Month: May 2015

Op-ed: If You Want to Make a Difference, There’s No Place Like Home

One of many special things about Harvard is that its students come from all fifty states and every region on earth. It’s part of what makes our time in Cambridge so unique and enriching.

But something happens to this diverse group over four years. While students enter from all over the country and the world, only about one quarter return to their home state. After Commencement, nearly two-thirds of Harvard graduates move to just four places: New York City, Washington, DC, Boston or California. These are all nice locations, of course, filled with exciting opportunities and interesting things to do. I’ve spent a lot of time in each place. But if you’re still looking for a way to make an impact, consider another option: go home.

Last year, after more than a decade in Cambridge, Washington, DC, and traveling to 47 states and seven countries with Barack Obama, I ran for state senate from my hometown in western Massachusetts. I was in my last semester at Harvard Law School and a tutor in Kirkland House. I was on my way to a top law firm and a very comfortable salary. But my wife, daughter and I put that aside and moved back to my childhood home ninety miles west to jump into a political campaign as a long shot candidate in a crowded primary.

The campaign was an adventure, to say the least. My wife and I cold-called thousands of voters and knocked on thousands of doors. I spent countless hours trying to win over city councilors, county officials, and Democratic committee chairs. I can confidently predict that I’ve attended more pancake breakfasts, pasta nights, ice cream socials, and neighborhood picnics than anyone else in my Harvard class. Although I’m now the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate, I spent a lot of time at retirement communities: two-thirds of my district’s voters are over fifty.

I had never run for public office before. When I started, I had no campaign organization, no name identification, and faced opponents who had spent decades in the local political system. The region where I’m from is a wonderful place to grow up, but has struggled to keep pace with the red-hot economies in other parts of Massachusetts. What I lacked in longevity I tried to make up for with enthusiasm, a commitment to look at things differently, and a belief that what I learned at the White House and Harvard could be useful at home. Many were eager for a fresh perspective. Others were skeptical. I won by 192 votes.

Now, I have the chance to work every day helping the community where I grew up. The work is not glamorous, but it makes a tangible difference in peoples’ lives: a new program to lower the cost of a life-saving anti-overdose drug, for example, or a pilot program to train workers for careers in precision manufacturing. I put my Harvard education to work each day in the same places where I went trick-or-treating, played catch, learned to drive, and went fishing with my Dad.

You don’t have to work in politics to make a difference in your hometown. If your passion is starting a business, think about doing it where you grew up. You’ll have a built-in customer base (your family and high school friends will be loyal even if your idea is less than perfect). And it will probably be cheaper to get started, too. If you want to work in medicine, having personal knowledge of a community’s needs and history will make you a better clinician and a more thoughtful researcher. If journalism is your calling, your local paper is probably very eager for talented writers and fearless reporters. If you want to act, dance, sing, paint or sculpt, local arts and culture scenes are often the quickest ways to get noticed. People and businesses outside of Washington, Boston, San Francisco, and New York City need talented lawyers, bankers, app designers, professors, accountants, marketers, brokers, programmers and management consultants, too.

Harvard is a place that rewards ambition and exploration. From our first days on campus, we’re encouraged to act boldly, think globally, and travel far. Those are worthwhile traits, and we should hold onto them. And for some of us the boldest and bravest way to have an impact is to go where we are needed most: home.

Senator Eric P. Lesser ’07 J.D. ’15 was a government concentrator in Kirkland House and a Kirkland Resident Tutor. He is currently the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate. Previously, he worked as Special Assistant to White House Senior Adviser David M. Axelrod and Director of Strategic Planning for the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Lesser secures manufacturing training funds

Chris Maza, The Reminder

BOSTON – The state Senate recently unanimously approved additional funding for Massachusetts Precision Manufacturing Pilot Program proposed by state Sen. Eric Lesser.

Making his maiden address on the Senate floor, Lesser advocated for an extra $500,000 to bump total funding for the program to close to $1.5 million. A portion of that funding will be utilized to continue the program in Western Massachusetts.

“Every member of the Senate voted for it, 39 to 0, so that was a good feeling, certainly,” Lesser told Reminder Publications. “My hope is this is really just the start because we have a big opportunity here and this is just one small program. If this is the only thing we do, it’s going to help quite a lot of people, but the challenge for us now is to continue that and turn this program into a wider series of proposals for Western Massachusetts.”

