Issues

ABCD’s North End/West End Neighborhood Service Center Buona Sera

ABCD’s North End/West End Neighborhood Service Center (NE/WE NSC) fundraising celebration, Buona Sera: An Evening with Friends, raised nearly $50,000 to aid low-income and elderly residents of the North End and West End who turn to the center for assistance.

For the fifth year in a row, Ron Della Chiesa of WGBH and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed as the event’s master of ceremonies. He played a few lines from “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday:

God bless’ the child,
That’s got his own
Yes the strong seem to get more
While the weak ones fade

Empty pockets don’t

The words are true, and he attested how ABCD takes care of all “children”, its seniors, families, and children – and that its vital human and educational services take care of all who seek assistance from the organization, ensuring that they do not fade away.

ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew continued in that realm with his own rousing deliverance. “There is no cash register at ABCD,” he declared.  “Our customers, our clients, do not pay. Each year ABCD serves over 100,000 low-income individuals from Boston – starting with nearly 3,000 in Head Start and Early Head Start all the way up to nearly 14,000 seniors, and many Adult Basic Education (ABE) services and job training and supportive services in between. All funds raised support these critical programs.”

“This year, not to mention these past few days, has been filled with tragic events of violence, neglect, natural disasters, political dividedness and, even surrounded by all these negative events, there are still people willing to stand up and help their fellow man.

It warms me, my board and staff to see you all here, who are people who support our cause; who give back; who volunteer; and who care about and respect others who are less fortunate. We thank you for being part of our work that we carry out each day in our agency, ” Maria Stella Gulla, NSC Director, enthused.

“Back for the 7th year! My clients and I have never enjoyed an event more. Every year we aim to try a new restaurant with a different celebrity guest. What more could you ask for, all while helping the NE/WE NSC get ready to kick off the holiday season to provide turkeys, toys, and nourishing meals for their clients!” one dinner guest raved.

The Buona Sera evening commenced with a wine reception at WilmerHale on the 26th floor of 60 State Street, followed by dinner at a table for 10 at one of several premiere North End restaurants. Each table was paired with a local celebrity – an elected or public official, sports figure, media celebrity or other well-known local personality. All who participated enjoyed a perfect fall evening (with a final hint of summer breeze) on the town, along with sparkling conversation with their celebrity host!

NSC Director Maria Stella Gulla, who grew up in the North End, noted that “since 2011 this innovative event has raised nearly $250,000 for educational and recreational programs and human services that the center offers. Here in our neighborhoods, we have hundreds of seniors who have lived in the North End since their childhood or in the case of the West End, are thrilled to come back after having neighborhood development forced their eviction in the 1950s. In both communities, we see seniors well into their 80s, 90s, and beyond.”

“Seniors and families come to our two food pantries and our hot meals; we help them access benefits and get needed healthcare. We provide translation services and fuel assistance and many other services. The funds we raise through Buona Sera are critical to keeping these services going and to launching new programs. We are on the brink of launching a van service to address the transportation needs of low-income seniors, who cannot travel between the North End and West End neighborhoods due to their physical health; construction projects; and lack of public transportation. Bay Cove Human Services (Kit Clark) will provide a weekly nine-passenger van, and we will start with transportation from the Amy Lowell and Blackstone Apartments, and gradually add North End housing sites. We have also revived exercise classes and the fall prevention program.”

“Italian Heritage Month remains the perfect time to hold Buona Sera,” said Johannah Malone, Event Coordinator and Fundraising Specialist for the NE/WE NSC. “This event exceeded our expectations, thanks in a significant part to our Fundraising Chair, Becky Mattson, Project Executive of Cottonwood Management, LLC. Over the past year, we have brought a lot of new donors and friends into the important work that we carry out in the agency and I am excited about sending them our center’s monthly newsletter. I encourage anyone who is interested to email me at johannah.malone@bostonabcd.org to join our fundraising committee. It really is a high profile event, and committee members enjoy the time spent in organizing and recruitment! Hosting the event at the same site each year cuts down on a lot of the long-term planning and details, as we are mindful of everyone’s time commitment and availability.”

We at the ABCD NE/WE NSC thank our 2017 donors for the event, some who go back seven years, and others who were “new to the table”, literally and figuratively!

