The 16th Suffolk District – Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus – is perhaps the district in this state hit hardest by COVID-19. As a candidate to represent these communities at the State House next year, it’s crucial to have a list of short-term and long-term priorities specifically geared toward helping our three communities recover from the health and economic devastation wreaked by this pandemic.
As a pressing, short-term need, we absolutely need emergency paid sick time for essential workers, like bus drivers, grocery store workers, and others who interact with large numbers of people every day. Right now too many people are placed in a position of having to choose between the health of themselves and others and their paycheck. Emergency paid sick time can help address this while we recover. We have a huge proportion of frontline workers in our communities, and they need this support.
While people are still struggling, we also need to properly fund emergency services for those in need, such as food banks and transitional housing assistance. I’ve volunteered regularly at Revere’s food banks for seniors, veterans, and Revere Public Schools families. It’s a staggering sight: hundreds upon hundreds of our neighbors struggling with basic necessities. This past year, we could have tripled state support to emergency food program likes the Greater Boston Food Bank for about $40 million. To put this number in perspective, Massachusetts sent out $37.5 million in income tax cuts to the top 1% of earners in the state last year – those making around $600,000 per year and above. We need to realign our priorities to deal with the urgency of this moment.
A medium-term need from the Commonwealth is assistance in dealing with unemployment in our district. We have a huge proportion of workers in the hospitality and service industries, especially in Revere and Chelsea. These workers are going to need help connecting with job training and other employment resources while we are still in this in-between phase of ‘recovering’ but still being wary of the virus, and cognizant of the fact that these industries could once again be easily damaged by a surge in cases. The sad and stark reality is that many of these jobs could struggle to come back for quite some time, as even if the state ‘opens,’ many people will be uneasy about doing things like dining out, staying at a hotel, booking a flight, or going to an entertainment facility. In Revere, Mayor Arrigo’s efforts in conjunction with the Strategic Planning and Economic Development department to launch the “Revere Works” program is a good start toward addressing these needs, and our communities will need state support to strengthen programs like these.
Medium to long term, we need a commitment to fully funding the Student Opportunity Act and making sure our schools can open safely. The economic recovery hinges on what we can do to support schools and childcare. Communities like ours desperately need stronger state action around pre-K and childcare, not just immediately in response to COVID-19, but moving forward. So many working people in our communities struggle to balance the time and cost commitments that come with childcare, especially while often juggling multiple jobs or facing long commutes. Many white-collar workers are waking up to the reality that service workers and others have been dealing with for a long time – the struggle of raising children while also having to work, without having adequate childcare available. For this reason, a just response to COVID-19 requires investing in our families, to help working parents be able to get ahead.
In the long run, we will also need a stronger commitment to environmental justice, which conveniently can help create working-class jobs in the wind and solar industry. It’s clear that environmental hazards and pollution contributed substantially to the COVID rates in Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus and we need to aggressively push for clean energy, put a halt to fossil fuel projects and other big polluters, and move to zero-waste policies.
Another way to create jobs and make our communities healthier is to repair and refurbish our public housing facilities; the crumbling conditions in these facilities helped contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
We will also need a commitment to an agenda that prioritizes public health moving forward in communities like ours – making sure our residents have access to healthy recreational spaces, safe walking and cycling routes, access to transit, access to healthy food, access to mental health services, and resources for youth. There is great work like this happening in Revere in the Healthy Community Initiatives office and Planning Department, but this work needs more funding and support. There are too many people involved in government right now who either don’t understand or don’t care about the importance and benefits of preventative public health work, and this blew up in our face when we were hit with a pandemic that fed off existing health challenges. Mayor Arrigo is doing his best to elevate the importance of public health in Revere, and bring along some of his counterparts in the city to join him in investing in having good, qualified people doing public health work – but it’s still a challenge to make this issue. Hopefully COVID-19 helps change the way people think about public health long-term; public health is an investment in public safety, just like law enforcement, firefighting, and public works, and should be treated as such.
With this year’s legislation session ending this month and with many of these issues unaddressed, it’s likely that the next State Representative will have to tackle some of these challenges right away when the new session starts in 2021. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work on these important priorities.