Lesser said the purpose of the funding was to address the challenge of training a workforce that is able to fit the needs of the precision manufacturers with a foothold in the region. In his speech, Lesser said there would be an estimated 44,000 vacancies in advanced manufacturing in the next 10 years.

“There’s actually quite a lot; there’s actually several thousand vacant jobs in the manufacturing field just in the Pioneer Valley,” he said. “The problem is we don’t have enough people with the skills to take them, so a gap has emerged.”

“I think one of the most important ways for us to grow our economy here, create more prosperity and more opportunity, is to close that gap by investing in training programs and get people up to speed on the latest technology so they can go get jobs where the demand is,” he continued.

Part of a statewide initiative, the local manufacturing pilot program is a collaboration between the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County and a national trade group for those in the industry.

“You want to make sure the training is very current to what the industry is demanding,” Lesser said.

He added the program, featuring 10 to 15 weeklong courses would target unemployed and underemployed people, as well as veterans in need of jobs upon returning home from overseas. Those in the program would have access to mentors, training and job placement assistance.

In his speech Lesser celebrated the region’s strong history of manufacturing and stressed the need for support in bringing those jobs, which can provide livable wages, benefits and employment security, to help an area “left out of the red-hot economy that developed in the eastern part of the state.”

“We have a history and with that an expertise as a result and all that experience and a lot of families that have been involved in trades and in manufacturing for generations,” he said. “There was a period when a lot of those jobs left our area, but where we really established ourselves is in really specialized, really high-tech manufacturing … Those are very, very good jobs and high-paying jobs. The average salary can approach $75,000.”

Massachusetts Senate agrees to state study of Boston-Springfield rail

Shira Schoenberg, MassLive

The Massachusetts Senate has adopted an amendment that would require the state to study the feasibility of developing high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield.

“This study will be a first step toward establishing a rail link between Boston and Springfield,” said State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who sponsored the amendment. “For our economy in the Pioneer Valley to grow, we need to connect ourselves to the red-hot growth we’ve seen in other parts of the state. Rail will help make that happen.”

The amendment was adopted on voice vote on Thursday as the Senate finished debating its $38.1 billion budget. The budget must still go through a committee of House and Senate negotiators.

The amendment would require the Department of Transportation to look at the costs and economic opportunities related to developing high-speed rail between Springfield and Boston. The study must look at capital costs, operating costs and revenue estimates, projected ridership, required upgrades, environmental impacts, availability of outside funding sources and general benefits to Springfield and the state. The report would be due Dec. 1, 2016.

The amendment was based on a similar bill that Lesser sponsored, which was backed by several Western Massachusetts lawmakers.

Op-ed: Equality for women and girls

In MassLive 5/19/15

Throughout my life I’ve been surrounded by inspiring women – whether it’s my mother, a social worker and scholar, my wife, a solo practicing attorney, or my two sisters who are both pursuing their career passions. I’m also the proud father of a young daughter.

Probably because of this, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we can make sure our laws promote equal opportunities for all Western Mass residents, including for women and girls.

Unfortunately, workplaces have not kept up with the needs of modern working families. Now is the time to break down the obstacles still standing in the way of progress.

In the Senate, here are a few items I’m working on:

First, I’m proud to co-sponsor the Equal Pay bill, which creates common-sense, modern-day measures that give Massachusetts women an equal footing in the job application process. On average, women in Massachusetts earn just 82 cents per dollar compared to men – a gap that largely persists even when factoring in education level, hours worked and employment sectors.

This bill would enable employees to talk to coworkers about their salaries without fear of repercussions, require employers to provide a minimum salary when advertising job vacancies, and make it illegal to require an applicant to submit his or her salary history. These simple but important measures will ensure that the salaries women earn really do match their skill levels and qualifications.

I’ve also co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure pregnant women and new mothers can be granted reasonable accommodations without worrying about negative consequences. Given that more than half of all pregnant women and new mothers in Massachusetts are in the labor force, this bill will make our workplaces more fair, more humane, and ultimately more productive.

These common-sense accommodations include, for example, allowing pregnant women to use stools at job sites or break for a glass of water. Frankly, it’s shocking that current laws don’t already protect pregnant women taking these steps to care for their health and the health of their child.

Third, I’ve co-sponsored legislation that creates a Commission on the Status of Women and Girls in Hampden County. The volunteer-run Commission would assess all matters regarding the status of women in our area, and recommend policies to state and local agencies and other organizations to help improve their quality of life.

