Gov. Baker launches ethnic advisory groups

Gov. Charlie Baker met with ethnic media April 24 at the Statehouse. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and administration officials welcomed members of the ethnic press to a quarterly media briefing April 24 at the Statehouse.

Baker reiterated his support for diversity, despite threats to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities. “The general agreement here in Massachusetts is we are a global community and welcoming community,” he said. We take great pride our advances are driven by the fact we have been a state that looks across the world in respect to where we get people from. People come to study, do research and escape terrible circumstances. That’s always been true; it will continue to be the way we respond.”

The Black Advisory Commission was launched Feb. 23 by Baker’s executive order, said Tony Richards, director of Community Affairs. Commission members will gather four times a year and meet with Baker at least once a year on the economic prosperity and well-being of the black community in Massachusetts.

A Latino Advisory Commission is planned for June, Richards said. There are no plans to bring back the Governor’s Asian American Commission, as there is a statewide Asian American Commission.

Massachusetts Health Connector executive director Louis Gutierrez reported a strong enrollment period for 2017, after focusing outreach on ethnic media for at-risk populations. More than 63,000 people enrolled in new coverage for 2017, compared to 49,000 for 2016. Strong community-based efforts in the Boston area led to significant new enrollment increases in Mattapan (70 percent), East Boston (54 percent) and Chelsea (50 percent), along with other nearby communities.

“Massachusetts as a whole has one of lowest unenrollment rates at about 3 percent, with 96 percent of the population enrolled,” Gutierrez said. “But there are high rates of unenrollment in ethnic communities and newly unemployed people.”

The next open enrollment period will begin Nov. 1 and is expected to be shorter, closing Dec. 15 rather than Jan. 31. Massachusetts is likely to extend enrollment to January 2018, Gutierrez said.

Baker proposed a bill April 11 intended to reduce the number of people incarcerated for being unable to pay fines, a practice known as “fine time.” Criminal defendants who cannot afford fines, fees and assessments can be jailed until their debt is cleared, at a rate of $30 a day. The legislation offers the option to complete community service. People can only be jailed after a hearing and a written finding on the defendant’s unwillingness to meet their obligation. Should someone be incarcerated, the bill triples the daily rate to $90, so people can serve their obligation faster. A Senate report found 105 individuals in jail for being unable to pay fines in Plymouth, Essex and Worcester counties. With data reporting differing by county, the report estimated 500 people in Massachusetts are incarcerated due to fine time.

“It’s our hope fewer people are sent to jail for their failure to fulfill their obligation to the court,” said Ben Goldberger, deputy legal counsel. Court hearings would take into account the person’s circumstances, such as an inability to perform community service, mental health, access to transportation and care for family members.

A $1.287 billion affordable housing bill was filed April 24, said Bureau of Housing Construction director Amy Stitely. The legislation would support construction and preservation of affordable housing, and fund public housing maintenance and improvement.

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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England

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