Author: Ryan Migeed

How we’re fighting our Western Mass. ‘hunger epidemic’

In Masslive 11/20/17

Every morning, a truck pulls up to Atlas Farm in Deerfield. It gets loaded up with fresh vegetables, and heads to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Another Western Mass farm, Our Family Farm in Greenfield, provides fresh milk to food banks across the state.

This partnership, the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), has supported our local farmers, linked diverse communities like Hatfield and Springfield together — and helped feed thousands of our neighbors who go hungry every month.

“Hunger is a hidden epidemic in this country,” Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, has said.

And he’s right.

But the problem is visible if you look hard enough here in Western Mass. The average number of people in Hampden County seeking extra food each month because they can’t afford enough is more than 44,000. In Hampshire County, it is more than 15,000, according to data from the Food Bank of Western Mass.

A third of these are children.

In addition to children, another vulnerable group is the elderly, many of whom rely on Meals on Wheels, a federal food delivery program. Cuts to this program in the federal budget compound our region’s hunger epidemic — and make it that much more urgent for Massachusetts to fill the gap for our families.

That is why fighting hunger is so important to me.

Earlier this year, Rep. Peter Kocot and I sponsored budget amendments in the House and Senate to increase funding for MEFAP and provide two million more meals than last year. MEFAP is responsible for a fourth of the food that is distributed by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, serving as both a vital source of income for our local farmers and a lifeline to the hungry and homeless in Massachusetts.

I am also cosponsoring a bill introduced by Sen. Sal DiDomenico to close the “SNAP gap.” Many who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Massachusetts do not know they are eligible, and either go hungry or go to soup kitchens instead of receiving the help they need to pay for groceries.

This legislation would create a common application so that those applying for MassHealth could at the same time apply for the nutrition assistance they need.

Fortunately, there is plenty you can do in addition to the work being done in our state Legislature.

Start a food drive at work. Donate or volunteer for Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen in Chicopee or Rachel’s Table in Springfield. Bring clothes and food to the Springfield Rescue Mission.

On Monday, Nov. 20, come participate in the eighth annual “Monte’s March,” a community walk through Springfield, Chicopee and up to Northampton to raise money and awareness for tackling food insecurity in our region.

We have an obligation to help those who need help the most — and it is easier than you think, once you get started.

This Thanksgiving, as we prepare to enjoy a meal with loved ones, I hope you’ll spare a thought for those who need a meal themselves — and I hope you’ll spare some food for them, too.

State Sen. Eric P. Lesser is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Healthcare Reform, Increasing Access to Care and Reducing Overall Long-Term Costs

Bill includes Sen. Lesser amendments to study alternatives to addictive painkillers and improve access to family physicians

BOSTON — On Nov. 9, Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the State Senate to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill that reduces costs in the system and ensures a number of consumer protections, including increased care options for a number of patients.

The HEALTH Act, which provides more funding for community hospitals and implements coverage for cost-saving innovations such as telemedicine, also includes amendments by Senator Lesser to improve access to care.

One amendment makes changes to a state grant program that funds the training of primary care providers to encourage more residency programs in underserved areas, particularly in Western Massachusetts. This will increase the number of family doctors practicing in those areas where there are not enough doctors to provide care to the number of patients.

A second amendment requires the state Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the costs of requiring insurance coverage for acupuncture services, which many medical professionals see as an alternative to prescribing addictive painkillers fueling the opioid epidemic.

“Massachusetts has always been a leader in delivering high-quality healthcare and expanding access to working class and low-income residents. This bill brings down costs in our healthcare system so we can continue to guarantee quality coverage to all of our residents. It also expands access to care by encouraging family doctors to practice in rural and underserved areas, particularly in Western Mass, and addresses the rising cost of prescription drugs,” said Sen. Lesser.

A third amendment proposed by Sen. Lesser and adopted in the final bill designates May 6 as Moyamoya Disease Awareness Day. Several of Senator Lesser’s constituents suffer from this rare condition which causes strokes in children and young adults.

“By raising awareness we can begin building programming and advocacy around treatment solutions to help more sufferers of this rare disease — including several in our own community — receive treatment,” said Sen. Lesser.