I’ve also encouraged girls to consider careers in science, technology, education and math – areas where women have traditionally been underrepresented. I’m particularly excited that Girls Who Code, an organization aiming to close the gender gap in computer science, is launching its first program this summer in Springfield, where participants will meet women in the tech industry and learn about mobile apps, robotics and computer languages.

My goal is for everyone, regardless of gender, to feel they have an equal shot at reaching their potential and making the most of all of life’s opportunities. Reaching that goal admittedly takes time, but my hope is that these steps will bring us just a bit closer to its realization.

Eric P. Lesser is State Senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District.

Senate adopts Lesser’s anti-pharmacy shopping amendment

Shira Schoenberg, MassLive

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously adopted a proposal by State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, that would require pharmacies to report opioid drug purchases to a statewide Prescription Monitoring Program within a day, rather than a week.

The goal is to prevent drug addicts from pharmacy shopping, fulfilling one prescription at multiple pharmacies.

“This measure is a crucial step in our overall efforts to fight the opioid crisis here in Massachusetts, which has led to the destruction of families, communities and hundreds of lives,” Lesser said in a statement.

The amendment was co-sponsored by State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, who chairs the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse and has been a long-time advocate for addressing issues related to drug abuse.

Changing the reporting time was a recommendation of a February report by the Department of Public Health’s Drug Control Program.

The $38 billion budget passed by the state Senate late Thursday also adopted another provision based on a bill filed by Lesser that would allow for the creation of a bulk purchasing system for the anti-overdose drug, Narcan.

In the state budget, senators took numerous steps to address the growing number of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts. They proposed earmarking money to create two new recovery high schools to support teenagers in recovery, and to add 150 new post-detox treatment beds. The budget would put $10 million into a substance abuse trust fund, which focuses on a range of treatment services.

The House also stressed substance abuse prevention in its budget, though in slightly different ways.

According to state statistics, more than 1,000 Massachusetts residents died of opioid overdoses in 2014 compared to 668 in 2012.

The House and Senate versions of the budget will now go to a committee of House-Senate negotiators to iron out the differences.

Sen. Lesser Delivers Maiden Speech, Secures Additional Funding for Job Training

BOSTON–State Senator Eric Lesser gave his maiden Senate speech yesterday evening, successfully securing passage of a budget amendment to fund the Massachusetts Precision Manufacturing Pilot Program, which provides skills training to unemployed and underemployed adults, including veterans, across Massachusetts.

In his speech, Lesser called the Pioneer Valley “a manufacturing hub for 10 generations,” but said the region has had to reshape its legacy to keep pace with rapid shifts in advanced manufacturing practices and international markets.

“One of the most important challenges we must face is to address the gap between the jobs that are being created in our economy, and the people who are looking for work,” Lesser said. “That’s what this amendment does.”

The budget amendment increases the appropriation by $500,000 to $1,445,000, part of which will be used to fund the continued operation of the program in Hampden County.

“Western Massachusetts has been left out of the red-hot economy in the eastern part of the state,” Lesser said. “But there is a path to reinvest in the middle class–and that’s to marry up our traditional history as a manufacturing center with the intellectual firepower of schools and training centers all across our state.”

Lesser, who is Senate Chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, recently hosted a delegation of Senate members at EASTEC, a convention of over 500 manufacturing companies in the Northeast, at the Big E grounds in West Springfield. He also recently published an op-ed on the widening manufacturing skills gap in Massachusetts, especially in the Pioneer Valley.

Lesser received a standing ovation from the Senate members upon conclusion of his maiden speech. The amendment passed with unanimous support and will be part of the Senate’s FY16 budget.




Mr. President, I rise in support of amendment 328, a manufacturing pilot program. This amendment would allow $1.5 million to train workers—both the underemployed and the unemployed—including many veterans. This is a statewide program that has unique importance in the Greater Springfield area where a training program has been set up and operating for the last year and is already over-enrolled.

Mr. President, just as you do, I come from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, the crossroads of New England, a strategic location in between Albany and Boston, and in between the Vermont border and New York, along the banks of the Connecticut River, where George Washington placed the armory during the Revolutionary War.

Ever since that armory was placed in Springfield, we have been a manufacturing center. We invented the American system of manufacturing—precision parts, components, come from the Pioneer Valley. We have also been one of the great engines of innovation, not only for New England, but for the entire country.

