Month: September 2012 (page 1 of 2)

El Sistema Student Orchestra Debuts in Somerville

The children of El Sistema perform at the East Somerville Community School

The children of El Sistema perform for the first time at the East Somerville Community School. Look at that adorable little smile!

The word “inspiring” is overused, but it’s the only one I can think of that captures what I saw at the East Somerville Community School last night. I was fortunate to attend the Somerville debut of El Sistema, a daily after-school program that enriches the lives of at-risk kids through music education. The young musicians meet for three hours each school day to learn the basics of musical performance and theory, and they do so thanks to the generosity of neighbors and community groups who have donated instruments.

Funding for arts education has suffered around the country over the last decade, which makes partnerships with groups such as El Sistema all the more vital. And for anyone who’s ever suffered through traditional music lessons, I need to stress just how different El Sistema’s approach is. “El Sistema is a completely different way of learning an instrument,” district music director Rick Saunders told the Somerville Journal, “because children play together in an orchestra every day for at least two hours, compared to the typical 40-minute instrument lesson per week. With so much time to play, the children progress rapidly.”

The benefits of music education are incredible, and the younger students start, the more music helps. Kids learn discipline by practicing every day, they understand how to work together as a team by performing together, and perhaps most importantly, they develop stronger spacial and reasoning skills without even knowing it. El Sistema also makes sure that its students eat a nutritious after-school snack.

El Sistema is exactly the kind of educational partner we need in our schools. I want to say thank you to El Sistema, to the East Somerville Community School, and to the talented young musicians who performed last night. It was an absolute pleasure, and I’m excited to see the program’s Somerville debut get off to such an amazing start.

Tim Celebrates Signing of Child Hearing Aid Law with Governor Patrick, Rep. Garballey, and Other Elected Officials

This afternoon, a group of concerned parents gathered with Representatives and Senators for Governor Patrick’s ceremonial signing of H.52, “An Act to Provide Access to Hearing Aids for Children.” I cannot tell you how many times I heard people at the ceremony saying, “This is such a good bill,” and that’s a testament to the hard work of my colleague Representative Sean Garballey, who was the chief sponsor of H.52.

Governor Patrick listens to parents describe the hardship of learning that their child was diagnosed with permanent hearing loss, and of the relief and hope that Rep. Garballey’s bill has brought to them and their children.

And it really is a good bill: H.52 plugs a critical gap in early-childhood health care by expanding on a 1998 law that mandates post-natal hearing screenings. While newborns have been screened for hearing loss for more than a decade, insurers were not required to cover the vital medical devices that would restore the gift of sound to these young lives.

I listened today as one mother after another talked about the sorrow they felt when they learned their children faced hearing loss, and the fear they felt when they learned that hearing aids were not covered by their health insurance. One mother, holding the hands of her 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds, told us how her family faced a $15,000 decision every year, a decision that forced her and her husband to answer questions no parent ever wants to face. With the passage of this bill, that economic uncertainty—that sick, empty feeling in the pit of a parent’s stomach when an unexpected medical bill arrives—is a thing of the past for thousands of Massachusetts families.

As Governor Patrick pointed out, this hearing aid bill is part of a larger decision we all made as a Commonwealth, namely that “health care is a public good,” and one to which we all deserve access. With the passage of this bill, Massachusetts becomes the 20th state nationally to require insurers to cover the cost of hearing aids, and I’m proud to have co-sponsored this piece of legislation

Cambridge Health Alliance Modernizes for the Future

I spent part of this morning with the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), as they marked their transition to a medical home model of health care delivery.The medical home model is part-and-parcel of the health care bill we passed last session, emphasizing the need to identify and learn from accountable care organizations and mandating a transition to global payments away from the traditional fee-for-service model.

Tim speaks about his personal connection to the Cambridge Health Alliance and the importance of the progress that they continue to make as one of the Commonwealth’s safety net hospitals

The CHA is partnering with state and federal authorities as part of a $628 million program designed to increase the effectiveness of care delivery and to reduce operating costs. The program, known as the Delivery Services Transformation Initiative (DSTI), seeks improvement in four major areas: integrated delivery systems, innovative care methods, alternative payment models, and population-level healthcare services.

In plain English, this means that the CHA is moving forward with best-practices such as electronic health records to arm both providers and patients with up-to-the-minute information. In practice, electronic health records function the same way as a patient’s “chart,” only without the possibility of mistakes due to transcription errors or loss of paper records. Electronic health records also make it possible to instantaneously check patient prescriptions against known allergies, integrate lab results with x-rays and MRIs, and let patients bring their chart with them on a smart phone or any other connected device.

The DSTI program is another important step forward on the road toward affordable, high-quality health care for all. As the Governor has pointed out in the past, DSTI funds benefit our “safety net hospitals,” the caregivers who serve our most vulnerable communities, and it’s good to see that the proverbial cavalry has arrived to support our doctors and nurses. I will continue to fight for a single-payer health care system, but the transition of the CHA to a medical home model with the help of the DSTI program is an unequivocal win for our district and for our neighbors. I played an integral role in the creation of the CHA, and I’m proud that they’re continuing to find new ways to improve patient care.

