"Too many people in Massachusetts struggle to access the mental health services they desperately need and deserve," said Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. "The Mental Health ABC Act 2.0 is an important step towards realizing the Senate's vision to transform how the Commonwealth addresses mental health. I am deeply grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka for her leadership and example, and to Senators Friedman and Rodrigues for their partnership in this most urgent endeavor." 

"For far too long, mental health has been a forgotten component of our healthcare system despite our statutory parity mandate that calls for equitable coverage between medical and surgical treatment and mental health treatment," said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. "This bill serves as a first step forward in addressing the persisting inequities in our delivery of mental health services that keep patients from accessing the care they need, and will provide a framework for the state to better enforce our mental health parity laws. I want to thank Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and Senator Cyr for their thoughtful collaboration on this initiative and shared commitment to reforming our mental health care system so it is accessible, affordable, and equitable for all."

"The Mental Health ABC Act 2.0 is a landmark step toward making sure people can get the mental health care they need when they need it," said Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "The Senate's targeted investments in mental health in the ARPA bill and the FY22 budget have made it clear that cost of action on this issue is far less than the cost of inaction, for the sake of all residents of the Commonwealth. I applaud Senate President Spilka for her compassionate and steadfast leadership on this issue, and Senators Cyr and Friedman for their diligent work to build upon last session's ABC Act and put forward a comprehensive bill that will ensure equitable access to mental health care for all."

Additions to the original version of the Mental Health ABC Act contained in this legislation include: guaranteeing an annual mental health wellness exam at no cost to the patient; creating an online portal that enables access to real-time data to move patients from emergency to appropriate care; establishing a complex case resolution panel to help resolve barriers to care for children with complex behavioral health needs who find themselves in the emergency room; requiring the Office of the Child Advocate and the Health Policy Commission to issue reports on child emergency department boarding; creating a standard release form; expanding access to psychiatric care by requiring the state-contracted and commercial health plans to cover mental health and substance use disorder benefits offered through the psychiatric collaborative care model; incentivizing investments in acute psychiatric services; and establishing an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion.

The following is an overview of The Mental Health ABC Act 2.0.

Ensuring Equitable Access to Mental Health Care

Guaranteeing Annual Mental Health Wellness Exams. The idea that a person's mental health is just as important as a person's physical health is the cornerstone of this reform. This bill would codify this principle by mandating coverage for an annual mental health wellness exam, comparable to an annual physical.

Enforcing Mental Health Parity Laws. Mental health parity as a concept is simple: insurance coverage for mental health care should be equal to insurance coverage for any other medical condition. This concept has been codified in federal and state law for decades, but enforcement of the law has been challenging. As a result, inequities persist, and patients are often denied coverage for mental health treatment that is every bit as critical to managing their health as treatment for diabetes or heart disease.

This bill provides the state with better tools to implement and enforce our parity laws by creating a clear structure for the Division of Insurance to receive and investigate parity complaints to ensure their timely resolution. Other tools include parity enforcement for commercial, state-contracted and student health insurance plans, greater reporting and oversight of insurance carriers' mental health care coverage processes and policies, and reasonable penalties and alternative remedies for when an insurance company does not comply with the law.

Addressing the Emergency Department Boarding Crisis. For many adults and children in the grips of a mental health crisis, the fastest way to get help is to go to a hospital emergency department (ED). Sadly, when they need to be admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit, it can be days, weeks, or even months before they're admitted. Meanwhile, the person must often wait in the ED, receiving little to no psychiatric care. This is referred to as 'ED boarding' and it has increased up to 400% since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Given the severity and urgency of the state's ED boarding crisis, this bill tackles the issue in several ways, by:

  • Creating an ARPA-funded online portal that enables access to real-time data on and includes a search function that allows health care providers to easily search and find open beds using a number of criteria;
  • Establishing a complex case resolution panel to help resolve barriers to care for children with complex behavioral health needs and would include representatives from several state and local health and education agencies working together to ensure a child's behavioral health needs are met in a timely manner;
  • Requiring all hospital EDs to have a qualified behavioral health clinician available to evaluate and stabilize a person admitted to a hospital ED with a behavioral health presentation during all operating hours;
  • Directing the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) to produce an annual report on child ED boarding; and
  • Tasking the Health Policy Commission (HPC) with conducting a statewide pediatric behavioral health assessment every five years to inform future policymaking.

