Holyoke Soldiers' Home Bill Prompts Questions On Veteran Care Equity, Tight Timeline
A Massachusetts legislative committee heard testimony Tuesday on a $400 million spending bill crucial to reconstructing the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
Jesse Flynn with the Disabled American Veterans of Massachusetts said the bill doesn't meet the needs of veterans in other parts of the state, and the veteran population is forecast to continue dropping.
"Based on this, we question the rationale for making huge investments into only one or two large and centralized facilities that offer access to only a small portion of our elderly veteran population," Flynn said in his testimony.
Jesus Pereira, the veterans agent for Holyoke, also brought up the issue of regional equity.
"Members of the working class of my community, and other communities west of the I-495 corridor — we pay Massachusetts state taxes," Pereira said. "And we, too, expect nothing less than equitable and fair treatment as it pertains to funding of major projects that seek to not only improve the quality of life of veterans of my local community, but also the lives of all Massachusetts veterans."
Gov. Charlie Baker and his cabinet are pushing for approval of the bill as soon as possible, warning that without action soon, the state might not be able to access federal funding for up to 65% of the cost of a new long-term care facility for veterans. There is a federal deadline of April 15.
During the hearing, state Sen. Marc Pacheco, chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight reviewing the bill, pressed administration officials on why Baker did not file the bill until mid-February if the timeline would be so crunched.
"Putting a $400 million project together and coming to the legislature with the timeline we need to deal with is extremely unusual," Pacheco said. "Why weren't we given more time for consideration of this enormous investment, which is deserved?"
Alda Rego, assistant secretary for administration and finance at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said the timing reflects the "extraordinary circumstances" Massachusetts faced over the past year.
Before Baker submitted the legislation, Rego said, the administration sought input from the Holyoke home's board of trustees, who gave their stamp of approval in early February.
"It's great everybody had input, but the legislature hasn't, and so now we're dealing with what we have before us without having the appropriate time to provide legislative input," Pacheco said.
Adam Frenier contributed to this report, which includes information from State House News Service.