Director of constituent services, Rachel Klein, reflects on our work in 2022.
As the year comes to a close, I’ve looked back on the constituent cases we’ve resolved this year – 350 cases to be exact. Constituent services are central to the inner workings of our office because our team believes them to be absolutely essential for an effective, just, and responsive government. When government isn’t working the way it should and bureaucracy gets in the way (and this certainly happens more than we’d like) – when an unemployment payment is held up for months, when health insurance benefits are delayed or confusing, or when a fuel assistance application needs emergency processing – our team can, should, and will do everything we can to help our people.
Of course, we don’t do this work alone. We work with steadfast partners in the Administration and in the community to help constituents navigate their state government, programs, and services. We’re also lucky to have strong partnerships with many House colleagues.
To give you a sense of the breadth of our constituent cases, here are four cases we resolved in 2022:
- When an elderly constituent reached out to our office because her apartment’s heat had been shut-off, we quickly realized that her family could benefit from more than just fuel assistance. Understanding that our office could not fully serve the constituents’ varied needs, we connected the family with Community Legal Aid to assist with a RAFT application for utility arrears, with Community Action Pioneer Valley to provide emergency fuel assistance, and with Highland Valley Elder Services which provided budgeting assistance, connections to services, benefit application assistance, and more. Together with our outstanding community partners, we were able to provide these constituents with essential and lasting wrap-around services.
- As the solar revolution sweeps through the region, we’re getting more and more interconnection-related calls as constituents come up against utilities and run away costs. Jo and Representative Natalie Blais have several bills addressing the reforms needed, one of which passed this session to begin reforming the Department of Pubic Utilities (DPU). But reforms take time which is why our team intervenes on individual cases regularly these days. For example, we had a call from a Franklin County constituent who was installing solar and was told by a utility company that he would have to pay for a new battery in order for the utility to be able to transfer the power generated by his solar panels to the grid. While that was expensive, it was not nearly as expensive as the next estimate the constituent received which included a battery, transformer, and a utility pole. Our team engaged to make the case that bill was outrageously large. Thankfully, the utility admitted its mistake.
- One of the housing assistance programs provided by the Commonwealth is the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), helping non-elderly, low-income persons with a disability access affordable and accessible housing options. A constituent had already worked with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to secure a voucher, but after finding a qualifying apartment, his application had been held up in DHCD’s final approval queue for weeks – so that by the time he reached out to our office, he had just two days to give his new landlord the voucher before he would lose out on the apartment he had worked so hard to find. Our team worked quickly to coordinate between DHCD, two involved housing authorities, and Way Finders to ensure that the constituent’s voucher was processed and applied – with time to spare, and I’m happy to report that this constituent is now settled in his new apartment.
- As the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) worked on a road improvement project, one of our constituents became concerned that the project was encroaching farther onto his property than had previously been agreed upon. He struggled to get back in touch with the MassDOT team, so our office helped facilitate communication between the parties and convey the constituent’s specific concerns. With communication restored, many of the constituent’s concerns were addressed and he received confirmation that MassDOT would honor the previously agreed-upon project boundaries.
While we are not always able to assist when constituents have problems with private companies (as most complaints and concerns are best conveyed to and addressed by the Attorney General’s Office or the Consumer Information Office), we can sometimes step in and encourage a business to address a concern and do the right thing. After a constituent reached out because his family’s private health insurance had been canceled due to just one late payment, putting them at risk of being uninsured for months if their reinstatement appeal was not accepted, we contacted the company and asked for the insurance to be reinstated. The company agreed that the cancellation had been too quick and punitive, and the family’s coverage was restored.
I could continue, but you get the idea. Our team values this work and we’re here to help.
If you or someone you know resides in the Franklin, Hampshire, Worcester district and is experiencing a problem with a state agency or needs help accessing government benefits or services, please always feel free to reach out to our office for help. The fastest way to get help from our constituent services team is by completing and submitting this form, but you can also call our district phone at (413) 367-4656 or email Director of Constituent Services, Rachel Klein, at email@example.com. You can also always reach out directly to Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, our team also wrote a Constituent Services Guide for information on frequently asked questions.
You make us a smarter and more effective office by informing us of breaks in the system and common-sense improvements. Our office is here to serve you, so please do not hesitate to reach out.