We also thank our Celebrity Hosts:

Honorary Host City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley; Master of Ceremonies WBGH and BSO’s Ron Della Chiesa; Senator Joe Boncore; Senator Sal DiDomenico; Representative Aaron Michlewitz; Representative Jay Livingstone; City Councilor-At-Large Annissa Essaibi-George; Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans; Chief of Staff Heather Campisano, Boston Planning and Development Agency; Director of Development Review Jonathan Greeley, Boston Planning and Development Agency; Journalist/Television Personality Janet Wu; Chef and Owner Dare to Taste Jen Royle; Kahleil Blair “Maverick” JAM’N 94.5; and President and Founder of the Anthem Group, Chris Sinclair.  Guest of honor was City Council Vice President Sal La Mattina, who is leaving the position after 30 years of service!

ABCD’s Buona Sera wouldn’t be possible without our generous Restaurant Hosts:

Antico Forno, Artu Rosticceria and Trattoria, Asaggio, Boston Sail Loft, Cantina Italiana, La Famiglia Giorgio’s, Massimino’s Cucina Italiana, Prezza, Ristorante Euno, Ristorante Fiore, Ristorante Saraceno, and Terramia Ristorante.

Special appreciation also goes out to Wine Reception sponsors WilmerHale for hosting the reception and to Whole Foods Market for supporting expenses with a generous gift card; local North End merchants Cirace Liquors for generously donating the wine.

ABCD’s North End/West End Neighborhood Service Center Buona Sera [Photos]

Bail reforms working in other states

By Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON — As state senators prepare to take up a bill this week that would overhaul the state’s bail system, one Massachusetts sheriff said he’s seeing positive signs from other states that have undertaken bail reform.

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian last week attended a Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration summit at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and returned armed with business cards from officials in Tennessee and New Jersey, whom he hopes to put in touch with lawmakers here.

Tennessee and New Jersey recently reformed their bail systems, and Koutoujian said law enforcement from those states could serve as useful resources for Massachusetts legislators mulling similar changes.

“They’ve had really good results, and the great thing was, the results they’re getting out of New Jersey are completely consistent — the numbers are almost identical — to the results they’re seeing out of Tennessee as well, which is interesting,” Koutoujian told the News Service. “It validates the numbers are consistent and real, basically.”

New Jersey’s bail reform — a move away from a cash-based system to one involving a tool to evaluate a defendant’s risk of fleeing or causing danger to the public — took effect on Jan. 1, 2017. By Aug. 31, the state court system there reported that the number of people in jail before a trial had dropped 15.6 percent since the year began, from 7,337 people to 6,195.

Of the 29,637 eligible defendants arrested from January through August 2017, 8 percent were released on recognizance, roughly 71 percent were ordered to participate in some form of a pretrial monitoring system, and 17.4 percent were placed in detention.

A major package of criminal justice reforms the Senate plans to debate on Thursday includes measures intended to address an August ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court that judges cannot set bail “higher than necessary to ensure the defendant’s appearance” and “that a judge may not consider a defendant’s alleged dangerousness in setting the amount of bail.”

The ruling came in a case filed by Jahmal Brangan, who was held at the Hampden County jail for more than three and a half years because he was unable to post the $40,000 bail after his 2014 armed robbery arrest.

“A bail that is set without any regard to whether a defendant is a pauper or a plutocrat runs the risk of being excessive and unfair,” Justice Geraldine Hines wrote in the decision shortly before retiring from the high court. “A $250 cash bail will have little impact on the well-to-do, for whom it is less than the cost of a night’s stay in a downtown Boston hotel, but it will probably result in detention for a homeless person whose entire earthly belongings can be carried in a cart.”

The bill (S 2185), according to a Senate Ways and Means summary, abolishes cash bail for juveniles and requires judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail for adults. Judges would be given additional options besides cash bail, including unsecured bonds and a wider range of pretrial conditions, and the bill would require that conditions imposed be the least restrictive necessary to ensure the defendant will appear in court.

Judges would be prohibited from setting bail so high “that the defendant represents, in good faith, that he or she cannot afford” it, except if the judge finds the risk of non-appearance is so great that no other conditions would ensure the defendant would come to court, and that the defendant is likely to be incarcerated if convicted. In such cases, the judge would have to orally or in writing explain those findings for the record.

The judge would also have to explain “why the commonwealth’s interest in the secured bond amount outweighs any likely adverse impact on the defendant’s employment, education, mental health treatment, substance or alcohol use treatment and primary caretaker responsibilities.”

The bill would also require the development and use of a risk assessment tool for bail determinations, and expand the ability of pretrial detention for defendants determined to be dangerous, according to the summary.

Whether the bail changes ultimately become law would depend on the level of support they receive in the Senate — where lawmakers filed 162 amendments to the bill — and in the House, where leaders have not yet specified what criminal justice reform measures they intend to pursue.

Rep. Claire Cronin, the House chair of the Judiciary Committee, has been meeting with representatives to discuss criminal justice, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo has enlisted former Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland as an advisor.

