GLX Legislators Push Back Against Public Meeting Cancellation

I was very concerned to learn last night that MassDOT plans to cancel its final public meeting on the Green Line Extension design review, which was originally planned for the evening of May 5th. Given the importance of this project to the Somerville, Cambridge, and Medford communities, I oppose this decision, which will eliminate a key opportunity for the public to be involved in the GLX design review process. Below is a letter that members of the GLX delegation sent to Secretary Pollack this afternoon.

Time for medical release law for terminally ill inmates in Massachusetts

Below is an op-ed I co-authored with Senator Pat Jehlen on why Massachusetts should release terminally ill inmates from incarceration to a supervised community setting in cases where a judge has determined that an inmate is permanently incapacitated and no longer poses a public safety concern. Sen. Jehlen and I filed legislation in the Senate and House, as S.843 and H.1628 respectively, that would accomplish this smart-on-crime approach. I have also filed similar language as an amendment to the House FY17 Budget, which will be debated this week. The op-ed ran in Cambridge Day titled “Time to move terminally ill, aged convicts from ill-equipped prison, jail care facilities.” – Tim

There is a fiscal crisis looming over Massachusetts’ state prisons and county jails. The inmate population is aging, and the cost of providing health care to older inmates, particularly those who are suffering from terminal ailments, is beginning to strain budgets. We incarcerate twice as many inmates over the age of 50 as we did in 2002, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. This is a problem that is shared in corrections systems across the country, but unlike most other states, our jails and prisons do not have access to the tools they need to deal with it.

Forty-five other states and the federal government have mechanisms for releasing dying prisoners in their custody to more medically appropriate environments. Massachusetts is one of the five states that do not have such a mechanism, and it is costing us dearly. Continuing to imprison dying inmates who no longer pose a danger to the public is pulling funds away from corrections initiatives that directly affect public safety, such as programming for inmates nearing release. Rising health care costs and an aging inmate population guarantee the situation will only continue to grow worse unless we take action now.

To address this problem, we filed legislation that would create a process for the Department of Corrections and County Sheriffs to begin placing terminally ill and permanently incapacitated prisoners who are no longer a threat to public safety in settings outside of state prisons and county jails. If passed, this bill would allow eligible inmates to begin receiving end-of-life care in facilities such as hospices and would transfer responsibility for care costs from the corrections system to public or private health insurers.

Since most inmates would be eligible for Medicaid upon release, this bill would generate significant cost savings for the state and county corrections systems. The same medical care could be paid for at a lower cost by Medicaid, and the state would also get significant federal reimbursement for the cost. Inmates could be monitored safely and securely in medical release settings through the use of GPS bracelets and home visits, rather than the multiple corrections officers that are currently required, further reducing the strain these inmates place on resources. Any threat to public safety under such a law would be highly remote – sheriffs and the Department of Corrections would have discretion over which inmates to refer to the program, and courts would have broad authority to set release restrictions. In the event an inmate’s medical condition unexpectedly improved or they violated the conditions of their release, they would be returned to custody.

While we feel the evidence leans heavily in this bill’s favor, obtaining a broad base of political support for this legislation remains a challenge. Some continue to hold the belief that inmates deserve little besides punishment, even if that punishment includes the indignity of dying in a prison cell. We readily understand and accept this anger, especially when it comes from victims of crime. But we have seen the inmates who would qualify for medical release under our bill. They are frail – often bedridden – with some suffering from advanced dementia. There is no rational purpose for continuing to expend resources to lock these men and women behind bars and razor wire, especially when every dollar we expend on their care is a dollar we cannot expend on preparing healthy, able-bodied men and women finishing their sentences to lead lives free of substance abuse and crime.

Right now, there is a clear commitment among members of the House and Senate to making smart criminal justice reforms. Just last week, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a repeal of the lengthy mandatory driver’s license suspensions and severe reinstatement fees that had long been imposed on drug offenders – even for those whose crimes did not involve a motor vehicle. Bills tackling issues such as mandatory minimum sentencing and the pretrial bail system have attracted dozens of co-sponsors, and there is a clear appetite on Beacon Hill to engage with these issues in a substantive and progressive manner. In this environment, we have a great opportunity to join 45 other states, the District of Columbia and the federal government by implementing a medical release system in Massachusetts. When looking at our options, it is one of the clearest, most rational choices we can make for our criminal justice system.