Addressing ED boarding will help families experiencing acute mental health crises receive timely care.

Reimbursing Mental Health Providers Equitably. Mental health and primary care providers are reimbursed at different rates for the same service. The bill seeks to level the playing field for reimbursement to mental health providers by requiring an equitable rate floor for evaluation and management services that is consistent with primary care.

Reforming Medical Necessity and Prior Authorization Requirements. When an adult or child arrives in an emergency department in the throes of acute mental health crises requiring immediate treatment in an appropriate setting, clinical determinations should be made by the treating clinician. In practice, however, insurance carriers impose too many restrictions on providers' clinical judgement in terms of prior approval and concurrent review requirements for mental health services.

This results in barriers to, and delays in, treatment for patients who need immediate care, creating a dysfunctional system that allows insurance companies to have more leverage in determining a patient's course of treatment than health care providers.

This bill mandates coverage and eliminates prior authorization for mental health acute treatment and stabilization services for adults and children; requires MassHealth and commercial insurance companies to follow a uniform set of criteria established by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) for medical necessity and utilization management determinations for treatments for substance use disorder (SUD); and ensures that if a health insurance company intends to change its medical necessity guidelines, the new guidelines must be easily accessible by consumers on the health insurance company's website.

This bill also establishes a special commission to bring all stakeholders to the table to study and make recommendations on the creation of a common set of medical necessity criteria to be used by health care providers and insurance carriers for mental health services.

Creating a Standard Release Form. Behavioral health providers struggle in the era of electronic health records and care coordination to create systems that simultaneously protect an individual's right to consent to share sensitive health information and allow practitioners to access the information they need to treat the individual and coordinate care. This bill would direct the development of a standard release form for exchanging confidential mental health and substance use disorder information to facilitate access to treatment by patients with multiple health care providers.

Increasing Access to Emergency Service Programs. Emergency Service Programs (ESPs), which are community-based and recovery-oriented programs that provide behavioral health crisis assessment, intervention, and stabilization services for people with psychiatric illness, are currently covered by MassHealth. The bill would require commercial insurance companies to cover ESPs as well.

Expanding Access to the Evidence-Based Collaborative Care Model. The collaborative care model delivers mental health care in primary care through a team of health care professionals, including the primary care provider, a behavioral health care manager, and a consulting psychiatrist. This evidence-based access to mental health care has proven effective, less costly, and less stigmatizing. The bill would expand access to psychiatric care by requiring the state-contracted and commercial health plans to cover mental health and substance use disorder benefits offered through the psychiatric collaborative care model.

Reviewing the Role of Behavioral Health Managers. Some insurance companies have subcontracted mental health benefits to specialty utilization management companies for years with mixed results. The bill directs the Health Policy Commission, in consultation with the Division of Insurance, to study and provide updated data on the use of contracted mental health benefit managers by insurance carriers, often referred to as "carve-outs." 

Incentivizing Investment in Acute Psychiatric Services. This bill would create an exemption from the Department of Public Health's determination of need process to incentivize health care facilities to invest in and develop more acute psychiatric services across the Commonwealth, including inpatient, community-based acute treatment, intensive community-based treatment, a continuing care unit and partial hospitalization programs.

Tracking and Analyzing Behavioral Health Expenditures. This bill includes a critical first steps toward incentivizing greater investments in mental health care within the analysis of statewide health care cost growth. Specifically, the bill directs the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) to define and collect data on the delivery of mental health services to establish a baseline of current spending; and directs the Health Policy Commission (HPC) to begin tracking mental health care expenditures as part of its annual cost trends hearings.

Establishing an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion. Current behavioral health services are spread across state agencies. This dilutes the responsibility for mental health promotion and focus on the issues and undermines the important work being done. This bill would establish an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to coordinate all state initiatives that promote mental, emotional, and behavioral health and wellness for residents.

Increasing Access to Care in Geographically Isolated Areas. This bill would direct the Department of Mental Health (DMH) to consider factors that may present barriers to care—such as travel distance and access to transportation—when contracting for services in geographically isolated and rural communities.