In a letter to Cronin earlier this month, six members of the House Progressive Caucus — co-chairs Byron Rushing and Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Reps. Mary Keefe, David Linsky, Jay Livingstone and Jay Rogers — identified bail reform as one of their priorities.

“Instituting a risk-based approach to pretrial release detentions would allow persons who cannot afford money bail to avoid incarceration, losing employment, and having to find emergency childcare, all while saving the state money,” the letter said. “Massachusetts should focus the money spent on unnecessary incarceration for pre-trial individuals who pose little threat to public safety towards expanding programs that encourage an alternative route to incarceration like restorative justice or diversion programs.”

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/breakingnews/ci_31401924/bail-reforms-working-other-states-koutoujian-says

MASSDOT Reminder: Longfellow Bridge Closures and Shuttles Replace Red Line Trains between Park Street and Kendall/MIT over a Series of Weekends Beginning September 29

Reminder: Longfellow Bridge Closures and Shuttles Replace Red Line Trains between
Park Street and Kendall/MIT over a Series of Weekends Beginning September 29

Bridge Access Maintained for Bus Shuttles, Emergency Vehicles,
Bicyclists and Pedestrians

Project work is weather dependent

Due to the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Project, shuttle buses will replace Red Line trains in both directions between Park Street and Kendall/MIT Stations, with a stop at Charles/MGH Station, on weekends beginning Saturday, September 30, through Sunday, December 17. The bus route and stops are shown on this map.

The Longfellow Bridge will also be closed to all private and commercial vehicular traffic on these weekends when work is taking place, with access maintained for bus shuttles, emergency vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The bridge will reopen to inbound vehicles and Red Line trains for Columbus Day beginning at 4:30 AM on Monday, October 9.The bridge is currently scheduled to be open and Red Line trains will be in use for the Head of the Charles weekend (October 21-22) and Thanksgiving weekend (November 25-26). 

On each weekend, bus shuttles will be used from the start of service each Saturday to the end of service each Sunday, and the Longfellow Bridge will be closed to all vehicular traffic from 11:00 PM each Friday to 5:00 AM the following Monday.

Bus shuttles and emergency responders will be the only motor vehicles permitted on the bridge. Bicyclists, both inbound and outbound, and pedestrians will use the shared upstream sidewalk during the work. All other motor vehicles, including passenger vehicles and trucks, will need to use one of two Boston-bound routes to reach Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28) and Leverett Circle.

Inbound Detour Routes: Height restrictions are in place for Memorial Drive, so all buses and trucks must use the 3rd Street to Binney Street detour described below.

  • From Main Street, turn right onto Memorial Drive westbound, and make a U-turn at Ames Street to access Memorial Drive eastbound. Follow Memorial Drive eastbound to Land Boulevard and turn right onto Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28) to reach Leverett Circle.
  • From Broadway, turn left onto 3rd Street, turn right on Binney Street, turn left onto Land Boulevard, and then turn right onto Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28) to reach Leverett Circle.

The Cambridge-bound detour remains in place using a signed route from Charles Circle following Charles Street to Leverett Circle, Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Charles River Dam Road, and Edwin H. Land Boulevard.

During these weekends, elements below the Red Line’s right of way will be replaced, which requires the removal and replacement of all Red Line track systems near Charles/MGH Station. The replacement of the track may also require some speed restrictions in this area of the Red Line for the days immediately following each weekend.

For more information on the project, visit the website at www.mass.gov/massdot/longfellowbridge. View construction progress photos on MassDOT’s Longfellow Bridge Flickr Album. For questions or to report issues related to construction, please call the project hotline at 617-519-9892 or email longfellowbridge@state.ma.us.

MassDOT encourages drivers to avoid the area and seek alternate routes to minimize delays. Those traveling through the area should expect delays, reduce speed, and use caution. The schedule for this major infrastructure project is weather dependent and subject to change without notice

 

Galvin says New Shadow Law Removes Layer of Protection for Historic Parks

By Beth Treffeisen

Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed a home-rule petition into law that would allow Millennium Partners to move forward with building a 775-foot tower on the site of the city-owned Winthrop Square Garage, bypassing two existing state laws that protect the Boston Common and Public Garden from new shadows.

Mayor Martin Walsh introduced this bill last April for a “one-time” exemption to the state shadow laws, citing the reported $153 million sale of the property would bring to the city. The Boston City Council approved sending the bill to the State House in a 10 – 3 vote.

 

“The bill passed removed a layer of protection for historic sites but it doesn’t mean the project is exempt from other processes,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin. “Millennium wouldn’t be able to build this building without that exemption but it’s still fuzzy on how it’s going to go moving forward.”

