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Black, Latino lawmakers cite gains in state budget

Nate Homan

The Massachusetts Legislature passed the fiscal year ’15 budget with increases to many policies and programs supported by Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus members.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz described the budget signing as an across-the-board agreement where no angle of public policy went untouched.

“We covered everything from education, public safety, public transit, healthcare, to bridge and road maintenance,” Chang-Diaz said. “My main focus was on education. Improving education is the core to addressing poverty and opportunity. Our Chapter 70 program received $100,000 more than last year.” Chapter 70 is the program that provides state aid to support local elementary and secondary schools. The program saw a 2.3 percent increase from last year’s $4.3 billion to $4.4 billion.

While this may not be cause to “dance in the streets,” Chang-Diaz said, this shouldn’t go unnoticed or uncelebrated. Line items like early education for children ages 3 to 5 was also a victory.

“We know that the earlier children start with education, the more they get out of it,” Chang-Diaz said. “It’s also a relief from a huge barrier for parents to find and hold employment knowing that their children are being watched and cared for while learning.” There are still thousands of children on waiting lists for early education, but Chang-Diaz stressed that improvement efforts are heading in the right direction.

Other important line items included $7.5 million in improvements to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher program, which helps poorer people stay in their homes and shelters throughout the Commonwealth.

“This shows our commitment to people who are struggling or are homeless,” Chang-Diaz said. We’re seeing a spike in homelessness and the passing of this line item shows that we don’t look at people as numbers and statistics.”

Representative Russell Holmes was pleased with the broad scope that the bill reached.

“On a local level, I was pleased to see the $10,000 improvements for the fire systems, ceilings and other basic needs for the Sportsmen Tennis Club on Blue Hill Ave,” Holmes said. “Other organizations also received funding, like the Boys and Girls Club and the Lewis D. Brown Peace Institute. These programs are essential for black and Latino communities. Our approach is on the ground in addressing the most important issues like housing, education and violence prevention on a ground level.”

“Overall, we were pleased to see some growth for these lines items from last year,” said Sibu Malaba, executive director of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. “We could have always done better. One example that sticks out especially is the youth programs for youth violence program Safe and Successful Youth, which earned $600,000 more than last year. We initially wanted a higher number, but overall we were satisfied with the increase.”

“I think it went well for the community. Each of us had advocated for something in the 600 pages of line items,” Holmes said. “I think this shows our values. I specifically am proud of our work on the Shannon Grants, which received a $12 million increase from last year. That is a crucial program in order to curb youth violence.”

Shannon Grants began in 2006 as a means to combat gang violence through youth prevention, intervention and reintegration programs as well as supervised out-of-school programs and activities.

Other victories included a $2.2 million increase in state aid to the public libraries, specifically branch libraries throughout Massachusetts. The Teen Pregnancy Prevention program saw a modest $14,000 increase from the previous year, which aims to keep young people in school and out of more expensive state systems. The YouthWorks program saw a $1.2 million increase from last year. This program aims to provide young people with jobs in order to prevent crime related incomes.

The Black Caucus championed these priorities in the budget along with other civil rights line items from Mass Legal Assistance and Mass Rental Assistance and a $200,000 increase for adult education and workforce development for tens of thousands of adults. The Mass Mentoring Partnership Inc. line item saw a $50,000 increase for programs that help young people develop better academic performances and workforce skills while boosting self-esteem and social competence to increase the odds of graduating high school and attending college.

The budget now awaits a signature from Governor Deval Patrick.

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