Removing Barriers to Care by Supporting the Behavioral Health Workforce

Creating a Roadmap on Access to Culturally Competent Care. This initiative builds off an academic study mandated and funded through the Commonwealth's Fiscal Year 2021 budget to review the availability of and barriers to accessing culturally competent mental health care providers. Under this provision, an interagency health equity team under the Office of Health Equity, working with an advisory council, would make annual recommendations for the next three years to improve access to, and the quality of, culturally competent mental health services. Paired with the Senate's ARPA investment of $122 million in the behavioral health workforce through loan repayment assistance programs, this roadmap will make great strides toward building a robust workforce reflective of communities' needs.

Allows for an Interim Licensure for Licensed Mental Health Counselors. The bill would create an interim licensure level for Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs) so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs, further increasing the number of licensed providers able to serve patients.

Expanding Mental Health Billing. This bill would allow clinicians practicing under the supervision of a licensed professional and working towards independent licensure to practice in a clinic setting. This will help to ensure quality training and supervision and encourage clinicians to stay practicing in community-based settings.

Updating the Board of Registration of Social Workers. The bill would update the membership of the Board of Registration of Social Workers to clarify that designees from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Department of Public Health (DPH) be licensed social workers.

This legislation builds upon the original Mental Health ABC Act, passed by the Senate in 2020, important provisions of which have been signed into law, including:

  • Standardizing credentialing forms, which shortens the amount of time it takes for newly hired mental and behavioral health professionals to be approved for inclusion in an insurance network, increasing access to care.
  • Requiring coverage for same day care, removing a significant financial barrier to the integration of primary care and mental health.
  • Creating a tele-behavioral health pilot program, which authorized three pilots for tele-behavioral health services in public high schools in the Commonwealth.
  • Creating a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner fellowship pilot program, which offers additional support and training to psychiatric nurse practitioners who agree to work in community settings with underserved populations.
  • Creating a mental health workforce pipeline to encourage and support individuals from diverse backgrounds to choose careers in mental health by emphasizing that it is valued and important work.
  • Studying access to culturally competent care to review the availability of culturally competent mental health care providers, as well as to identify potential barriers to care for underserved cultural, ethnic and linguistic populations, the LGBTQ+ community, and others.

This legislation also comes at a time when the Massachusetts State Senate is making transformative investments in mental and behavioral health, including:

  • $400 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to transform the behavioral health sector, with $122 million dedicated to recruiting and retaining nearly 2,000 behavioral professionals.
  • $10 million annually for the newly-created Behavioral Health Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund, which funded the highly successful More to the Story public awareness campaign.
  • $10 million for the rapid creation of new inpatient mental health acute care beds, particularly new beds for children, adolescents and underserved communities.
  • $15 million for Programs of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) for children who exhibit symptoms of serious emotional disturbance; PACT uses a multidisciplinary team approach to provide acute and long term supports for individuals in the community.
  • $3 million for a loan repayment assistance program to recruit and retain child and adolescent psychiatrists at community mental health and health centers.

The Senate is scheduled to debate the Mental Health ABC 2.0 Act next week.


CommonWealth Magazine coverage of the legislation released for discussion

Boston Globe coverage of proposal  https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/11/09/metro/mass-senators-unveil-wide-ranging-mental-health-measure/


Thursday, November 4, 2021

Mass Senate Releases American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Spending Bill

 

Senate Ways and Means Releases American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Spending Bill

Bill's focus is on transformational investments in public health, housing,
mental and behavioral health, and the environment 

Today (11/03/2021), the Senate Committee on Ways and Means announced a $3.66 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) spending bill to address COVID-19 recovery needs and build an equitable future for the Commonwealth. The Senate Ways and Means ARPA bill reflects the shared priorities of the Senate and recommends several thoughtfully targeted investments in health care, housing, environment, economic recovery and workforce development, while addressing economic and racial inequality and helping the communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"With careful planning, resourcefulness and compassion, the Massachusetts State Senate has played a central role in navigating our state through the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). "At this critical juncture, we must not lose sight of the big picture. We need to address immediate and critical needs in  mental health care access, food security, the struggles of small businesses and access to housing. We must also continue to build up and support our public health system, including by investing in our local boards of health. The plan put forward by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means today will use funding from the American Rescue Plan to not only build resiliency in these crisis areas, but will also set our Commonwealth on the path towards an equitable recovery. I thank President Biden and the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation for their work to pass the American Rescue Plan Act at the federal level, and I thank Senator Rodrigues, my colleagues in the Senate, the members and staff of the Committee on Ways and Means, and the many members of the public who provided input to help us help the people of the Commonwealth get back to better." 

