Late yesterday, the Budget Conference Committee led by Ways and Means Chairs Brian Dempsey (House) and Karen Spilka (Senate) released their compromise FY16 budget proposal after long deliberations. Even while the state continues to struggle with its budget gap, this report included some signs of hope, other signs of progress, and more room for improvement.
JCRC professionals were joined by many volunteers during this round of budget advocacy and it clearly paid off. We hope to build upon that progress in the future.
Here are a few highlights upon our very early review:
Earned Income Tax Credit: We worked with a broad coalition to ensure that the state’s share of the EITC would be increased, including providing testimony at a hearing earlier in the year. There was broad bi-partisan support for this increase, but major differences in the means to “pay for” the increase. Ultimately, the final budget increases the state’s share from 15% to 23% in the tax year in 2016. To pay for the EITC increase, the budget repeals of what is known as the "FAS 109" tax deduction, which applies to the corporate tax returns of certain publicly-traded corporations. (Since the FAS 109 tax deduction has not even been in effect for the past few years, it's not quite clear what effect the repeal would have and how all the numbers add up - we will need to hear more details.) What a tremendous victory.
Transitions to Work: A public pilot program modeled after the “Transitions to Work” program, a partnership of the Ruderman Family Foundation, CJP and operated by JVS was included at a level of $150,000. This was the same amount that was initially included in last sessions Economic Development bill, but eventually cut by Governor Baker during his attempts to balance the budget.
Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities: This program, to help keep seniors at home and in their communities was included at last year’s amount. The maintenance of funding for NORCs was a really tremendous result for JF&CS, JFS Metrowest and JFS of Western Massachusetts who are providers of this innovative model.
Secure Jobs Initiative: The Secure Jobs Initiative, initially launched as a partnership between the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Foundation and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) was included in the conference report at $750,000, a 50% increase in the budget funding from last year. In addition, our creative language compromise to encourage DHCD to leverage other public funding was also included.
Bridges to College: Unfortunately, the Conference Committee reduced the funding for this program down from $400,000 to $250,000, the amount appropriated during Fiscal Year 2014. This is a “community college prep” program that was modeled after a JVS program of the same name. While the end result is disappointing, we are grateful for the strong support of our allies in the Legislature and Administration who we know will continue to push for increases in the future.
With these successes, there is always room for improvement. Increased funding is essential for senior services across the Commonwealth and for programs to ensure that all people that need a hand up are able to access those supports. The work does not end here – and we will continue our conversations with the administration to try and ensure that the Governor does not veto any of our priorities.
We echo the quote of our partner Leo Sarkissian, from the ARC of Massachusetts, regarding the conference report and its support of a robust disability agenda: “We should all feel good about the results of our advocacy – always more to do—but this is a very good day.”