By FALPC Intern, Jacquelyn Burmeister
Last week marked the end of this year’s legislative session in the State of Massachusetts. And what a year it was for food and active living policy! The State has passed some progressive legislation that promises to make cities like Worcester more healthy, vibrant and sustainable places to live. The following is a list of the bills passed this year, and some highlights to look forward to in the years to come!
The Healthy Food Financing Bills
The Healthy Food Financing Bills are the most recent of the Food and Active Living legislation to pass, slipping by at the eleventh hour on July 31. The bills will make it easier to finance access to healthy foods in Massachusetts. Currently, in Worcester and the rest of Massachusetts, there are large swaths of area that have limited to zero access to healthy food options. Some of these areas have been designated “Food Deserts” by the USDA. People who live in these areas are at higher risk for diabetes, obesity and other diet-related diseases. The legislation utilizes the Food Trust Program to provide flexible financing, programs, including loans, grants, and technical assistance to support the development, renovation, and expansion of food stores, farmers markets and other retailers selling healthy food in low-income communities. In addition to alleviating health issues, the program is expected to develop the economy. Other programs of this type have shown progress in Pennsylvania, New York, New Orleans, New Jersey, California, and Illinois. The Healthy Food Financing legislation was introduced by our very own Senator Michael.
The Minimum Wage Bill
Previously, the State minimum wage was $8.00/hour, $0.75/hour higher than the federal minimum, and about average overall for the country. In June, The Minimum Wage Bill was passed to increase the State’s minimum wage by 38% to $11.00/hour, making Massachusetts minimum the highest in the country. The legislation also raises the rate for tipped workers from $2.63 to $3.75/hour. The increases are set to occur between now and 2017 and are expected to help up to 600,000 families access healthier lifestyles.
Fun Fact: Massachusetts has always been progressive with regard to livable wages for its workers, being the first state to propose a non-compulsory minimum wage back in 1912!
Transportation Bond Bill
The Transportation Bond Bill was passed on April 18th, authorizing the use of $50 million in Complete Streets Certification Program funding for cities and towns. Complete Streets are those that encourage the use of alternative transportation, such as biking, walking and public transit, by fostering a physical environment that enables citizens to do so in a healthy and safe manner. The Program will incentivize the collaboration between municipalities and MassDOT to address gaps in local pedestrian and bicycle transportation networks and grant municipalities the title “Active Streets Communities” if they take certain steps to make their communities more friendly to non-traditional transportation and increased use of this transportation three-fold. This bill was introduced by Worcester’s Senator Harriette Chandler.
We indeed have a lot to be thankful for and more to look forward to. A special thanks to all of those who participated to increase awareness of these bills and causes, especially to those that took the time to contact their legislators and push for their passage!