"As we strive to build a post-pandemic future for our Commonwealth, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means proposal to invest American Rescue Plan Act funds represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fuel an equitable recovery and lift up communities most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic," said State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "Reflecting the shared priorities of the respective Senate membership, the Committee's bill released today makes clear that we heard the clarion call for smart, game-changing investments in mental health, public health, workforce development, affordable housing, and so much more, ensuring those hit the hardest by COVID-19—families, essential workers and small businesses—are being helped the most. I want to thank Senate President Spilka for her leadership and continued friendship, Vice-Chair Friedman, Assistant Vice-Chair Lewis and members of the Committee for their continued advocacy, and our partners in the House, especially Chair Michlewitz for his continued commitment to ensuring we chart a more equitable path forward, while also keeping an eye on the fiscal health of our state."  

"The lack of access to quality and timely behavioral health care has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "This bill—with its historic-level of investment in our behavioral health system—takes real and immediate action to begin addressing the critical workforce issues facing the behavioral health and human services sector. The opportunity to add close to 2,000 workers to these sectors will have a profound impact for our residents and reaffirms the Senate's commitment to expanding access to much needed mental health services, especially in communities most impacted by the pandemic. I applaud Senate President Spilka and Chair Rodrigues for their leadership and using this unique opportunity to take meaningful action to address these persistent issues." 

"Thanks to President Biden and congressional Democrats who passed the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year, Massachusetts is seizing a momentous opportunity to invest in a strong and equitable pandemic recovery" said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "I'm very grateful for the extensive and constructive input from a wide variety of stakeholder groups and members of the public who helped the Senate craft legislation that clearly reflects the needs and priorities of communities across the Commonwealth, especially those hardest hit by the pandemic." 

"The Senate's ARPA spending plan presents many exciting, much-needed, and once-in-a-generation opportunities for the stabilization and growth of our Commonwealth," said Senator Patrick O'Connor (R-Weymouth), Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "I am grateful to Chair Rodrigues and Senate President Spilka for proposing meaningful investments in the most high-needs areas, such as public health infrastructure, small business relief, and workforce development. After mindful planning and consideration, I believe we are fully prepared to release these federal dollars across Massachusetts in the most pragmatic and helpful way possible. I look forward to the upcoming deliberations with our Senate colleagues to fully realize the potential of this opportunity." 

The Senate ARPA spending bill recommends a total of $3.66 billion in spending, utilizing up to $2.5 billion in available American Rescue Plan Act funds and up to $1.45 billion in available Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 state surplus resources. Informed by the testimony heard extensively throughout the public hearing process, which included over 25 hours of public hearings and more than 450 letters of public testimony, the Committee's ARPA spending bill supports an equitable recovery for communities hardest hit by the pandemic, while maintaining the flexibility necessary to take advantage of future federal funding opportunities.  

The ARPA spending plan helps families, vulnerable populations, and communities historically underserved, investing more than $1 billion to support the state's health care system and confront the long-term impacts of COVID-19. Understanding the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, the Committee's bill proposes to invest $400 million in mental and behavioral health supports, including over $122 million to address immediate workforce needs. Additionally, the Senate's plan revolutionizes the state's local and regional public health infrastructure and makes an historic investment of $250.9 million to ensure the Commonwealth can protect the public health of residents, workers, and businesses for years to come. 