Construction Advisory: Overnight Closure of Land Blvd/Memorial Dr on April 21

longfellow-original_originalLand Boulevard/Memorial Drive near Longfellow Bridge will be closed from 11pm on Thursday, April 21 to 5am on Friday, April 22 for construction related to the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation project. Signage will be in place to indicate approved detour routes, which you can also check out here courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT):

Detours for bicyclists and pedestrians:

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Detours for vehicles from Memorial Drive/Land Boulevard westbound destined for Memorial Drive westbound and Kendall Square:

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For questions or to report issues related to construction, please call the project hotline at 617-519-9892 or email longfellowbridge@state.ma.us.

Why Rental Subsidies Help Prevent Chronic Homelessness

I had the pleasure of co-hosting a legislative briefing on the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) with Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) at the State House. AHVP is a transitional rental assistance program that provides accessible and affordable housing options to approximately 560 single adults with disabilities who are under the age of 60 and who qualify for state-assisted housing.

During the briefing, elected officials and legislative staff heard testimony from housing advocates and Massachusetts residents on why rental assistance programs are an important part of the Commonwealth’s housing toolkit to help struggling low-income individuals and families find long-term housing solutions.

“Rental subsidies are the most effective tool to immediately help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to secure homes they can afford,” said Rachel Heller, Director of Housing Policy at the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA).

“Together, with the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, AHVP is a critical tool in furthering the Commonwealth’s goal of providing persons with disabilities choices to live in community-based housing and to avoid more costly institutions or homelessness,” Heller continued.

As our homelessness rates continue to increase for both individuals and families, I believe that we have a moral and fiscal obligation to continue investing in housing subsidies in order to provide long-term housing solutions for our residents. Temporary shelters are far costlier for the state while chronic homelessness has adverse effects on the economy through long term unemployment and health care costs. Anne Johansen of Quincy also helped illustrate the feeling of despair people feel when facing an unstable living situation.

“I never really knew what freedom was before I lost it and then finally regained it,” Ms. Johansen said. “I have been free for almost 4 years now and I still cherish every choice that I am free to make, every quiet day spent at home and every busy day when I come and go as I please. Now I am a volunteer for BCIL and I am a member of the Mass. PCA Workforce Council,” she continued.

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Left to Right: Rep. Tim Toomey, Allegra Stout of BCIL, Anne Johansen of Quincy, Sen. Jamie Eldridge

Ms. Johansen spent seven years in nursing homes around Boston before BCIL staff helped her apply for a special rental voucher for people leaving nursing homes from Lynn Housing. Her touching story is just one of many thousand across the state – that’s why I was thrilled to help secure an increase to the AHVP line-item in last year’s state budget that created 120 additional vouchers.

“The Boston Center for Independent Living, which assists over 5,000 people with disabilities to live productive lives—including hundreds in Cambridge and Somerville—applauds Rep. Toomey’s leadership on AHVP,” said Bill Henning, Executive Director of the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL). “He is acting firmly to address the housing crisis besetting disabled individuals across the region,” Henning continued.

This year, I’m again teaming up with housing advocates to further expand the AHVP program. We will be asking for $7.1 million, which would increase the total amount of vouchers to 800, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature and with advocates to help secure more housing options for people with disabilities.

“Persons with disabilities deserve the right to lead equal, independent lives,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “I am pleased that so many people attended the legislative briefing to learn more about the numerous benefits AHVP offers to help support homes for the disabled and ways we can continue to expand the program in the FY17 budget,” Sen. Eldridge concluded.

We need to continue to work towards ensuring that all members of our state have a safe place to call home, and as Ms. Johansen reminded the audience, “The AHVP will be the ticket to freedom to so many people who are longing to leave nursing homes and homeless shelters.”

Rental Applications Now Available for Union Sq Apartments

The Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) is accepting applications for Union Square Apartments through May, 5th 2016. The apartment complex, which will replace the old Boys and Girls club on 181 Washington Street, is a mixed-use development project expected to include ground floor commercial space and 35 rental units dedicated to low-income and middle-income housing.

