Veterans’ Budget

Provided by Representative Verga and Senator McGee (Chairs, Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs)

Representative Verga and Senator McGee (Chairs, Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs) thanked the leadership, and their colleagues for their help and support in producing the Veterans and Military FY 2009 Conference Committee Budget

Veterans and Military FY 2009 Conference Committee Budget Highlights

The Conference Committee Budget:

· Provides $47 million+ for the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke (Line Items 4180-0100 and 4190-0100). The Soldiers’ Homes are state-funded, fully accredited health care complexes that offer eligible veterans quality hospital care, skilled nursing and long term care, full-time residential accommodations, and multi-service outpatient care. The conference budget provides $47,291,241, a more than $1.5 million increase over FY08 appropriations, for these critical veterans centers.

· Provides $18.5+ million for Veterans Annuities (Line Item 1410-0300). Last year, tens of thousands of Massachusetts veterans, including all 100% service connected disabled veterans, received state annuity benefits. “The Welcome Home Bill” increased the annual amount of annuities benefits to $2000 and expanded eligibility to include Gold Star Spouses. This year, the Legislature approved more than $420,000 of new annuity funding over the FY08 level to ensure that these benefits will continue to be provided to an increasing population.

· Increases Chapter 115 Veterans Benefits by $5.7+ million over FY08 (Line Item 1410-0400). The Conference budget includes $20,904,223 in funding for benefits for veterans in need, a one-of-a-kind program in the nation establish by the Massachusetts Legislature. This is an increase of $5.7+ million over the FY 08 appropriation.

For the second year in a row, the budget included language that ensures local veterans agents/services officers receive sufficient training from the state Department of Veterans’ Services, to implement the Chapter 115 program. The language also guarantees that such trainings will take place in several accessible locations across in the Commonwealth, including at the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association (MVSOA) training conferences.

· Funds the Newly Created “Special Commission to Study the Hidden Wounds of War.” More than 29,000 servicemembers have returned home to the Commonwealth since September 11, 2001. This 19-member special commission is charged with examining the establishment of a mandatory mental health treatment program for national guard members, a state military family leave policy for primary caregivers of returning servicemembers, and a statewide education training program to assist law enforcement, corrections officers and other first responders in recognizing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The Conference budget provides $25,000 for the funding of the Commission (Chapter 1 of the Resolves of 2008).

· Provides $5+ million for 15 Organizations Which Serve Homeless Veterans (Line Items 1410-0250 and 1410-0251). Despite the challenges of a tight fiscal year, the legislature maintained its commitment to fighting homelessness among veterans and funded all programs included in the FY08 budget.

United Veterans of America – Leeds $220,000
Veterans Hospice Homestead (Leominster) and Veterans Hospice (Fitchburg) $405,500
Unity House Homeless Veterans’ Residence – Gardner $199,405
Southeastern Veterans Housing Program, Inc. – New Bedford $652,395
Springfield Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center – Springfield $51,975
Transition House in Springfield – Springfield $75,000
Massachusetts Shelter for Homeless Veterans – Worcester $625,105
Habitat P.L.U.S. – Lynn $190,000
Our Neighbor’s Table – Amesbury $25,000
The Mansion – Haverhill $80,000
Homestead Program – Hyannis $37,350
Veterans Benefits Clearinghouse – Dorchester $100,350
Veterans Benefits Clearinghouse – Roxbury $73,350
Turner House – Williamstown $42,000
New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans – Boston (see below)

· Provides $2.2+ million for New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Separate Line Item (Line Item 1410-0251). New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans is a substance-free shelter offering a residential care program for both male and female homeless veterans. They also offer support services such as education and training, health care, and free legal services to veterans. The $2,278,466 in funding provided in a stand alone line item enables the shelter to continue to maximize private and matching donations and federal grants.

· Provides $2.3+ million for 17 Veterans Outreach Centers (Line Item 1410-0012) The Conference budget provided $2,389,748 in funding, an increased of more than $433,000 over the Governor’s budget, for veterans outreach centers, which give struggling veterans much-needed access to educational and career opportunities. The legislature funded all outreach centers that were funded in FY08 and also funded two new programs (the Central Massachusetts Veterans Outreach Center and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers and the Colored Ladies). Additionally, $200,000 was included under the Outreach Center line item for outreach and counseling programs for recently returning servicemembers.

Veteran’s Oral History Project at the Morse Institute Library – Natick $30,000
Montachusett Veterans’ Outreach Center – Gardner $367,422
Veterans Association of Bristol County – Fall River $100,000
Puerto Rican Veterans Association of Massachusetts – Springfield $200,000
Mason Square Area Veterans Outreach Center – Springfield $70,000
Metrowest/Metrosouth Outreach Center – Framingham $84,453
Nathan Hale Foundation of Plymouth – Plymouth $150,000
Cape Cod Free Clinic and Community Health Center – Falmouth $100,000
Veterans Benefit Clearinghouse – Boston (Roxbury) $228,771
Veterans Northeast Outreach Center – Haverhill $100,000
NamVets of the Cape and Islands – Hyannis $131,500
Puerto Rican Veterans Associations of Massachusetts – Boston area $100,000
Middleboro Veterans Outreach Center – Middleboro $50,000
United Veterans of America – Berkshire County $100,000
North Shore Veterans Counseling Center – Beverly $106,102
Central Massachusetts Veterans Outreach Center – Worcester $150,000
54th Massachusetts Volunteers and the Colored Ladies $50,000

· Provides $3.4+ million for National Guard Tuition and Fee Waivers (Line Item 8700-1150). The House approved $3,424,492 for this program, which went into effect in July 2006. This program waives tuition and fees for Massachusetts National Guard members who attend UMass, state colleges, and community colleges. There are approximately 7,000 members of the Massachusetts Air and Army National Guard.

· Extends the Pay Differential Law for National Guard and Reserve. The budget included language that provides a 3-year extension to the law that calls for the Commonwealth to make up any salary difference for state employees who are members of the National Guard or Reserve and are called up for active duty military service. It also extends the local option for cities and towns to adopt these benefits for municipal employees, including for employees of a school district. The law, set to expire this September 11, 2008, would be extended for another three years, until September 11, 2011.

· Provides $2.3+ million for the Department of Veterans’ Services (Line Item 1410-0010). The Conference budget provides $2,338,552 to ensure that the Department of Veterans’ Services continue to provide various services, such as increased outreach to veterans. The budget also included 1) language that requires the Department of Veterans’ Services to continue to submit an annual report to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and the Ways and Means Committees pertaining to its outreach efforts, 2) authorization to fund a housing specialist and 3) authorization to expend funds for the Glory 54th Brigade.

· Increases funding by $1.8+ million over FY08 for the Massachusetts National Guard (Line Item 8700-0001). The legislature provided $9,207,659, more than $1.8+ million over the FY08 budget, for the military division operating budget. This reflects a need for funding for troop preparedness, state activations and facility maintenance cost.

· Provides $1.7 million for the National Guard Life Insurance Reimbursement Program (Line Item 0611-1010). The program, established as part of “The Welcome Home Bill,” provides partial reimbursement to Massachusetts National Guard Members for life insurance premiums for policies worth up to $400,000.

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