I hope this update finds you all well, and you are staying healthy as we continue to navigate the challenges presented to us through this public health emergency. With summer in full swing, I hope you and your loved ones have been able to get outside and enjoy the festivities responsibly, as we all need something to help lift the spirits. I want to provide you all with another update of some of the actions taken by my colleagues and myself at the State level as we continue to work hard on your behalf, effectively addressing the issues raised during this COVID-19 pandemic.
To begin, my decision making has remained focused on the three main components highlighted in my last update as this situation has continued to evolve. First and foremost, protecting the health of our fellow residents has remained a top priority of mine. Secondly, providing support for our critical safety net programs such as unemployment assistance, and lastly to promote our small businesses and encourage economic recovery here in the Commonwealth.
During this time, I was happy to work on passing legislation that directly affects Reading. In July, I was able to work with my colleague in Reading, Minority Leader Brad Jones, to secure $15,000 in state funding for the Reading Food Pantry to help address food insecurity issues due to COVID-19. Food insecurity continues to be a very difficult issue affecting our communities, it is my hope that these resources will assist the food pantries in providing the support that individuals and families need. As we deal with the economic fallout from this pandemic, we must be mindful of the everyday challenges faced by our friends and neighbors.
Local Aid, Chapter 90, & Education Funding Update
Our students, teachers, parents, and support staff are currently facing unprecedented challenges as they prepare to enter an uncertain school year this fall. The House, Senate, and Baker Administration have fortunately been able to find agreement on Chapter 70 education funding and unrestricted local aid that commits to providing a baseline amount for Fiscal Year 2021, providing the critical support for school districts and municipalities as they finalize their budgets. The funding also ensures that our communities will be able to continue providing the best education in the country to our students despite the issues and disruptions they have experienced this year.
In June I was happy to support a statewide bond authorization that will provide Reading with Chapter 90 funding to help fund local transportation infrastructure upgrades in Fiscal Year 2021.
Funding for Reading:
- Chapter 70: $14,438,034
- Local aid: $1,627,400
- Chapter 90: $594,643
- TOTAL: $16,660,077
COVID-19 Related Laws
As the COVID-19 pandemic endures, I continue to work hard to address the needs of the residents of our district and respond to the virus. I was pleased to support many pieces of legislation that address the many different affected areas, and during this update, I want to showcase the critical pieces of legislation my colleagues and I have been able to pass these last 5-months to help our communities. Here is a comprehensive list of the COVID-19 related laws that have been enacted throughout this crisis:
- An Act making $15 million in Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2020 to Provide for Supplementing Certain Existing Appropriations Relating to the Coronavirus (H.4561)
- An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, School Districts and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 (H.4586)
- An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 (H.4616)
- An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the COVID-19 Emergency (H. 4615)
- An Act Granting Authority to Postpone 2020 Municipal Elections in the Commonwealth and Increase Voting Options in Response to the Declaration of Emergency to Respond to COVID-19 (S.2608)
- An Act Authorizing Waiver of the One Week Waiting Period for Unemployment Benefits (S.2599)
- An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline (H.4677)
- An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System (H.4648)
- An Act addressing COVID-19 data collection and disparities in treatment (H.4672)
- An Act financing the general governmental infrastructure of the Commonwealth (H.4733)
- An Act Relative to Voting Options in Response to COVID-19 (H.4762) – [Mail-in ballots]
Additionally, there are several pieces of legislation that is currently awaiting final passage at the State House that we will continue our work on this session:
- An Act Relative to Long Term Care Facility and Elder Housing COVID-19 Reporting (H.4667)
- An Act addressing challenges faced by food and beverage establishments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic (H.4767)
With the unemployment rate skyrocketing as result of this virus, hundreds of thousands in the Commonwealth have gone through the to-often difficult process of claiming unemployment benefits to continue providing for themselves and their families. With the influx of applicants and widespread fraud seen in recent months, the system has at times come to a grinding halt, leading to a backlog in claim approvals and calls from the Department to claimants. My office continues to be hard at work throughout the summer helping many constituents navigate this difficult process between them and the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). As stated previously, I have shared the frustration of many applicants who ran up against a DUA system that was technologically antiquated and not user friendly. I continue to communicate my concerns to the House’s COVID-19 Working Group and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development as they work through these difficulties to develop and deploy an updated online benefits delivery system. In the last 5-months, we have endured this unemployment crisis, our office has helped process many combined Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Standard Unemployment Insurance cases for our constituents, helping them and their families receive the benefits they rightfully deserve.
