Our state budget is the most concrete expression of our collective goals and values because it embodies which priorities we are willing to invest in as a community. A long history of policy choices has brought about deep inequities that harm Black and Brown communities in Massachusetts today. The public investments in our budget are critical tools to achieve greater racial and economic justice.
MassBudget is on a journey to build an understanding of what it would take for the state budget to advance racial equity. After examining the House and Senate Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposals, our budget analysts highlighted six differences between the two that have implications for racial equity. These differences will get worked out in a conference committee to decide on a final budget proposal that will be sent to the Governor’s desk for her approval.
At MassBudget, we believe that every line item in the state budget is an opportunity to advance racial equity. Other programs in the proposed budgets, such as free community college for specific populations and C3 grants for early education providers, are also opportunities to close racial gaps that we would be excited to see come to fruition. These are six areas we chose to highlight among the countless possibilities that exist to leverage the power of public investment.
The House, but not the Senate, proposed more uniform collection of demographic information across state government as well as an update to demographic categories like race and gender. Currently, demographic data are tracked differently across programs and agencies and demographic categories do not necessarily reflect how people identify themselves. Better quality demographic data can foster clearer comparisons and is more responsive to the self-described identities of communities. It will help us recognize and understand racial inequities in how public programs are implemented. It will also help the public to hold the state government accountable for changing these outcomes.
The Senate, but not the House, proposes to allow undocumented students who graduate from high school in the Commonwealth to access in-state tuition rates in higher education, a difference of thousands of dollars in tuition and fees annually. The policy would require a minimum of three years of high school education in our state resulting in either a high school diploma or GED, and require that immigrant students begin the process of obtaining citizenship. This would bring Massachusetts in line with 23 other states that offer in-state tuition to undocumented young people. Providing more affordable pathways to higher education will open doors for tens of thousands of students from diverse backgrounds and is a critical way that states can address our broken national immigration system. In-state tuition will help these students to learn, work, and support their families in the future. It will also help our economy by adding more talented degree-holders to Massachusetts’ workforce, which is projected to decline by over 190,000 college-educated workers in the next decade.
The House proposes to significantly expand funding for the Housing Assistance for Re-Entry Transition pilot program to $7 million, while the Senate would freeze funding at last year’s $2 million level. By providing housing services to individuals who are often “locked out” of receiving housing aid because of prior convictions, the program can reduce recidivism and help re-integration into the community. In Massachusetts, Black people account for 28 percent of the incarcerated population, but only 7 percent of the state’s overall population. By providing targeted housing solutions to those that have been incarcerated, budget dollars foster stability and reduce the lasting impact of a glaring racial gap.
The Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), which aids those who have disabilities and cannot afford proper housing accommodations, will also be up for debate during the conference committee. While the House proposes roughly $14 million in funding for these rent subsidies in the coming fiscal year, the Senate proposes nearly $17 million. The difference could go a long way toward providing those with disabilities living on low incomes with the accommodations necessary to live safely. Black residents of Massachusetts as a group continue to have lower incomes than white residents and poorer health status than white residents. This makes African Americans more likely to require services such as AHVP.
Massachusetts residents of color are more likely than white residents to experience poverty and therefore more likely to be eligible for childcare support. Furthermore, about half of children eligible for Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) childcare vouchers are children of color, and children of color are overrepresented (based on their share of the population) as Department of Children and Families (DCF) consumers. Taken together, this makes increased spending on childcare subsidies important for advancing racial justice. Budget support for state-subsidized early education and care is distributed across five major line items in this budget cycle (Figure 1). This suite of subsidy line items includes long-standing line items supporting children receiving services from Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), as well as one supporting income-eligible childcare. There are proposals from both chambers to use Fair Share tax revenue to shorten waitlists, and other line items to increase reimbursement rates for providers serving families using subsidies. As Figure 1 shows, the Conference Committee will negotiate funding levels for each of these line items. If the Committee agrees on funding closer to the larger of the proposed appropriations, then the total for these five line items could be up to $898.7 million. The total would be $139.9 million less ($758.8 million) if the Committee chooses the smaller of the proposed appropriations. Any additional money allocated to income-eligible childcare could advance racial justice in access to child care.
|Line Item No.||Line Item Description||House Budget||Senate Budget|
|3000-1041*||Reimbursement Rate Increase (Center-Based and Family Childcare)||$20,000,000||$20,000,000|
|3000-1042||Reimbursement Rate Increase (Center-Based only)||$70,000,000||$0|
|3000-3060||Supportive Childcare (DCF and DTA-consumers)||$328,195,070||$355,783,167|
|3000-4060||Income Eligible Childcare||$385,580,298||$417,922,201|
|1596-2411||Income Eligible Waitlist||$25,000,000||$25,000,000|
* Senate proposal includes increase to DCF consumer daily add-on rate
Funding for public transit can have important consequences for racial equity, including for the 15 regional transit authorities (RTAs) that operate public buses outside of the Boston area and serve a disproportionate number of riders of color in those regions. For instance, nearly half of riders in the Worcester region are people of color in a service area that is 83 percent non-Hispanic white. While RTAs provide an affordable way for people to reach jobs, family, medical appointments and other needs, RTA services often are infrequent and in many regions do not operate at night or on weekends, which is particularly problematic for people with second or third shift jobs. More funding would help the RTAs provide better access to mobility and opportunity for their riders. The House and Senate budget proposals would both provide additional support to RTAs over last year, but with substantially greater support proposed by the Senate. Using funds from the Fair Share surtax, the House proposes an additional $70 million for RTA improvements, while the Senate proposes an additional $100 million, including $15 million to support the RTAs in pilot programs to temporarily suspend fare collection at every regional transit authority. In addition to speeding bus service, the elimination of fares particularly benefits low-income riders.