The bill puts an increased focus on transition planning for patients to reduce repeat hospital and emergency room visits, a major cost driver for MassHealth.

The bill also addresses the rising costs of prescription drugs by implementing greater oversight and transparency in drug costs. It encourages Massachusetts to enter into bulk purchasing arrangements, including a multi-state drug purchasing consortium like other states, to lower costs and protect consumers.

Bulk purchasing arrangements have proven successful in the state before, including the program that enabled the state to buy doses of Narcan, an opioid overdose-reversal drug, at a reduced price. First responders across the state are now equipped with Narcan.

Sen. Lesser previously introduced a bill to replicate this success by implementing a bulk purchase program for EpiPens. That bill was signed into law as part of the state budget by Governor Charlie Baker in July.

The HEALTH Act is the result of the Special Senate Committee on Health Care Cost Containment and Reform, led by Senator James T. Welch, which analyzed the best practices in other states and engaged stakeholders in a series of meetings over the last year.

“Passing The HEALTH Act is a phenomenal step forward for health care in the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Welch.  “Once again, we are setting an example for the nation by creating a health care system that will, among many things, maximize the impact community hospitals can have on our citizens, while keeping costs in check.”

The bill now heads to the State House of Representatives for consideration.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Protect Statewide Contraceptive Health Insurance Coverage

BOSTON — Today the State Senate passed a measure which would require MassHealth, commercial health insurers and nonprofit healthcare providers and maintenance organizations to provide coverage for female contraceptives without a copay.

This action comes as the Trump Administration seeks to roll back protections in the Affordable Care Act, which guaranteed female contraceptive coverage.

State Senator Eric P. Lesser, who previously worked in the White House as an aide to President Barack Obama when the Affordable Care Act passed, was a co-sponsor of the bill.

“This was a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that advanced equal treatment of men and women in our healthcare system. Guaranteeing contraceptive coverage for women is vitally important to women’s health. It is especially important that Massachusetts take a clear stand to protect this coverage as President Trump and his allies in Congress continue to try to strip these protections away,” said Senator Lesser.

Like the federal contraceptive coverage guarantee, this state version permits employers that are churches or church-controlled organizations to decline coverage for contraceptives in accordance with their faith traditions.

The provision passed in the Senate in a standing vote and passed the State House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote earlier this month. It now moves to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk for his signature into law.

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Senator Lesser Issues Statement on WNEU Survey Showing 74 Percent of Mass. Residents Support East-West Rail

“I hope this survey is a wakeup call to those who question this project and have held it back,” said Sen. Lesser

SPRINGFIELD — Large majorities across the state support high-speed rail service connecting Springfield to Boston, according to a survey released Monday by the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey found that 74 percent of respondents across Massachusetts support the creation of high-speed Boston to Springfield rail — including 80 percent in Central Massachusetts and 73 percent in Greater Boston.

Support was strongest in Western Massachusetts, where 87 percent of respondents back the proposed project.

Senator Eric P. Lesser has advocated for a study of high-speed rail connecting Boston to Springfield since he took office in 2015.

“I hope this survey is a wakeup call to those who question this project and have held it back. This statewide survey shows that in a time of unprecedented division and conflict, improving our infrastructure and linking our communities enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support. The public clearly wants, and needs, a 21st century transportation infrastructure that includes high-speed rail between Springfield and Boston,” said Sen. Lesser.

In October, Sen. Lesser bussed 40 constituents to the State House to testify before the legislature’s Transportation Committee in support of his bill proposing a study of east-west rail from Boston to Springfield.

This is the second time he has introduced this bill, which requires the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to move forward with a feasibility study of Springfield-to-Boston high-speed rail. The State Senate has passed this bill three years in a row.

Since then, the proposal has continued to gain support, including high-profile endorsements from U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal, James McGovern and Seth Moulton, as well as the Chambers of Commerce in Boston and Springfield.

The full survey results can be seen here: http://www1.wne.edu/news/2017/11/highspeed-rail-tables.pdf

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Senator Lesser Votes to Establish Climate Change Adaptation Plan

BOSTON — Today the State Senate voted to establish a comprehensive adaptation management plan in response to climate change.

