Baker signs spending bill with $27.8 million to fight opioid epidemic

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BOSTON — Asking for more time to report on changes at the Department of Children and Families, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday signed a spending bill that steers $120 million into the state rainy day fund and dedicates $27.8 million to opioid abuse treatment and prevention programs.

The bill calls on Baker’s team to report to the Legislature by Nov. 17 on new or updated policies put in place at the Department of Children and Families over the past year to improve the safety of children it deals with. Saying that deadline doesn’t give DCF enough time to complete its report, Baker returned that portion of the legislation to lawmakers with an amendment extending the deadline to file the report until the last day of February.

“I thank the legislature for joining our administration in addressing the seriousness of the opioid epidemic as well as reforming DCF and look forward to continuing our work with lawmakers on securing additional tools to combat the addiction crisis,” Baker said in a statement. Added Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, “As I travel to cities and towns across the Commonwealth, I see how the opioid epidemic affects us every day. Today’s supplemental budget provides important funding for schools to implement opioid prevention programming and for the support of various other substance abuse services.”

The bill allocates $326.3 million in appropriations, including $200 million for MassHealth to account for increased caseloads, $31.5 million to pay snow and ice-clearing bills from last winter, $21.7 million for county sheriff operations, $9.5 million for tuition reimbursements for those serving in the National Guard, and $4 million for the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

The budget bill (H 3829) also puts $113 million toward paying down state debt, a sum not factored into the bill’s bottom line.

Baker slashed $1.5 million for rate adjustments to nonprofit home health agencies, writing in his veto message that the allocation “creates funding inequities between nonprofit and for-profit” agencies.

The governor also vetoed an outside section of the bill that earmarks funds for the joint labor-management committee for municipal police and fire “because it interferes with the Department of Labor Relation’s statutory power to prioritize and manage its obligations.”

Baker also returned with amendments portions of the bill dealing with limits on reimbursement amounts provided under the state’s underground storage tank program and reporting to the Legislature on applications under Section 1332 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

If Baker had not signed the bill on Monday, about $422 million would have been shifted into the state’s rainy day fund in connection with an annual state finance reporting deadline.

Written by Michael Norton