Galvin said that although this project skirts around the 25-year-old state shadow laws that have shielded the downtown historic parks from excessive building shadows, there is still more to be done.

The project, which is set to break ground next year, is still under going the Article 80 process with the City, has yet to complete the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) report, and still needs to gain the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration before it can reach its proposed height.

In addition Galvin said there hasn’t been a wind study or a complete shadow study that goes beyond the downtown parks into the surrounding historic neighborhoods.

“The process is going to go on,” said Galvin. “A layer of protection has been removed, but the building is not exempt from the process.”

As part of the MEPA report, Galvin who is the Chair of the Massachusetts Historical Commission will work towards determining the effect the proposed tower will have on historic buildings and sites downtown.

Galvin said that although the bill may have taken away a layer of protection for the Public Garden and the Common there are other buildings and historic architecture that needs protection as well.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Walsh, the Friends of the Public Garden and other stakeholders on the short-term and the long-term improvements to the Boston Common that are possible because of our collaborative efforts,” said State Rep. Jay Livingstone.

 

The Friends of the Public Garden worked with the developers Millennium Partners to come to agreement that would invest $125,000 a year for 40 years towards a fund for the upkeep of the Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

 

The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that this is not the outcome they had hoped for but understand that the City said that this is a one-time exemption and offered further study and protections for the Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall from development and its subsequent impacts from mid-town.

Vicki Smith the executive director of NABB said that the neighborhood association would continue to request shadow studies and wind studies on new development in the Back Bay that negatively affect Copley Square and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

“Given the dramatic number of new buildings under construction and consideration it is more important than ever to protect and preserve our increasingly used green spaces,” wrote Smith. “They are precious and significantly contribute to what makes the Back Bay so attractive to both residents and visitors.”

She continued, “On any given day virtually year round, there are people from all over Boston and the world in Copley Square and on the Mall. NABB will continue to advocate for the protection and enhancement of these iconic spaces for future generations.”

Galvin says New Shadow Law Removes Layer of Protection for Historic Parks

Understanding Baker’s Health Care Package

At the end of June, Governor Charlie Baker introduced a health care package that boasted Medicaid (MassHealth) reform and cost savings in an especially tight budget year. At a glance, the proposal seemed like a standard Republican response to the current financial state of the Commonwealth, but after a closer look, juxtaposed with Baker's generally supportive views of the Affordable Care Act nationally, it paints a bleak picture for working families in Massachusetts.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact my Legislative Aide, Caitlin Duffy (Caitlin.Duffy@mahouse.gov)

What did Baker's original MassHealth plan contain?

The Governor's Health Care Reform Package introduced this Summer served as a Phase 2 of a larger reform. Phase 1, which was supported by the Obama Administration, was an effort to transform much of MassHealth (the State's Medicaid program) into "accountable care organizations." According to Commonwealth Magazine, Accountable Care Organizations (or ACO's) aim to focus hospitals, physicians, and other providers on improving population health, care integration, and efficiency. Back in November, days before the election of President Trump, Massachusetts was awarded a grant by the Obama Administration to carry out the program, which aligned with the out-going administration's mission to move US health care away from expensive fee-for-service payment and toward value-based financing that rewards quality and efficiency.

Gotcha. But what is included in Phase 2 of the Health Care Package? More Obama approved reforms?

Unfortunately, no. Phase 2 of Baker's plan is a bit more complex and requires more focus. It includes 5 key changes:

  1. Temporarily reestablishes employer responsibility for health insurance through two new assessments.
  2. Closes access to MassHealth for otherwise income-eligible individuals and families who have access to affordable coverage through their employers.
  3. Seeks to transfer 140,000 lower-income, non-disabled adults from MassHealth to the ConnectorCare program, as well as transfer 230,000 non-disabled parents and caretakers from MassHealth Standard to CarePlus, effective January 1, 2019.
  4. Seeks to align MassHealth benefits more closely with those of commercial insurance plans by encouraging limited network products, by eliminating non-emergency transportation to medical appointments, and by using commercial tools such as closed formularies in selecting outpatient drugs.
  5. A series of reforms to state commercial insurance laws 
Okay, so what does this mean for employers?

Employers would be responsible for a higher rate of "Employer Medical Assistance Contribution" (EMAC) from $51m to $71m effective January 1, 2018. EMAC is what funds  subsidized health care to low-income residents of the Commonwealth. Finally, Employers will be required to pay 5 percent of annual wages for each non-disabled employee who obtains public health insurance coverage (from MassHealth or the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector), up to the annual wage cap of $15,000, or $750 maximum. 