Some of our most iconic companies and products come from the Pioneer Valley. Just a few examples: Duryea Brothers, the very first automobile, manufactured in Springfield; Rolls Royce, American manufacturing was done in Springfield; Indian Motorcycles; Milton Bradley; Westinghouse; American Bosch–all done in Hampden County, in the Lower Pioneer Valley.

This legacy of advanced manufacturing continues in our area. High-tech manufacturing, solar panels, the components of wind turbines, batteries, advanced parts that leverage technology and know-how–all come from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.

Now, this has not only been an engine of great products and innovation—it has been our ticket to the middle class. The average salary in this industry can approach $75,000 a year, with real job security. People can buy homes, they can save for college, they can invest in their future in this industry through these jobs, by making things.

Perhaps most importantly, that proud tradition that goes back to George Washington extends ten generations. Many of the families in our area teach their children the trade—they hand it down from one generation to the next. Most of our manufacturers are small businesses run and operated by families, handed down from father to son, father to daughter, mother to daughter, grandchildren, on and on.

This is also an industry and a style of economy that has allowed the broader community to prosper. We’re the birthplace of basketball. We built six world-class museums. The biggest symphony hall in New England outside of Boston all came to the Springfield area, fueled by the growth and the ingenuity of a middle-class-oriented manufacturing center.

But unfortunately, as the story played out in so many other parts of our Commonwealth and our country, that industry also came under decline. The region fell on hard times, jobs moved overseas. And I would argue that as that industry declined, something else was lost. As we lost the ability to invest in trades, as we lost the ability to invest in a craft, to make things, the middle class suffered as well. And we were left out of the red-hot economy that developed in the eastern part of the state.

But there is a vision for the future. There is a path to reinvest in this industry, and through that to reinvest in the middle class—the bedrock of what so many of us stand for, so many of us fought for and campaigned for.

And that’s to marry up our traditional history as a manufacturing center with the intellectual firepower of our schools and our training centers, and the know-how we have all over this state. Right now in the Pioneer Valley there is a renaissance in the advanced manufacturing field, making sonar equipment, airplane components, wind turbines, all the things that fuel the modern economy, that make Massachusetts a leader for the country, can be made in Western Massachusetts and in the Commonwealth as a whole.

In fact right now, it is projected that over the next 10 years, there will be 44,000 vacancies in the advanced manufacturing field. Let’s think about that—44,000 vacant positions in a field that pays average salaries of around $75,000 a year. Imagine the wasted potential if we don’t take this on. Imagine the families that won’t be able to put a kid through college, buy a home, invest in their futures, if we don’t take this on.

And so I would argue that one of the most fundamental things that we as a body must take up, one of the most important challenges we have to face, is to address this skills gap, is to address the gap between the jobs that are being created in our economy and the people looking for work, not only in Hampden County and in Berkshire County and in Hampshire County and the Pioneer Valley, but in all of Massachusetts as well.

Mr. President, I understand that there are many challenges before us. We have seen over 900 amendments and counting. All the challenges that confront this body. But as was so eloquently stated on the first day of our session, shared prosperity is our goal. And I would argue that so many of the challenges we face–public safety, education, growing poverty–are connected to this fundamental challenge, which is a middle class that is increasingly squeezed, and an economy that increasingly serves the top and forgets the middle.

And so I would just finally close with this: I understand how many demands there are for funds, how many demands there are for costs. It is a tough budget and it’s a tough time. It always is. But we can’t afford not to do this, we can’t afford not to make these decisions, to make these investments. Because here’s the challenge, here’s what we all face as legislators. In an economy where a 19-year-old can become a billionaire by inventing an iPhone app, how do we create an economy that works for everybody else? How do we create an economy that continues to give equal opportunity, that continues to allow people to pass it down to the next generation?

We have to restore balance. We have to invest in our middle class.

Now, Amendment 328 is a modest proposal. It’s $1.5 million in a $39 billion budget. But it is nonetheless a proposal. And although it’s incremental, although it might not seem like a lot, for the hundreds of people that will benefit from this training, it is a lot, it’s the world to them, it’s the world to their families. So I humbly ask in my first address before you that you consider amendment 328. Mr. President, and through you to the members, I ask for your support of this amendment.

Because although it’s just a start, it is a start, and we know what the path is to shared prosperity—the path is investing in our middle class. And that can only happen if we give people the skills and the education to make it on their own.