The apartments are expected to be move-in ready in August of this year, and individuals and families can apply for one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments by submitting applications by May 5th in person before 4pm at Winn Residential Office on 7 Memorial Road in Somerville or by mail postmarked no later than May 5th to the same address.

You can download the application online or pick it up in person at the following locations in Somerville:

  • Winn Residential Office – 7 Memorial Road #109
  • Somerville Community Corporation – 337 Somerville Avenue
  • Somerville Housing Authority – 30 Memorial Road
  • Somerville Homeless Coalition – 1 Davis Square
  • City Hall and Annex – 93 Highland Avenue
  • Somerville Library – 79 Highland Avenue

For more information on the application process including how applicants are selected, please visit this link or attend SCC’s informational session on April 14th at 6:00pm at Somerville Community Corporation, 337 Somerville Avenue, Somerville, MA 02143. Application information is also available online in Haitian-Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish.

McGrath/McCarthy Overpass Traffic Pattern Changes Coming April 11

Some substantial changes are coming to the Somerville Avenue/Medford Street Intersection at McGrath Highway. On April 11th, the Somerville Ave off-ramp will permanently close to traffic, along with the tunnel under the McCarthy Overpass that connects Somerville Ave and Medford Street to Washington Street.

After the closure, drivers who wish to access Somerville Avenue via the off-ramp should use the Washington St off-ramp instead.

These changes make way for a new intersection at Somerville Ave and Medford Street that significantly improves pedestrian safety, especially for people attempting to cross to or from Somerville Ave via McGrath Highway. Pedestrians crossing to and from Poplar St. on the northbound side of McGrath will now have a fully signalized crosswalk to use. A number of other improvements, including bike boxes and bike lanes, will also be added to improve cyclist visibility and comfort in what has in the past been a very difficult and dangerous area for cyclists.

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This design document shows bike and pedestrian improvements at the Somerville Ave/Medford St intersection.

Closure of the off-ramp and tunnel will allow for curb and sidewalk work to be completed, which will be followed by resurfacing of the area surrounding the McCarthy overpass and finally the installation of new pavement markings. Construction is expected to wrap up by this summer.

Sen. Jehlen and I with MassDOT officials at the McCarthy Overpass in 2011.

Sen. Jehlen and I at the McCarthy Overpass with MassDOT staff in 2011.

Improving safety and connectivity in this area of Somerville has been an ongoing priority of mine and the short-term improvements opening over the next months are a step in the right direction. They are the result of advocates and elected officials leveraging a bridge repair project (needed to keep the McCarthy Overpass from more or less crumbling to the ground) into a more complete project that addressed some of the immediate needs of the cyclists and pedestrians (not just cars) trying to use these city streets.  In the meantime, the work that the Somerville community has put into the McGrath Boulevard/Grounding McGrath design process has given us a realistic alternative to the McCarthy Overpass and has opened the door for its ultimate demolition and removal. It has been a very encouraging process and one that I am proud to say I have been a part of.

I will be posting more updates about this improvement project as construction wraps up, as well as more updates about the Grounding McGrath project in the weeks and months ahead. As always, I look forward to hearing from you, so please don’t hesitate to contact me directly or post in the comments below.

 

Why Single Payer should be the next step for healthcare reform in MA

SinglePayer_testimonyEarlier this week, I testified in support of H.1026, An Act establishing Medicare for all in Massachusetts, which was heard before the Joint Committee on Health Care Finance. I wanted to share with you my testimony on why I think a single payer model should be the next step in health care reform in Massachusetts – Tim.

“Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of H.1026, an Act establishing Medicare for all in Massachusetts.

I am very proud of the work we have done here in Massachusetts to reform our healthcare system so that more of our state’s residents have access to high quality, affordable care. We have led the nation in our efforts to reduce the number of residents who are uninsured or underinsured, and have passed innovative and forward-thinking legislation that attempts to slow rising costs.

I am here today because I believe that it is vitally important that Massachusetts continues its national leadership in the area of healthcare reform. The next step for our state can and should be a transition toward a single-payer system.

