As Massachusetts reopens and residents come back to life without COVID-19 restrictions, state lawmakers are considering a slew of budget changes for fiscal 2022 that could give hard-hit nonprofits a boost in Springfield and western Massachusetts.
The recently approved $ 47.7 billion budget by the State Senate includes several amendments led by Senator Eric P. Lesser, representing approximately half a million dollars in funding for local nonprofits and programs ranging from the Springfield Science Museum and the Forest Park Zoo & Education Center to Rachel’s Table, a Western Massachusetts Jewish Federation program focused on fighting hunger and reducing food waste.
Funding proposals for local institutions come as an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts nonprofits say they have been severely affected by lockdowns and social distancing since the pandemic hit the United States.
According to nearly 1,000 respondents to a survey of nonprofits from all sectors and from all Massachusetts Nonprofit Network and Philanthropy Massachusetts, at least 89% say their institutions have canceled programs or events resulting in losses; 67% report service disruptions to clients and communities; and 60% say stress on the economy has hit their budgets even though 25% said they have seen increased demand for services and support.
The changes are also in addition to the $ 1.5 million proposed to bolster the state’s non-profit security grant program. The funding, unanimously approved in the state Senate, would bolster security at places of worship, schools, community centers and other at-risk nonprofits statewide if the budget is signed off by Governor Charlie Baker.
“I hope this budget marks a time of investment and growth in our Commonwealth as we take our first steps towards normalcy,” Lesser said in a statement. “This year has created many challenges in all of our communities who have been overwhelmed by the growing trends of hatred, frustration and unrest during the pandemic. As we look to the future, we can identify areas of injustice and inequality in Western Massachusetts and work to build back better. I believe this year’s budget does just that and I feel a renewed hope for what we can accomplish in Massachusetts if we all work together toward a common goal. “
The state Senate budget now heads to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House spending plan before going to Baker’s office.
Lesser’s office notes that the budget currently includes $ 100,000 to help the Springfield Science Museum complete an International Space Station exploration module and planetarium upgrade; $ 75,000 for the Springfield Public Forum; $ 50,000 each for Community Music School of Springfield Adaptive Music Program for Students with Special Needs, Bay Path University College-Readiness Bootcamp for Young Women, Forest Park Zoo and Education Center, Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts Economic Development Opportunities and the Pioneer Valley Leadership; and $ 25,000 each for the Dress for Success Developmental Program for Women of Western Massachusetts, the Black Men of Greater Springfield Program, including scholarships for black youth and a six-week summer program, and Rachel’s Table to respond to ongoing food security efforts.
Lawmakers also approved other statewide initiatives championed by Lesser, including a $ 100,000 amendment to fund the student loan rights borrower that was enacted in January. The funding will help protect nearly one million borrowers statewide and establish a central ombudsman’s office to answer questions, investigate problems and educate borrowers about the services.
The Senate also supported $ 800,000 for the Springfield and Eastern Massachusetts Urban League; $ 2.2 million for the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs; and $ 30 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program.
According to the State House News Service, State Representative Aaron Michlewitz and Senator Michael Rodrigues will lead the conference committee. The chambers have not yet agreed on rules concerning the transparency of votes and testimony in committee.
This coming week, lawmakers will likely adjust the budget after getting their hands on a May tax revenue report; Tax collections have already exceeded budget estimates by nearly $ 2 billion since January, SHNS reported. The press service noted that more than 450 budget amendments were passed in three days last week, including 83 policy proposals, many of which have yet to be approved.