I thank the Chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee for her support and her counseling through this process. I thank the President and I thank my colleagues for welcoming me to the Senate.

I humbly ask for a recording of the yeas and nays.

[Members and guests stood and applauded the Senator’s maiden speech. The time was 5:27 p.m.]

Lesser’s Plan for Narcan Bulk Purchasing Included in FY16 Budget

By Shira Schoenberg, MassLive


The budget proposed by the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee includes a new program that would allow the state to bulk purchase the anti-overdose drug Narcan, then sell it to cities and towns.

The idea for the bulk purchasing originated in Longmeadow, with a bill filed by State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow.

Lesser said he hopes the program, if it becomes law, can save municipalities money by allowing the state to use its market power to negotiate lower drug prices. But he also believes it has broader implications for other prescription drugs. “It opens the door to applying a bulk purchasing program to a broader array of drugs, if they have public health applications,” Lesser said.

The Senate Ways and Means budget provides $100,000 to administer the bulk purchasing program.

Narcan, the brand name for the drug naloxone, reverses opioid overdoses. It is somewhat unique because municipal government employees like police, emergency medical technicians and firefighters are among the primary buyers of the drug, in addition to doctors, hospitals and treatment centers. As Massachusetts and other states have grown more aware of the opioid epidemic and of Narcan’s usefulness in combating overdoses, demand for the drug has skyrocketed and prices have increased.

But there have also recently been news reports about unusually expensive drugs, like the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, that strain the budgets of private and public insurers. Lesser pointed to hepatitis C drugs as another potential application of a bulk purchasing program. Bulk purchasing of drugs more generally is something Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has worked on previously.

Rosenberg pointed to Washington and Oregon as states that have successfully implemented bulk purchasing programs for drugs.

“We want to set up a system in Massachusetts, starting in this budget, asking all state agencies to aggregate demand,” Rosenberg said. “We think we can get a better deal.”

The Senate Ways and Means budget also provides $1 million to continue a pilot program that trains and purchases Narcan for bystanders and first responders in 24 cities and towns, one of several steps senators are taking to deal with drug addiction. It directs state agencies, including Medicaid, to look into possibilities for bulk purchasing other prescription drugs. (Gov. Charlie Baker also suggested bulk purchasing in his budget, but for durable medical equipment, not drugs.)

The budget passed by the House does not go as far as the Senate in looking at other drugs, but it would instruct the Department of Public Health to study the feasibility of bulk purchasing Narcan.

As opioid overdose numbers rise, state lawmakers and officials have put renewed attention on opioid addiction over the last couple of years, with several task forces being formed to address the problem.

Lesser said he learned last year while campaigning about the breadth of opioid addiction. He recalled a woman telling him that her adult child was prescribed painkillers after a motorcycle accident, then died a year later of a heroin overdose.

“It wasn’t until then that it really hit me just how human this his, how many families it’s impacting,” Lesser said.

Lesser filed just four bills this term, his first term in office, including the one to set up bulk purchasing of Narcan.

The Senate Ways and Means budget now goes to the full Senate. Once it passes, the House and Senate versions will be reconciled by a team of House and Senate negotiators, before being passed again by both bodies and sent to Baker.

Uneven state funding leaves WMass homeless shelters out in the cold

By Shira Schoenberg, MassLive

Friends of the Homeless runs an overnight shelter for homeless individuals in Springfield and has case managers available during the day. Last year, it got paid $25 per bed per day from a state contract, according to state data. Friends of the Homeless Executive Director Bill Miller said the shelter got an extra $7 per bed from a budget earmark, but it is still struggling to pay basic bills.

Shelters run by ServiceNet in Northampton, Greenfield and Pittsfield got $28 per bed per day.

At the same time, the Pine Street Inn in Boston had state contracts that paid up to $61 per bed per day. A handful of other shelters have contracts paying more than $40.

“There’s no formula,” Miller said. “It is a significant disadvantage to Springfield to be trying to provide adequate services while receiving among the lowest bed rates in the commonwealth.”

The struggle faced by the Springfield shelter highlights a funding process that creates disparities between shelters and appears to have little rationale behind it. Each year, the state spends around $40 million on shelters for homeless individuals. The state funding for the shelters is not competitively bid and has no set formula. There is no process for new shelters to apply for money. Rather, money that was at one time awarded by legislator’s requested earmark has become a permanent line item in the state budget, with the same shelters getting the same contracts year after year, with occasional increases to the lowest paid shelters. Previous legislative attempts to create a standardized bid process failed, although that could change with support from the new administration of Gov. Charlie Baker.

