FROM YOUR STATE SENATOR
By John Velis
I hope you are all doing well and were able to take some time this week to observe and reflect on Veterans Day. This time of year, we are all reminded of the importance of recognizing those who serve our nation, and I am deeply inspired by how our communities came together today to do just that.
I began Veterans Day by joining Agawam and West Springfield residents for a sunrise wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge. I then drove over to Holyoke to join city officials and residents for a mid-morning ceremony at the Holyoke War Memorial building. Right after, I drove back to Westfield for our annual ceremony at Parker Park (shout-out to Julie Barnes and Westfield Veterans Services for organizing). I then drove back to Agawam for a ceremony at the Massachusetts Veterans Cemetery. Among all the great community events, though, the highlight of my day was delivering over 1,500 letters from students throughout my district to residents at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. This is the second year my office has organized this initiative, and I am so grateful to all the schools from Southwick, Westfield, Southampton and beyond that participated. These letters mean the world to the residents and show just how reflective and thoughtful our students are.
As busy as Thursday was, the day before was just as crazy, as the Senate took up the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding bill. These one-time funds from the federal government are critical for our commonwealth’s economic recovery and infrastructure. Some of the highlights include $500 million for essential frontline workers, $500 million for the unemployment insurance trust fund to provide relief to small businesses, $600 million for supportive housing and public housing authorities, and $400 million to support the behavioral health sector, an investment that is expected to help recruit and retain nearly 2,000 mental health professionals.
I was proud that several of my amendments for veterans, the Treehouse Foundation, and local organizations throughout my district were adopted during the Senate’s debate, as well. For veterans I was able to secure $500,000 for transportation for our commonwealth’s Veterans’ Treatment Courts, an incredible program that helps so many veterans facing PTSD, mental health challenges, or substance use issues. I was able to secure $2 million for the Treehouse Foundation to expand their work for foster children, working families, and low-income senior residents across the commonwealth. For local organizations, I was able to secure $1 million in local earmarks for infrastructure improvements, senior centers, chambers of commerce, and other groups throughout our district. In addition, and in recognition of Veterans Day, I filed an amendment to extend our commonwealth’s Medal of Liberty to military members who have died as a result of training accidents. Many of you will remember Air Force Lt. Col. Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr., a Longmeadow resident who died after his F-15C jet crashed on a routine flight from Barnes Air National Guard Base to New Orleans in 2014. This amendment would ensure that military members like Fontenot are eligible for the Medal of Liberty and that we are properly recognizing these individuals’ service. I was glad to see the amendment adopted in the bill before Thursday’s final vote.
The rest of my week was mostly spent in the district. On Monday, Rep. Duffy and I hosted the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus in Holyoke for a luncheon and walking tour of businesses in Holyoke. The caucus focuses on supporting the unique needs of Gateway Cities like Westfield and Holyoke, and I was glad we could host my colleagues here in Western Mass.
On Friday, I joined Western Mass. colleagues for a tour of Riverside Industries in Easthampton, a phenomenal organization that works alongside individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them secure employment. I then joined Baystate Health for a virtual Veterans Day ceremony for employees and community members. I wrapped up my day at the ribbon-cutting of LaFlamme’s Auto & Truck Service Inc. on Fairfield Avenue in Westfield. It’s always great to see new businesses opening, and I wish them the best of luck!
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 [email protected] or 413-572-3920, and you can find me online at senatorjohnvelis.com, where you can also sign up for my newsletter.
John Velis, D-Westfield, represents Westfield, Southwick, Montgomery, Russell and all or part of seven other cities and towns in the state Senate.