Health care investments include: 

  • $400 million to support the behavioral health sector, including over $122 million to expand loan repayment programs for behavioral health professionals, including substance use disorder professionals, and meet the increasing need to retain and build our workforce. This investment is expected to help recruit and retain nearly 2,000 mental health professionals across the continuum of care. 
  • $300 million for the Home and Community-Based Services Federal Investment Fund to address workforce needs for those caring for some of our most vulnerable populations. 
  • $250.9 million to revolutionize local and regional public health and provide equitable access to high quality protections for all Massachusetts residents, including $118.4 million for public health infrastructure and data sharing upgrades, and $95 million for directs grants to local boards of health to maintain ready-level response to future public health threats. 
  • $200 million for acute hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • $55 million to support a robust and diverse human service workforce through recruitment, retention, and loan forgiveness programming. 
  • $60 million for food security infrastructure grants to continue combatting hunger, 
  • $50 million for nursing facilities, including $25 million for capital support, to increase the quality of patient care and $25 million for workforce initiatives. 
  • $25 million for a grant program for community violence prevention and re-entry organizations, focused on communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Charting a post-pandemic future, the Senate's ARPA spending plan invests $1.7 billion to fuel an equitable economic recovery for all by supporting workers, businesses and communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee's bill dedicates $500 million towards premium pay bonuses for essential workers, providing much needed relief to the workforce who served on the front lines during the pandemic.  

Economic recovery and workforce development investments include: 

  • $500 million for premium pay bonuses for essential frontline workers who worked during the height of the pandemic. 
  • $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, providing necessary relief to small business. 
  • $100 million for vocational school infrastructure and capacity building needs. 
  • $75 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to support organizations working with people displaced from jobs during the pandemic, historically underserved populations, and individuals reentering their communities from the corrections system. 
  • $75 million for equitable and affordable broadband access and infrastructure improvements to close the digital divide. 
  • $75 million for Mass Cultural Council grants to support our cultural sector. 
  • $50 million for direct grants to minority-owned small businesses. 
  • $30 million for regional high-demand workforce training at community colleges. 
  • $25 million for the expansion of Career Technical Institutes. 
  • $20 for workforce development and capital assistance grants to the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs. 
  • $15 million to enhance and diversify our cybersecurity sector with partnerships between public higher education institutions and private businesses. 
  • $12 million for the resettlement of Afghani evacuees. 
  • $8 million for agricultural economy supports.  

The bill also provides close to $200 million tax relief for small-business owners who would have otherwise been required to pay personal income taxes on state or federal relief money. 

The spending plan acknowledges the critical role that housing plays in economic recovery. Over a year and a half into the pandemic, access to stable and affordable housing remains at the forefront of  the state's strategy to ensure economic security for those who call the Commonwealth home. Reflecting the Senate's long-standing commitment, the Committee's ARPA spending bill allocates $600 million for investments in affordable, accessible housing, as well as supportive housing. 

Housing investments include: 

  • $150 million for supportive housing, including $75 million for the chronically homeless population. 
  • $150 million for public housing authorities to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure. 
  • $125 million for the Commonwealth Builders Program to support housing production and promote homeownership among residents of disproportionately impacted communities. 
  • $125 million for affordable rental housing production for the workforce.  
  • $50 million for homeownership assistance tools, including down payment assistance and mortgage interest subsidy supports.  

In addition to making investments to support an equitable recovery that lifts hardest hit communities, the Senate bill prioritizes building a more resilient Commonwealth and ensuring a healthier environment for all. To that end, the Committee's bill invests $450 million to combat climate change through mitigation initiatives, strengthen environmental infrastructure, fix aging water infrastructure, and modernize marine port infrastructure to support the state's emerging offshore wind industry. 

 

Environment and climate investments include: 

  • $175 million for water and sewer infrastructure investments through the Clean Water Trust.  
  • $125 million for environmental infrastructure grants, including the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program. 
  • $100 million for marine port infrastructure investments focused on the promotion of offshore wind development. 
  • $20 million for Greening the Gateway Cities program to support tree planting. 
  • $15 million for parks and recreational assets. 
  • $10 million for clean energy retrofitting in affordable housing units. 
  • $5 million for the advancement of geothermal technologies. 

Finally, to support communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and prioritize historically underserved or marginalized populations, the Committee's bill establishes a federal funds equity and accountability review panel to track in near real-time the amount and percentage of ARPA funds spent in these communities and awarded to minority and women business enterprises. Additionally, the bill also requires state agencies and authorities to promulgate rules or regulations to ensure the fair participation of minority and women-owned business enterprises.  

 

Senators can file amendments to the Senate Ways and Means recommendations until Friday, November 5. The full Senate will then debate the ARPA spending bill in formal session beginning Wednesday, November 10.   

Video link: Massachusetts State Senate Releases ARPA Investment Proposal - YouTube