Rep Velis’ weekly update

Hello Westfield! Hope all is well.

If your read my updates weekly, you will know that my staff and I spent the majority of this week at the State House for budget negotiations. Budget week, as it is called, is one of our busiest weeks of the year. It’s not uncommon for the House to be in session well into the night as we deliberate and vote on all the amendments to the budget- over 1400 in total this year.

In the end, we passed a budget that will allow around $41 billion in spending for the upcoming fiscal year. The final House budget will include the three amendments that I filed, as well as increases in education and local aid spending, two of my top priorities.

The first amendment I filed would bring $50,000 to Westfield through Baystate Noble Hospital to be spent on grant programs to fight opioid addiction and related substance abuse. Like many of you, I am extremely concerned about the growing opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. We are experiencing a public health emergency in this Commonwealth, and Hampden County is being hit especially hard. With the legalization and taxation of Marijuana, there will be more money now available to fight this crisis, and I wanted to make sure that Westfield got a piece of that state money. I’m extremely proud that this amendment was included in the final House budget and look forward to what this extra money can do for our region.

The final House budget also includes money for the Westfield State Banacos Academic center, which helps students with learning disabilities. I was surprised to learn that about 1 in 5 students at WSU have a learning disability. The commitment that the University has to these students is admirable, and I jumped at the chance to do what I could to help them out. I struggled with several learning disabilities, and I know what it’s like to need that extra help that the Banacos center provides. The money allotted to the center would help them to purchase software that assists students with dyslexia, hearing impairments, and other disabilities that could hinder their success if it weren’t for programs like this. Again, I am proud that I was able to get this money in the budget because all students deserve the opportunity to learn and succeed, even if it requires additional assistance. We need to support special education programs at all levels of school, in kindergarten, to high school, and in our public higher education system.

The last amendment that I filed would provide funding to the City of Westfield for improvements to our tourism industry. The MGM Casino is opening later this year in Springfield, and with the influx of visitors to our region, Westfield could use a few small improvements to help draw them into our wonderful city. The money is coming from the Massachusetts Marketing Partnership, which helps municipalities to improve their tourism industry and boost tourism to the Commonwealth, overall. The City would be able to spend the money on improvements to signage so that visitors could more easily find their way to our state parks, historical buildings, and other points of interest in the City. It would also go to funding cultural events, like concerts and plays, that would draw in tourists from out of town. While the majority of funding for these initiatives will likely still come from other sources, this program is an important part of the Commonwealth’s public-private partnership system to grow the tourism industry in our region.

The final House budget will now be passed over the Senate. The Senate Committee on Ways and Means will publish their own version of the budget, and Senators will be able to amend it in the same way we did. It will then go to a conference committee, where the differences between the two will be sorted out and the final budget will be voted on. Of course, I will keep you updated as the process continues and let you all know how it all shakes out. Stay tuned!

That’s it for this week, folks. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, my office can be reached at (413) 572-3920 or [email protected]. Have a great weekend!

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