Over a four week period, the Joint Committee on Ways and Means will hold its budget hearings. The last one is the public hearing in the State House (Gardner Auditorium) on Friday, April 2. This past Monday, we got to hear Health and Human Services (HHS) Part 1 in Needham chaired by Representative Denise Garlick (House Ways and Means vice-chair) and Senator Mike Rush.
Holding hearings in local settings is not new, but it is the first time in history that such a hearing was held in Needham. Local hearings increase access for citizens across the Commonwealth to state decision makers, while enhancing our knowledge about the state budget and policies. Back to this point later.
Most Representatives and Senators stayed for hours at a hearing which ran late in the day. Secretary Sudders was the first of 10 officials to testify and she reinforced the value of DESE/DDS in keeping youth with families, in addition to the significant 7.7% investment in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). The day included discussion of seniors, children in protective services, and the new health care initiative to name a few.
But the workforce issues were on the Secretary’s and panel’s mind. Secretary Sudders noted that yes, dollars are important, but we have to go further than that given the number of future workers available as baby boomers age. She gave a positive nod to an element of The Arc’s proposal and referenced that action was needed given the grand bargain (minimum wage and family leave statute). We know a boost is needed soon while a multi-year solution is worked out.
Budget development and policy making are not abstract matters, nor are they for the faint at heart. Over the next four weeks, in addition to your advocacy for the budget, I encourage you to stop in on one of these hearings. Witnessing the breadth of needs, public services, and policy decisions will make you appreciate our democracy and the role you play in it. The hearings that remain are in Worcester (Friday, March 15), Springfield, Fall River (Monday, March 18), Roxbury, Arlington and Boston. Whether you hear about human services, public safety or something else, it will be an education!