Safeguarding our Upcoming Elections
To prepare and safeguard our upcoming elections the I voted in favor to pass a bill that expands voter access and ensures safe voting options for all remaining 2020 elections, including the September 1 state primary and the November 3 general election. The legislation, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, was signed into law by the Governor on July 6. To protect the vote in the fall 2020 elections, the bill implements a system for no-excuse absentee voting, creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods, makes in-person voting safer and more efficient, provides tools to assist local clerks, tasks the Secretary of the Commonwealth with creating an online portal and promoting voting options.
I also recently joined a strong bipartisan group to send a letter to Congress regarding the United States Postal Service. I strongly support our postal service and the incredible work of its employees. Due to our genuine effort to protect public health and our expansion of vote-by-mail, it is more important than ever to make sure the postal service has the tools it needs to deliver for the American people. This is not a partisan issue but rather a moment where we must come together to support the postal service and the critical role it plays in the everyday lives of every American, every American business, and every American’s right to vote.
My Thoughts on Police Reform
Back in July, my colleagues and I debated legislation that would bring reform to policing in our Commonwealth. My decision to vote against the police reform legislation was due to three main factors:
- The potential and untested impacts of Qualified Immunity changes
- The makeup of the Police Standards & Training Commission and
- The rushed approach to this legislation.
Over my 11+ years in elected office and public service, I have had the distinct privilege of working with the women and men of our local police departments who have always done an exemplary job serving our communities. These individuals are tasked with the very difficult job of keeping our communities safe and put themselves in harm’s way each and every day.
There are several elements of House Bill that make good sense and have the potential to improve policing in our Commonwealth – including proposed additional types of training and creating a certification process for police officers and a system that provides for the decertification of an officer in specific instances when that officer has violated the public trust. I also support a duty to intervene requirement as well as restrictions on the use of chokeholds.
Please know how strongly I support all efforts to bring together law enforcement officials, legislators, members of the Black and Latino Caucus, and outside experts to build a Police Officer Standards and Training system that improves and builds upon the strong training foundations we currently have in place in our state. Massachusetts has some of the most well-trained, highly regarded, and professional police departments in the nation and I believe there is a willingness within law enforcement to do even better.
Importantly, and should be highlighted, this legislation includes the creation of a permanent Commission on the status of African Americans that will play a key role by informing government officials on additional steps we can take to combat racism in our Commonwealth. This legislation continues to be a complex and contentious debate and I am disappointed, so far, in the outcome. But let me remind us all that we can stand for racial justice and support police officers – the reason I know it is because I do.
Other Important Legislation I Supported
- With my House colleagues voted 158-0 to support a bill I cosponsored designating Juneteenth Independence Day as an official state holiday, helping to remind all of us of the work we have left to do and to raise awareness of the corrosive effect of racism and inequality.
- I was able throw my support behind House Bill 4841, expanding DCF’s reporting requirements and establishing a Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights, and holds the agency more accountable along with helping to recruit new foster families.
- Supported the passage of House Bill 4218, the Breakfast After the Bell Initiative, to help vulnerable school children in the Commonwealth by providing them with a meal to start their day and help them to become better learners
I would like to end this update by again thanking our steadfast healthcare professionals, our dedicated parents, teachers and support staff who are beginning their preparations to head back to school to provide our youth the quality education they deserve, the essential workers, and public service heroes who suit up each day to keep our economy moving and look out for us all. We all thank you for your hard work and dedication each day, and it continues to show the true resiliency of our communities and our Commonwealth.
There is still plenty of work to be done, and my office stands ready to continue working hard on behalf of the residents of the 30th Middlesex District. If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to my office by phone at (617) 722-2090 or by email at Richard.Haggerty@mahouse.gov.