A single-payer system will help us achieve many of the goals that we have for our health care in Massachusetts, and solve many of the problems we continue to struggle with under our current insurance and payment system. It would significantly enhance our ability to rein in health care costs, and would provide every single person in our state with high-quality, deductible-free coverage.

We already know how well Medicare works when it comes to delivering health care efficiently to millions of Americans. Private insurers simply cannot compete with government when it comes to minimizing administrative and management costs. And this legislature has already recognized the potency of the global payment model to reduce the cost of care and radically change the way providers think about how they approach health, wellness, and the treatment of illness. Single payer would rapidly accelerate our transition toward the global payment model.

I believe that we are ready for single-payer, that we need single-payer, and above all, that our state’s residents deserve a single-payer system.

I appreciate the consideration that the committee continues to give this bill and I thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of it today.”

Massachusetts Lawmakers Push for Strong Solar Bill

Photograph by Joanne DeCaro/ CC BY 2.0 from Flickr User Charlie Baker (https://flic.kr/p/z6g1z6)

Photograph by Joanne DeCaro/ CC BY 2.0 from Flickr User Charlie Baker (https://flic.kr/p/z6g1z6)

It is critical for the Commonwealth to promote emerging sources of renewable energy in order to meet our greenhouse emissions goals as well as to end our dependence on natural gas. Massachusetts is a nationally recognized clean energy leader because we have made a clear legislative effort to grow our green energy sector. Our solar power industry is a prime example of our progress having created 15,000 jobs working on over 26,000 projects throughout the state.

In order to continue the solar industry’s progress in Massachusetts, both the House and Senate passed differing versions of legislation that would raise the net-metering cap and allow for the permitting of large solar projects to continue. The legislation also made changes to how solar energy producers would be reimbursed for the electricity that they provide to the grid. A Conference Committee consisting of three House Representatives and three Senators has been discussing how to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills for the past several months.

In December of last year, I wrote to the House conferees to voice my concern about the proposed changes in the House version of the solar bill. Specifically, I asked them to base potential changes to solar compensation on a professional study carried out by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), and to use that study to guide and set future reimbursement rates (see link to letter below). 

Additionally, I have joined many of my colleagues in signing a letter to the Conference Committee that expresses the urgency for passing legislation this year that will raise the net-metering cap, reform the SREC program, and maintain the current retail reimbursement for net-metering until we have a better understanding of the true costs and benefits of solar energy to ratepayers (see link to letter below). 

It is my hope that these efforts, along with the many advocates and residents who have voiced their strong support for solar energy, will help steer the conferees toward a better solar bill—one that will allow this vital industry to continue to flourish in Massachusetts.

Letter to Solar Conference Committee on Net-Metering Rate Calculation

Joint Letter to Conference Committee on Solar Legislation

 

Stand Up for Green Line Extension Wednesday March 16

GLX bannerThe Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board are holding a joint meeting next Wednesday, March 16th at 11:30am at the State Transportation Building on Stuart Street in Boston.

This meeting gives Somerville and Cambridge residents another opportunity to show Governor Baker and MassDOT how important the Green Line Extension is to our communities. I’m hoping for a strong showing of public support, and encourage attendees to bring signs and/or to speak during the public comment section of the meeting.

Please click here for directions to the building.

Somerville Maple Syrup Festival This Weekend!

maple-syrup-bottlesGovernor Baker declared this March “Massachusetts Maple Month” to recognize our state’s maple producers. Most of our state’s 300 maple producers are located west of Worcester, but it turns out we don’t have to go that far to enjoy local syrup tasting – join Groundwork Somerville tomorrow, March 12th for Somerville’s annual Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival. All members of the community are invited to the Somerville Community Growing Center at 22 Vinal Avenue between 10am and 2pm to watch and learn as sap from local sugar maple trees is boiled down into pure maple syrup over a warm fire. In addition to syrup-tasting, waffles, and hot drinks, this family friendly festival features activities for kids, demonstrations, and much more!

The 12-year old Somerville Maple Syrup Project coordinated by Groundwork Somerville in partnership with the Somerville Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools, Tufts University, and each dedicated Maple Syrup Project volunteer. Please click here for more inforamtion about about The Maple Syrup Boil Down 2016 or contact Sarah Lindsay – at sarah@groundworksomerville.org ~ or call 617-628-9988.