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Massachusetts lawmakers seek override of governor's veto of $7.7 M for community action agencies

Earlier this month Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey vetoed funding that was slated for community action agencies. Now, state lawmakers want an override.

The state has 23 community action agencies that serve nearly 600,000 people with low incomes. Four of the nonprofits are in western Massachusetts.

They are part of a national program that started with the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, at a time when President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty.

The agencies help people with low incomes whose electricity is about to be shut off, or who need additional food or help avoiding eviction. They also help people who are without homes, who seek assistance paying medical bills or need help accessing tax credits.

State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa said she refers her constituents to these nonprofits almost daily and the $7.7 million reduction in funding could mean there are fewer agency staffers to help. So she and other lawmakers are asking the House leadership to address it.

"We are trying to convince them that when we come back in in September, that this is an override that we should take up with urgency," Sabadosa said.

Joe Diamond, executive director of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action, wrote in an email, "Layoffs are a very real possibility and the ability of CAAs [Community Action Agencies] to continue with certain programs or very importantly to react to emergent issues will be severely curtailed."

Diamond said the governor "has a long term commitment to helping vulnerable people" and his agency "looks forward to working with the legislature and the governor to reinstate this funding."

Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley, said if the budget cuts go through, the agency may not be able to fill vacant positions.

"We won't be able to offer as broad services as we have been. And we're going to have to increase fundraising or look for other grants to fill some holes, especially around answering the phones and the food pantry," Higgins said.

The governor's office said the additional funding in recent years was never intended to be permanent but was part of the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our administration is proud to have signed a budget that invests in critical programs that support low-income families in Massachusetts," said Karissa Hand, spokesperson for Governor Healey, in a statement. "Community action agencies perform important services for our communities, and we will continue to support their mission."

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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