Happy end of August!
It feels very strange to be at the end of summer, but here we are. This week was full of meetings and events in the district, with some important COVID and unemployment updates as well.
I started off Monday morning by having a virtual meeting with Riverside Industries, who provides individualized skill development and employment options for adults living with developmental disabilities. Later that afternoon, I had calls with Dr. Vazquez Matos, Holyoke’s Superintendent, and Jen Willard, Southwick/Tolland/Granville Regional’s Superintendent to talk about their reopening plans. I will continue working with administration, teachers, and families moving forward as the school year begins. I wrapped up Monday by meeting with Baystate Health and Mike Knapik. I have been able to secure funding earmarks for Baystate over the past several years, and it was great to discuss some of the good work that has come about as a result.
Tuesday afternoon, I was in Russell at the Senior Center and Town Hall where I passed out lunches and talked to residents about the things that are on their minds. Many thanks to Russell’s Council on Aging for organizing these lunches, which will be continued in September on both Tuesdays and Thursdays. Make sure to reach out to 413-862-6205 to reserve a lunch! I am always trying to get out and meet with constituents whenever possible, and was able to attend a Zoom Meeting with Southwick residents of the Lake Management Committee on Thursday to hear about their work with Congamond Lake.
On Wednesday morning, I had the pleasure of attending the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony of Runway 15-33 at Barnes Regional Airport. The reconstruction work was completed on-time and under budget, thanks to federal, state and local funding sources. These types of projects are great for the airport, and for our community, and I’m happy I could be a part! Later that afternoon, I had a meeting with Mayor Sapelli of Agawam. We discussed a number of issues and went over to the Agawam Fire Department to go over some of their specific needs as a department.
Thursday was one of the most eye-opening days I can remember of recent. I woke up early to join the Violent Fugitive Apprehension West Unit (VFAS) of the State Police for a ride-along. The VFAS Unit handles some of the most dangerous and complex criminal investigations in our state, which on this day, involved pursuing a major drug distributer in Holyoke among other things. Seeing the officers in action, and learning about how they plan and carry out these comprehensive investigations, was an incredible experience, and one I will not forget.
Friday Morning, I had an extensive meeting with Secretary of Veterans Services Cheryl Poppe at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam. Secretary Poppe was recently appointed by Governor Baker, and we had a in-depth conversation on funding levels for the Home, and how the Home will look moving forward. My office has requested enormous amounts of data and records so that we can do a deep dive into how the Home can improve, and I will continue to advocate for the needs of residents and staff wherever possible. Later Friday afternoon, I had my bi-weekly meeting with the administration of Holyoke Community College, where we talked about the fall and how the school is adapting its plans.
This week, the Commonwealth’s Stop-The-Spread COVID-19 free testing initiative was expanded to Holyoke. The testing will be done by Drive-Through at Holyoke Community College, with no appointment needed. You do not have to be a resident of Holyoke, or have any symptoms of COVID-19 to get a test. The site will be open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7-11AM, and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-7PM. You can contact (413) 322- 5595 with questions, or you can reach out to my office. This State also announced this week that Massachusetts has been approved by FEMA to receive grant funding for the federal Lost Wages Supplemental Payment Assistance program. This grant will fund an additional $300 weekly unemployment benefit to those who were eligible for unemployment and made claims for the weeks ending 8/1/20, 8/8/20, and 8/15/20. Eligible claimants currently receiving benefits do not need to take any action, and the State anticipates the funds will be delivered automatically to claimants by 9/15/20. As always, if there is anything I can do to assist you, please never hesitate to reach out to my office. I can be reached at my email: [email protected] or phone: (413) 572-3920. Additionally, my new website: senatorjohnvelis.com is being updated each day!
John C. Velis