I hope you’re all staying safe and healthy during these difficult times. It is officially April, after what felt like the longest month of March of all-time. This past week has been the busiest I’ve ever been as your Representative, our office is rightfully getting non-stop calls and emails with inquiries from constituents who we’ve been assisting.
This week started with the tragic revelation of 11 deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, which has now expanded to 18 deaths according to most recent reports. As a veteran and someone who visits the home regularly – either for office hours or just for a casual visit to chat with residents – this news struck me at my core.
The executive branch has admirably appointed an independent investigator. However, myself and two of my colleagues – Rep. Linda Campbell, who chairs the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee, and Rep. Aaron Vega from Holyoke – have called for a legislative investigation as well. As legislators, we are a totally independent branch of government and much more hands on with the Soldiers Home as it’s closer to home. We are uniquely qualified and equipped to conduct the most thorough and independent investigation possible. It is our duty to uphold and implement this oversight.
The state has currently put Val Liptak – RN and CEO of Western Mass Hospital – in charge as acting Superintendent. He is supported by a clinical command team made up of some of Massachusetts best health care workers, as well as the National Guard who is assisting in the implementation of the new on-site testing program we now have access to. The Holyoke Soldiers Home was the first location to benefit from this program.
In other updates from throughout the week, the Federal Government’s passage of the CARES Act allowed people who are self-employed – or those who generally don’t qualify for Unemployment Insurance – to apply for it and provided loan programs for small businesses who have felt the brunt of this pandemic. Starting on Friday, small businesses affected by COVID-19 can apply for loans provided through the CARES Act with their local SBA loan officer. There are three different loan programs: the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and the EIDL Emergency Grant. All three vary in terms of specifics and more clarity can be provided by your local SBA loan officer.
On Tuesday, Governor Baker extended the closure of non-essential businesses, stay-at-home advisory, and other social distancing guidelines to May 4 to help continue the fight against COVID-19. On Wednesday, the first medical field hospital opened up at the Worcester DCU Center with the support of UMASS Medical School and Army Corps to brace for Massachusetts predicted surge between April 10-20. More field hospitals will open as well to provide more beds during the surge.
On Thursday, with the help of China, the Kraft family, and Governor Baker Massachusetts received a shipment of 1 million N95 masks. This shipment of PPE is absolutely critical for our heroes on the front line during this pandemic. The state of Massachusetts will also be the recipient of a game changing machine that can sterilize 80,000 protective masks a day.
Lastly, H.4616, An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, School Districts, and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 heads to the senate next week. The bill addresses a plurality of immediate concerns raised in recent weeks by educators, parents, and other members. As engrossed, the bill requires the Massachusetts DOE Commissioner to modify or waive MCAS requirements for the remainder of the academic year. It is my stance that a modified MCAS will not suffice and put too much pressure on teachers, parents, and students. The MCAS testing needs to be completely cancelled.
Please continue to stay safe and stay healthy by following proper social distancing guidelines. This Saturday evening, from 5-6 p.m., I will be sponsoring a Grab & Go Meal drive with the Westfield Food Pantry at the Church of Atonement parking lot. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about bills or any other issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out! My office can be reached at [email protected] or (413) 572-3920.