“As the administration works to improve efforts around prevention, addressing Massachusetts’ homelessness crisis requires using our resources as effectively as possible,” said Baker spokesman Billy Pitman. “Governor Baker’s budget proposal introduces an intention to transparently and competitively award, for the first time, individual homelessness services and shelter contracts to better serve a vulnerable population in need and get them back on their feet.”

Joe Finn, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to ending homelessness, said the budget line item providing the shelter assistance has existed for decades.

“It emerged essentially as emergency programs years ago and rather than going through a formal bidding process, the state was simply negotiating with different communities,” Finn said. “Usually, the state develops specifications, which they entertain bids on. That was never quite done with this.”

The result, Finn said, is a system where an “eclectic mix” of community-based shelters are funded, with no one taking a comprehensive look at what kinds of services each shelter provides, who the shelters accept, and whether the shelters are receiving comparable amounts of money for comparable programs and costs.

“Usually, a rate is based on some kind of logic around what it is the commonwealth wants to purchase. That process has never taken place here,” Finn said.

Paul McMorrow, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, confirmed that the program has not been procured competitively. “The rates had basically been set by earmark in the budget,” McMorrow said. “So lawmakers who were working with advocates who were providing services would put in a request for certain funding to cover their caseload. There was little price transparency and there was not a lot of consistency from provider to provider.”

McMorrow said the department, through Baker’s fiscal year 2016 budget, wants to institute competitive bidding.

This would not be the first time the idea was raised. The 2011 budget passed by the Legislature required the state to develop recommendations to standardize contract rates. In fiscal year 2014, the budget directed then-governor Deval Patrick’s administration to undertake a competitive procurement process “to the extent feasible.”

McMorrow, who was hired by Baker, said Housing and Economic Development officials were advised by Patrick administration officials that a competitive procurement process was not feasible. A reporter was unsuccessful in contacting former housing undersecretary Aaron Gornstein through a housing non-profit where he will become president in June.

Jay Sacchetti, vice president of shelter and housing services for ServiceNet, said ServiceNet’s shelters are all running deficits. Sometimes, they have only one staff member on duty. He is frustrated that the state has no formula to take into account the shelters’ costs. “There is no funding formula. It’s like ‘Here’s what you get,'” he said.

The shelters are vastly different from one another.

Mark Alston-Follansbee, executive director of the Somerville Homeless Coalition, said his shelter is a sober shelter in a church basement with significant staff and support for guests. It was given a contract in 1986, based on its staffing needs, and the contract has continued annually. The contract specifies that the coalition gets $78 a night for eight beds, although the shelter now uses that money to pay for 16 beds. “I have no idea how it was determined,” Alston-Follansbee said.

Alston-Follansbee worries that a competitive bidding process could disadvantage smaller shelters.

The Pine Street Inn in Boston, which has hundreds of shelter beds across three locations, has some of the highest pay under state contracts. A call to the Pine Street Inn was returned by a spokesman for The Coalition of Homeless Individuals, an umbrella group of shelters and homelessness programs. The coalition provided a statement from Karen LaFrazia, executive director of St. Francis House, on behalf of the coalition, which addressed the need for more funding but not the funding disparity between shelters.

“The most significant and urgent issue that all organizations that serve the homeless individual population face is the lack of state funding for providers, and the Coalition is focused on addressing that issue,” LaFrazia said.

With the lack of a solid formula, the shelters are still being funded partially by earmark, requests submitted by individual lawmakers. Last year, Friends of the Homeless brought their rate to $32 per bed through a budget earmark. Western Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to again amend this year’s budget to maintain that rate.

The current process does not allow new shelters to get state contracts without being earmarked. So, for example, Craig’s Doors in Amherst has only been able to get state funding through an earmark. This year, one was introduced by Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “It’s very precarious,” said executive director Rebekah Wilder. “Shelters able to get into that specific source of funding, they at least have some guarantee of year after year having funding to operate. We’re not part of that.”

The disparity is not entirely regional. Shelters run by the Boston Public Health Commission as well as poor cities like Lawrence, Lynn and Brockton are all getting just $25 per bed per night, the lowest daily rate.