Another Milestone at North Point, as EF Breaks Ground

Rep. Toomey speaks at the EF groundbreaking

Rep. Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. speaks at the EF groundbreaking. Tim played an integral role in the redevelopment of North Point. (Photo by Greg M. Cooper/ EF Education First)

Yesterday afternoon, along with Governor Patrick and other elected officials, I celebrated the groundbreaking of the new North American headquarters of EF Education First. The event was an absolute blast, featuring food trucks from around Cambridge and Somerville, speeches by Mayor Henrietta Davis, the Governor and others, and a performance by Cambridge’s own Passion Pit.

For me, this was a fun day that was a long time in the making. My colleagues, neighbors, and I have worked tirelessly to shepherd EF through this process, and along the way, we gained commitments from the company to beautify North Point and to use union labor during the construction of the new building.

The single best way to learn more about the ongoing redevelopment of North Point is to visit for yourself. The new park on the Charles is absolutely beautiful and a perfect place to enjoy a final picnic or two before winter arrives. If you can’t make it to the park, here are some numbers to let you know what’s been accomplished and what is planned going forward:

  • EF will add 400 new, permanent jobs to their workforce
  • The project will put hundreds of union construction workers back on the job
  • The new building will include a new restaurant open to the public
  • EF will provide $300,000 to the DCR to help maintain the park
  • EF will provide $1 million to the City of Cambridge
  • The project also calls for the creation of a multi-use bike path and the largest skate park in New England
Rep. Toomey congratulates the Hult family, the owners of EF, at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Rep. Toomey congratulates the Hult family, the owners of EF, at the groundbreaking ceremony. (Photo by Greg M. Cooper/ EF Education First)

I want to say thank you to EF for allowing me the opportunity to say a few words, which you can read here. The company has generated outstanding growth numbers for more than a decade, and I’m happy they’ve chosen to remain in Cambridge for the long haul. We need vibrant, innovative companies like EF as we continue to strengthen our regional economy, and I want to thank the Governor, the Mayor, and all my colleagues for helping to get this job done.

Now that the ceremonial shovels have been put away, the real work of creating a new building can begin.

Construction Continues at Two Cambridge Intersections

The Cambridge Department of Public Works has distributed flyers alerting neighbors to a change in schedule. Two sites are under repair: the raised intersection at Spring St. and Fulkerson St., and the raised crosswalk at Spring St. and Sixth St. The Cambridge Department of Public Works is moving as quickly as possible to fix these two thoroughfares, and they’re making accommodations for anyone who needs a little extra help getting around.

If you need any special assistance or special accommodations in order to navigate these intersections, the Cambridge Department of Public Works has asked neighbors to contact Rebecca Fuentes at 617-349-6948 or by email at rfuentes@cambridgema.gov.

Walk for a Great Cause This Weekend

The first annual Joe Chaves 5k Memorial Walk/Run will take place this Sunday, September 30, starting at 1pm. Founded in memory of José A. Chaves in 2010, the Joe & Dorothy Chaves Foundation advocates on behalf of immigrants seeking to improve their lives and advance the future prospects of their families in Greater Boston. You can register for the event online ($15) or in person at the event ($25), and if you can’t make it to the Walk/Run but still want to show your support, you can donate to the Chaves Foundation here, or connect via Facebook here.

The Walk/Run route begins at Inman Square, heads down Cambridge St., crosses the Gilmore Bridge into Charlestown, and then turns around to finish at St. Anthony’s Church in East Cambridge, where refreshments, games, and entertainment await. All proceeds from the event will benefit scholarships and community programs for the Greater Boston Portuguese-American community. Come on down to Inman Square this weekend to show your support for a great cause and have some fun!

Applications Now Available for 2013 Grants from Somerville Arts Council

Grant funding is available from the Somerville Arts Council for individuals, schools, community groups, and non-profits. These local cultural council grants are typically used for funding after-school and summer programs, artist residencies and fellowships, school field trips, exhibitions, public concerts, and more. They are a great resource for the local artists and organizations that make Somerville a vibrant and interesting place to live.

If you would like more information about how to apply for a LCC grant through the Somerville Arts Council, please attend one of their two upcoming information sessions:

Thursday, September 20th, 6-7:30 pm
Somerville Public Library, West Branch
40 College Ave

Monday, September 24th, 6-7:30 pm
Cross Street Senior Center
165 Broadway

Join East End House and the CPD for a Community Cruise

Charles Riverboat Company at the Cambridgeside Galleria

The Charles Riverboat Company docks at the Cambridgeside Galleria.

The annual East Cambridge Crime Prevention Meeting and Boat Cruise will take place tonight, September 19. The boat will leave the Charles Riverboat Company at the Cambridgeside Galleria at 6:00pm, so the organizers have asked that people arrive between 5:30 and 5:45 for boarding.

Once you’re on the river, pizza and light refreshments will be served as neighbors will have the chance to speak with police officers and detectives in an informal setting. I’ve always believed that community members and public safety officials need to work hand-in-glove, and events such as this boat cruise are a great way to build trust and open lines of communication.

