Gov. Healey Proposes Increasing Eligibility for Early Education and Child Care Assistance

More families in Gateway Cities, such as Haverhill, Methuen and Lawrence, would become eligible for early education and child care assistance under a plan proposed Tuesday by Gov. Maura Healey. Healey yesterday said she plans to pursue about $113 million in new child care spending in her fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, which will also request another $475 million in grants to continue supporting early education providers. The amounts come despite her administration’s muted forecast for state finances, pitching the spending as an economic and competitive necessity. Altogether, the governor outlined more than half a billion dollars she wants to deploy to help more Bay State families access and afford child care, particularly in lower-income areas and communities of color. “We recognize that the cost of child care is high, is out of reach for so many.

State Senate Seeks to Tap Rainy Day Fund Interest to Meet Fed Matching Grant Rules

The Massachusetts Senate last week moved to put the interest on the state’s $8.2 billion rainy day fund to use to help the state and local communities better compete for federal grants. The bill, “An Act to provide for competitiveness and infrastructure investment in Massachusetts,” would help the state take compete for up to $17.5 billion through, what was called, “once-in-a-generation federal funding opportunities.” If also approved by the House, it would require the state comptroller to move the interest, now about $250 million annually, to the Commonwealth Federal Matching and Debt Reduction Funds. “I was proud to vote with Senate colleagues to strengthen Massachusetts competitiveness, ensuring the Commonwealth’s fiscal security. This legislation doubles down on our state’s fiscal responsibility while tactically investing in the Commonwealth’s future,” said Sen. Barry R. Finegold. Over the coming years, this bill is expected to unlock more than $800 million that could be used to pay for state or municipal match requirements for federal competitive grant opportunities, as well as planning work that will help communities prepare applications for federal grants.

Haverhill YMCA Receives $160,000 State Grant to Help Kids Avoid Criminal Justice System

The Haverhill YMCA and two Lawrence-based organizations are among 67 organizations told Wednesday they are sharing in more than $15 million in grants through the state’s Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Program. The money is aimed at communities adversely impacted by the criminal justice system and poverty. Flexible operating grants are awarded to local teams for programming and projects that develop, strengthen and invest in community economic priorities. The Haverhill YMCA was awarded $160,000 to support the mental health and behavioral needs of at-risk youth, and to decrease their likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors such as substance abuse and criminal activity, through the Positive Alternative to School Suspension, or PASS, program. Gov. Maura Healey said, “The Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Program is reshaping our communities by providing resources for programs that strengthen our communities through job training, small business support, housing stability and more.”

YMCA’s PASS efforts provide an alternative to traditional suspension models by instead offering a therapeutic environment where students can access mental and behavioral health services to help them work through their issues to prevent further disciplinary occurrences.

Massachusetts Senate to Revisit Idea of Free Community College for All in Next Budget

The idea of free community college for everyone is coming back to Beacon Hill as the state Senate begins preparing its budget wish list. Senate President Karen E. Spilka said Wednesday. “Keep your eyes peeled,” for free community college funding in the Senate’s version of the budget that begins next July 1. Making community college free for every Massachusetts resident could cost the state about $170 million annually, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. The report was rolled out to reporters Wednesday alongside Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues and Higher Education Committee Chair Sen. Jo Comerford.

Education Committee Hears Testimony Today on Hamilton Bill to Require Student Financial Literacy

The legislature’s Joint Committee on Education plans to hear testimony today on a bill filed by Methuen Rep. Ryan Hamilton to make financial literacy a high school graduation requirement. The hearing takes place today, Jan. 10, at 1 p.m., at the State House, Hearing Room A-2. More than a dozen students have registered to testify in support, along with several banks, financial education providers, numerous educators and others. Appearing Monday on WHAV’s “Win for Breakfast” program, Hamilton said students may not be prepared for the decisions they will soon have to make.

State Awards Merrimack River Watershed Council Ecological Restoration Grant

The Merrimack River Watershed Council Tuesday was formally awarded $21,500 as part of nearly $1 million in grants for ecological restoration projects throughout the state. The award by the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration will support the early stages of locally driven, high priority restoration project implementation, such as culvert replacements and dam removals, to restore, what the state called, “degraded aquatic ecosystems and increase climate resilience within the northeast and north central regions of the state.”

“Ecological restoration offers transformational benefits for both climate resilience and biodiversity. These priority actions will reduce flooding, improve water quality and reconnect and restore critical habitats for fish and wildlife,” said Fish and Game Commissioner Tom O’Shea. “As climate change brings increasing challenges, these projects and partnerships will support Massachusetts’ ResilientMass planning efforts to ensure the Commonwealth is prepared to withstand, adapt to and rapidly recover from extreme weather events.”

The Regional Restoration Partnerships Program pays for projects and partnerships to help Massachusetts prepare for the impacts of climate change, address public safety concerns, improve habitat and water quality and restore important ecosystems throughout the state. The Merrimack River Watershed Council partnership also supports urban stream revitalization and outreach within the environmental justice communities of Lowell and Lawrence, including increasing connection to local rivers for all ages.

Hersey Becomes Acting Register of Deeds After O’Brien Steps Down for Health Reason

Dorothy Hersey was named acting register of the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Jan. 1 following the resignation of John L. O’Brien because of illness. Secretary of State William F. Galvin appointed Hersey who has served as first assistant register since 2019 and first came to work for the office 19 years ago. As WHAV reported in 2016, O’Brien revealed he suffers from Lewy body dementia with Parkinsonian symptoms. He said he would continue serving until he reaches “the point where I could not perform my duties and responsibilities.” He said he revealed the diagnosis “to put a face to a disease that has affected millions of people and without a cure will only affect millions more.”

O’Brien was elected 47 years ago, but got his start in politics as the Ward 6 Lynn city councilor when he was elected at age 19 in 1971. “I had hoped to be able to finish my term, which expires in January of 2025, but I realized that my health, particularly my diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, would no longer allow me to fulfill my responsibilities as register of deeds as I would want to do and as the people of Essex County deserve,” he said last week in a statement.

Auditor DiZoglio Issues Report, Showing 41% More Investigations, Finding $12.3 Million in Fraud

State Auditor Diana DiZoglio Wednesday released her first annual fraud report, pointing out $12.3 million in public assistance fraud through last June and other findings. DiZoglio’s office of Bureau of Special Investigations annual report summarizes investigations of fraud, abuse and illegal acts involving public assistance benefits throughout the state. This year, the bureau completed 5,100 fraud investigations, a 40.8% increase from the prior fiscal year. “For many residents across the state, public benefit programs provide access to everyday essential items—such as food and medical supplies. It is through the efforts of our fraud examiners that we continue to help ensure public benefit programs operate with transparency, accountability and equity,” said DiZoglio.