The bill, filed by Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton, requires Massachusetts to update every five years vulnerability studies to assess the impacts of climate change on the economy, public health and safety, infrastructure and natural resources.

It also requires the state to update every five years an action plan of the preparedness and vulnerabilities in the Commonwealth’s emergency response, energy, transportation, communications, health and other systems.

“As a coastal state, Massachusetts is particularly vulnerable to climate change, which — as we have already seen — is intensifying storms and hurricanes while also making them more frequent. We must take steps not only to prevent climate change when we can, but to adapt to its effects. Our emergency response teams, utility companies and local public works departments must be fully funded and fully prepared with action plans to protect our citizens from violent storms and recover from them successfully,” said Senator Lesser.

Climate change poses a major threat to Massachusetts’ economy and land resources. A 2013 study ranked Boston the eighth-highest metropolitan area worldwide in expected annual economic losses — $237 million — due to coastal flooding.

Massachusetts will also likely see an increase in coastal storms.

To deal with these intensified storms, the bill continues the administration of a grant program to provide technical assistance to communities to develop and implement their own action plans.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Curb Sexual Assault on College Campuses

“It is up to us to protect survivors and their right to seek justice,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — Today the State Senate voted 39-0 to pass comprehensive legislation to combat sexual violence on college campuses with statewide policies for all higher education institutions in Massachusetts.

These policies include annual training for students and staff on sexual violence prevention as well as the distribution of information on resources available to survivors.

The bill also requires schools to designate a campus safety officer who can better coordinate responses between colleges, outside sexual assault services and law enforcement.

“One thing we know about sexual assault is that it is preventable with greater training and awareness. With these policies, perpetrators will be held accountable and colleges will be charged with taking action. Young people are counting on us to do something about this. It is up to us to protect survivors and their right to seek justice, to improve campus reporting systems and ultimately to end this scourge of violent crime on our college campuses,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser.

Sexual assault was a frequent topic of discussion in last year’s series of millennial roundtables, when Senator Lesser and his colleagues met with young people in cities and towns around Massachusetts.

At a roundtable in Amherst, the college students present acknowledged knowing someone who had been sexually assaulted.

One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to research by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Because an overwhelming majority of these cases go unreported, the Senate bill also requires annual reporting on sexual assault so that the legislature can revisit the issue in the future and take further action if needed.

The bill was filed by Senator Michael O. Moore of Millbury, who serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

“As a legislator, and as a father, I recognize that there is more we should be doing to help prevent incidents of sexual assault on our college campuses,” said Senator Moore. “Through improved training, transparency and enforcement of policies, this bill supports initiatives that work to ensure our postsecondary institutions are implementing systems students can trust.  The bill also helps to fill the void created by the recent rollback of Federal protections.”

“No one should be afraid to seek help after being sexually assaulted,” said Senator Cynthia Stone Creem of Newton, who was the lead co-sponsor of the bill.  “This bill changes the conversation in all our state’s colleges and universities through increased training and awareness and promotes a culture in which sexual violence will no longer be tolerated or brushed aside.”

The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives.

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Senator Lesser Welcomes $8 Million Grant for Legal Assistance to Victims of Violent Crime

Includes funding for Community Legal Aid in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — On Wednesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser welcomed the announcement by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) that it had awarded a two-year, $8 million grant to fund legal aid throughout Massachusetts.

MOVA awarded the grant to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which funds legal aid clinics across the state, including Community Legal Aid in Springfield.

“Thanks to this grant, Community Legal Aid will be able to take on a bigger caseload, helping victims of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes. With this legal help, more people will have a friend in their corner. They will be able to find justice and finally get a fresh start for their future,” said Senator Lesser.

Community Legal Aid provides free civil legal services to low-income and elderly residents of central and western Massachusetts. Services are provided locally and free of charge, and are accessible to children, elders, non-English speakers and people with disabilities.

In July, Senator Lesser sponsored a budget amendment to increase state funding to MOVA by $95,000. The funding ultimately made it into the final budget.