The weather’s been beautiful, and with luck, this boat cruise will include a sunset. I hope you’ll attend!

East Broadway Foodie Crawl Postponed to Tuesday 9/25

Next Tuesday (9/25) is the second annual East Broadway Foodie Crawl, sponsored by East Somerville Main Streets. This event lets you eat and laugh a little too much at participating restaurants including Vinny’s, the Tapatio/Taco Loco Family of Restaurants, Blessing Carribean, Los Paisanos, Gauchao Brazilian Cuisine, Maya Sol, Casey’s, Taqueria Montecristo, Ola Cafe, Mount Vernon Restaurant, and more.

The East Broadway Foodie Crawl also features performances by The Sara Thompson Band, James Fuccione Band, Son Del Sol, and Hot Sauce BPS, and for the night owls, there are three after-parties from which to choose.

Tickets are available online, or at the following locations:

  • Sullivan Square Liquors – 30 Broadway
  • Davis Squared – 409 Highland Avenue

Let’s Talk About the MBTA

Before his election to the State Senate earlier this year, Will Brownsberger served as the State Representative for the 24th Middlesex District. I worked closely with him as a member of the Cambridge delegation to the State House, and if you’ve met Sen. Brownsberger, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that he’s a serious and thoughtful legislator. Among the priorities we share, Will and I understand the importance of public transit and we’re both committed to fully funding the MBTA.

Charlie rides the MBTA

So when Sen. Brownsberger published an op-ed regarding the MBTA’s funding challenges, all of us in the State House took notice. Before we dive into the details of Sen. Brownsberger’s op-ed, let’s review the situation:

  • 37% of people working in Boston get to work by using the T. In the communities of Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Everett, and Malden, at least one in ten people get to work using public transit.
  • The MBTA is facing significant long-term funding challenges. Last year, I voted with my colleagues for a one-time transfer of funds from the state to the MBTA to keep T service at its current level, but we all knew the fix was temporary.
  • The current funding streams for the MBTA have proven to be insufficient for the level of service we’ve come to expect. There are a bunch of reasons for this—notably, the decline in sales tax revenue due to the struggling economy—but to get the T back on a solid financial footing, all options need to be on the table.

This is a complex issue with a number of potential fixes: for example, a marked increase in ridership across the system would go a long way toward closing the current funding gap. Cutting services could also narrow the funding gap, but at the expense of our neighbors’ ability to get to work. Similarly, finding new sources of revenue through open-road tolling, a reapportionment of sales tax proceeds, or levying a regional tax on T riders might get us closer to a balanced budget. All of these proposals present both benefits and drawbacks for the Commonwealth’s commuters.

There are a lot of innovative ideas out there, but the one thing we can’t do going forward is maintain the status quo. Some people are calling for a maintenance of current service levels and not touching revenue and complaining about the MBTA’s fiscal situation. But the numbers simply do not add up. As Bill Clinton might say, this approach simply defies arithmetic.

So, the challenge of fixing the T’s balance sheet becomes a question of priorities. Here are mine:

  • I believe that service cuts are almost always more harmful than revenue increases. I would rather see all of us pay a little more than make public transportation more expensive and more inconvenient for working families.
  • I believe that we as a Commonwealth should encourage more people to use public transportation. More T riders means cleaner air, less traffic, downward pressure on gas prices, and a healthier MBTA.
  • I believe that if we are going to raise revenues, we should do so in the least regressive way possible. Some self-described progressives have promoted a Parking Space Tax (PST), but, again, the arithmetic doesn’t lie: a PST would force residents of densely populated Somerville to pay four to five times more than residents of less-densely populated Newton. I can’t understand how anyone who calls themselves a progressive could ever advocate for a tax that forces working families to pay more than the wealthy, but that is indeed what some people are proposing.

Ideally, fixing the MBTA will be part of a statewide, comprehensive transportation solution, one which fixes our roads, bridges, and harbors along with our buses, stations, and rails. I will advocate for this comprehensive approach, but I’d also like to point out one idea in Sen. Brownsberger’s op-ed that caught my eye.

Drawing on a piece by the Globe’s Derrick Z. Jackson, Sen. Brownsberger brought up the idea of a congestion fee for drivers entering downtown Boston. Congestion fees are already in use in major cities such as London and Stockholm, and they’ve been proven to work. The idea is simple: when you drive into Boston, you pay a small fee. If you live within the congestion-fee zone, you’re largely exempt from the fee (in London, for example, 90% of your fee is waived if you live within the zone). The effects of this fee are pretty straightforward: commuters will be encouraged to park outside the city and take the MBTA in, thus driving up ridership, cutting congestion in the city, improving air quality downtown, and reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

As I said before, all options need to be on the table. But the congestion fee proposal is both proven and innovative. We here in Massachusetts have been ahead of the curve on a number of important issues, and a congestion fee gives us another chance to lead. The devil, as always, is in the details, but I believe a congestion fee could be a key component of a long-term fix for the MBTA.

What do you think? We need lots of good ideas to meet this challenge, and I would love to hear yours in the comments below.

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