Senate Budget Makes Solid Progress on Public Health
The State Senate finished its work on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget early in the morning on Friday. A number of HCFA's priorities were included in the final budget, including funding for early intervention, an earmark for the Office of Health Equity in EOHHS, and a restructuring of CHIA to allow for oversight of an independent agency. Other priorities of ours, such as reinstating full dental coverage for adults on MassHealth, were not approved by the Senate. A bright spot in the budget was some real progress on a number of public health initiatives, where HCFA collaborated with our partners at the Mass Public Health Association on several issues. We asked Rebekah Gewirtz, Executive Director of the MPHA, to let us know about their good news in a guest post:
The Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) is thrilled to announce that because of statewide advocacy efforts on the ground and the tireless leadership of our senate champions, Mass in Motion once again received dedicated funding of $250,000 in this year’s Senate budget. Last year was the first year funds were earmarked specifically for Mass in Motion in the state budget. We know the reason it continued is because senators understand how important funding is to promoting the health of all communities and particularly low income and communities of color, most impacted by chronic disease.
In addition, for the first time, language to fund the Massachusetts Food Trust program, also known as Healthy Food Financing, was included in the Senate budget. While we have work to do to achieve our goal of a $2.5 million state budget appropriation, this language affirms the importance of the program even in a year when there is a budget deficit. Another key public health victory was passage of an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is proven to help lift low income, working families out of poverty and in turn, improve health outcomes. Studies have linked increases in the EITC with positive outcomes for maternal child health including a marked decrease in low birth weight babies. Another positive outcome from the Senate budget was a new excise tax on flavored cigars. Products like candy flavored cigarettes and cigars are intended to hook kids and are aggressively marketed to a younger audience. Some $4 million in revenue from this new excise tax would be directed to tobacco control and cessation programs.
Overall, this was a difficult budget year. Many programs were cut or underfunded. MPHA has always supported progressive revenue measures to ensure we have adequate funds to support key public health programs like Mass in Motion and the Food Trust. And also for those programs that protect essential public health services like those provided by the state laboratory at Hinton. Lab funding was once again reduced this year, which concerns us greatly. We need to continue to raise awareness about how the lab impacts our lives each and every day – from inspectors for the food we eat to air quality monitoring that protects the air we breathe.
The victories we saw in the Senate budget do not conclude the budget process. The budget now goes to conference committee where we need to work hard to preserve our hard fought victories. For more information on how to get involved in your own community or with us in the State House, please see our website at www.mphaweb.org. Also: please support our work by attending our upcoming spring awards breakfast. At the breakfast we honor 4 public health heroes across the state who work arm in arm with MPHA and our allies at HCFA and elsewhere to fight for systems change to improve the health and wellbeing of all residents of the Commonwealth. The breakfast is on June 5th from 8:30-10:30am in the State Room at 60 State Street. For tickets also check out our website. We’ll see you there!
- Rebekah Gewirtz