But there are regional implications. Data from the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance found that in 2013, 45 percent of homeless individuals lived in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. Those cities received 70 percent of the individual shelter money. In comparision, cities and towns west of Worcester had 13 percent of the individual homeless population and 7 percent of the money. The worst hit were areas south of Boston that had 18 percent of the population but only 6 percent of the money.

“We often hear about the talk of Western Massachusetts getting the short end and eastern Massachusetts getting more resources,” said Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow. “This is living proof, factual evidence, of just how broad that funding disparity is. I think it’s very important for us to get parity.”

Lesser is working with Sen. Jim Welch, D-West Springfield, to get Friends of the Homeless more money this year. Long term, both senators say they want to make the funding fairer.

“The funding is so out of whack, whatever formula they are using doesn’t make any sense,” Lesser said. “The potential would be to create a rational formula, because right now, there clearly isn’t one.”

Rosenberg said he does not know exactly what change should be made, but he agrees there should be change. “There are different costs across the state, but the range is way too big,” Rosenberg said. “Many of the places outside of the metropolitan Boston area are simply not getting the rates they need in order to support the programs to serve the people they’re supposed to serve.”

Belchertown Redevelopment Moves Forward with Clean Up, Demolition


MassDevelopment and the Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corporation (BEDIC) announce that demolition will commence at the Belchertown State School this coming week. Associated Building Wreckers of Springfield started the project in March and have almost finished the necessary asbestos abatement, which must be complete prior to starting demolition. Demolition of several buildings and tunnels, including the School’s hospital building, will open up Pad 1 for the planned assisted living facility.

“We are entering an exciting new chapter in the Belchertown community,” said Sen. Eric P. Lesser. “The demolition and clean-up of the site is an important step in the redevelopment of the State School property, which will serve as an engine of economic growth for the town and broader region.”

“Our objectives and goals since the inception of this project have always been to promote this Belchertown site,” said Rep. Thomas Petrolati (7th Hampden District). “The release of the $4 million from the bond funds for this cleanup is a positive step in promoting private and economic development.”

“This exciting news will provide development opportunities on a significant portion of the former Belchertown State School and position the Town’s EDIC and MassDevelopment well for additional economic growth at this location,” said Gary Brougham, Belchertown Town Administrator.

Pad 1 is the site where Grantham Group LLC, a Boston-based assisted living developer, plans to build an 83-unit complex (more than 40 of which will be affordable). The project will support 65 construction jobs and create 40 permanent positions. Last week, the Grantham Group applied to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for a Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) allocation. The allocation is crucial for the project to progress. Local, tangible support is needed as part of a competitive application, and the Belchertown Community Preservation Committee has recommended an appropriation of $218,000 from the Belchertown CPA Affordable Housing Reserve toward the project. MassDevelopment, BEDIC, and the Grantham Group LLC will seek voter approval of the recommended appropriation at Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 11.

“The Belchertown EDIC is very pleased with the agreements moving the Grantham Assisted Living Facility forward and see this as the start of the final clearing of the remaining campus for development,” said Jonathan Spiegel, member of the Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corporation. “We expect the Assisted Living Facility to provide good jobs and additional tax revenue for the town and be the core of a future ‘continuum of care’ area within the campus.”

“We are excited to see the clean-up work underway as our assisted living community will be the first private investment to occur on the campus and represents the first concrete step in terms of catalyzing further development of the former institution.” said Grantham Group’s Managing Director, Walter Ohanian. “Thank you to the BEDIC and MassDevelopment for choosing us as partners for this project.”

In 2014, then-Governor Patrick ordered the release of $4 million in bond funds toward clean-up at the former State School campus. MassDevelopment executed a contract with the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and has programmed funds for demolition of additional buildings in the southern portion of the campus. In addition to supporting the development on Pad 1, the planned second phase of demolition will open up more development parcels for senior independent living, office space, and other businesses. The Business Neighborhood Zoning District, approved by voters in December 2014, is intended to result in a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood that encourages opportunities for businesses and residences in Belchertown.

“Cleaning up the southern portion of the Belchertown State School campus will encourage private investment and promote economic activity throughout the site,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones. “This site benefits from support at both the local and state levels, and we look forward to the work ahead.”

MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth. During FY2014, MassDevelopment financed or managed 314 projects generating investment of more than $2.9 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are projected to create more than 6,300 jobs and build or rehabilitate more than 1,600 residential units.