This week marks a new chapter in our nation’s fight against COVID-19. The Biden administration takes office with a well-developed plan to begin fighting the spread of the coronavirus, while also ramping up the rollout of vaccines. We are hopeful that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be restored to its former leadership position and can begin to address the enormous gaps in the government’s response to the virus – both nationally and at the state level.
Here in Massachusetts, the dust is settling on the end of the extended Legislative session. MPHA achieved notable successes last year, and also experienced a number of setbacks. Let’s start with the good news. Here are just some of our achievements:
Securing the first ever line-item in the state budget for local public health. This $10m allocation represents an important step forward in our larger effort to create minimum standards, ensure a qualified workforce and make annual state funding available for local public health departments and boards of health. The budget allocation builds on the earlier passage of the so-called SAPHE 1.0. bill, which provides training and grant funding to strengthen local public health;
Actively supporting passage of the police reform bill, which requires public disclosure of police misconduct records, creates the first civilian-led police oversight board with subpoena power and decertification authority; bans chokeholds and limits no-knock warrants; creates a duty-to-intervene for police officers, bans racial profiling, and requires public health data collection and reporting of police violence. Although much more needs to be done, this bill marks a real step forward in the effort to increase police accountability and bring an end to police violence;
Securing $90.5m in core operating support for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs). RTAs provide lifelines for their riders in 250+ cities and towns beyond the MBTA’s reach -- including essential workers. To secure this level of funding, the Legislature overrode a line-item veto from Governor Baker; and
Advocating successfully for the inclusion of an authorization of no less than $1m for the Massachusetts Food Trust in the economic development bond bill, as well as all-important funding to operate the program. The MA Food Trust provides loans, grants and business assistance to support new and expanding healthy food retailers and local food enterprises in low and moderate-income communities.
But there were also serious disappointments. The Legislature failed to pass both the Housing Stability Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Time bill, pieces of legislation that would have helped address the staggering inequities exacerbated by this pandemic. Furthermore, Governor Baker’s last-minute vetoes of the Climate Justice Bill, tenant protections provisions and a reduced fare program for public transportation were also blows to our state’s ability to build towards greater health equity.
So, we end the session with much left to do. And we are already digging in. Looking ahead to the new session – already underway – MPHA will be focused on a number of critical public health priorities including passing legislation that is a critical next step in our shared goal of transforming the local public health system, the Statewide Accelerated Public Health for Every Community (SAPHE 2.0) Act.
We will also be working to hold the Baker Administration accountable for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in communities hardest hit by the pandemic, as well as passing housing stability and paid sick time legislation and continuing to advocate for healthy food access and transportation justice.
As we tackle this ambitious agenda, we are grateful to have you by our side. We are also hopeful that, together, we can be part of a reinvigorated and coordinated federal and state response to the coronavirus pandemic. It will take all of our efforts to bring this possibility to fruition. Thank you for your continued partnership in the fight.