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Senator Lesser Receives “Advocate of the Year” Award from Greater Boston Food Bank

BOSTON — On Friday, Oct. 27, Senator Eric P. Lesser was honored by the Greater Boston Food Bank as one of its two “Public Advocates of the Year.”

The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and among the largest food banks in the country.

Earlier this year, Senator Lesser was the lead Senate  sponsor on a budget amendment to increase funding to the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, which buys produce from local farms, including many in Western Massachusetts, to stock the state’s food banks. Representative Peter Kocot of Northampton was the lead House sponsor.

“I am humbled to receive this award and grateful to my colleagues in the legislature who have supported this program year after year,” said Senator Lesser. “This funding supports local farms while also feeding families in need. Our communities in Western Massachusetts and across the Commonwealth are better off because of this emergency food assistance program, and because of the Greater Boston Food Bank’s commitment to it.”

“Senator Lesser took a leadership role in the Senate this past budget season to support an increase in the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, critical funding that enables the four Massachusetts food banks to purchase a consistent supply of nutritious food, including fresh, locally grown produce,” said Catherine D’Amato, GBFB president and CEO.

The GBFB traditionally honors one Senator and one Representative as “Public Advocates of the Year.” Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston was recognized along with Senator Lesser.

The Public Advocate of the Year Awards were presented at GBFB’s Partner Appreciation Day event, held at its Boston facility, which recognizes both individuals and organizations who have made invaluable contributions to helping GBFB achieve its mission to end hunger here.

“This award is a great honor,” said Rep. Madaro. “Our work in government is only as strong as the partnerships that we create, and we could not ask for a better partner in the fight to end hunger and food insecurity than the Greater Boston Food Bank.”

GBFB provides the equivalent of more than 48 million healthy meals annually, distributed through its network of 530 member agencies across Eastern Massachusetts. A member of Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network, GBFB is the main hub for the four food banks across the state.

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Senator Lesser Tours Pope Francis High School Construction Site with New Head of School

SPRINGFIELD — On Monday, Dr. Paul Harrington, new Head of School at Pope Francis High School, hosted Senator Eric P. Lesser for a tour of the construction site of the new school building at 99 Wendover Road.

“The new Pope Francis High School taking shape in East Forest Park is an impressive sight. The vision behind it, for a modern, high-tech preparatory school, is even more impressive. I know many in our community are looking forward to welcoming back this fixture of Catholic education in Western Massachusetts,” said Senator Lesser.

“The construction of the future Pope Francis Preparatory School is advancing on schedule and on budget with an anticipated opening in August 2018,” said Dr. Harrington. “We were happy to host Sen. Lesser to share the excitement of our new facility as we move Catholic secondary education forward in the Diocese of Springfield.”

Pope Francis High School is a four-year, co-ed college preparatory school formed through the merger of Cathedral High School and Holyoke Catholic High School. Currently located in the city of Chicopee at the Holyoke Catholic High School on Springfield Street, the new facility is planned for the former location of Cathedral High School on Surrey Road in Springfield.

Beginning in 2016, both Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic High School students began attending Pope Francis High School at the Chicopee location. The new school in Springfield is expected to open for the 2018-2019 school year. For more information about Pope Francis High School, visit www.popefrancishigh.org.

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Senator Lesser Honors Ludlow, Granby Businesses at Manufacturing Award Ceremony

BOSTON — At a State House ceremony on Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser joined state leaders in recognizing business owners across the Commonwealth, including Mel O’Leary, president and CEO of Meredith-Springfield Associates Incorporated.

O’Leary received an award on behalf of his company for excellence in manufacturing.

Meredith-Springfield is based in Ludlow and manufactures high quality plastic products.

“I am thrilled that our local businesses have received this recognition. The companies we recognized represent the best in manufacturing as innovators in their fields. Not only do they move technology forward, making our state more competitive, but they are anchors of their communities and local economies,” said Senator Lesser.

Senator Lesser is the Senate Chairman of the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.

C & G Machine Tool Co., Inc., a maker of industrial machinery in Granby, also received an award.

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