On January 25th, the Governor released his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13). This budget provides a starting point for the State Representatives and State Senators to develop their own versions of the budget, and come to an agreement in the spring before the start of FY13 in July 2012.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center puts out a great detailed analysis of the budget, as well as this summary: With the Commonwealth facing a preliminary budget gap of approximately $1.3 billion, the Governor proposes balancing the budget with three strategies:
- Cuts and savings of about $550 million1
- Modest tax reforms and other revenue initiatives that generate about $215 million in ongoing revenue
- The use of about $545 million in temporary revenues, mostly from the state stabilization fund (the “rainy day fund”).
In terms of issues related to hunger, food access, and transportation in Worcester as well as throughout the state, we see the following highlights in the Governors budget.
- $1.5 million cut in Elder Nutrition Programs
- Level funding of the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP)
- $3.3 million increase to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to increase the number of caseworkers dealing with SNAP (formerly food stamps) cases.
- Public Health revenue coming from the Governor’s plan to impose the sales tax on soda and candy.
- Level funding for the state subsidy of WIC overall, with an increase in the amount it can retain from rebate and federal programs.
- $1.6 million increase in Youth Jobs, which helps support programs in Worcester like YouthGROW, the REC’s urban agriculture and leadership program.
- A slight increase in funding to MBTA ($779 million to $786 million) for debt servinging and operating costs.
- Level funding of the Regional Transit Authorities.
- $14.9 million cut to the MA Transportation Trust Fund.
While its frightening to see the words “cut” and hopeful to see the words “increase” and “level funding”, its just as important to understand what the cuts translate into, what level funding means when there is inflation, and what the increases will address and what they will not.
A cut in funding for the elder nutrition programs, from $6.3 million to $4.8 million could result in the loss of 240,000 free or reduced-price meals for elders. For some elders, the elder lunch programs—which are often run by local councils on aging—are the only guaranteed healthy meal or opportunity for socialization.
The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program has been level funded, meaning that it is funded at the same level in 2013 as it was in 2012. While this is preferable to a direct cut in funding, it can still be seen as a cut because of the continued inflation of food prices, which, according to regional consumer price index analyses, has been 4 percent over the past year. In addition, many pantries in the Worcester area and across the state are reporting an increase in the number of clients they are seeing.
SNAP (Food Stamps)
The Administration anticipates that the SNAP (Food Stamp) caseload will continue to rise as it has over the past years. The Administration projects being able to fund additional caseworkers, and the Governor also proposes $3.2 million for efforts to increase food stamp participation, an increase of 8.1 percent over FY 2012 current funding levels, as well as $1.2 million for a state supplement to SNAP benefits for certain working families.
While we are hopeful to see an increase that will support an increased number of caseworkers, it is not nearly enough to address the continually increasing caseload, nor the problems that have resulted from an understaffed and strained system. Since 2006 the caseload has increased 300% while staffing overall has decreased by 30%. We will continue to advocate for an increase in this line item.
Soda and Candy Sales Tax
A significant portion of funding ($51.3 million, or nearly 10 percent of the total appropriation for public health) consists of new revenue that would come from the Governor’s plan to impose the sales tax on soda and candy. The revenue would be dedicated to specific programs, such as the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention line item, and although some of these programs see increases, most of the new revenue essentially supplants existing resources—in other words, while it likely helps avoid further cuts, it does not fund new initiatives.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
The WIC Program is federally funded but receives a state subsidy, which has been level funded at $12.3 million. There is, however, an increase in the amount that the WIC Program is authorized to retain and spend from revenue it receives from infant formula rebates and other federal measures. The increase will help the program serve more people.
Youth Summer Jobs
The line item that supports the summer jobs program for low-income youth, has received an increase of $1.6 million. This program supports many very important programs, one of which is the YouthGROW program here in Worcester, run by the Regional Environmental Council. This program is a youth leadership and urban agriculture program that has had an amazing impact on the youth and the community.
The Governor’s FY 2013 budget provides $1.13 billion for transportation line items and operating transfers. This represents a small decrease (0.7 percent) from current FY 2012 funding levels, though when cost inflation is taken into consideration, we can assume the result is a somewhat larger decline in actual purchasing power. The large majority ($947.0 million) of the Governor’s proposed total would go to fund the MBTA, both for debt service costs and to help support annual operating costs. The Regional Transit Authorities are being level funded at $15 million (split between the 14 RTAs, of which there is one in Worcester, the WRTA).
The Governor provides $165.2 million to the Massachusetts Transportation Trust Fund (MTTF), a decrease of $14.9 million from current FY 2012 funding levels. The MTTF helps to fund Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) functions. These functions include maintaining and improving state roads, highways and bridges; maintaining and improving airports, rail and transit lines; administering the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV); and covering specific transportation-related debt service costs. This annual transfer of funds to MassDOT through the MTTF represents only a portion of the total MassDOT budget, which receives additional funds from highway and bridge tolls, gas and sales tax revenues, RMV fees, and other sources.
For more details, as well as some great charts and graphs, see the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
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