This is bad news for business, but the Baker administration lessened the pain by a $334 million drop in the unemployment insurance rate schedule to make up for it. That deal is likely why groups like the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Taxpayer Association are on board with this plan. Also, the assessments would be only effective for 2 years.

Interesting. I've heard people talking about "employer assesments" before. What are they and what is their significance?

Employer Assesments are reports submitted by companies regarding the health care plans that they offer and the eligibility percentage of current employees. Unless you're incredibly interested in all things Health Care Policy, you probably first heard the concept mentioned back in 2006 during Massachusetts's Universal Health Care debate. The Affordable Care Act also included an employer responsibility assessment, set to take effect in 2014, but it was never implemented. Anticipating the ACA assessment, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature repealed the 2006 mandate in 2013. Baker proposed a more costly assessment last January, which is part of the reason why businesses are on board for these reforms.

That's great for businesses, but what does the package change for families and individuals already on MassHealth?

Well, this is where Baker's policy gets a little bit more treacherous. This plan would close access to otherwise income-eligible individuals and families who have access to healthcare plans deemed "affordable" by the government at their current job. The trouble is that health care costs add up and this could be seen as a huge burden on working people. Advocates worry that many low-income adults will be dropped from coverage, though the Baker Administration claims that they will provide assistance to those affected in finding affordable coverage. Until this assistance is proven to be adequate, moving ahead on this policy would be incredibly risky for vulnerable families and individuals.

 

What about the 140,000 people that would be shifted from MassHealth to Connector Care, or the 230,000 non-disabled parents and caretakers that would be shifted from MassHealth Standard to Care Plus? Should they be worried?

When you look at what would theoretically qualify a person to be deemed eligible for MassHealth in this regard, the 140,000 individuals especially should be alarmed. These are all people whose income is 100 to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In other words, you'd have to be a lot more poor to qualify for MassHealth and families that fall between those benchmarks would have to rework their financial situation to afford subsidized care (which, can truthfully be costly). The disparity gap between plans becomes a significant hurdle for working families. The loss of coverage could also affect MassHealth recipients with dental plans and other elements crucial to caring for one's health that may not carry over to ConnectorCare.

It's important to remember that the poverty level is calculated on a national level.  It does not account for higher cost states, like Massachusetts, or higher cost cities, like Boston or Cambridge.

 

Okay. Well, what about the steps Baker is making to make MassHealth look more like Commercial models of insurance?

The Baker administration seeks to do this with MassHealth by encouraging limited network products, eliminating non-emergency transportation to medical appointments, and using commercial tools such as closed formularies in selecting outpatient drugs.

What about his efforts to reform Commercial Insurance? What would that entail?
  • Imposing a 5-year moratorium on new health insurance mandates;
  • Providing consumers with price information for common procedures and services;
  • Increasing premium differentials for tiered network insurance plans from 14 percent to 28 percent; and
  • Expanding the scope of practice for nurse practitioners, optometrists, and podiatrists, while creating a new mid-level provider called “dental therapist.”
This sounds like it could be devastating to families on MassHealth. What's the pay off? How much does the governor claim that the State would save if we did this?

Baker's team claims that these reforms would save $314 million in fiscal year 2018, which starts July 1, and more beyond. Those savings would be great, but it seems to be on the backs of the working poor in Massachusetts.

Well, what does Jay think about these changes?

As an advocate for working families and individuals, I was incredibly disturbed by Baker's proposal and the lack of public process in determining the details. It felt like businesses and insurance companies got a seat at the table whereas MassHealth recipients did not get to voice their input/concerns. I understand that this was and remains to be a tight fiscal year, but I do not believe that working families and individuals should be first on the chopping block at their expense. After hearing about the proposal and getting sense of a momentum on the issue, I teamed up with Representatives Barber and Balser to pen an op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine about these changes. I've been part of a vocal opposition to any changes made to balance the budget on the backs of the working poor. 

Alright. What happens now? Is this a done deal? What can still be done?

Recently, the House rejected the Governor's MassHealth Reform package in the form of a budget amendment, 41-116, with seven Democrats joining all but one Republican in supporting the governor’s plan. The Senate followed suit on a party-line vote of 6-31. One more vote is required in the Senate to return the budget sections without MassHealth reform to Baker. Baker will have to choose whether to accept the employer assessments without reforming MassHealth and risk alienating the business community, or veto the assessments and I will continue to fight against any similar proposals that would leave the people of Massachusetts without the health care support they need at this time of uncertainty at the federal level.  I am currently working with other representatives on solutions to MassHealth costs that do not involve cuts to benefits or services.