In The People's Blog

Greetings friends,

I write to share news as we tackle the challenges presented by COVID-19 and aim for the boldest possible route forward—building back with greater equity.

I continue to chair the Senate’s COVID-19 Working Group, while also having been appointed to represent the Senate on Governor Baker’s Food Security Task Force. Our team continues to divide our time between intense constituent work and relentless advocacy with state agencies on behalf of municipalities and our region.

Before diving into updates, I want to take a moment to recognize and cheer for all those working on the front lines of this crisis. Words alone are not sufficient to say thank you. One of the highlights of last week was thanking Cooley Dickinson nurses and staff during a shift change. (I’ve added a picture, below.)

Dear Jo

In my latest Dear Jo column I detail our team’s latest efforts on your behalf, focused on everything from nursing homes to regional equity around PPE, testing, and then some.

Here’s the column’s closing:

I recently remembered that the origins of the word government can be found in the Greek and Latin words that aptly mean “to steer.”

While addressing the wrenching pain and turbulence of this time, we must also — all of us — steer our region and our commonwealth into calmer waters. But not back to the status quo.

Gov. Baker just appointed a task force to guide our state’s emergence from COVID-19. People ask me all the time, “When will we get back to normal?” And I often reply, “I don’t want to go back to normal. Normal wasn’t nearly good enough. I want to move forward toward something better. Toward equity.”

Much better for our public health infrastructure. Much better for small businesses and workers. Much better for students and teachers. Much, much better for those who have lived too long on the margins of the commonwealth and who now — and finally — need justice.

It’s with this in mind that we rededicate ourselves to budget and policy work as well as helping to channel constituent feedback and our own thinking to the Reopening Advisory Board. Please send in your thoughts via this portal.

How we’re reaching you

Since mid-March, District Director Elena Cohen and I have held 20 community conference calls to discuss COVID-19 and legislative updates. There’s another one Saturday, May 16 at 9:30 a.m. Join for updates, to ask questions, and offer feedback. Simply dial (605) 313-5111, and use access code: 378045.

Yesterday, we jumped to using Zoom and Facebook Live to focus on regional food security with help from some of our region’s leading experts. Don’t miss their commentary, which you can watch here. And expect more Zooming in the days ahead!

Senate legislative updates

The Senate has continued to advance legislation focused on COVID-19-related issues. In addition to the eviction and foreclosure moratorium (now law) and an expansion of unemployment assistance (our strong legislation needs to be reconciled with the House’s version and sent to the Governor), the Senate has passed several more bills that came out of our COVID-19 working group.

Among them:

  • The Senate passed legislation to allow more people with very low incomes to receive emergency assistance. The bill removes the “asset limit” requirement for accessing crucial cash benefits that forces people to liquidate bank accounts and retirement savings in order to receive assistance. I traveled to Boston to help get this bill, which my team helped to write and shape, over the Senate finish line.
  • We also passed a bill to require the Department of Public Health to report publicly on COVID-19 data stratified by raceand ethnicity, disability status, language, occupation, and locations such as prisons and nursing homes. This legislation achieved two major wins: data transparency and government accountability. Public access to comprehensive data is foundational to a strong democracy, and a well-functioning government is one that commits publicly to address any disparities and inequities found in the data. This must now get reconciled with a House bill.

Big shout out to our team’s Legislative Director Brian Rosman who drafted the initial data bill as well as the initial legislation to lift the asset cap.

  • And on Thursday, the Senate will also pass legislation enabling the state to borrow money to fill a cash flow gap created by delaying the state’s tax filing deadline. Absent this short-term borrowing, the state would experience cash flow problems as early as the end of May and could be penalized by credit ratings agencies. I’m voting yes.

Unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance updates

Our team continues to help constituents and small businesses navigate COVID-19 fallout.

Constituent engagement wrangler-in-chief Sam Hopper continually updates the Constituent Guide to COVID-19 with the most frequently-asked questions, including the unemployment section. Now you’ll find more information on returning to work while receiving unemployment insurance benefits, with resources linked for both workers and employers.

Even with all the guidance that the state has provided, many people still struggle to navigate the complex unemployment application process. If you need assistance, please contact our constituent services team by filling out this contact form or calling our office at 413.367.4656. You can also always email me at jo.comerford@masenate.gov.

Welcome a new advocate for the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district

I’m delighted to introduce you to the newest member of our team, Cameron Lease!

Cameron has been serving the constituents of the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district for the past two weeks. A Massachusetts transplant, Cameron is originally from the Bay Area in California and came to Boston to attend Northeastern University. Cameron earned his Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice and Political Science from Northeastern and took advantage of the wonderful co-op program by pursuing several public service positions while not in classes.

He first worked as a Constituent Advocate in the Boston 311 office, serving the constituents of the City of Boston and building the management and information infrastructure of the office. Subsequently, he served as a Caseworker in the District Office of Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-06). And most recently, Cameron worked on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Cameron is very passionate about public service and in his free time loves walking in the arboretum, cooking, and playing board games!

The entire team is thrilled to welcome Cameron and Cameron’s ready to help you at Cameron.Lease@masenate.gov.

Out and about

I was proud to join Congressman McGovern and Rep. Mark at a press conference hosted by Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, followed by a tour of Greenfield’s command center and an opportunity to thank the Mayor and her team.

I toured the Amherst Survival Center with Congressman McGovern, Rep. Domb, and the Food Bank of Western MA’s director of programs, Christina Maxwell to thank the Survival Center’s staff and volunteers and learn more about its scaled operation.

And I joined Rep. Sabadosa and the Congressman again (bless Jim McGovern’s fortitude) outside Cooley Dickinson Hospital to thank its nurses and staff during a shift change.

I also joined with Rep. Carey and Sen. Hinds to host the region’s superintendents on a call with House and Senate members that was focused on the challenges of remote learning and all that they’re grappling with amid COVID-19.

Pre-COVID work continues

Don’t miss this great blog written by Elena about the work we’ve been doing with Rep. Blais on water and sewer infrastructure. It draws a bright line between our state work and our federal delegation.

Sending our love to you,

Jo, Brian, Elena, Cameron, Jared, and Sam

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